Considering your first cruise? In this post, we have tips from cruisers on a range of cruise-related topics. This article will guide you through from pre-cruise right through to disembarkation helping you to avoid costly and time-consuming mistakes.
Before The Cruise
Cruise Tip #1: Check Your Cruise Documents Are up to Date Before You do ANYTHING Else
Make sure your passport is up to date. Also, check Visa requirements since you are going to a new area. Your cruise provider/travel agent should have all that info. – Chillie
There is NOTHING more important than making sure you have the correct documents in place to cruise, without this you would be turned away from the ship at the port and your cruise is over.
In this situation you wouldn’t receive a refund so would be left out of pocket.
There are a few cruises where you don’t need passports but in the majority of situations, you do.
I have another post detailing which cruises don’t require passports and which types of ID you need instead. To check that out visit the post here: Do You Need a Passport To Cruise? Everything You Need To Know.
Cruise Tip #2: Find Out if There Are Areas of Your Ship That You DON’T Want to Miss!
I would recommend researching the ship you’re on prior to the cruise and make a binder or list on your phone of info, ie what restaurants are speciality and complimentary, and figure out if you need to book dining and show reservations. Then once on board, explore the ship and get to know your floating home. – Stephanie
The more research you can do ahead of your cruise to less time you will waste onboard.
I like to think of myself as something of a seasoned cruiser but I am still guilty of getting midway through a cruise and thinking ‘I’m sure there is an ice skating rink on here, I haven’t found it yet’.
Cruise ships can be HUGE and it is easy to miss things if you don’t do your research prior to your cruise.
Cruise Tip #3: Download The Cruise Line Apps
If the cruise line you’re going on has an app make sure you download it so you can use all of the features when you’re onboard – Terry
I love it when cruise lines have apps, MSC and Marella are two of my favorites but most do have them. The apps usually allow you to see the daily schedule, book shows/meals, and check your onboard account.
The filmed the video video onboard the MSC Meraviglia. It shows the main features of the MSC for Me App which is free to use.
Cruise Tip #4: Research Excursions Through The Ship and Consider Booking Separately
Don’t feel you have to book all shore excursions through the ship. Sometimes it’s great to do your own exploring or look for trips off the ship at the destination port. However, consider the ship won’t wait if you’re late. – Stephen
It is very rare that I take ship-organized excursions.
It is completely fine to never take an excursion with the cruise line, the cruise lines don’t want you to know this though because they obviously want your money.
Sometimes they will be a bit sneaky. In Marseille, MSC tried to sell us a transfer into town for €30 each. If you didn’t know better you may be tempted by this offer, however, there is actually a free shuttle bus just outside the cruise port!
Doing your research can save you LOTS of money. I always start by looking at the website WhatsInPort.com.
I am a big fan of a hop on hop off bus which allows you to see a lot of a city in one day.
Cruise Tip #5: Check Your Account For Any Reservation Mistakes – Missing Drinks Packages For Example
Make sure all your reservations for speciality dining, drink packages, and other things you have requested online, are confirmed. – Bob
When printing your cruise tickets you should check that things you have paid for online have been confirmed.
I’ve had a few issues with drinks packages not being properly applied to my account and having the evidence on paper that I did pay for the package certainly helps.
If you ever do have any problems when onboard the staff at the reception desk will always be happy to help.
Cruise Tip #6: Print Your Luggage Tags and Bring Sellotape or a Stapler
Don’t forget to print out your luggage tags – Sebastian
If you have the option to print your luggage tags I would definitely recommend you do it. Most cruise lines will email you your luggage tags a few weeks before the cruise, print these, and staple them to your suitcases.
When you get to the port you can drop off your bags and head to check in. If you don’t have luggage tags printed off you may have to line up to get tags and it can just take a little longer.
No biggie but if you have the option to print, do it.
Cruise Tip #7: Tell The Cruise Line About Allergies Before Your Board if Possible
Cruise lines deal really well with food allergies but make sure you tell them, I normally tell them at the time of booking which makes it easier. – Alice
If you have a food allergy or intolerance you have a couple of options.
Minor food intolerances:
If your food intolerance is relatively minor like mine you may wish to avoid foods by looking at the food intolerance information on the menus.
Most cruise lines will have allergens like gluten and dairy marked on the menus. If not the wait staff are always knowledgeable on the menus and will be able to help you to avoid your allergen.
Serious intolerances or allergies:
Another option for more series intolerances or allergies is to let the cruise line know ahead of your cruise. At the time of booking, you may be asked if you have any dietary requirements.
On arrival to the ship, you may meet with the maitre d to organize your meals ahead of time.
In some situations you will be provided with the dinner menu a day early and may have to choose what you’d like for tomorrow’s dinner so the menu can be adjusted, this often happens is there are no vegan options on the menu but the passenger is vegan.
Cruise Tip #8: Book Your Transport/Parking EARLY For Cheaper Rates
Don’t forget about your car or your cat, make sure you have parking sorted and a cat sitter looking after your moggy. – Fay
I LOVE this one, I have a cat called Hudson who I adore and cat/house sitters who stay in my house when I’m away.
