First Time Cruise Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Experience

We see the ads all the time on TV and the internet.  Those glitzy, massive, floating-resorts where everyone seems to be having the time of their lives.  Yeah, cruise vacations are pretty awesome! But we understand it can be a bit intimidating if you have never been on a cruise before, especially when you are booking the trip and preparing for departure.  We know you want to get the most out of your trip (and the most for your money).  So we’ve put together some of our top first time cruise tips to help you have the best cruise vacation possible!

1. Plan to Arrive in the Departure City a Day Before You Embark

As you can imagine, most cruise ports will be along the coast.  So if you don’t live near one of these ports, then you are going to need to travel.  We highly recommend that you arrive the day before your cruise departs, so that you will have plenty of time in case of travel delays, etc.  The only time we recommend traveling the morning of a cruise is if you really only have a couple hours to travel…and if you are driving.  Even short flights are risking it if there is a mechanical delay, missed connection, etc. 

This happened to us last year when we went on a cruise from Galveston and were flying from Denver to Houston.  Of course it dumped snow the morning we left Denver, and so we missed our connecting flight in Austin.  They didn’t have another flight until that night – and we got into Houston about 5 hours late.  Luckily, the cruise didn’t leave until the next day…otherwise, we would have missed the boat!

The last thing you want is to start off your vacation freaking out about missing the boat!

2. Research Ports in Advance

During the process of searching for a cruise, you will likely be researching all the cool port options that are offered.  While some people book a cruise for the cruise line itself or a specific ship, most of use are looking at the destination ports..

While researching the destination ports it’s always a good idea to start to think about what types of activities or excursions you may want to do while you are there.. There are some advantages with going with the flow and just winging it when you arrive.. But sometimes you could be out of luck and just end up wasting a day wandering around.

For most travelers who want to get the most out of a destination, booking a shore excursion in advance is the best way to ensure you get to do what you want to do at the port.. You have a guaranteed spot, and you don’t have to worry about anything.. Also, usually you can save some money if you book ahead rather than on the ship.

3. Budget Accordingly

One of the benefits of cruising is that you can get a pretty good idea of how much the trip is going to cost before you leave. Most of your costs are already covered, including accommodations, meals, maybe even your shore excursions and transportation.

The biggest expenses after you arrive on the ship are shopping, alcohol or specialty food / drinks, and whatever you spend at port.  Many cruise lines now offer packages for specialty dining and even drink packages.  This can help with your budgeting because you have a fixed price; however, just be sure you will get enough out of it to make it worth the money.

4. Tipping Cruise Staff

Most cruise lines also require guests to tip the staff.  When I was a kid, I remember my parents counting cash to fill the envelopes and give to the staff. However, some cruise lines now allow you to pay for gratuities in advance.  Sometimes you don’t even have to give envelopes to the staff, but on some cruise lines you still do. 

Still, it’s important to keep tips in mind when you are budgeting because they do add to the total cost of the cruise and many cruise lines don’t tell you this upfront until you are in the booking process.  So it can come as a shock if you aren’t expecting it.

5. Know Your Cruise Line & Who They Cater To

There are a lot of different cruise lines out there, you may be surprised once you start doing your research.  And just because you see a flashy ad on your TV doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the right cruise line for you.

Many people make the mistake of thinking all cruise lines are the same and offer the same things – but that couldn’t be further from the truth!

Some cruise lines cater toward families, others are much more young and have a more party atmosphere.. Some are quite sophisticated with culinary classes and art talks.  Others are more adventurous!

The last thing you want is to have a bad experience on your vacation! So be sure to research the cruise line and be sure they offer the type of experience that you are looking for in your trip.  

6. Research Your Ship

Not only should you research the cruise line, but definitely check out the specific ships.  Most cruise line websites have very detailed pages for all their ships, complete with maps, photos, videos, etc.. Not all cruise ships are the same, as they are constantly evolving and updating them. 

So if there is a particular experience that you want, be sure it’s offered on the ship you are looking at booking.  You don’t want to be disappointed when you arrive! 

PRO TIP:  Research the layout of the ship before & then pick your exact stateroom when you reserve. Keep in mind your room’s location to things you want to do to make it convenient…but also be sure to check if your room is above or below a disco or theater! Seriously, if you don’t then you may end up sleeping on top of a dance club…and trust me, you won’t be sleeping!

