First-time cruisers are often overwhelmed by how much their boat has to offer when they first set foot on board. These days, commercial cruise ships have buffets, dining halls, lounge spots, and group and private activities, not including the shore excursions the liner takes you to daily.
It’s easy to get lost in the weeds when preparing for a cruise adventure with all those possibilities, but establishing a concrete game plan of how you’ll spend your time and money is essential to get the most out of your vacation.
So here, we’ll walk you through the best tips for first-time cruisers to maximize their boat time and a few additional professional suggestions that will save you money and stress.
Research Available Activities and Choose Wisely
Most commercial cruise ships are not all-inclusive, and with all the temptations they have to offer, many cruise novices blow through their estimated expenses within the first couple of days. Therefore, it’s vital to research your ship’s attractions, what they all cost, how many port stops the boat will make, and establish a concrete budget to save money through your first adventure.
Cruise budgets work best when you divide them into separate sections. For example, knowing how much you want to spend on meals, games, group activities, port stops, etc., makes it much easier to stay within your guidelines than having one fixed budget for your entire adventure.
Beyond budgets, you’ll want to be careful about when you schedule your cruise to get the most out of your time. For example, older travellers wanting a relaxing sea outing with a similar age demographic might want to avoid holidays or school breaks to avoid children and vacationing college students. On the other hand, cruisers with young kids might lean into those dates so that their children can make friends and have fun without their constant supervision.
Get to Town Early But Show Up to Board On-Time
One of the best tips for first-time cruisers that even some experienced sailors overlook is to arrive at your departure town early — but don’t race to get to port.
Most commercial cruise liners take thousands of vacationers per departure. So if a flight cancellation or unexpected travel delay holds you up, you’ll have little sway in convincing the ship to wait for you and inconvenience the others.
But if you plan to arrive in town the day before your cruise departs rather than the day of, you won’t be out of luck after one travel delay. Expert cruisers also recommend creating a loose backup travel plan so that if an airline cancels your flight, you immediately know where to board another one.
But even though you should get into town the day before your ship leaves, you shouldn’t worry about arriving at port extra early. Most commercial cruises have unflinching designated boarding times, so if you arrive hours earlier, you’ll spend that time waiting in line rather than checking out the boat.
In fact, showing up early creates foot traffic build-up if enough vacationers do it, which slows down the boarding process and forces the cruise to cast off later than planned. Cruise ships don’t have as extensive security measures as airplanes, so you won’t spend much time navigating through checkpoints.
Your Cabin Doesn’t Matter as Much as You Think
When you purchase your cruise ticket, you’ll choose between an interior cabin and one with an exterior balcony. Balcony cabins are more expensive than interior ones since they have that unique luxury feature, but many first-time cruisers choose them over interior rooms regardless.
One of the best tips for first-time cruisers is to skip the balcony cabin for their initial trip and come back for it on their second voyage. Most newbie cruisers get so caught up in the activities in the main areas and at port stops that they never spend time in their cabin other than to sleep, so the balcony and extra money it costs go to waste.
Returning cruisers who have narrowed down their favourite cruise activities typically spend more time in their cabins, so balconies make more sense on a second voyage. But even then, you’ll find several lounge spots in the central area that make your private balcony moot if you have a packed schedule.
Save Money and Bring Your Own Beverages
Most cruise liners allow guests to bring their own beverages, including flavoured and alcoholic drinks like soda, beer, and wine. And one of the most helpful cruise tips experienced travellers offer beginners is to bring as much on board as the boat allows.
You’ll spend a handful of your cruise budget on meals and activities, and bringing your own drinks aboard is a great way to free up more money for those more exciting expenses.
Most cruises limit how many drinks you get to 12 sodas, six beers, and two bottles of wine. Some liners also charge fees to bring your beverages into the dining halls, so you need to learn your cruise’s rules before going onboard.
Take Your Passport on Board
Unlike air travel, you can sail to different countries on a cruise ship without a passport as long as you bring a birth certificate and photo ID. Most beginner cruisers hear that and leave their passports at home, but they’re still valuable even if they aren’t necessary for boarding.