Before your cruise make sure you’ve sorted practical things like this and booked your transport/parking. I’m lucky that I live relatively close to my local cruise port so am able to drive and park my car at the port.
Packing For The Cruise
Cruise Tip #9: Take 50% of Your Suitcase Contents Out Before You Go
Take half that stuff out of your case. You won’t wear it!!! – Keily
I think this is very important. I have always packed light so am not necessarily guilty of this but I know LOADS of people who are.
If you are driving to the port feel free to pack as much as you’d like but if you’re flying make sure you are keeping within the luggage restrictions of the airline.
To help decide what I ACTUALLY wear day to day I usually pack by putting things into my suitcase when I’ve washed them instead of back into my drawers.
If I haven’t worn something in months it’s unlikely I’m going to want to wear it on holiday, apart from formal night dresses of course!
Cruise Tip #10: Pack Seasickness Medication Even if You’ve Never Been Seasick Before
Some people say you don’t need to bring seasickness medicine on a cruise. These people have either never been on a cruise or don’t really get seasick!! – Alan
I am one of the most travel-sick people I know. I get travel sick in cars, coaches, you name it. Yes, I have been seasick on a cruise. It is very rare as most of the time you don’t notice the ship moving at all but I’ve been stuck in a couple of storms and seasickness is AWFUL.
I definitely recommend bringing seasickness medication to everybody taking a cruise. Even if you don’t think you’ll get seasick it is so much better to have it.
If the captain says that we’re heading into bad weather I just take a seasickness pill and then I’m fine. Easy!
To learn more about how I prevent and treat seasickness, check out this post: 13 Actionable Tips to Prevent and Treat Seasickness on a Cruise
Cruise Tip #11: Take Loose and Comfortable Clothes
Definitely take clothes that are looser, as they won’t be loose by the end of the cruise – Gavin
This one is a little silly but the point is very true.
When you are on your cruise you are going to want to be comfortable. There isn’t any point in taking jeans that look great but will make you feel miserable.
Cruise Tip #12: Choose a Bright or Distinctive Suitcase
Get distinctive luggage or personalised luggage strap to help spot your suitcase in the crowds when disembarking. – Emma
This is always a good idea. I have a bright red suitcase for the same reason.
When you disembark your suitcase will most likely end up in a HUGE pile with the other passengers, being able to find your suitcase fast can save you a lot of time.
Cruise Tip #13: Fill Your Carry On Bag With Essentials and Some Other Items
Always remember to take a carry-on bag with your swimming gear, sun cream, etc … as you won’t get your luggage till later. – Caroline
When you get to the cruise ship you will leave your suitcase with the porters and you will board the ship.
Your suitcase will arrive in your room later that afternoon. I’ve never had to wait for more than a couple of hours for mine but it is possible that your suitcase could be delayed until after dinner.
For this reason, they rarely have formals night on the first night of a cruise.
Pack anything that you’ll need for the day in a carry on bag to keep with you. Make sure you keep any medicines and cruise documents/passports in this bag.
Cruise Tip #14: Don’t Forget Your 9 Cruise Essentials
Do NOT forget to bring adapters, your passport, your phone or your camera! – Emma
Okay okay, this tip is actually from me. It is important and I feel as though lots of cruisers are so busy packing LOTS of things that they forget what is actually important.
In the video below I managed to put together a list of 9 essentials that I take on every cruise with me. If you’ve packed all 9 of these things you can stop worrying about what you have forgotten!
If you’ve not already subscribed to my YouTube channel please do, I share cruise tips, tours, vlogs, and more.
Cruise Tip #15: Pack Formal Wear (If You Need It)
One a week cruise don’t forget at least two formal suits for gala evenings and leave some space in your baggage for the ship model that you can buy onboard. – Umberto
Not all cruise lines have formal nights but many do. If you cruising for a week I would recommend packing two formal outfits as there are normally two formal nights.
The definition of formal varies largely between cruise lines, on Cunard formal means a tuxedo and bow tie for men, on cruise lines like MSC on a ‘gala/formal’ night men could wear a polo shirt in the main dining room and not be out of place.
If you don’t ever want to dress up you don’t have to.
Cruise lines like Norwegian Cruise Line have no formal nights at all. Even if you do pick a cruise line that does have formal nights these can usually be avoided by eating in the buffet instead of the main dining room.
Cruise Tip #16: Allow More Time Than Necessary
If you can, get to the port the day before. Flying into port on the day is possible but can be stressful. – Fiona
I have flown into ports and embarked a ship on the same day before, it isn’t something I would recommend but in the circumstances, I had no other option and it worked out okay for me.
If you do have a choice I would strongly recommend you get to port the night before you embark. You really don’t want to start your cruise being stressed.
If you live within a few hours of the port this might not be necessary but make sure you have plenty of time to make the journey.
