9 Things You Should Know Before Going on a Cruise for the First Time

From a morgue on the ship to bringing your own alcohol. These are the 9 things that every cruiser should know before going on a cruise for the first time.

1. Research the Cruise Line & Ship

The most important thing before going on a cruise for the first time is to research the cruise line and ship before you book. This can make or break your vacation, it’s super important to choose a ship that’s right for you.

Check out what facilities it has, what restaurants and features. Look at the reviews of the ship on Cruise Critic and see what the fellow passengers are like.

If your a foodie pick a ship that has loads of dining options. If you like fun and adventure, a ship with no facilities or activities may not be for you. If you prefer a nice quiet relaxing holiday, one of the newer mega-ships full of families is not going to be for you. 

Timing is super important too. If you cruise when the kids are on holiday, expect to see more families. Also things like weather, for example sailing during hurricane season in the Caribbean can mean changes to itinerary happen more often.

2. Remember the Extra Costs

Cruise Extra Costs
Ice Creams, Drinks and Speciality Dining All Cost Extra
Photo: Ben Hewitt

On top of your cruise fare, there are some extra costs that you need to be aware of. If you are going on a cruise for the first time this can be a shock when you board the ship.  

First, if all shore excursions can be really expensive, so make sure you factor this into the price of your cruise, they can cost anywhere from about $30 per person to upwards of $200 for each excursion. We prefer to do DIY excursions by using local transport and operators. We save hundreds of dollars every cruise doing this. 

Next is gratuities, each day every person will pay daily gratuities to the crew on board, this is usually automatic and costs about $14 per person per day so can add up if you are a family. 

Drinks are one of the biggest costs so we recommend a drinks package if you plan to drink loads on your cruise. Or lookout for deals where drinks are included in the cost as this can save you a fortune.

Speciality dining varies massively from cruise line to cruise line but is usually around $30 per person per meal.

Other extras include the the casino, treats and snacks such as gelato and the spa. For tip on how to save money at the spa see Family Cruise Companions post; 15 Things You’ll Really Want To Know About The Cruise Spa.

3. Choose Your Cabin Location Carefully 

Cruise Cabin
Photo: Ben Hewitt

You don’t want your first cruise ruined by a noisy cabin. Make sure you look at a ship deck plan before you book your cabin. Look around and at the deck above and below and make sure there are no noisy areas such as bars, restaurants and theatres. We avoid the deck below the lido as well as you can usually hear cleaning in the early mornings. 

If you are prone to seasickness choose a cabin to lower down and towards the centre as this is where the least amount of moment will be.

See Also: Tips & Hacks Make The Most Of Your Cruise Cabin

4. Research Your Ports of Call 

Ports of Call
You don’t get long in port so research to make the most of your time.

Before you cruise, research all the ports that you are visiting and plan your day instead of freestyling it when you get there. You don’t get long so you are going to want to do as much as you can to make the most of your precious time. 

Look on sites such as TripAdvisor and Cruise Critic to see what things there are to do in each port and book any activities or tours you can before you arrive. 

As we mentioned, excursions through the cruise line are expensive so look at local taxi companies and tour operators as this can save you big bucks. Just remember that when you are doing your own thing you need to be back at the ship on time. On our first cruise, we always planned to arrive back at the ship 1 hour before all-aboard time.

5. Embarkation Day Bag 

Embarkation Day Bag
Keep your essentials with you when you board the ship.

We always recommend packing a bag that you will carry onto the ship yourself during embarkation. Your case will be checked in and not arrive at your room until later in the day so we like to keep a few essentials with us. 

In our carry-on bag, we have;

  • A change of clothes for the evening – Your bag may not arrive till after dinner. 
  • Essential Medications
  • Swimsuits – So you can use the pool on embarkation day 
  • Sunblock, Sun Hats etc. 
  • Cruise Documents including ID/Passport 
  • Credit Cards for checking in.

6. Take The Stairs 

Cruise Stairs
Use the stairs to keep the weight off. Photo: Ben Hewitt

Elevators or Lifts can be very crowded on ships, especially at busy times. We always skip the elevators so that we can leave them open to people who need them. Instead, we take the stars with also helps keep the weight from all that extra food. 

7. Miss a Port

Cruise Ship Port Day
Ships are much quieter when in port. Photo: Ben Hewitt

As a first time cruiser you may not think to stay on the ship while in port. Ships are usually super quiet on port days as most people get off so we take this time to stay onboard and enjoy its facilities. If there is a port we have visited before, or don’t fancy, we just stay on board. 

This is a really good chance to enjoy the ship when it’s much quieter. It is great if, like me, you don’t want to do the FlowRider in front of an audience or wait in any long lines. 

8. Cruise ships have a jail, hospital and morgue

Cruise Ships are floating cities and crimes and illness do happen. Luckily it’s not very often but if you do something that badly breaks the law expect to be offloaded from the ship or thrown in the brig. 

There are full medical facilities onboard complete with nurses, doctors and even an operating theatre in case of emergencies. Ships also have an outbreak plan just in case illness does happen onboard! 

Unfortunately, some people do pass away on cruises, especially those with older people so ship also have a morgue to hold multiple bodies. 

9. Bring Your Own Booze

Most cruise lines allow you to bring a limited amount of alcohol onboard. Photo: David McDonald

Our top tip if you are going on a cruise for the first time is to bring alcohol. Most cruise lines allow a small amount to be brought onboard. Usually, this is one bottle of wine per adult but it does vary between the cruise lines. Some cruise lines also allow you to bring on soda and water too which can save you a lot of money. 

As well as saving you money, it’s nice to We love to have a drink in our cabin before dinner or on your balcony.

If you are looking for more cruise tips a great place to start is our post 10 things we wished we knew before cruising

Ben Hewitt
I am a keen video producer and photographer. Before starting Cruise with Ben and David I worked for the BBC and Discovery Channel.