The cruise needs to identify you after every port stop, not just your initial boarding, and passports are easier to carry and quicker for identity confirmation than birth certificates. Many ports even have passport photo recognition that quickly scans your face for added time savings.
Pack Light, But Don’t Skip the Essentials
Most cruise cabins are more compact than beginner cruisers anticipate. And filling them with packed suitcases and multiple bags eats up too much space for you to get comfortable in your room.
Packing light is one of the best tips for first-time cruisers, and luckily, most cruise lines make it easy. Despite the abundance of activities on and off the cruise ship, you won’t need more than a couple of lounge outfits, a bathing suit, sleeping attire, and potentially a dress outfit for meals at classy restaurants. And most cruises have laundry rooms, so you can wash your limited apparel whenever.
But just because you’re packing light doesn’t mean you should neglect everything other than clothes. Of course, the shops aboard your cruise ship will have essential items, but bringing your own toiletries and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals keeps your budget down without taking up much space.
Decide What You Want to Do off the Boat
You’ll fall in love with the games and restaurants your cruise ship has available daily, but the highlights of most cruise adventures happen on shore at port stops rather than on the boat. And the biggest mistake first-time cruisers make is neglecting those stops altogether or not having a concrete plan once they’re back on land.
Cruise liners share their port stops in advance, so you can look ahead to where you’re travelling and find the most popular activities and destinations in that area. Remember, you have limited time at each port before you set sail again, so knowing where you want to go and how to get there is essential for maximizing each stop.
Keep Relaxation in Mind
Though port stops are essential parts of the cruise ship experience, not all of them will be worth your time. Some destinations won’t have activities that appeal to you. In those instances, you can stick around the boat and relax rather than race to find an underwhelming attraction.
Prioritizing your relaxation is valuable even in between port stops. One of the appeals of cruise adventures is lounging in the sun and enjoying the sights of the sea and new locations. And for as much fun as most cruise ships have on board, you shouldn’t exhaust yourself trying to do every activity just to experience everything.
Switch Your Mobile Devices to Airplane Mode
Many people have so much fun on cruise ships that they forget about their mobile devices. And while that might be a dream for some, it quickly turns into a nightmare when they return home and see they’ve built up hundreds of dollars in data roaming charges from not switching their devices to airplane mode.
Most cell phone plans charge roaming rates for texts, calls, and data consumption on cruise ships, even ones with international coverage. Checking your phone occasionally for important messages and emails won’t increase your bills too much, but ensuring that it’s back on airplane mode after you’ve finished will negate the biggest potential expense of your journey.
Cruise Staff Are Your Friends
Nobody knows the activities on board a cruise ship more than the staff, and asking for their assistance when you don’t know where to eat or how to spend your day is one of the best tips for first-time cruisers. They’ll listen to what you’re in the mood for and guide you to locations you might not even know are on the boat.
Cruise staff can help you decide how to spend port stops as well. Most of them know the locations like the back of their hand and will give you the rundown on the most popular attractions.
Consider All Your Meal Options
Most cruise ships have buffets and dozens of restaurants with different themes and menus. And one of the classic mistakes novice cruisers make is sticking with the buffet where they have the most variety throughout their journey.
While buffets are exciting, the food is meant to appeal to as many people as possible and isn’t as high-quality or fresh as the specialty restaurants. One great thing about cruise vacations is the variety of activities, locations, and foods at your disposal, and one of the best tips for first-time cruisers is to never settle for the same thing twice.
Your meal options aren’t limited to what’s on the boat, either. You’ll find several eateries at port stops that can make your culinary experience on vacation even more exciting.
You will know what restaurants you like and dislike on return cruises, but exploring all your meal options on your first voyage makes the journey more exciting.
Enroll in Comprehensive Travel Insurance
The best tips for first-time cruisers struggling to relax at the thought of something going wrong are to enroll in travel insurance and make sure it covers everything that could go wrong on a cruise vacation.
Insurdinary helps you get the coverage you need by comparing rates from Canada’s top travel insurance providers and sending you the most affordable and comprehensive offers. Cruise vacations are expensive enough when everything goes right, and the right insurance plan will protect you from the slightest speed bump.
Complete our online form to get a quote today.