Cruise Tip #17: Be Patient and Expect to Wait in Line
Be prepared to wait in a line of some sort. Even when we cruise with priority embarkation, (ie NCL Haven) we’ve waited in small lines. Get excited! You’ll be on the ship before you know it! – Stephanie
It’s definitely important to ‘pack your patience’ for a cruise.
The process of embarkation can be similar to that of going through an airport so you may have to wait in a line to check-in or to go through security.
Bonus Tip: Have no expectations, be prepared, relax. Ship happens. Be a duck. Let it roll off your back, like water off the duck. It’s vacation time. – Gene
Cruise Tip #18: Expect to go Through Security When Embarking
Cruise ship security is almost the same as you have in an airport. Your bags are scanned and you are scanned too. – Amy
When you get to the port you’ll have to go through security. Cruise lines are looking for any dangerous items or items that are not allowed on board.
The rules in regards to bringing alcohol on cruises is varied and complex. Some cruise lines do allow you to bring certain amounts of alcohol onboard but some do not allow you to do this at all.
For the full guide check out the post I made here: Can You Bring Alcohol on a Cruise? (Cruise Line Guide).
Cruise Tip #19: Don’t Put Away Your Cruise Card as You Get on The Shi[
When you check in you will be given a room card which is your key to everything onboard. Don’t put it away, you’ll need it throughout the cruise and to embark the ship. – Danny
Your cruise card really is the most important thing when you cruise. It is used to charge all onboard spending to and it also opens your cabin door. Do your best to look after it.
If you do lose the card you’ll be able to get a replacement at reception but it’s always best to try and avoid this. When embarking you’ll need the card multiple times so don’t put it away.
Cruise Tip #20: Head To The Main Restaurant on Embarkation Day, Avoid The Buffet
If an option on your ship go to the MDR for embarkation lunch instead of the buffet. A nice relaxed way to start the cruise!
This is one of my favourite tips on the list because so few people know about it.
When you embark most people will head straight to the buffet or the pool, both of these places can become really busy.
On a lot of cruises, the main dining room will also be open for lunch so you can begin your cruise in a more relaxed way.
Cruise Tip #21: Explore The Ship as SOON As Possible
Once you get on the ship, especially if they let you embark early, be aware your cabin may not be ready so it’s a good time to wander the ship and get familiar!
If you embark your cruise at midday your cabin may not be ready until 2/3pm, be prepared for this.
On occasion when you embark you’ll be able to go straight to your cabin but this is not typical. The previous guests would have been in the cabins until about 8 am so the crew really don’t have very long to clean the entire ship!
Cruise Tip #22: Go Swimming as Soon as You Embark
Wear your swim suit under your clothes or have it in a carry on, as the hot tubs are open even if your room is not ready yet. Start your cruise in the hot tub with a pina colada.
This sounds SUPER!
Cruise Tip #23: Change Your Dining Times (If You Want to)
We always go straight to the maitre d when we get on board and ask for the early sitting (if we don’t have it) and ask to be seated by ourselves near a window. – Ferg
When you book a cruise you’ll often be asked if you would like early or late dining. If you don’t get the dining time you’d like you can often change this onboard if you speak to the maitre d on the first day of your cruise.
It is possible to change it later on in the cruise but it is more unlikely that there will be room at your desired time.
Not all cruises have fixed dining with some offering a more flexible experience. This will depend entirely on the cruise line.
If you don’t feel like dining in the main dining room at any point during your cruise you are always able to dine in the buffet.
Almost all cruises have the main dining room and buffet options available for dinner.
Cruise Tip #24: Put Your Suitcase Under The Bed if Possible
Cruise ship cabins aren’t normally that big so to make more room we always put our suitcases under the bed. – Cody
Putting your suitcase under the bed or into the wardrobe gives you a lot more room.
If i’m onboard for a really short cruise (2 or 3 nights) I might just live out of my suitcase, but usually I unpack and put the suitcase under the bed.
Cruise Tip #25: ALWAYS Read The Daily Schedule
Read the daily schedule delivered to your cabin and plan your day. – Lynne
This is how I start every day on a cruise. Each night a daily schedule will be delivered to your room, these have various names like ‘cruise compass’, ‘princess patter’ but generally all have the same contents.
These schedules will include what is going on around the ship when and will also provide you with information about when all of the bars/restaurants are open.
Below is an example from the MSC Meraviglia.
If anything special is going on around the ship this might also be mentioned, I was actually featured in one daily schedule when I ‘braved the shave’ for Macmillan onboard the Marella Discovery.
This involved shaving off all my hair to raise money for Cancer Support. We raised £5000+ and I’m so glad it’s done. Not planning on doing it again anytime soon though!
Cruise Tip #26: Don’t Miss The Sunsets
Don’t miss the sunsets!! – Robert
I couldn’t agree more with this one. Sunsets at sea are unlike anything you’ll ever find on land, I’m not sure why but they should not be missed.
