A Guide for First-Time Cruisers
Cruise holidays are gaining popularity among people of all ages and backgrounds, with an estimated 30 million passengers embarking on a cruise each year. It’s an incredible way to explore the world, and it also provides you with the chance to relax and enjoy luxurious accommodations and amenities at an affordable price. But before you book your trip, there are a few important things to know. That’s why we have put together this ultimate guide for first-time cruisers, ensuring that your first cruise experience is smooth sailing.
There's More than One Way to Cruise
One of the best things about cruising is that it offers an incredible variety of options to cater to every taste and budget. Whether you prefer luxury getaways, serene river journeys, exciting expeditions, or themed adventures, there is a cruise type that will suit you perfectly. Beyond the traditional ocean mega-ship experience, there are countless other types of cruises to choose from. Deciding whether you desire something different sets the foundation for narrowing down the perfect cruise holiday that matches your preferences. Explore the different types of cruises available and take things from there!
Before You Sail
Choose the Best Cruise Line for You
Deciding on which cruise line to choose can be a daunting task, especially for first-time cruisers. While considerations like budget and itinerary are essential, it is equally important to take into account the onboard experience on offer. Cruise ships come in all shapes and sizes, from boutique river cruises, offering an intimate setting with less than 30 cabins, to mega-ocean liners housing over 5,000 guests. The choices are extensive, with each and every option offering something different to consider.
While the choice of which cruise line you holiday with is a totally personal one, there are some general guidelines that can help you narrow down the options. If you prefer a larger vessel, then renowned names like Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Lines, P&O Australia, Celebrity Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line are ideal options. These giants of the cruise industry offer a resort-like experience, and widely appealing to families. Think waterslides, amusement rides, movie cinemas, and a plethora of dining choices.
However, if you prefer a more intimate setting or are planning a child-free getaway, boutique ocean liners and river cruises might be perfect for you. Names like Scenic, Azamara, and Viking specialise in providing an exclusive experience that either excludes children or doesn’t offer as many amenities that appeal to families.
Feeling unsure about which cruise suits your preferences? Why not embark on a sampler cruise? These two- or three-night voyages revolve around themes like comedy or food and wine, making them perfect for quick weekend getaways. It’s a fantastic opportunity to test the waters and get a taste of the incredible experiences that await you. Whether you crave adventure-packed entertainment or a serene escape, our Cruise Travel Advisors are here to help you find the best cruise line tailored just for you. Check out our guides to some of the most popular cruise lines around the world, or contact us today and we’ll guide you through the options that are most suited to the type of holiday you’re after.
Choosing Your Stateroom
Choosing a stateroom category depends largely on your budget, as well as how much space you want; if you want a view or a balcony; the location of the stateroom; and what amenities you would like to have. Interior (or inside) staterooms offer the most affordable option and are located on the inner side of the cruise ship. These budget-friendly staterooms don’t include a window, but they include all the basic amenities that you need for a comfortable cruise. Oceanview (or outside) staterooms provide a window to offer you picturesque views throughout the day, as well as all of the same amenities offered with an interior stateroom.
Balcony staterooms are one of the most popular accommodation options, providing you with the opportunity to admire stunning seascapes and enjoy the refreshing sea breeze from your own private balcony. These staterooms also tend to be more spacious and offer additional features. If you’re seeking a truly luxurious experience, a suite is the way to go. Suites are top-of-the-line, offering a balcony, a spacious bedroom (and usually separate living areas), and a few added luxuries such as butler service. Additionally, they grant access to exclusive areas which takes your entire cruise experience to a new level.
When deciding on your stateroom, you may also want to consider it’s location. If you tend to get seasick, a mid-ship stateroom provides more stability and may be your best choice. If you have limited mobility, you may want to ensure you’re close to the elevators. And if you’re an early-to-bed kinda person, you may want to ensure your stateroom isn’t beneath the nightclub. You should also consider whether you are cruising solo or with a group of people, as this will determine whether you need a solo stateroom or perhaps a three- or four-berth stateroom. Finally, consider whether you require an accessible stateroom to cater to any physical disabilities or limitations. This will help you determine whether you require any additional amenities.
Before you book, take the time to consider your preferences, budget and desire amenities, and ask yourself these kinds of questions. This will help you ensure that you book your ideal stateroom.
