Wonder of the Seas docked in Labadee Haiti

28 Cruise Tips for New Cruise Travelers

When you think of cruising, you are probably also thinking about adventure, relaxation, and exploration. Cruising offers the perfect opportunity to combine all three. You can explore multiple destinations, go on adventures at your ports of call, and enjoy the comforts of a floating resort. From the moment you step aboard your cruise ship, the excitement of cruising takes over. If this is your first cruise, you will discover many incredible cruising adventures, learn about new cultures, and explore different cuisines. Whether you’re drawn to the soothing rhythm of the ocean waves or the excitement of experiencing new adventures, a cruise vacation promises something for every cruiser. Keep reading for some of the best cruise tips for new cruise travelers.

Importance of Preparation for First-Time Cruisers

Amidst the excitement of embarking on a cruise, the importance of preparation cannot be overstated, especially for first-time cruisers. Unlike other forms of travel, cruising requires a specific set of considerations, from choosing the right cruise line and itinerary, having the proper documents on hand, packing essentials, and learning about embarkation day. Proper preparation not only ensures a smoother and more enjoyable experience but also allows you to make the most of your time at sea and in port. As embarkation day approaches, taking the time to research, plan, and organize can set the stage for an unforgettable voyage on the high seas.

Selecting the Right Cruise

Selecting the right cruise is an important step in making sure that you have a memorable and happy cruising experience. It is also one of the most important cruise tips for first time cruisers. There are many cruise lines, ships, and itineraries to choose from. You want to make sure that you choose the cruise line and itinerary that is perfect for you and your family. The following is a list of a few cruise line companies and what they are known for.

Cruise Lines

Carnival Cruise Lines: Carnival is known as the “Fun Ship.” They specialize in shorter cruise lengths of 3 or 4 days to longer cruises of 7 to 8 days. Carnival caters to the US market and is known for its fun-filled, affordable cruises that are perfect for the entire family.  

Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity cruises offer more upscale cruising without the party atmosphere of other cruise lines. Celebrity is known for its fine dining and the visual appeal of its ships.

Disney Cruise Line: Disney Cruise Line is a family-friendly magical cruising experience with Disney theme shows and meet and greets with Disney characters. It is the perfect cruise if you are a Disney fan. The only drawback is that cruising with Disney Cruise Line can be expensive. 

MSC Cruises: MSC Cruises is a well established cruise line and well known for cruising in Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, and South America. They also have cruises to the Caribbean and Asia. 

Princess Cruise Line: Princess Cruise Line is owned by Carnival Corporation. It is a popular choice for cruising Alaska. They also cruise to Australia, Asia, Europe, the South Pacific, and Antarctica. Their ships are not as large as the newer ships of Carnival or Royal Caribbean. However, they are known for their exceptional service and culinary offerings. 

Royal Caribbean: Royal Caribbean is known for its huge megaresort-type ships. There are many activities available on their ships, such as waterparks, surfing, bumper cars, and rock climbing walls. It is a great cruise line for families as there are many family-friendly activities available. Royal Caribbean sails to over 250 locations with many stops in the Caribbean.   

Research Cruise Lines and Destinations

Finding the perfect fit for you requires assessing what you would like your cruising vacation to look like. There are other factors to consider as well, such as cost, the ports you would like to visit, length of trip, and the amenities available on the cruise ship. Luckily, cruise lines make this task simple, as you can easily research all available trips on their websites. Their websites have information on itineraries, the length of the trip, the ports of call, and, of course, the cost of the cruise. 

View of the Carnival Conquest sailing in the ocean
Carnival Conquest

Accessible Cruising

Many cruise companies can accommodate necessary medical equipment. There are also accessible rooms available to make cruising easier. Cruise lines work hard to make cruising a great experience for everyone. The key to a seamless experience is to contact the cruise line and let them know what accommodations you will need ahead of time. They can assist you with the details. There are companies that work with cruise lines that provide rental equipment, such as wheelchairs and scooters. In addition, many cruise lines have sensory programs in place to assist people with conditions such as Autism, Down Syndrome, and PTSD.     

Book Early for the Best Deals and Availability

On many cruise lines, you will find the best deals when you book your trip early rather than at the last minute. Sure, you might find that rare jewel, a discounted trip that is only a few weeks away. However, you will have more options to choose from if you start your search earlier. You will also have a better chance of selecting the type of stateroom that you would like and the location of your stateroom. This is important if you are prone to getting seasick or if you prefer an oceanview stateroom. 

Consider Purchasing Travel Insurance

Consider purchasing travel or trip insurance for peace of mind. This is a very important cruise tip for first time cruisers. Anything can happen between the time you book your cruise and the day of your cruise. You can miss your flight, or there can be a sudden illness in the family that prevents you from going on your cruise. Having travel or trip insurance can help defray the cost of missing your cruise. Many if not most cruise lines do not offer refunds for emergencies. Having insurance will help you get some of your money back if anything happens that causes you to miss your cruise. Travel insurance can also help if you become injured while on your cruise and need medical attention or have to cut your trip short.  