If you’re reading this and you’ve never been on a cruise you might be thinking ‘how could I miss the sunset?!’.
Amazingly it’s VERY easy to do!
Maybe you’re in the theatre, or at dinner, cruises can be busy and sometimes you just forget to look outside.
Cruise Tip #27: Ask For Help!
Don’t be afraid to ask questions – the crew & the other passengers are usually happy to help you!! You might get lost a few times trying to figure out forward & aft, or starboard & port (or where your cabin is) – but just ask someone & I’m sure there’ll be a person willing to point you in the right direction!!
Being a first time cruiser can be a bit overwhelming – but there are people onboard who want to make your cruise a wonderful experience!! Guest services is always available to answer questions- even the silly ones (sometimes they need a good laugh too)! – Bonnie
ALWAYS ask for help if you need anything. You’ve paid to be on the cruise, the staff will be happy to help.
Cruise Tip #28: Walk Lots
Eat lots, but walk lots and take the stairs to make up for it. Check out the whole ship. Take lots of pics and be careful what you wear under sundresses, it can get real windy on deck sometime. – Veronica
Sadly I have fallen victim to the windy deck problem on a number of occasions. ‘How windy can it be?!’ `famous last words.
I would strongly recommend that you take the stairs and walk as much as you can. It is a well known ‘fact’ that cruisers put on, on average a pound a day when they cruise. I don’t think that I have ever put on weight on a cruise, in fact, I find it much easier to be healthy onboard than in my day to day life. If you’d like to find out how I do it, and still treat myself, check out this post I wrote about staying healthy onboard: Avoid Cruise Ship Weight Gain – 7 Easy Things You Can Do.
Cruise Tip #29: Change Table Mates (If You Want To)
Don’t be afraid to ask to change table if your dinner mates are not your cup of tea! Only had to do it once but so pleased we did as it’s your holiday as well so life is too short to be with people you don’t get on with. – Tracey
You don’t have to table share on all cruises but on some, you might end up doing it. I usually try and avoid table sharing but it can be a lot of fun. If you are table sharing and don’t like your table mates you MUST make sure that you change. This happens all the time and the staff won’t mind. You can also change to a table for 2 (or your party size) if you would prefer not to share.
Cruise Tip #30: Get To Know Your Cabin Steward
Get to know your Steward. I found that the one that I had on last year’s cruise to be a mine of info about not only the ship but also ports we were going to. – Stephen
Cabin stewards often have a lot of information about the ports that you are visiting. They may have been on the cruise for a while and been personally to the port or they may have just heard other guests talking about it. If you have any questions about life onboard it can often be easiest to direct these to your cabin steward, if your cabin steward doesn’t know the answer they will know who you should ask!
Cruise Tip #31: Make Friends
Talk to strangers! Get to know people and don’t be afraid to try new things! If there’s a roll call for your cruise, join it before the cruise and join in on the meet and greets and bar crawls. They are great fun! – Stephanie
I’ve personally never joined a meet and greet but I do know LOADS of people that enjoy them. CruiseCritic is a great place to start.
Cruise Tip #32: Sign Up For Kids Clubs
Get your kids to enjoy the kids club so that you get some me-time too! Talk to them about it before you go so that they’re excited to try it, and leave them for just very small periods in the first day or two so that they’re asking to go back, rather than being there for ages and wanting to get out! – Jenni
I have been cruising since I was 11 and went to a number of kids clubs when I was younger. They were always so much fun and I’d definitely recommend signing your kids up. They’ll love it and you will too!
Cruise Tip #33: Remember Your Cabins Location
Make a mental note to the cabin from various lifts can save you miles of walking. – Hazel
Cruise ships can be confusing, there is no denying that. Even when you’re in your cabin it can be tricky to get an idea of your location relative to other things around the ship. Have a look at the deck plan either before or during your cruise and make sure you know which way you should go when leaving your room to get to the nearest staircase or elevator.
Cruise Tip #34: Change The Bed Configuration
My first cruise with a platonic friend, we got to our stateroom to find a double bed vs. 2 singles. We are backpacking friends and the bed was larger than the backpacking tent we’d shared on many occasions, so we just made do without saying anything. But inside, I was embarrassed and mortified!
Our cabin steward would have been more than happy to change the configuration.
So if something is not as expected, or if you’re not sure what to expect, just ask! Goes for your cabin, meals, drinks, getting a towel at the pool, excursions, reservations, etc… – Trixie
I often cruise with my brother and have to ask to have the beds separated. As a default, the cruise line will usually provide a double bed. You can either ask your room steward in person to have the beds separated or if you don’t bump into your room steward you can leave them a note. I often do this.
Cruise Tip #35: Take a Photo of The Daily Schedule
If you’re carrying your phone around the ship take pics of the daily schedule and the bar times etc. – James
Many cruise lines have apps which you can download prior to your cruise which will show you the daily schedule. Sadly all cruise lines aren’t quite there yet, if not, take a photo of anything you need to remember.
