10 Insider Tips For First-time Cruisers

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With several gleaming new cruise ships typically entering service every year, first-time cruisers are a much sought-after customer base for cruise lines. Not only are there more cruise ships joining the fleets, but the new ships tend to be huge, often accommodating between 3,500 and 5,000 passengers. That’s a lot of cabins to fill. If you’re thinking of a vacation at sea, check out these tips for first-timers:

1. Take a Short Cruise

    Since you’ve never cruised before, there’s no way to be sure you’ll like it. So make the first one a short trip of no more than three or four nights, tops. There are plenty of lines that offer short sailings from U.S. ports, mostly in Florida. And per-night prices, well under $100 per person, on these quick getaways are a good value for the uninitiated.

Holland America Line's Koningsdam is one of the new ships debuting this spring. Courtesy of Holland America Line
Holland America Line’s Koningsdam is one of the new ships debuting this spring. Courtesy of Holland America Line

2. Get There Early

Be sure to arrive at the port several hours before the ship’s departure time. The ship won’t wait for you if you’re stuck in highway traffic or if a flight is delayed. Figure your total travel time, including the trip from the airport to the cruise port, then add three hours to account for unknowns. If your all-aboard time is 3 p.m., plan to arrive at the port no later than noon.

3.Keep Luggage Light

Since your cruise is just a few nights, bring only a carry-on suitcase. You’ll save time at the departure port and you won’t have to wait for the crew to deliver your bag to your cabin.

4. Try a Restaurant

Book a dinner at a dining venue . Every cruise ship has these venues, and most will charge an extra per-person fee. The fees vary, and generally start at $15 or $20. It’s worth it. The cuisine will be different from what the main dining room serves and it’s a nice change of scene.

150 Central Park is a specialty dining venue aboard Allure of the Seas. Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International
150 Central Park is a specialty dining venue aboard Allure of the Seas. Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

5. Stay Well

Even if you think you’ve got your sea legs, you can be affected by ocean swells or winds that cause a ship to rock. This can be exacerbated by a sunburn and even by minor dehydration. If you’ve forgotten to pack an anti-motion sickness medication, the ship’s medical center will dispense it free of charge.

6. Grab a Map

Obtain a map of the ship from the customer relations desk as soon as you embark. With just a few days to spend onboard, there’s no point in walking the wrong way to your destination or getting frustrated by the size of the ship.

7. Tipping Note

Unless you have booked an inclusive cruise line, meaning one that includes alcoholic and other beverages in the cruise fare, you’ll sign for each drink you order. Bartenders will automatically add a gratuity of up to 18 percent on each purchase. Passengers shouldn’t be pressured to add a further tip unless they wish to.

8. Muster is a Must

Heed the call for the emergency safety drill, or muster drill. This will be done before the ship leaves its departure port. Attendance by every passenger is required – no excuses. If you skip this drill, which usually lasts just 20 minutes, you can, and likely will, be ordered off the vessel.

9. Learn about ports

9. On a three-night cruise, expect two ports of call. It’s a good idea to attend the port lectures provided by a crew member in advance of each call. He or she will talk about the nuances of each port, how the disembarkation will be handled, where guided tours meet and what to do if you have not booked an excursion. It’s important to get the lay of the land before you venture out.

Cruisers enjoy a deck party aboard a Celebrity Cruises ship. Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises
Cruisers enjoy a deck party aboard a Celebrity Cruises ship. Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

10. Stay Informed

Read the ship’s daily newsletter that will be delivered to your cabin. It provides useful information such as the operating times of restaurants, the full slate of entertainment options and a list of all daytime activities.

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