Up until recently, we’d never been on a cruise. As first-time cruisers we had so many questions, and you can bet we learned a lot in our first few days on board.
If you’re considering taking your first cruise, we pulled together these 14 dos and don’ts for you to use – both before your trip while planning, and also while you’re on board. And be sure to read to the end for a very important bonus tip!
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1. Do Use A Travel Agent
We consider ourselves great researchers, and we were online for weeks before our Alaska cruise. We thought we’d found the best deal: a great rate, plus incentive packages, plus an “Oceanview” cabin. Then Andie’s family encouraged us to reach out to their friend Treat Yourself Travel. Not surprisingly, she found us a much better rate, plus a way better cabin – with a balcony! We had two “musts” on our Alaska cruise wishlist: the Inside Passage, and Glacier Bay National Park. Only certain cruise lines are allowed in there at certain times of year, which narrowed the choices. Thankfully, Dale has extensive experience with cruises, knows what kind of crowd each one caters to, and directed us to the best fit for us. So find yourself a trusted travel agent. They’ll have access to deals and special incentives – more than what you’ll find on your own.
2. Don’t Rule Out A Room With An Obstructed View
If you’re looking to cruise on a budget, consider booking an obstructed-view cabin to save a chunk of change. Check with your travel agent and do your own research about your specific ship. We saved about $1,000 by choosing a cabin with a “partially obstructed” view! The obstruction was a big orange lifeboat outside of our balcony. But it really didn’t obstruct us all that much, aside from not being able to look straight down the side of the ship. Otherwise, we had no problem seeing all of the amazing views beyond the lifeboat. Trust us – you’re gonna want to look out more than down when you’re at sea. Besides, there are plenty of other spots on deck where you can look straight down if you want. So, since we originally thought we’d only have a window-view, getting an outdoor space of our own was a major score!
3. Do The Math Before Splurging On That Specialty Drink Package
Depending how much of a drinker you are, or aren’t, a specialty drinks package might not make sense for you. This is an easy mistake for first-time cruisers, to unnecessarily shell out the bucks before doing the math. One thing to keep in mind is that the drinks package also includes specialty coffees, whereas the standard package only covers regular (usually weak), brewed coffees. If you’re major java-heads like us, getting your fix might start to add up. Some cruise ships also have juice bars, which would also be covered in a specialty drinks package. In our case the drinks package was a perk, to encourage people to get back out cruising again in 2021, and you can bet we took full advantage! So, do the math – if you’re only going to drink a couple of adult bevvies or coffees per day, you’ll actually do better to pay cash.
4. Don’t Skimp On The Internet Package
We get it. You plan to disconnect and relax on your vacation. But then you’re going to want to text family or friends, or maybe post that really cute picture you just took. Then you’re going to be in your cabin relaxing and you’re going to want to stream your favorite Netflix show. It all adds up! And they charge by the data you use, so it just makes sense to go ahead and splurge for the package so you won’t get hit with a nasty bill at the end of your trip. Also, make sure to book it in advance, because everything costs more once you’re on the ship. Lock it in ahead of time and you’ve got nothing to worry about on your vacation.
5. Do Put Your Phone In Airplane Mode
As first-time cruisers this is an easy one to overlook, but trust us – set yourself a reminder to do this once you’re on board! Cell networks don’t extend out into the open water and you’ll probably eventually find yourself in the dreaded “roaming” danger zone. If you have to connect to the ship’s satellite network, that’s going to cost you beaucoup bucks! Please see “nasty bill at the end of your trip” above.
6. Don’t Be Intimidated By Cruise Culture
Have you noticed how many tight-knit communities of avid cruisers there are? We certainly did, especially on YouTube! As we were researching our trip, we found it a bit intimidating at first. Most of these cruisers love all of the onboard activities – the shows, formal nights, dining, etc.. These are all things that we didn’t envision ourselves getting into (besides the dining, of course!). However, once you’re on board none of that matters. You can’t distinguish seasoned cruisers from newbies. Everyone’s busy enjoying their own vacations, so they’re not concerned with what you’re doing. You can choose your own adventures – opt in, or out, of whatever you like. It’s your call. And who knows? After your first cruise or two, you might find that the onboard activities are a big part of what you enjoy most, and maybe you’ve found “your people.” That could be pretty awesome, too!