Cruise Tip #36: Tip Your Room Steward (If You’d Like To)
The big thing for me is to make sure you have enough money for cash tips for the room steward, your waiter and assistant waiter in the main dining room and anyone else you want. They get the prepaid gratuities – but this is your chance to round up. – Corey
This is by no means necessary but is always a nice gesture. Many cruise lines will have automatic gratuities which are added to your bill at the end of the cruise, I usually leave these on. Some cruisers choose to remove the automatic gratuities and tip the staff in cash and others tip in cash and also leave the gratuities on.
This is 100% your choice and you shouldn’t let anybody else pressure you into doing/not doing something that you’d like to do. It is a personal preference.
To learn more about gratuities, including how they also affect drinks and spa treatments, check out this post so that you don’t have any nasty surprises on your cruise:
Cruise Tip #37: Check Your Onboard Account
Keep an eye on your bill throughout your cruise. We have had charges that were wrong and had to get them corrected. You don’t want to be in that line on debarkation day trying to fix your bill. – Paul
I have been on a number of cruises where I have had problems with my onboard account. Sometimes items will be incorrectly charged to you or discounts/packages that you have will not be correctly applied. Checking your account throughout your cruise means that you can nip these problems in the bud.
On most cruise lines you can check your onboard account on the TV or on screens around the ship. Many cruise lines also have apps where you can monitor your onboard spend which I love.
Cruise Tip #38: Be Adventurous
Try new things, even if a little weird. What’s the worst that will happen? You’ll have to order more free food? – Justin
Don’t be afraid to order things that you wouldn’t normally try at home. This is one of my favourite things about cruising. Cruising is a brilliant way to try new foods without learning how to cook new things.
The waiters really won’t mind if you don’t like it and don’t eat the dish. Often if you don’t eat the dish a waiter will offer you another, sometimes they can be quite convincing! You’re also free to order more than one course at any point. Many cruisers do this and you won’t look out of place if you choose to.
Cruise Tip #39: Eat in the Main Dining Room on Day One
Eat at the MDR the first night. People then to go to the buffet the first day and it tends to be packed while the MDR is empty. – Olivier
I agree with those who say to eat in the MDR the first night. That way, you get an idea of the food, the service and the atmosphere. Then if you don’t like it, you still have time to either make reservations at the speciality restaurants or just eat at the buffet. – Lynette
Going to the main dining room on the first night means that you can meet your table mates and waiters. You can decide at this point if you’d like to change the dining time or table.
The first night of a cruise is not normally a formal night which means you’re able to experience the main dining room in a bit of a more relaxed atmosphere. You can learn a lot from watching the other guests too!
Cruise Tip #40: Try Table Sharing
Try sharing a table at least once… I hated the thought of it but when I did it I met some amazing people and it was really interesting!! – Katy
I’ve always been very anti-table sharing, I don’t think of myself as a particularly sociable person and sometimes I don’t have the energy to chat for hours. However, last year I shared a table with a group on a P&O cruise and it was brilliant.
A lot of cruises have fixed dining where you will be assigned a table and that is your table for the cruise. Some cruise lines have flexible dining where you can eat when you are hungry but they still allow you to table share.
I was travelling with my Mum and we were put on a table for 10, ordinarily, this would strike fear into my heart but we had SO much fun. We actually decided to meet up again on the last night to see how our cruises had gone. It was really interesting to get to know everybody and learn a little about them.
Cruise Tip #41: Make The Most of Your Waiters
Try new things but if you don’t like something, don’t be afraid to tell waiters. They will happily bring you something else. The waiters usually know what is good and enjoyed by most so I always ask them for recommendations in the MDR. – Maryann
The waiters have LOADS of information about the food if you’re ever unsure about an ingredient or how something is cooked make sure you talk to them. They will usually ask you how your food is but don’t wait until this point if you have a problem.
If you cruise on a line where you have fixed dining you might get to know your waiters extremely well!
Cruise Tip 42#: Choose Breakfast in The MDR
Go to the MDR for breakfast and get waited on! Much better than a crowded buffet in my opinion! – Gaynor
This is a brilliant idea but I very rarely manage to get up in time. I love to have a lie in and the main dining room breakfast usually ends at around 9 am. The buffet breakfast often goes on later, until 10 or 11.
It definitely is a nicer experience to be waited on in the main restaurant as the buffet can sometimes be busy and at peak times it can be tricky to get a seat on some of the bigger ships.
Cruise Tip #43: Dietary Restrictions
If any dietary restrictions/choices/allergies then mention this on booking then once on board I find the restaurant manager to discuss any meal planning. I’m vegan and finds it helps to make friends with the restaurant manager. Most speciality dining chefs need 24 hrs notice for vegan options. – Alison
Cruise lines are normally very good at dealing with dietary restrictions but they do need prior warning. It is becoming easier and easier to cruise as a vegan but it can still be tricky on some cruise lines.