Selecting the Right Itinerary
Choosing the perfect ship and cabin is undoubtedly crucial when planning your dream cruise vacation. But let’s not overlook the significance of selecting a suitable itinerary. The success of your holiday hinges on it! You’ll want to consider which destinations you want to visit, whether you’re seeking summer sun or a snow-and-ice adventure. And also if you want a port-intensive itinerary, or more slow and steady sea days. Striking the perfect balance between peaceful moments on board and unforgettable adventures in various ports of call can give you the perfect mix of relaxation and exploration.
You’ll also need to consider the fact that certain itineraries are only available during specific times of the year. For instance, Alaska cruises generally only operate between May and September, and Antarctica expeditions need to be planned for between October and March.
Take your time, weigh all these factors, and choose the cruise itinerary that promises to make your holiday truly extraordinary. Then use our cruise search tool to narrow down your options by what you’ve decided on so far – your cruise line(s), cabin type and destination.
What to Pack and What to Leave at Home
You’ve booked your cruise, made your final payment, booked your shore excursions and specialty restaurants on your cruise account, and your calendar countdown is nearing departure day. It’s time to start packing! But if you’ve never been on a cruise before, you may be a bit stumped as to what to pack and what to leave at home. We’ve got a few top tips to share with you to help you make sure you have everything you need and nothing you don’t. Plus, we also have a great blog post that includes a few more packing tips.
⚓ LIMITED STORAGE SPACE
When packing your bags, you’ll want to keep in mind that staterooms usually offer limited storage space, so consider the size of your bag carefully. You might also want to consider out-of-the-box ideas to help you maximise your limited space, such as over-the-door shoe organisers (these are so handy for storing just about anything other than your shoes and keeping clutter to a minimum), and a travel clothesline (perfect for your swimmers if you have a balcony).
When deciding what to pack and what to leave at home, check out whether your cruise itinerary requires any evening attire or themed clothing so that you’ll know what to bring along apart from your daily outfits. You may also want to pack international power adapters (and even a non-surge protected powerboard so you can charge multiple devices at once), a convenient tote or day bag, and entertainment options such as books, iPads, laptops, beach gear, or personal belongings. It’s also handy to have zip-lock bags to safeguard your valuables, a plastic or waterproof bag for wet items, and a highlighter or pens to mark important activities on your daily cruise planner.
Top tip: When you embark, your luggage will be taken to your stateroom for you. This can take a while, so you might want to ensure you’ve got all of your essentials in a convenient carry on bag, including your swimmers, any medications you might need, and a good book so that you can get into ultimate relaxation mode the minute you step onboard.
⚓WHAT’S NOT ALLOWED
There are items that you aren’t allowed to pack on your cruise, so it’s worth nothing which items are prohibited by your specific ruise line. Most cruise lines do not allow extension cords and surge protected powerboards, as well as anything that has heating elements like irons or garment steamers. Other items that are generally prohibited include candles and incense; drones; homemade food (packaged snacks are generally allowed); wheeled shoes, hoverboards and skateboards; inflatable pool tools; toy guns; helium balloons; and sharp items such as scissors and diving knives. There may also be restrictions as to what – and how many – alcoholic beverages and bottled water you can bring on board, as well as other prohibited items, so it’s best to check the policies of your cruise line and ship specifically.
Need more tips on what to pack? Get ready for your holiday with the only cruise packing list you’ll need.
Embarkation Day - What to Expect
You’re packed and ready to go – it’s embarkation day. But if you’ve never been on a cruise before, the process of boarding a ship may seem a little foreign to you. Here are our tops for making embarkation a smooth process.
⚓ Arrive the Day Before
Our number one tip to all customers is to arrive in your departure city the day before embarkation, especially if you don’t live near the port. While you may not need to board until midday or later, you could potentially land up missing embarkation if you experience any delays in your travels, whther that’s from delayed or cancelled flights or even just traffic on the motorway. Unfortunately, the ship won’t wait for you if you’re running late. So the easiest way to avoid that stress is by ensuring you’re there well before embarkation day. Plus, this way, you’ve got the opportunity to explore the city from where your cruise sets sail.
⚓ Expect a Little Chaos
Before you can board the ship, you will need to go through the ship’s pier-side check-in process, which – much like taking a flight – can take time. You will be (potentially) one of thousands of people entering a floating city, pretty much at the same time, so set your expectations early on. You may have to wait in some queues, and there may be a little bit of organised chaos along the way. There will be passport or ID check points, security to go through, paperwork to have checked, and luggage to tag for the porters to take to your stateroom. The process is all just a necessary part of travelling, but if you’ve got all of your documentation and personal belongings ready to go, it should be smooth sailing.
