Designed to deepen your sense of adventure and appreciation of the mighty seas with each port of call, the five-star amenities and insightful care of a cruise’s staff can change your perspective on vacationing. Despite the excitement of setting sail on the horizon for the first time, there are a number of factors beginner cruisers worry about. Here’s what to know before you set out on your first cruise.
Pick the Right Cruise
From gourmet food to romantic cruises, there are a multitude of speciality sailings to suit your needs. It’s tempting as a first time cruiser to settle for the cheapest deal, but decide what type of experience you’re after before bargain hunting. Ardent food lovers won’t find a health and fitness cruise very enjoyable the same way those looking for a peaceful getaway won’t be thrilled to be on a spring break cruise.
If you’re prone to seasickness despite chewing on ginger, be sure to check out your ship’s deck plan before settling on a cabin. Staterooms located in midship on the lower decks are ideal as they experience less rock and sway in rough waves. Avoid cabins that are higher up and on either end of the ship.
Organize Your Own Excursions
The Shore Excursions desk on board offers an array of organized tours at your ports, and you can easily sign up for trekking through the ice fields of Mendenhall Valley in Alaska or zip lining across the rainforest canopies of Belize by paying them a visit. But don’t feel obligated to sign up through your cruise line or to stick with the crowd. Excursions can also be organized on your own, so round up the friends you met on the ship and explore together.
Gratuities Are Automatically Included
As a token of appreciation to the dedicated staff who work tirelessly to ensure your smooth and hassle free stay, gratuities are either prepaid or automatically added to your shipboard account to be paid at the end of your journey. Rates vary between $12 to $20 per passenger per day depending on cruise line and type of cabin, and this automatic amount can be adjusted in either direction at Guest Services if you feel you’ve received subpar or exemplary service. If you find yourself at the bars on board, gratuities of 15% to 18% are automatically added to your purchase, and any extra is discretionary.
You Can Bring Your Own Booze
If you’re known to rack up a bill at the bar and are looking for a way to save some dollars on your cruise, then consider bringing a couple bottles of your favorite wine with you. The type and exact amount of alcohol that can be brought aboard vary according to ship, but most cruise liners allow a maximum of two bottles of wine or champagne per stateroom on embarkation day. While Norwegian Cruise Line has no limit on the amount of wine that can be brought abroad, Disney Cruise Line limits their passengers to two bottles of wine per passenger, or a six-pack of 12 oz. beer. Enjoy in your stateroom, or pair it with your meal in any dining room subject to corkage fee.
There’s a Dress Code
For journeys focused on urban exploration and outdoor adventures, we tend to stuff our backpacks with lightweight and breathable shirts and shorts. But the casual attire won’t admit you into all the dining rooms aboard the cruise ships, as they hold a strict business casual dress code at mealtimes. A number of itineraries also host formal nights, in which dress shirts and sport coats are encouraged for men, and cocktail dresses are suggested for the ladies. Double check your itinerary for the number of formal nights on board, and pack accordingly.
Wi-Fi Is a Luxury
Wi-Fi on board isn’t included and rates vary depending on cruise line and duration of use. On Norwegian Cruise Line, unlimited Wi-Fi for surfing the web and checking your email will set you back $30 per day per device. If you’re a digital nomad whose work depends on a reliable connection, then packages can be bought prior to embarkation day for up to 15% off. Switching off your data while on board and searching for free hotspots at your ports are by far the most economical options.
Arrive at Your Port the Night Before
Chances are you’ll have to catch a flight in order to reach your departure port. Arrive at least one day before your sailing date to avoid feeling rushed and frazzled. And give yourself plenty of time to navigate the thick crowds and customs on embarkation day.
Wait for Sales on Board
Savvy cruisers know to wait until port days to book wellness and facial treatments rather than to fill their at sea days with spa packages, as prices are reduced up to 30% on port days. Similarly, wait until the final day of your cruise to purchase souvenirs, as sales are timed for the end of the journey.
You Won’t Get Bored
Equipped with piano bars, show lounges and inviting pools on the sundecks, you won’t run out of activities both on the ship and when you stop for a bit. Each day on the cruise features a carefully planned itinerary of cooking demos, jazz performances and social activities that encourage passenger interaction. With so many options, your biggest dilemma is whether to watch tonight’s passionate singers and dancers perform, or to drop in on an exciting magic show.