Cruise Tip #44: Mix Up The Courses
I love looking at the dinner menus and trying to decide, but sometimes I just can’t! On my last cruise, I finally asked the waiter if I could get a certain entree as an appetiser. It was something like risotto or polenta, so easy to plate a smaller portion. I really wanted to try it but didn’t want it as my main entree. No problem and the staff were happy to accommodate.
Don’t hesitate to go off script with the courses. I frequently try 2 or 3 apps if it’s something interesting that I don’t want to miss out on. The portions aren’t huge, so not a budget buster calorie wise. – Trixie
You are always able to ask for a starter as a main and a main as a starter. You could probably even ask for a dessert as a main if you wanted too although I’m not too sure that I’d recommend it!
Cruise Tip #45: Skip The Main Dining Room (Sometimes)
Don’t feel like you have to eat at speciality restaurants or even the MDR on any given day. Sometimes you have too many drinks/snacks during the day and you aren’t hungry until later in the evening when just a sandwich or a slice of pizza will do. – Stephanie
It’s your cruise, do it your way! I love eating in the buffet and I also love ordering room service. If you’ve had a long day in port and you’re tired don’t feel as though you have to go to the main dining room. On most cruise lines the buffet is open late into the evening, some will even have midnight snacks. On cruise lines like Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean, there is often food available almost 24 hours a day.
You don’t have to tell your table mates or waiters if you aren’t coming to the main dining room. They will start without you!
Cruise Tip #46: Have a Pool Day
Don’t feel you have to do anything. It’s your vacation. You don’t have to get off at that port if you’re tired, have a poolside day. It’s your vacation. – Tom.
I am a big fan of a pool day. It’s lovely to be able to enjoy the ship without other passengers being everywhere. I often skip a port day to film my ship tours. If you haven’t already subscribed to my YouTube channel please do: Emma Cruises YouTube Channel.
To find out why cruisers often stay on the ship in port, including which discounts are available, check out the post below:
Cruise Tip #47: Cruises are Based on Two Sharing
When you see a cruise price this will be based on two people sharing. This makes it more expensive for people cruising solo as they’ll often be charged a ‘solo supplement’. – Josh
When you go on a cruise lines website the price shown will be for one person but this fare is based on two people sharing a cabin. Single occupancy rates mean that it is often much more expensive to cruise alone than with another person. The only variation on this is Virgin Voyages who advertise their prices on a cabin basis.
Cruise Tip #48: For Solo Cruising – Consider Norwegian Cruise Line
For a solo cruiser I recommend Norwegian… particularly the smaller ships. In the daily planner there is listed a solo gathering each evening before dinner. Here the solos can become acquainted. Nightly a dinner reservation is made for the solo group so, if desired you can eat together. – Elizabeth
Norwegian Cruise Line are definitely one of the best cruise lines for people travelling solo. They have specific solo cabins and solo lounges/events. Cruises with Norwegian are often very relaxed and informal which makes it a great atmosphere to make friends. I’ve never cruised solo with Norwegian Cruise Line but still have made friends on my Norwegian cruises.
The downside is that all solo cabins are inside cabins. You are of course able to book a balcony but you’d have to pay more to make up for the missing person that you’re not sharing with.
Cruise Tip #49: For Solo Cruising – Consider P&O
P&O are one of the few cruise lines that have single balcony cabins. – Jessica
Yep! There are other cruise lines which have single balcony cabins such as Saga but P&O are probably most well known for this. The single balcony cabins are a really good size too.
Cruise Tip #50: For Solo Cruising – Make Friends Before You Go
Join a sail page (if there is one) before the sailing. Nice way to make a few good friends that you can meet up with on the ship! Also, don’t be afraid to eat alone. That was my worry! Lots of people eat alone and no one even notices! I brought my phone or a book with me whenever I’d eat alone (which wasn’t very often as I made friends!) – Lisa
Prior to a cruise, you’ll usually be able to find a ‘sail page’ which people join if they are going on a certain cruise. You can usually find these on Facebook or on CruiseCritic. These are also called ‘roll calls’.
Cruise Tip #51: For Solo Cruising – Request a Large Table
If the line offers seated dinners, request a big table. Great way to meet people. Join in on the shipboard activities, like trivia. If you see someone sitting alone, ask to join them. – Lynette
This is a great idea! It can sometimes be hard to go up and start a conversation with people so games like trivia are a great way. We’ve made many friends with people who have joined in our trivia games. Dinner is always a good opportunity to make friends as you’ve got an hour or two to chat.
Cruise Tip #52: For Solo Cruising – You Do You!
As a solo cruiser, you dont have a ready-made companion that you already know like the same travel style as you. So, to ensure the cruise will meet your needs and wants, start by really evaluating what’s most important to you…partying, making friends, quiet time? Relax on a beach or excursions/on the go in port? Budget or luxury? Privacy? These guidelines will help in selecting a cruise line, itinerary and cabin as well as activities that will make you happy. – Ellen
Cruising solo is the perfect opportunity to do what YOU want when you want! No compromises.
