8 Things To Know Before Your First Cruise

Among my clients are many first time cruisers. If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I love cruises. Visit all seven continents by ship, enjoy champagne in the middle of the ocean, and get a lot of bang for your travel buck. But there are a few things you should know before setting sail on your first cruise. 

What is included?

Cruise fares will all include several things: your stateroom, meals in the dining room and buffet, and some entertainment. Depending on the ship and promotions, you may also have a drink package, free wifi, or some onboard credit to spend how you like.

Knowing what is included, and what will be extra is a big deal. For example, without a drink package, you will pay per beverage. From cappuccino to cognac, that can add up very quickly if you are not paying attention. Unless you are on a luxury line, gratuities are usually additional and range from $12 to $16 per person, per day. Specialty restaurants are often an added cost, too, and while some are excellent, at $25 – $50 per person, it can add to your total cost.

Some lines will let you bring a couple of bottles of wine on board with you, but it is generally not acceptable to bring liquor. Know what is included and what is extra, and budgeting for your vacation is much easier.

Where are you going?

While some people cruise for the sheer enjoyment of cruising, and the ship experience, most people are eager to see the ports. Check out your itinerary ahead of time and plan what you want to do in each place. That may be a beach day in the Caribbean or a full day of private touring in Rome. Learning a bit about each port in advance will hep you make the most of your stops. Your travel agent should be able to help you plan tours to fit your needs.

What is the dress code?

I am a big fan of not overpacking, and sometimes I even manage to succeed. Know what you are expected to wear, pack the right clothes, and avoid disappointment. Some cruise lines have formal nights, where you may want to wear a cocktail dress or tuxedo. In recent years, formal nights have become increasingly less formal, and a sportcoat or short dress is acceptable. Some cruise lines have done away with formal nights altogether. Even on casual nights, it is usually unacceptable to wear jeans or shorts into the dining room, so make sure yu pack accordingly.

Will I get seasick?

I hear this question a lot. The answer? Maybe. But it is best to be prepared. I only started getting seasick recently, and there are some steps you can take to make sure it doesn’t happen to you. Meclizine is the prescription strength version of the over-the-counter Dramamine or Bonine, and it is a miracle pill. If you feel queasy, take some meclizine, have a ginger ale (bonus points if you can get the bartender to add some bitters to your soda), and relax.

The other remedy that tends to work wonders is sea bands. These stretchy, ugly, wristbands have acupressure points built in and keep the queasiness at bay. Had I been wearing them when I was sick, I may not have firsthand experience to share with you.

If you do have a history of seasickness, you would be wise to pick a room on a low deck in the middle of the ship to minimize motion. Those are generally less expensive, too. As the saying goes “the more you pay, the more you sway,” and rooms on upper decks do tend to feel the motion of the ocean more than lower down.

Some people will tell you to look at the horizon, and that will make it all better. Those people are wrong. Stick with the meclizine and sea bands. Trust me.

Help! I have food allergies!

You are not alone, and you are not the first person to sail with your cruise line to have them. While some cruise lines are better at dealing with them than others, they will all do their best to accommodate your specific needs. Let your travel agent know ahead of time so that your reservation can be noted with your requests. Once you board, it is a good idea to meet the Maitre D’ and advise him or her of your needs as well. If you have the same waitstaff every night, they will also learn your needs quickly and make sure you get everything you need.

Know the smoking policy.

If you are a smoker, you will want to know where on the ship you can light up. If like me, you can’t stand the smell of cigarette (or worse, cigar) smoke, you’ll want to know where on the ship to avoid. Most cruise lines limit where you can smoke indoors, and some do not allow smoking on your balconies. Know the rules.

When do we eat? Do I have to sit with other people?

While you can get room service nearly 24/7 on many ships, this question usually pertains to dinner. Some ships have open seating, meaning you can dine whenever you would like. Others have set dining times, or “my time.” Set dinner times are either early (5:30 or 6 PM) or late (8:00 or 8:30 PM). You can request whatever size table you like, and they will do their best to accommodate you. Table size requests are not guaranteed, but they try to make everyone happy.

Do I need travel insurance?

In a word, yes. You do. Anything can go wrong, and a good insurance policy can give you the peace of mind you need in case of emergency. If you get sick and cannot go on the trip as planned, or if your airline gets rerouted and you miss your cruise embarkation, or if your luggage gets lost… these are all things that can, and do happen from time to time, and it is best to be covered. Just in case.

So, now that you know everything you need to know about booking your first cruise, what are you waiting for? Give me a call and let’s start planning!