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15 Common Mistakes – Things Cruisers Wish They Knew About Before Their First Cruise

When you embark on your first cruise, you may be worried about things you have forgotten about or be concerned that you aren’t as well prepared as you should be.

There is no need to worry! In this article, we look at things that the seasoned cruisers in on our Facebook Page wish they had known when they first took a cruise.

Learn by their experiences and you will be more prepared than most of the other cruisers onboard.

Emma Cruises, Norwegian Encore, Alaska
Cruising on Norwegian Encore in Alaska

#1 How Much They Would Love Cruising

I think that this is very telling, it seemed to be the top answer in the group. Everybody seemed to be in agreement, that if they had known how great cruising was, they would have tried it earlier!

Lots of people also mentioned how addictive cruising can be – I can vouch for this! Once you have been on a cruise, you might find yourself constantly looking at different cruise itineraries and cruise lines. It’s a great way of exploring the world.

Many cruisers said that if they had known how much they would enjoy it, they would have started far cruising sooner!

Cruises are great for families with children, people of all ages and physical abilities.

Another good cruiser suggestion is doing the physical things first – Climb ruins, visit castles, take long walks while you are able. If you revisit when you are older, you might not be able to still do these things!

Cruisers in our Facebook Group said:

  • We booked our next cruise within a week of being home from our first cruise – that’s how much we loved it – Patsy
  • I wish I had known how much I was going to love it, and how accessible they were/are. I wish I had started cruising at a much younger age – Susan
  • Just how much my kids would love being on the ship! We’ve done Blackpool and Butlins over the years but nothing beats the smiles of my boys as they watched the sea crashing against the ship in the infinity bar on MSC Euribia – Kayleigh

#2 Don’t Overpack

Again, this is another very popular comment. It is easy to think you need multiple outfits with matching accessories, but I know from past experiences that I often end up taking home a case with far too many clean, unworn clothes in!

Lots of people suggested packing clothes with themed colours – so black and white, navy or red – then you can mix and match and wear things more than once. This is something I tend to do, I also pack a pair of nude-coloured sandals, they go with everything.

Wear comfortable clothes – and stretchy trousers/pants! You want to be able to eat all that wonderful cruise food and still fit into your clothes…

Other great suggestions Include:

  • You can wear the same outer clothes multiple times. Nobody notices and you meet so many people. Go with the basics. Wash out small things in the sink. Use the laundry service if you need to – it’s cheaper than the fee for a checked bag – Sharron
  • You don’t need 82 pairs of shoes! – Hope
Emma and suitcase
Emma Cruises – with Suitcase packed!

#3 Wash Your Hands Very Regularly

Everybody has heard the horror stories of sickness bugs and Norovirus outbreaks on cruises.

In actual fact sickness bugs are just as common on land based holidays, but the reporting procedures are far stricter on cruises- so everyone hears if a cruise ship has an outbreak.

costa smeralda restaurant buffet hand washing sink
Automatic hand washers on Costa Smeralda. Put your hands in the holes, the machine does the rest.

Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. There are often sinks at the entrance to the buffet, and on Costa Cruises they have wonderful, automatic hand washers! I wish all cruise lines would adopt these.

Staff are on hand at the entrance to the buffet and main dining rooms with hand sanitizer which they will encourage you to use.

It has to be said that some cruise lines are far better than others when it comes to making people wash or sanitise their hands.

I recently took a short cruise on P&O’s Aurora, where cases of Norovirus had been reported on a previous cruise. I have never seen so many sanitizing stations!

All food in the buffet was served by the staff, and no one was allowed to enter, or even walk through the buffet without washing their hands first.

Onboard P&O’s Aurora

#4 Pack First Aid Supplies and Medicines

As a matter of course I always pack a selection of first aid supplies and medicines. Many are available at the onboard shop but may cost you double the normal price.

  • I wish I had known to take what I call now my “mini pharmacy”. Allergy, nausea, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, Zantac, Imodium, etc. Someone in the group always needs it and the cost of meds on the ship is ridiculous – Candiance
  • Take a dental repair kit and a good range of off the shelf medicines. The medical centres are great but expensive and can’t do much about teeth if your crown falls off – Jane

Find out which medications I pack when I cruise in the article below:

Staying Healthy When You Cruise, Avoiding Seasickness – Medications and First Aid Items to Pack

#5 Research What’s Included

This one surprised me a little. Lots of people said that they didn’t know that the food in the main dining room was included in the cruise fare, and spent their whole holiday eating in the buffet!