Cruise Tip #53: Prepare to Tender
Sometimes on cruises you have to go on a tender boat to get to land because the ship is too big to fit into the port. I think the tenders are quite fun to be honest. – Tom
Tendering is where you use a lifeboat, or smaller boat, to get from the cruise ship to the port, it usually happens when the ship is too big to get into port. It often slows down the disembarkation process.
If you are worried about tendering or would prefer not to, you can usually see on the cruise itinerary before you book if the ports are docked or tendered. It certainly is possible to avoid cruises which require tendering. If you chose a cruise with city ports you more than likely, won’t have to tender.
When you book your cruise your itinerary will say if ports are docked or tendered.
To learn more about cruise ship tendering here is a post I wrote about tendering tips: Cruise Ship Tendering – Tips 2019.
Cruise Tip #54: Do Your Own Thing
You don’t have to take excursions in every port. Cruise line’s would like you to believe that you do because that is where they make their money but many guests just get off the ship and wander off on their own. This is easier in certain countries than other but in general if you’re taking a cruise like one to the Mediterranean you can walk around the ports alone. – Emma
It really annoys me the way that cruise lines make first time cruisers believe that they need to take excursions with the ship. They often make out that this is the only way to visit certain things which isn’t true at all. On some cruises I don’t do any excursions at all.
Cruise Tip #55: Consider Cruise Line Excursions
For first time cruisers I recommend using the ship excursions. Once they’re more experienced and get to know the areas they’re sailing to then I say to go out on their own. – Donna
If you do want to go somewhere to see a particular thing it might be a good idea to consider a cruise line excursion. The main benefit of taking one with the cruise line is that the cruise ship would wait for it’s own excursions if there was a traffic incident or something similar. If you were on your own tour the ship wouldn’t wait past departure time. Taking an excursion with the cruise line is easiest but normally most expensive.
Cruise Tip #56: Get Back Early!
We did book one thing independently because it wasn’t available through the cruise line and were very careful before we did to check the reputation of the company and their plans (6 hours in port, we booked a 2 hour pedicab tour so we knew we had plenty of extra time to get back if there was a problem). – Clare
I am exactly the same and I definitely think it’s better to be safe than sorry. If the ship is set to depart at 5pm I’ll probably be back onboard at 3, I might even be back on earlier if I’m hungry!
One of my favourite things to do on a cruise is to spend a day onboard, to find out why, check out this post:
Cruise Tip #57: Do Your Research
Do research on each port of call before you go. The website Whats in Port is great for first time cruisers. Google map each port and use stick man to have a look around. – Steve
I think cruise planning is part of the fun, I love planning where I will go and what I will see. I read reviews after reviews and make sure I know everything there is to know!
Cruise Tip #58: Book Your Own Excursions
On my cruise, the ship’s excursions were *insert expletive here* extortionate. I booked my trips once I disembarked and had a marvellous time. (And didn’t get into debt) – Nathan
Cruise ship excursion can be really expensive, this is what puts me off taking them. Some cruise lines are much better than others but generally speaking they’re quite expensive.
When disembarking cruise ships you usually have two options:
- You can do the thing that most people do which is put your luggage tags on the night before you disembark and then leave your bags outside your cabin. You then disembark at a set time and meet your bags on land. You’ll be given the luggage tags and a disembarkation time.
Cruise Tip #59: Change Your Disembarkation Time if You’d Like to
If you don’t like the time on your luggage tags go to reception, you may be able to change. – Pam.
Disembarkation times are usually set by deck or cabin location. For example, all guests on deck 6 might be asked to disembark at 8am and guests on deck 7 might be asked to disembark at 8.30am.
Cruise Tip #60: Bring an Overnight Bag
It is OK to cry….very OK. If your bags are going to be moved off by the crew – bring a collapsible bag for the stuff you need on the last night. And get up early to watch the ship come in – always a fun opportunity for pictures. – Corey
If you are leaving your bag outside the night before it is important to keep a bag with you with essentials in it. Nothing worse than not keeping your clothes and having to disembark in your pyjamas.
My brother actually left his cruise card in his suitcase once which was then disembarked without him (doh). Nothing awful happened he just had to line up at reception to get another card before being able to disembark.
Cruise Tip #61: Disembark Slowly
We do it slowly LOL. Buffet breakfast, another walk round the ship, final cabin check, find our disembarkation lounge, drink the free coffee! We usually opt to get off last because we dont want to be in a crush and we live near Southampton. Our strategy might change if we ever fly-cruise! – Sarah
Disembarking slowly is always a good option. I’d always suggest you either disembark slowly or disembark fast if you want a smooth disembarkation.
- The second option is to disembark yourself. You don’t leave your bags outside and instead, just carry them off with you in the morning. This is the option that I tend to go with if i’m going straight home after the cruise and don’t have anything to wait around for.
