Top Tips for Your First Ever Cruise

Tips and Guides,

Life is full of firsts, and one of the more exciting and rewarding that can be ticked off is your first ever cruise holiday. Cruising is a wonderful way to travel and explore this fascinating world in which we live. There is so much to see and do, so many cities, famous landmarks and hidden treasures to find, that to break it up into individual holidays would be a mammoth task. However, by booking some tickets aboard a cruise line ship, you can see the world the way you want to see it, in luxury, and in one unforgettable outing.

Woman standing on cruise ship

Perhaps you are eyeing up the stunning islands of Hawaii? Or maybe you are thinking that an Africa cruise holiday would be the way to go? The possibilities are endless. To some, however, a first time cruise can be quite daunting, especially for those wanting to bring their families. But it needn’t be, as taking a cruise is the most carefree way to travel one could hope for.

If you are thinking of taking the plunge or are preparing for your first ever cruise, you will want to have all the advice you need in order to enjoy it to the fullest. So with that in mind, as well as reading our article on what to pack, please enjoy the below guide, full of advice and tips for your first ever cruise. We’ve even asked some of the industry’s foremost experts to weigh in with their own first-time cruise related wisdom.

Savour the moment

It’s easy to get obsessed with the details when aboard your cruise; from what you will be eating for dinner and where the next port of call is, to how to entertain the kids. But it’s crucial to remember to savour the amazing moments and experiences a cruise offers. This is the advice from Gretta Schifano of Mums do Travel, a fantastic blog for all things travel. Gretta has the following advice to offer beginners to the world of cruising:

“Once on board, get up early at least once to see the sunrise on deck - and take along your camera to capture it” says Gretta, and then also advising: “Check out the Cruise Critic website - it’s full of helpful, practical advice and tips from cruisers on destinations, excursions, ships and everything else that you need to know about cruising.”

cruise ship in port

Do your research

Planning and research is of course key to many aspects of life, and preparing for the perfect cruise holiday is no different. This should be particularly emphasised for people looking forward to their first ever cruise. Suzanne Wolko, from PhilaTravelGirl – a travel blog full of insider tips and tricks, was kind enough to offer us her own first-time cruise advice, which of course includes putting in the research:

“It's all about research and a bit like dating. You need to find the cruise line (and ship) that closely aligns with your personality as well as your budget and holiday desires. Just like any first date, you need to set expectations to avoid disappointment, which is why research is so important.

“I like to use Cruise Critic to meet other passengers before the cruise and learn about private guided tours, happy hour meet/greets, cabin crawls and destination specific advice (e.g. - Civitavecchia is far from the city centre of Rome). My friend found the secret room service menu for our Disney Cruise (e.g. - gluten free cookies and a cheese platter) and I was able to peek inside all the room categories on the NCL Epic during our cabin crawl.”

Suzanne also emphasises researching into room locations to ensure yourself a peaceful night’s sleep:

“Location is key! Make sure to pick the right cabin by studying the ship maps - avoid the elevator banks, the disco/entertainment lounges and casino. Nothing ruins a holiday quicker than not being able to sleep because of noise you can't control.”  

Adam Coulter, the UK managing editor of Cruise Critic – the leading cruise reviews and information site (and mentioned above by Suzanne) – has kindly offered us his most important tip for those about to set sail for the first time:

“The most important tip for any first-time cruiser is: don’t underestimate the importance of research. With a somewhat overwhelming array of excellent choice, picking a cruise ship and itinerary can be a challenge, however, it should be a fun one.

“Before you start the research process, factors to consider include your preferred sail dates, destination, budget and the type of holiday you’d ideally like to have. Utilise our dedicated first-time cruisers resource for tips, and be sure to read professional and traveller reviews to find the perfect ship and itinerary for you.”

Find the right itinerary

Figuring out what you want from your cruise experience is indeed important. The size of the ship, the time available for exploring destinations, and so much more should be taken into account. Christine Sarkis, the Deputy Executive Editor of the expert travel site Smarter Travel, has some important tips regarding finding the right cruise itinerary for you:

“Make sure the cruise line and itinerary matches your expectations before you book” advises Christine. “Do you like the bustling atmosphere and endless options of a mega-ship, or would you prefer the personalised experiences and quieter vibe of a smaller ship? If exploring ports of call is important, find an itinerary that stops for longer; if you mostly want to enjoy the amenities and activities on-board, opt for more sailing days.”

cruise ship at sea

Take advantage of organised shore excursions

There are so many different ways to enjoy a cruise holiday, the numerous possibilities allow for travellers to tailor their holiday to their style, taste and personality. Some people will enjoy branching off on their own when it comes to shore excursions, and this is absolutely fine, but Jeremy Scott Foster, an experienced traveller from the adventure, travel, and motivation blog Travel Freak, advises cruisers to take advantage of trips organised by the cruise line:

“Shore excursions organised by the cruise ship are always the easiest way to go. You can try doing the same trip on your own, and maybe even for cheaper, but you get peace of mind knowing that all your transportation is taken care of, and that you'll make it back to the ship in time! Not everyone does...”