On the larger newer ships, there are often poolside grills, and other included food options too. On P&O’s Arvia they have a wonderful American Diner that is included in the cruise fare.

Many ships have “Speciality Restaurants” that charge extra – but it really is worth checking to see which eating venues are included. I don’t often eat in the Speciality Restaurants unless I have onboard credit I want to use up!

Cruisers said:

  • Believe it or not, I didn’t know that the Main Dining room was part of the cruise fare! We only went to the buffet, thinking that was the only included food. We didn’t catch on until 2 days before we got back! We were so bummed! – Mary
  • I wish I’d known which restaurants are included with your holiday when you are on the cruise. I never found out before some other passenger told me 4 days before the end of my cruise. I was just eating in the buffet – Brian
  • That the food was included! We went to the pizza and burger station by the pool and couldn’t see any prices and were so confused! -Becci
  • You can order two dinners, three starters and six puddings if you feel like it! – Rachel
azamara onward poolside grill
Included poolside grill food – Azamara Onward

#6 Do As Little – Or As Much As You Want

This is a common mistake. Just because the daily schedule is full of activities and events, it doesn’t mean you have to go to them!

A cruise holiday is about relaxing and doing things at your own pace. Do as little or as much as you want.

  • You don’t have to do everything! Pick a few things each day you would like to do. Then everything else depends on how you are feeling. Felt like I was running from activity to activity. If you need a nap, take a nap – Rhett
norwegian prima balcony
I enjoy relaxing on my balcony

#7 It Can Be Expensive To Use Your Phone

Very few cruise lines include Wi-Fi in the fare, and buying it can be a costly option.

If you use your phone to make calls whilst at sea, you will be connected to the Maritime Network, and that can be incredibly expensive.

If I need to work whilst I am cruising, I buy a Wi-Fi package, if not, I will just use the mobile data included in my phone’s plan once I reach port. This doesn’t cost me anything extra.

To find out more about this, read the article below:

Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Using Your Phone on a Cruise – (Beginners Guide)

Cruisers say:

  • It’s incredibly expensive to make cell phone calls when you’re at sea and not close to the coast. The airline lost my luggage on our Eastern Med cruise and I had to make so many calls to try and track it down to Air Italia. When I got my bill when I got home I was shocked. If you’re close to land your phone picks up cell towers and we had an international package. The airline and ship tried to catch my bag up to the ship, but it got stuck in Athens – Barb
  • Take your kid’s phone or you may end up with a $1000 bill when you get home – Scott
Emma Cruises phone
I buy the Wi-Fi package when I’m working – I always have my phone in my hand!

#8 You Don’t Have To Book Excursions

Do some research. In many ports, particularly in Europe, it’s fine to just get off the ship and explore on your own.

You can do some research online before your trip and see if there is anything you would particularly like to visit. If there is, and it isn’t within walking distance, by all means take an excursion.

Some great suggestions from experienced cruisers:

  • You can book your own excursions but there is a risk if they are late back to the boat! So is the more expensive cruise experience a better choice? We love to research ports ourselves and then decide what to see/do! – Cynthia
  • I wish i’d known how much time you spend on coaches when doing any of the guided tours! – Jayne
  • Always book an excursion when in port on a Sunday as the town is usually shut! – Sharon

I did make an exception and took some cruise line excursions when I visited Asia. Find out all about those here:

#9 You Don’t Have To Take Part In “Themed Nights”

Lots of cruises have themed nights – White Nights, Elegant Nights, Pirate Nights, Black and White Nights – the list is endless it seems!

You don’t have to dress up if you don’t want to! ‘It’s your holiday, do what suits you.

Cruisers say:

  • I wish I’d known that wearing a costume is not compulsory when they have a costume party. When I went on my first cruise in 1976, I bought a Hula Hula skirt because the cruise materials said there was a costume party, and there were only 20 people wearing costumes. I was never so embarrassed in my life when everyone insisted that I do a Hula dance, and I am totally incapable of dancing at all – Rosemary

Find out more about themed nights on cruises in the article below:

Theme Nights On Cruise Ships (Everything You Need to Know) – Examples

My trusty “White Night” Dress – I usually pack it “just in case” there is a White Night. If there isn’t, I wear it anyway!

