Top 21 Tips for First-Time Cruisers

Thinking about going on a cruise? We LOVE them! Cruises are a great way to see beautiful cities and cultures (for a short time) and to really relax getting there! Even thought we’re not the most experienced cruisers (we’ve only been on a handful) we’ve compiled alist of 21 things you’ll want to know before you book your cruise, before you take off, and while you’re cruising to make it a great trip. Happy traveling!

From the top of a cruise ship

Before you book:

1. Cruises are an all-inclusive trip, but be prepared to pay for extras. If you do excursions at any of the ports, it is an added cost. Drinks (besides water and some juice) are an added cost. Even a few restaurants aboard the ship are available at an extra cost (but don’t worry – most of them are free!).

2. Looking for a good deal? Book closer to departure. For a celebration trip after my husband finished his masters’ program, we decided to book a last-minute cruise to the caribbean. We booked it 3 weeks before we took off, and got a killer deal on a balcony stateroom for 7 days. That close to departure, most cruise lines are just trying to sell as many rooms as possible, so sometimes it can work to your advantage.

Photo May 06, 10 30 45

3. If you have an option when booking, the higher the floor number, the better. You’ll be closer to most of the attractions on the ship, and if you’re prone to motion-sickness, you will actually feel the movement of the ship less onthe higher floors.

4. Know how you’re getting from the airport to the cruise line (or to the hotel on the day before and then to the cruise line the morning of). Some ports (like if you’re sailing out of Texas) are at least an hour away from the airport. This can be one of the extra costs I mentioned above. Make sure you have transportation arranged so you’re not hailing a cab and paying an arm and a leg to get to your cruise on time, and make sure you’ve factored transportation into your trip budget.

5. I’ve come to find that when it comes to cruises, you get what you pay for. If you see a quick 3-day cruise over the weekend to Mexico, you’re going to have a much rowdier crowd. Longer cruises tend to have a bit of a different crowd(more relaxing vacationers instead of all-day and all-night partiers). If you find a super-great deal on an inside stateroom on the bottom floor, you might wish you would have upgraded to at least a room with a window. The food may be included in your price – but keep in mind if you’re paying bottom dollar, it’s not going to be the best food you’ve ever tasted at every single meal.

Cruise pictures

Before you go:

6. Read up on the “Know Before You Go” or “Frequently Asked Questions” section ONLINE of your specific cruise. Depending on the ports you are stopping at, you may want to know if there are any dangers in the area, what duty-free purchases really mean (and their limitations), how tipping works for your cruise line, and what time you are scheduled for dinner dining.

7. Know the dress code before you go. We went on a Princess cruise, and I only brought 2 dresses (one for each formal night). Everything else I had was just swimsuits and lazy-day clothes. Imagine my surprise when they didn’t allow shorts into the formal dining area! Let’s just say those two dresses got a lot of use…;). Every cruise line is different when it comes to dress code, so make sure you know the do’s and don’ts before your suitcase is packed. For day wear, if you’re headed somewhere tropical and sunny, you’ll want the majority of your clothes in your suitcase to be sundresses, swimsuits, and casual, light-weight clothes. If you’re headed to more northern areas, be sure to check the weather and pack accordingly. Be sure if you’ve scheduled excursions, you’ve also packed appropriate clothes for those – you’re not going to be wanting to wear a sundress if you’re biking through the mountains and kayaking down a river. 😉

8. Book your flight to arrive in port the day before you embark. That way, if luggage gets lost or your flight is delayed, you won’t have to worry about not making the ship.carnival splendor

9. Know what travel documents you need. Some cruises leaving from the US and going back to the US don’t require a passport, however, you’ll want to triple check and make sure what the guidelines are for your specific cruise. If you’re traveling with small children who do not have a passport (and you don’t have time to get one) – you’ll need to bring a certified copy of their birth certificate. DO NOT FORGET IT. We almost missed our ship once…and those waiting rooms are NOT fun. 😉

10. Your cruise line or travel agency will probably send you quite a few emails before you go. MAKE SURE YOU READ THEM. It will include updates on ports, safety issues, health warnings, and other information about your cruise that you will want to know.

Photo May 06, 10 17 1911. Know what your cell-plan is limited to, and if need be, buy an international package. There’s nothing worse than coming back from a vacation to find out your phone bill just quadrupled in amount because of your roaming data charges. If you don’t plan on buying an international package, just keep your phone in airplane mode until you are safely back within thebounds of your plan.