Cruise Tip #62: Disembark Fast
I’ve always self-disembarked, so for me it’s an early start, no breakfast and off the ship usually before 8am. – Malcolm
I am guilty too of skipping breakfast and getting straight off. The buffet is usually SO busy on disembarkation day. If you remember it can be a good idea to get some breakfast the night before, maybe just a banana or an apple, from the buffet to keep in your cabin for an early breakfast.
Cruise Tip #63: Check and Double Check, EVERYTHING.
Empty ? Your ? Safe!! – Lisa
Cruise Tip #64: Head to The Main Dining Room (if Open)
My best advice is to avoid the bufffet and preferably if breakfast is needed actually go for the paid restaurants as they offer service and less crowded. – Nelly
Yep. The main dining room isn’t always open on disembarkation day but it definitely is worth checking if it is or not.
Cruise Tip #65: Drag Out Your Cruise!
If flight involved is later in day we try to squeeze in an excursion so not sitting too long at airport. – Maryann
It is always important to try and prolong your cruise as long as possible in order to delay the cruise blues from setting in… if this means an extra night in a hotel or an excursion on disembarkation day then so be it!
Cruise Tip #66: Be Nice to The Crew
Be nice to the crew; they work super long days, 7 days a week, for sometimes up to 13 months at a time…to make sure you’re having a good time! – Alex
The crew work SO hard, a please and a thank you goes a long way. I find it infuriating when I see passengers being rude to the staff.
Cruise Tip #67: Leave Negativity at Home
Just relax. Enjoy the fact that you don’t have to cook, clean or drive. – Paul.
My tip would be to go with an open mind. Don’t expect your cruise experience to be the same as anybody else’s. If they haven’t liked something, it doesn’t mean you won’t like it. Just go and have fun. – Claire.
Have a plan, sure, but don’t ever try to predict your cruise. Let it take you where it takes you. – Tommy
Don’t forget to pack your “cruise-tude” (attitude). Kick back, relax, let your hair down, try new things, go-with-the-flow and have fun!! Leave the negativity at home – Cynthia
Cruising is brilliant, it’s my favourite way to travel. Your cruise might not go exactly to plan but nothing ever does. By having read this post you’ll be more prepared than 99% of other first time cruisers! (If you do know any who would benefit from reading this post please do share it).
Where to Next?
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Anna left us such a brilliant and detailed comment on Facebook that I wanted to share it in full. Thanks Anna.
Anna’s First Time Cruise Tips:
We usually begin planning a cruise with getting the vacation time which allows enough time to fly into the port a day or two before the sailing day to explore the port and avoid missing the cruise sailing time.
First, you want to decide on a destination. With that in mind, I usually start with one of the big booking websites that lets you enter your destination, exact dates, length of cruise… because this lets me see what all is available on the various cruise lines. I also like looking for cruises this way because you can go through the booking process to see what cabins are available for each category. After that, I usually book directly with the cruise line.
When choosing a stateroom/cabin, I like to pick one that is sandwiched between decks of other staterooms. These rooms tend to be quieter because there are no public spaces above or below them.
When booking you will be asked about your dining preferences for the main dining room dinner seating. They usually offer an early and a late time for assigned seating at large shared tables or private tables for your group. They also offer an “anytime/my time” preference. We prefer to pick the anytime choice and then look at each day of the cruise and make our reservations based on the itinerary. Some cruise lines let you make reservations online before your cruise.
Once the cruise is booked, I have a Travel Planning notebook that I start a new page for each cruise. I write the ship name, dates at top, the booking number, cabin number, any perks that were included at the time of booking like onboard credit, prepaid gratuities, drink packages…
Then I write a day by day copy of the itinerary including arrival and departure times for each port. Then I leave room for making notes about onboard booking items such as drink packages I purchase, spa reservations, specialty dining reservations. All of which can usually be purchased online on the cruise planner. On the next page I write out day by day leaving several lines between each day so I can plan and make notes about the excursions I choose. Deciding on excursions depends on who I’m cruising with and the type of cruise. For example, on our Panama Canal cruise I joined the Roll Call for the sailing on Cruise Critic and met others that could share private excursions. On other cruises I book just for our family, but usually pick non-cruise ship excursions and have never missed the ship in 30 cruises. The best places to get excursion ideas for each port is Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor. These are both great resources.
Before your cruise you can complete the online check in so that boarding day will be quicker and easier.
Always print or, for some cruise lines, request mailing of your luggage tags to have for boarding day. These are usually available when your Cruise Booking Documents are emailed to you closer to the cruise date and after final payment is made. I have clear plastic holders for the printed luggage tags that attach to the suitcase handle and protect the paper from getting wet or ripping.
Once I’m all organized, I prepare our own Cruise Itinerary document with our flight info, hotel info, stateroom info and itinerary with all details of excursions, dinner reservation times, spa times…so that all of the information is in one place. I email this to everyone in our family that is going so that they know when to be where. I keep a copy stuck on the wall with a magnet in our cabin for easy referral.
I like to have everything planned before I go on a cruise so that it is all about relaxing and doing instead of using my precious vacation time standing in line on the ship to book things.