7. Book a Balcony for Fresh Air and Special Occasions

There are many different room types on a cruise. The cheapest is usually an inside cabin.  These are great budget options if you don’t care for a view and just want to be on the ship.  The good thing is that in some places (like Alaska) you may sleep better in an inside room because of the constant sunlight outside!

But if you are celebrating a special occasion or enjoy having some fresh air, then having a balcony is the way to go!. It is more expensive, but there truly is nothing better than being able to relax out there and look at the sea at any time.  The privacy is wonder, and we have really enjoyed dining out on the balcony, napping, or just turning on some music and hanging out in a private setting away from all the noise on the main decks. 

8. Pack Smart and for Your Shore Excursions

Be sure to research your port destinations and also the weather during the specific time of year that you will be visiting.. Especially in some parts of the Caribbean you could experience heavy rains, and in Alaska you may be planning to go up and visit a glacier!

Pack accordingly for not just your cruise, but also your shore excursions.  You might need to bring some water shoes, or a day-bag to carry a towel or wet bathing suits and sunscreen. 

9. Bring a Carry-On For Your First Day

Many people don’t realize this, but when you check in for a cruise they will typically put your luggage on the boat for you.  This makes it a lot easier and more enjoyable for you as the guest, so you don’t have to haul bags up and onto the boat – it also makes embarkation easier for the crowds of people.

However, it could take some time before your luggage is delivered to your stateroom!  So definitely bring a carry on bag with you that includes anything you think you may need before your luggage arrives.  This includes a bathing suit if you want to go swimming (which is usually what we do) or maybe it’s just a book and a pair of flip flops so you can take a nap up on deck!

Also, on very rare occasions bags are delayed and if you have an early dinner seating time then you may want to have a change of clothes handy.

10. Don’t Hesitate to Ask Staff for Info or Help

Cruise ship staff are some of the most helpful we’ve experienced.  So if you ever have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask someone.  Your room stewards are often your first line when you have questions, as you may see them frequently and they get to know you a bit. But there’s also plenty of other staff around the ship who are willing to assist. 

11. Planning is Key to Getting the Most Out of Your Cruise

The thing about cruises is that there’s a lot going on…almost all the time!  Each cruise line has their own forms of communication to let you know what is happening around the boat.  While they usually have paper versions delivered to your staterooms, many now have apps for your smartphone.

The key to getting the most out of your cruise is to be sure you check out all the things that are going on, and make a note of anything you really want to do so you don’t forget!

12. Elevators are Always FULL

Get your legs prepared, because the most efficient way around a cruise ships is quite often taking the stairs!. Even though there are a lot of elevators around the ship, during peak times you will wait forever…and when the doors open it will be full!  Of course it’s not like this at all times of the day, but definitely during those peak times.

So if you are able, just suck it up and take the stairs – at least if it’s only a floor or two.  Plus, there are some passengers who can’t do stairs so it’s polite to keep the elevators for them.

13. Find Your Quiet Spot on the Ship

If you are one of those people who enjoys getting away from it all, then definitely take your time and explore the ship until you find that perfect, quite, secluded spot!  Many cruise lines now have adult only sections (even Disney cruise line).  These may be good quite places on some ships, on other ships they could be just as loud and rowdy!

Still, even on the biggest and busiest of ships it is possible to find your own little piece of heaven where you can sit back and relax.  

14. Take a Port Day Off and Have the Ship to Yourself

While some people go on a cruise for the destinations, others are happy just to enjoy the amenities on the ship!  One perk to staying on the boat when it is at port is that most people leave the ship – so you can actually have a nice quiet day on the boat with very few people!

Also, if you like to visit the spa on a cruise ship then port days are also the way to go because they usually have special discounts on these days too!  So if there is a particular port that doesn’t interest you very much, then by all means stay on the boat and enjoy the tranquility.

Enjoy Your Cruise With These First Time Cruise Tips!

Planning to go on a cruise for the first time is quite exciting!  We’ve been on many cruises on various cruise lines throughout the years, and with these first time cruise tips we’re sure you’ll be more prepared for your cruise than we were.  So hopefully you can learn from our experience and cruise like a pro on your very first time!

Do you have any other tips for first time cruisers?  Share in the comments below!


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