#10 Consider Getting To The Port The Day Before

If you take a fly-cruise, consider getting an earlier flight, or arriving the day before you cruise.

This will take away a lot of stress, if your flight is delayed there is less chance of you missing your cruise ship.

I did once nearly miss my flight to Barcelona when I was taking a Christmas Cruise on Norwegian Epic. Our car engine blew up on the way to the airport and we had to be rescued by family!

The airport was REALLY busy as it was just before Christmas, and we were SO lucky we didn’t miss the flight – I am sure it would have been virtually impossible to catch another one.

Another reason to fly early is that you might find that you don’t get the full enjoyment out of your first day onboard, because you are so exhausted from the flights to the ship.

  • Fly in the day before! We were exhausted the 1st night – Kelly
  • Arrive at the departure port at least a day earlier, more if dealing with jet lag – Kathryn

#11 A Short Cruise Is Not A Typical Cruise

People often make the mistake of thinking if they try a short two or three day cruise, it will give them an idea whether they would like a longer cruise.

This really isn’t the case. Short cruises are often “party cruises” and you might get the wrong impression about cruising.

Whilst I have taken a few short cruises in my time, and enjoyed MOST of them, I feel as soon as I settle into the cruise, it is time to get off!

Cruisers say:

  • 3-day cruises are unfortunately not any type of cruise to judge “ cruising” by. Staff are already prepping debarkation the second you step foot on. They’re exhausted from change over day every day. Try at least a 7-day before truly judging like or dislike if you can. Best are over 10 days but obviously, many can’t do them – Susan
  • Don’t take a 3-day party boat cruise with Carnival to Avalon!– Larry

#12 Bags On Disembarkation

This caused a lot of comments! Guests can put out their bags the night before they disembark, and pick them up on the way through the cruise terminal the following morning.

The time the bags have to be outside your door for varies from cruise line to cruise line, the earliest reported being 6.30pm for Holland America. More typically, it is by around 10 pm.

It’s a good idea to keep a small bag or rucksack with you to put all those things in that you don’t want to put in your suitcase – paperwork, toiletries, medications, passports etc.

Make sure you don’t pack all your clothes, and have to disembark in your pyjamas!

On disembarkation morning, you will be asked to disembark by number or colour – the labels they give you to put on your cases will tell you which group you are in. When your group is called, you leave the ship.

This often means hanging about waiting for your group to be called.

Self-Disembarkation Of Bags

This is often my preferred option. You don’t have to put your bags out, you can carry them off the ship yourself on the last morning.

You can literally just get up, grab your bag and leave. No waiting around.

Cruisers say:

  • Carry a small hand luggage off yourself like a carry on on a plane – Lyn
  • I walk off with my bags. I haven’t put them out in the hall in almost 20 years – Ships and Sandy Beaches Travel
disembarkation day tshirt emma cruises
I have a disembarkation day t-shirt that i wear on the final morning.
This is My Disembarkation Day T-Shirt


** LIMITED QUANTITY and not available in stores **

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

#13 Be Aware Of Time Changes

The cruise line will normally put a little card in your room, telling you of any time changes.

This is fine, but you might find that your phone connects to the WiFi or mobile data, and changes the time to the local time automatically, and you can get very confused as to where you are – are you in the old time? or the new?

If you take an old-fashioned watch with you, you will know where you are, rather than always wondering if you are an hour or two out!

Cruisers say:

  • Take an old-fashioned watch. If you have a smartwatch, the time will be set by your phone. If you change the time manually, there’s a risk that it’ll be overridden by the network, confusing matters all the more. Also, I found that whenever my phone connected to the on-board Wi-Fi, it thought it was in Southampton and changed the time zone accordingly. There were no serious consequences, it just meant I turned up for something an hour early (I wasn’t the only one) but it would have been reassuring to have something that kept its own time independently – Stephen

I have also had this problem in the past. One disembarkation morning in Southampton, I was an hour out. I woke up about five minutes before I was due to leave the cabin – and got up, dressed and out of the cabin in under five minutes! It was stressful!