Use the stairs

Cruises are a relaxing experience and perhaps the last thing you want to worry about is exercise. But with all the food and lounging around to be enjoyed, it’s not a bad idea to take a simple measure to keep off those unwanted pounds.

Suzanne of PhilaTravelGirl has a great and easy suggestion in this department, one that won’t cost you any time away from relaxing and enjoying your holiday.

“Use the steps (if you are able to) and not the elevators to add some exercise to your holiday. Some ships, like Holland America, raise money for charity with a 5k walk around the ship. Since we all tend to overindulge on holiday, doing steps and walking are easy exercises for all to do and are free.”

Balance relaxing with seeing as much as you can

Suzanne also has some fantastic pearls of wisdom for those seeking to unwind during their cruise. With all there is to see and do, it can be a task for some, as Suzanne mentions, but maintaining the right balance is key:

“As for relaxing on a cruise, it can be quite hard with port intensive schedules,” explains Suzanne, “especially in the Med, and the desire to see as much as you can in a short period of time. 

“Step 1 - Digital Detox from all devices (I'm in the minority with this one generally) - the exorbitant cost of Wi-Fi on the ship isn't worth it in my opinion.  

“For couples, groups and families, it's best to negotiate some dedicated ‘me time’ (spa, gym, kids clubs, tastings, movies, etc.) and agree to meet up later at lunch or dinner. On a recent Disney cruise with my family (mom, sister's family and my friend) we agreed to meet up for dinner each night and for a few family tours in port but had our own time to explore as well. I still remember running into my Mom on the ship and she said she was too busy for me, she'd see me at dinner.

“As I travel solo, I tend to over schedule myself to keep busy but I will allow myself on sea days, to have a lie in, a late workout followed by a spa treatment and then wander about to find a quiet nook to read a real book (not e-book) with a water view. It doesn't get any more disconnected than that for me.”

cocktail on the beach

Pick one primary activity per day

Following on from the above advice, relaxing and taking it easy should certainly be a cruiser’s prime concern. And for someone embarking on their first ever cruise this may seem like quite the mission considering all the wonderful activities that are available. Jeremy from Travel Freak also knows the value in finding that balance between relaxing and enjoying what’s on offer, providing some advice on how to do so:

“Take it easy! It may sound like obvious advice, but there are so many things happening on board at all times of the day and night that you'll wear yourself out trying to do them all. You don't want to come home from vacation feeling like you need a vacation! Pick just one primary activity to do each day, and focus on that.”

For more of Jeremy’s wonderful first-time cruise advice, take a look at this article.

Preparation and drinks enquiries

Simone Lye, from the inspiring travel blog and magazine The Aussie Flashpacker, believes ardently in preparation and making a few enquiries before setting off. This is an essential part of her tips for first time cruisers, along with some great advice for those looking to enjoy a drink or two:

“My advice for people taking a cruise for the first time is to prepare! If you pack the right things then once you are on board you can literally just relax and not worry about a single thing! If you enjoy a drink or plan to have a party cruise, then I recommend looking into drinks packages which the cruise lines offer because the cost of alcohol can very quickly add up as you are sipping cocktails by the pool!”

Remember to have fun

With all this planning, research and wanting to be as prepared as possible for when you board your first cruise, you mustn’t forget what this is all about: having fun.

“Remember that really most things are taken care of, this is a carefree holiday.” – Nomad Travel

This is the sentiment of Marc from Nomad Travel, leaders in travel health and equipment, who, when speaking to us, made a point to remind cruisers not to overly worry about preparation. After all, you’re embarking on this adventure in order to relax, see the world, and enjoy yourself.

A key factor in your ability to have fun is learning how to relax. Luckily, cruises provide the perfect environment to do so. Endri of Trip & Travel Blog – a passionate website that brings its readers news, stories and reviews regarding worldwide destinations – places great importance on letting go of your stress in order to enjoy your first ever cruise. 

“My tips are first and foremost to forget all the problems and troubles you might have back home and just enjoy the cruise. If you do that, time will fly by and you'll have an amazing first experience.”

Cruise ship at the beach

The food is delicious, try not to eat too much!

Endri also has some advice regarding dining while on board a cruise, suggesting that resisting the urge to devour all the amazing food presented to you will serve first time cruisers well throughout their trip:

“The food the chefs prepare on cruise ships is incredibly delicious, so my only tip for this is: don't eat too much. Even though you'll love the food, try to contain yourself. You don't want to get sick from eating too much and then not enjoying a part of the cruise because of that. Be carefree and don't let anything bother you.”

Go for the balcony cabin and remember those travel documents

For Endri’s final two pieces of advice, the topic of which cabin to choose and that of travel documents come into play. First of all, Endri and Trip Travel Blog suggest that going for that balcony room is well worth the extra price. This is your first ever cruise after all!

“Cabins with a balcony might seem very expensive but the truth is they're totally worth it, especially if it's your first cruise. The views are extraordinary!”

And last of all, Endri wants to remind travellers about keeping those important cruise documents close when you set off on your cruise holiday.

“Finally, but very importantly, always remember to keep your documents and valuables close. You don't want to forget anything you'll regret after you set sail!”