⚓ Get Help with Your Luggage
When you arrive at the pier, porters will be available to take your large suitcases, which will then be delivered later to your stateroom. This is an ultra-convenient service that we definitely recommend taking advantage of, as it will leave you with your hands free for the rest of the embarkation process. Just make sure that your luggage is tagged with your number, cabin number, ship name and sailing date. Your luggage should arrive in your stateroom before dinnertime, but if it is delayed (or some of your bags arrive before others), we recommend packing a carry-on with anything you’ll need for the first day aboard, including a change of clothes for dinner, layers in case the weather changes, any medications you may need, any electronics and valuables you don’t feel comfortable checking in, and your swimmers so you can hit the pool straight away.
⚓ Accessing your Stateroom
All staterooms are cleaned and prepped on embarkation day, so when you can access your stateroom will depend on when it is ready (similar to a hotel on check in day). The cruise director will usually make an announcement over the PA system when staterooms are ready, which is usually in the afternoon. In some cases, you may be able to pop in early if your stateroom has already been cleaned, but if not, you can ask the guest relations’ desk to hold on to any bags you don’t want to carry around with you. Once your stateroom is ready your can drop off your carry-on bags and explore your home away from home. Your cabin steward will likely drop by and this is a good time to ask them any questions you may have.
⚓ Safety First
In the past, every passenger on a cruise ship had to gather at their assigned muster station on embarkation day, listen to a safety briefing, and be checked off a list as informed. However, since COVID-19 the process has changed somewhat, and most cruise lines have now transitioned to e-muster drills. Instead of a physical meeting, now you simply need to watch a safety video on your cabin TV or cruise line app. This video will guide you on what to do in case of a fire or any other shipboard emergency. Rest assured, your smart TV or app will keep a record indicating that you’ve watched the video. Additionally, you might have to check in with a crew member at your assigned muster station. If you skip the video or check in, crew will follow up with you, so it’s best to get it ticked off the list first thing.
Your assigned muster station in case of a shipboard emergency will be clearly mentioned on the back of your cabin door. Furthermore, inside your closet or another designated spot in the cabin, you’ll find life jackets. If you’re travelling with children, this is a good time to ensure there’s an appropriate infant or child life jacket along with one for each adult. If there isn’t, just let your cabin steward know so the issue can be promptly addressed. We know that kids might find the safety videos a bit eye-roll-inducing, but it’s essential to talk to them about the dangers of climbing on railings, what a muster point is, and how to put on their life jacket. It is also a good idea to remind them to exercise the same caution they would at home and to treat other people on the ship as strangers.
⚓ Get Out and Explore the Ship
Some cruise ships are not just ships, they are floating metropolises that are packed with exciting attractions that are just waiting to be discovered. You’ve probably done all of your homework as to what onboard facilities, entertainment options, and dining choices can be found on your ship, but once you’re onboard, it’s time to familiarise yourself with where everything is, and book in any must-try activities so that you don’t miss out.
We recommend getting acquainted with the layout of the ship first. Locate a ship deck plan in your stateroom or at the purser’s desk and try to locate the main areas as well as hidden gems like secluded pools and cosy hot tubs. Upon boarding, you’ll also likely receive a handy newsletter outlining the embarkation day activities and restaurant hours. You can use this to plan your day 1 activities while you enjoy a leisurely lunch or a cocktail by the pool.
⚓ Setting Sail
As your ship departs the port, there is usually a big sailaway part on the top deck. Think live music, celebratory drinks, being surrounded by other cruisers who are just as excited as you are that it’s holiday time, and of course, epic views as your ship leaves port. It’s a great way to mark the start of your cruise adventure.
Top Tips for your First Cruise
Your cruise is finally underway. You’ve found your stateroom, taken a selfie at the sailaway party, and made your way to the main restaurant for your first dinner. Embarkation day went off without a hitch. But what about the rest of the cruise? What else do you need to know that will take your holiday to the next level? Don’t worry – we’ve got you!
Views from the Deck
Need more tips for your first cruise? Read all of the latest cruise news, insider information, cruise holiday tips, and Cruiseabout views on our blog.
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