#14 You Might Find The Ship Is Cold

If you are off on a warm-weather cruise, be aware that the ship is air-conditioned and it might be quite chilly inside.

I always make sure I have a cardigan or jumper with me.

Cruisers say:

  • I didn’t know that I would actually be cold, quite often, just in the ship. I was so unprepared my first cruise! I packed for a warm vacation! dresses and shorts. I was miserable without a jacket or long pants – Tanya
  • We actually wore the robes in the theatre on our first cruise! – Carla
Celebrity infinity main dining room Emma Cruises White Dress
Wearing a cardigan in Celebrity Infinity’s main dining room. It was quite cold…

#15 Seasickness

People are always surprised when I say I occasionally suffer from seasickness. I am a very motion sick person generally, cars, buses, taxis – they can all make me feel ill.

Although i do sometimes get seasick, I don’t book a cruise expecting to feel ill.

I take sensible precautions, and dose myself up with seasickness tablets if the Captain says the weather might get rough – better safe than sorry!

As you can tell by the comments below, there is a lot of disagreement on this subject! Cruisers said:

  • Don’t assume you’ll get seasick! It’s not like the North Sea ferries at all! Seasickness on a cruise liner doesn’t even feel the same as on a ferry – Dan
  • That they lied when people said you wouldn’t get seasick– Darron
  • I wish I’d known the fact that I do not get seasick, and didn’t need the motion sickness patches that I was unknowingly allergic to! – Karen

Find out what precautions I take to prevent seasickness below:

What My Worst Seasickness Experiences Have Taught Me About Cruising

Find out all about the worst seasickness I have ever had, on my Fred Olsen “In Search of the Northern Lights” Cruise below:

#16 Different Cruise Lines Suit Different People

Don’t expect all cruises to be the same. Some are casual, some are formal. Some ships have Go Kart tracks and Ziplines, others have none of these things.

Some have a full schedule of activities onboard, some are relaxed and have hardly any.

I am a firm believer that there is a cruise line to suit everyone, you just need to find the right one for you.

Do your research before you book, to find a cruise that will suit you best. Cruisers wish they’d known:

  • That different cruise lines appeal to different demographics. I didn’t realise this and I went on my first cruise and hated it. The only holiday I’d been on which I could not wait to end. I’m not naming the cruise line – then 2 years later I stumbled across NCL, and had the best holiday ever with them – Rainey
  • As cruises will vary wildly from line to line and even ship to ship. Know what you are signing up for and go with the flow– Eric

Other Great Tips:

  • Don’t go in the school holidays – Wendy ( It will be more crowded)
  • We cruise with our two boys – having bathers and goggles packed into a carry-on is a must for them. They’re straight in the pool as soon as we board. It’s one of the only times that they get most of the water to themselves because everyone else has yet to receive their board shorts! – Rachael
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for anything or about anything – they want you to have the best timeMartyn
  • Find out whether gratuities are included, or added on to your account – Emma
  • Drinks packages are worth the money – Rick (*But not everyone agrees!)
  • If you are fly-cruising, split your luggage between cases. Nothing worse than turning up minus a suitcase – Pauline
  • Don’t sit on the toilet and flush at the same time! Mine felt like it sucked my liver out. Jeeeezzz…– Chris
  • Toilets! Ladies along one side and gents on the opposite side of the ship. The miles I walked up and down looking for the toilet! – Michelle
  • Don’t wear anything with pineapples on – Dave (Check below to find out why!)
  • Other cruisers complain about everything but keep returning! – Marian

Thanks to everyone on Facebook for sharing their experiences and cruise knowledge!

Before You Go

Rick says above that drinks packages are worth the money – for me, they aren’t. Find out why below:

Drinks Packages Aren’t Worth it For Me – Here’s How I Decide (Price Lists & More)

Find out why you might not want to wear pineapple designs on your clothes here:

Pineapples on Cruise Ships: (I Interviewed a Swinger Who Uses This SECRET Code)

Find out more about gratuities, and which cruiselines include them in the article below:

Cruise Gratuities: A Simple Step by Step Guide For First Time Cruisers

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide

Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.

This FREE guide shows you everything you need to know to find your perfect cruise line.