Top cruise tips for first timers

Firt timers cruise. Photo: Shutterstock
Firt timers cruise. Photo: Shutterstock

Embarking on a cruise offers an extraordinary blend of exploration and relaxation on the high seas. That said, for first-time cruisers, navigating all those pre-trip decisions can be somewhat daunting. So, to set you up for a smooth voyage that delivers unforgettable experiences, here's read on to arm yourselves with our essential cruise tips.

This information comes courtesy of the Insight Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships — the world's longest-running guide to cruising and cruise ships, written by the world's foremost authority on the subject.

Choose your ideal destination and timing

Cruise destinations and routes vary widely, from the scenic landscapes of Alaska, to the tropical bliss of the Caribbean

So, first up in our run-down of essential cruise tips is deciding what kind of landscapes and experiences you want from your cruise. Next, choose your destination on that basis. 

The timing of your cruise is equally important, as some regions are best visited during specific seasons. Consider special events or themes that might influence the date of your cruise, such as the Carnival in Rio or Formula One racing in Monte Carlo

Also consider seasonality. For example, you might want to cruise the Caribbean outside rainy season. Or, if you're hoping to witness special wildlife experiences during your voyage, or natural phenomena like the northern lights, be sure to wise up on the best time to visit. 

Chose a cruise with the right duration

Choose the length of your cruise carefully, taking into account travel time to and from the ship. 

For example, short-break cruises may last three or four days, while standard Caribbean cruises usually span seven days, and include several ports of call.

More extensive journeys, such as around South America, or around-the-world cruises, can last 30 days or more.

Geiranger fjord, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

Do your research

For first-time cruisers, extensive research is key to a successful voyage. Happily, the Insight Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships is on hand with a treasure trove of information on destinations, cruise lines, ships, and onboard activities. 

Armed with knowledge from this comprehensive compendium — the world's longest-running, most authoritative guide to cruising and cruise ships — you can plan a cruise to totally align with your preferences and interests. 

From helping you select the right ship, to advising on how to make the most of onshore excursions, this guide will enable you to embark on your first cruise fully informed, and ready for an unforgettable experience.

Choose a cruise that's the right size for you 

Cruise ships come in various sizes that each offer a unique experience. 

As a general guide, larger ships focus on onboard amenities and entertainment that caters to a larger number of passengers. 

In contrast, smaller ships tend to provide a more intimate, personalised journey. 

Consider whether you prefer large resort ships, sailing cruises, adventure expeditions, or coastal waterway cruises.

Opt for an outside-view cabin

For first-timers, one our of top cruise tips is to choose an outside-view cabin. While pricier, these allow you to soak up the scenery, gauge the weather, and dress accordingly. 

Interior cabins, with no windows, are suitable for those who prefer a pitch-black sleeping environment. 

If you're concerned about motion sickness, cabins located in the centre of the ship tend to experience less movement.

Seeking R&R? Pre-book spa treatments. Photo: Shutterstock

Consider dining options carefully

Dining comes with a whole set of decisions to make, so informing yourself about the ship's eating and drinking options is another of our key cruise tips. 

Most cruise ships offer multiple dining venues. In the first instance, decide whether you prefer set dining times or flexible options. 

Choosing the flexible option, or choosing a later dinner seating, will give you more time to explore ports of call without having to rush back for dinner. 

Keeping an eye on the pennies? Be aware that some speciality dining venues may incur additional charges.

Check fitness facilities — and don't skip the spa

Don't neglect your well-being during your cruise. Check out onboard fitness facilities for the likes of exercise classes. Additionally, treat yourself to spa indulgences for a revitalising experience at sea. 

Balancing fitness, relaxation and adventure will leave you feeling refreshed throughout your voyage.

Before you book, check whether your chosen ship offers the spa and fitness facilities you have in mind. 

And, if relaxation is top of your cruise wish list, another of our top cruise tips is to book spa treatments in advance — slots tend to fill up quickly.

Make sure your cruise is family-friendly (if applicable)

For family cruises, select a ship with excellent facilities for children. Larger resort ships often provide comprehensive kids' programs, while smaller ships might have more limited options. 

Conversely, if you prefer an adult-only experience, limit your research to child-free cruise options.

Enjoy Caribbean cuisine and culture in St. Thomas. Photo: Shutterstock

Pack for comfort

Modern cruise ships generally have relaxed dress codes, with formal attire less common on most voyages. 

To relax on-board, and make the most of shore excursions, you'll want to pack comfortable clothing and walking shoes.

That said, some speciality cruises or transatlantic crossings may require more formal dressing — check dress codes before you set sail!

Budget for additional charges

Plan for extra costs such as shore excursions, speciality drinks, spa treatments, and souvenirs. Keep in mind that some cruises may offer drink packages, while others charge separately for certain beverages.

Don't miss the boat!

Ensure you arrive at the embarkation port with ample time to spare. Missing the ship's departure can lead to additional expenses and potential difficulties in catching up with the cruise at the next port. 

Planning lots of onshore excursions? Another of our vital cruise tips is to aways carry a copy of your passport and essential travel documents.

Wise up on hidden drinks costs — one of our tip cruise tips. Photo: Shutterstock

Check your cabin

On entering your cabin, check for cleanliness and tidiness. Ensure beds are properly made, and the bathroom has towels and soap. 

If you encounter any issues, inform your cabin steward so they can get things sorted to your satisfaction. 

Explore the ship

Still waiting for your luggage to come aboard? Don't hang around in your cabin! Instead, explore the ship to start familiarising yourself with its layout. 

Learn how to navigate your way to key areas like dining venues, entertainment areas, and the outside decks in case of an emergency.

Be smart about how your quench your thirst
Beware of the cost of drinks onboard. For example, if you find a bottle of water in your cabin with a tab around its neck, read the notice before opening it. Some cruise lines may charge a hefty fee for consuming items from the minibar. 

When you head to the deck and encounter a friendly waiter offering you a colourful drink, be cautious. Some of those beverages can be quite expensive, and it's not uncommon for gratuities to be added to your cruise card for certain services.

Watch out for internet charges

Cruise lines often provide internet access onboard, but it can be quite pricey. And the reason? Internet connections on ships are usually via satellite, which means higher costs. 

If you need to stay connected during your cruise, consider purchasing an internet package in advance, or using free Wi-Fi when you're in port.

Colony of king penguins in front of an Antarctic expedition cruise ship. Photo: Shutterstock

Cruise tips for first timers

While these essential cruise tips should set you up well to make the most of your first cruise, the Insight Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships will stand you in even better stead. 

From choosing the perfect ship and navigating food plans and cabin options, to destination exploration, this world-esteemed guide will ensure you embark on your first cruise fully informed and prepared for an unforgettable adventure at sea. It's not for nothing that this is known as the cruise travel bible!