7. Do Take A Water Bottle
The water on these ships is totally drinkable, so do bring your own reusable bottle. If you’re like us and like a little bit of extra filtration, you can get one that has a filter in it. We have one by Brita that we love and we’ve got a link to it in our Travel Essentials list in case you want to check it out. They do have bottled water available on the ship as well if you don’t like tap, but honestly, who needs all that extra plastic waste?
8. Do Book The Early Excursions
Booking early-day excursions helps motivate you to disembark the ship sooner after it arrives in a new location. Then, if your excursion is only a short part of your time in a port – say, three hours out of nine – you’ll have the rest of the day to explore the town on your own before returning to the ship. It’s a great way to maximize your time in a port and see more. And hopefully that’s why you’re going there. Because why spend more time on the ship when you have days at sea for that?
9. Don’t Get Left Behind
No first-time cruisers need to prove they’re such by going viral as the latest “pier runner” at a port of call. You need to operate strictly according to ship-time. Set your watch to ship-time before disembarking at your first port of call and then be sure to return before all-aboard. If you’re a minute late you could be left behind in port. They will not wait, and they will shove off without you, so make sure you get back to the ship when they tell you to, or better yet – early.
10. Don’t Wait Until You’re On Board To Book Things
As we already mentioned, things are more expensive once you’re on board. That goes for internet packages, drink packages, and especially excursions. So do as much planning as you can in advance. Use the website or app to book everything beforehand and again, you’ll have so much less to worry about once you’re on your vacation.
11. Do Be Aware Of Your Cruise Line’s Dress Code
Many cruise ships have a dress code. In our case, Princess Cruises is mostly “smart casual.” We pretty much live in jeans and we were able to wear them with no problems, but we made sure they had a nice fit and didn’t bring any that had holes or tears in them. There are, however, areas and events on many cruise lines that call for more formal attire – in some cases, full-on gowns and tuxedos! We’re definitely not the formal attire types, especially on vacation, so while we opted out of the more formal events and dining options ourselves, we did bring cute outfits to dress up just a little on one of the nights and treated it like a date night.
12. Do Bring Cash
Most cruise lines claim to be cash-free but there are going to be some things you will need cash for – primarily, tipping your crew. Also, when you’re on shore excursions, some of the businesses might be more willing to haggle with you on prices a bit if you have cash to offer instead of charge. And of course, when tipping tour guides or staff at any restaurants, bars, cafes, etc., cash is always king – or queen, for that matter!
13. Do Make Sure To Bring Everything You Need
While cruise ships do have many amenities on board, including small conveniences that you might forget, like toothpaste, ibuprofen, or things of that sort, it will cost you. These ships are floating resorts, therefore you’ll pay resort pricing. So think of anything that you might possibly need, in advance, and make sure to pack it. It will save you some extra cash and spare you some extra hassle once you’re on vacation.
14. Do Learn From Frequent Cruisers
There are so many people that seem to cruise year-round, from one cruise to the next, back-to-back. It’s amazing, and frankly, we’re kinda jealous! The cool thing for first-time cruisers is that many of those frequent cruisers have blogs and/or YouTube channels that you can learn from! We watched a LOT of videos before we went on our first cruise and there are certain things that we would have never been prepared for if not for them. You should definitely take advantage of their knowledge. They know all of the different cruise lines, the ships, and even some of the crew. They can tell you what’s great, what’s not, what to watch out for, and all the ins and outs. It will be a huge help in prepping for your first cruise, or even your 10th or 20th. We feel like you can learn something new every time you go!
BONUS: Do NOT Fly In On The Same Day As Sail Away
This is a big one, not only for first-time cruisers, but all cruisers. Sure, plenty of people fly in day-of for embarkation, and have no problem getting from the airport to the port in time. That’s a big-time risk. Anything can happen, and if you end up with a situation like we had it could be a disaster. We flew from North Carolina to Seattle, where our cruise was sailing from. Our bags didn’t make the connection in Chicago, so when we got to Seattle we had no suitcases. Fortunately, we flew the night beforehand and our bags made it onto another flight, arriving a few hours later. Everything worked out fine, but if we had flown day-of, we wouldn’t have had those few hours to spare. We would have been screwed, freezing our a**es off in Alaska in the same summer clothes that we flew in!
That’s our list! If you’ve got anything more to add, please share your tips in the comments below!
And if you’re curious to see our first impressions of cruising as we set sail for Alaska, check out our vlog:
First-Time Cruisers! | Our First Impressions of Princess Cruises Majestic Princess!