12. Don’t forget to pack medications, especially if you’re prone to motion sickness. You will be glad you did (even if it’s just in case!). You’ll be surprised of how little you can actually feel the ship moving most days(I know I was!) – but if the waters get rough, you can definitely feel that you are on the high seas. There are actually a lot of people on board that will be wearing “the patch” or taking medication for motion sickness – but I would check with your healthcare provider before you go if you have any concerns and see what they recommend. It’s a lot cheaper than visiting the ship’s doctor, too. 😉

13. If you don’t mind using a combined shampoo and conditioner on your hair and surviving with a not-so-pleasant smelling tiny bottle of lotion for the week, you won’t need to bring your own toiletries. If the afore-mentioned “surprises” are not your favorites, be sure to pack travel sizes of your favorite products for your hair and skin. (And don’t forget the sunscreen – it will cost you an arm and a leg to buy on board!).


Photo May 05, 12 27 00On the ship:
14. Booking your shore excursions through another company (besides your cruise ship) can save you money, but MAKE SURE they get you back to the ship ON TIME. We’ve had some pretty close calls making it back to the ship on time using other companies for excursions, so we usually just stick to renting equipment (like snorkeling gear and paddle boards) outside of the cruise line.

15. Not sure what to do when you first get on board? It’s the perfect day to explore your ship! See what food options you have available, find the gym (if you really want to! 😉 ), explore the lido deck, and get familiar with where your stateroom is located.

16. The emergency evacuation drill on embarkation day is mandatory on every ship on every cruise line. There’s just no way around it. Just go with the flow, and try to have a good attitude about it, because you have to be there regardless of whether or not you like it. 😉 It doesn’t last long, and once it’s over, you can feel like your vacation is actually going to start.

17. You don’t have to get off the ship on port days. In fact, that’s when some of my favorite ship-time has been! The ship will pretty much clear out on the days you are at-port, so enjoy the pool, the prime lounge chairs, the short food lines at lunch, and the DEALS at the spa. 😉

Photo May 05, 13 05 56

18. Room service is included in your cruise fare. So if you don’t want to brave the crowds that ensue every morning or during the lunch hours, relax in your room with some TV and order in. With a cruise, it’s more about the relaxation of the journey, not really the destination. 😉

19. Your key card is your key to fun. Attach a credit card account to your key card and you can use it anywhere on the ship as well as some ports. DO NOT attach a debit card account to your key card (you can incur some hefty fines from the bank, the cruise ship, etc…). Take it with you every where you go. Not only is it the key to your stateroom, but it’s also your form of ID to get on and off the ship at ports, too. You can’t get off the ship without it, and you can’t get on the ship without it.

20. Need to be in touch with the other members of your group on the ship?? Try walkie-talkies. That way, you don’t have to pay for expensive international plans, and you can keep tabs on each other throughout the day and meet-up later.

21. The last day of your cruise is really the day before you land back at your port. When it’s over, it’s really over. The morning of “disembarkation” starts early (like 6:30 am early), and they have you out of your room and off the ship as quickly as possible. Most places on the ship are closed, and only a select few places are open for eating that day. If you’re saving something for the “last day”, make sure you do it on the day before you disembark.Photo May 04, 14 40 41

Lastly, just remember to enjoy yourself! You’re on vacation! Take the elevator. Order two entrees at dinner – it’s free! Lounge by the pool. Relax! And have a great time. 🙂Get Away Today

Planning a Cruise? We’ve teamed up with Get Away Today to bring you deals on airfare, hotels, and vacation packages for your whole family. See how much you can save HERE.









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6 Responses to “Top 21 Tips for First-Time Cruisers”

  1. carol davis
    Great article. Truly informative and helpful for people who are going on cruise for first time. My next cruise is with Blount small ship adventures. I am so excited about it. We are going in a small ship from new york to montreal. I can?t wait for it. Thank you for the on shore excursion trip,i have never tried that.
  2. Thanks for all the great tips for 1st time cruisers. This is our 1st cruise we will be going on in Oct 2018 (Disney Fantasy) and if you could give us some advice for transportation from the airport to our hotel (its a hour away from the airport). I will be traveling with 3 children (2,4 & 11) and 4 adults. Any tips for transportation would be greatly appreciated (also do we have to bring carseats). If you know of any transportation companies, please let me know. I don't know where to start. Thanks again!
    • Know how you’re getting from the airport to the cruise line (or to the hotel on the day before and then to the cruise line the morning of). Some ports (like if you’re sailing out of Texas) are at least an hour away from the airport. This can be one of the extra costs I mentioned in the post. Make sure you have transportation arranged so you’re not hailing a cab and paying an arm and a leg to get to your cruise on time, and make sure you’ve factored transportation into your trip budget. Your cruise line can also help you with this and should be able to get you a better rate.
    • Hi Janice, I see that Elyse already answered you. I looked at another post from Stephanie (sister #4 and the reply I gave you was from her). Hopefully you can get it all figured out and get the best deal out there. Have SO much fun!

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