Download Your Boarding Pass and Luggage Tags

Preparing for your trip is essential and involves much more than packing. If you don’t already have one, you will need to create an account on your cruise line’s website to download your boarding pass and luggage tags. After you create your account, you will be able to book onshore excursions and purchase any additional packages, such as beverage packages or specialty dining. 

Download Your Cruising App

Many cruise lines have an app that their guests can use throughout their trip. Download your cruise line’s app before embarkation day. Cruising apps, such as Carnival’s The Hub app, are very helpful during a cruise. This is one of the best cruise tips for new cruise travelers as the app will help you navigate your way while on the ship and will give you lots of information during your cruise. Apps have details on what venues are currently open and what events are scheduled throughout the day. You can schedule specialty dinner reservations and also view your account summary through the app among other things. The best time to download the app is before you cruise. If you have not purchased the WiFi package, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to download the app once you have sailed. 

Gather Your Travel Documents

Whether or not you need a visa or passport will depend on your nationality and the requirements of the ports you will be visiting. Traveling with a passport is ideal and makes the embarkation process easier. A passport is the recommended travel document to use when cruising. However, other types of documents are accepted. You should verify with your cruise company to make sure you have the proper documents, as you will be denied boarding without the proper documents. 

Types of Documents Accepted for Travel:

  • US Passport Book or Passport Card – A Passport book is the preferred document to use on your cruise. A passport card cannot be used for international flights and certain sailings.
  • US Birth Certificate and valid government-issued ID
  • Permanent Resident Alien Card and Passport from Country of Citizenship
  • Enhanced Driver’s License – This type of ID is not the same as a Real ID. The Enhanced Driver’s License is only available in a handful of states.

Document requirements differ depending on your cruise. On a round-trip, one of the above options should suffice. If your cruise is one-way, such as a Transatlantic, Transpacific, or Panama Canal cruise, you will need a passport book. If your cruise includes countries such as Colombia or Panama, you will need a passport book.   Again, you should confirm which documents you will need for your cruise with your cruise line.  

View of two United States Passports lying on a map of the world.

Arrive at Your Departure City a Day Ahead of Schedule

This is by far a one of the more important tips for first time cruisers. A question that frequently comes up in many forums and groups is “When should I arrive to my cruise?”. The answer to this is always arrive a day ahead of your departure schedule. Yes, you will need to spend the night at a hotel if you do this. However, anything can go wrong if you need to take a flight to your departure city. Your flight can be delayed or cancelled. You can miss a connecting flight if there is a delay. If anything happens, giving yourself this buffer allows you extra time to handle any changes that need to be made.

There are laws that govern when a cruise line is allowed to embark passengers. The laws are very strict and include fines if a cruise line violates the requirements. If you miss your cruise, you will more than likely not be able to get on your cruise. I recommend arriving at your departure city the day before your cruise to avoid any problems.

Bring Your Own Beverages on Board With You

Many cruise lines allow passengers to bring a few beverages with them on embarkations day. The beverages have to be on your carry-on. If you pack any beverages in your checked luggage, even if they are allowed beverages, chances are they will be confiscated. Cruise lines have different policies regarding they type of beverages allowed. It is a good idea to check what beverages are allowed to be carried on during embarkation.

What drinks are allowed

Carnival allows 1 bottle of wine or Champagne per person and 12 cans of non-alcoholic drinks such as water, juice, energy drinks, or soda per person. With the exception of wine and Champagne, Carnival does not allow passengers to bring bottles, either glass or plastic, on board. Also, fortified wines such as Port are not allowed sine these types of wine have a higher alcohol content

Royal Caribbean’s policies are very similar to Carnival’s policies. One difference is that they do not allow boxed wine to be brought on board. To make sure that you are within the guidelines, you can verify what is allowed by checking the website of the cruise line you will be traveling with.

Arranging Transportation to the Port

Arranging transportation to the port can be as simple as driving, taking a taxi, Lyft, or Uber to the port from the airport or your home. If you are local to the port, most, if not all, ports have parking available where you can leave your car for the duration of your trip for a fee. 

Arriving at the Port for Embarkation Day

When you arrive at the port, you can check your luggage with one of the porters. Your luggage will be delivered to your stateroom later in the day. Many cruise lines allow you to carry your luggage onto the ship. Just know that if you decide to carry your luggage onto the ship, you will need to keep your luggage with you until your room is ready. The only exception to this is if you have priority status, which gives you the ability to access your room early. The benefits and requirements for elevated statuses vary among the different cruise lines. 

Most cruise lines will give you a time slot for embarkation. This helps the cruise line keep things running smoothly as their passengers arrive throughout a span of hours rather than all at once. If you arrive early, chances are you will be allowed to enter the line and proceed through the embarkation process. Other times, you will have to wait until your embarkation time to get on the ship. This will depend on your port of embarkation and your cruise line. 

You are Finally on Board!

After weeks or months of waiting, you are finally on board! This is the time where you will begin to explore your ship and familiarize yourself with the location of venues and all that your cruise ship offers. But first, you must visit your muster station for your safety briefing.

The Safety Briefing

Once you are on board, you will have to check into your muster station for a safety briefing. This process differs between all cruise lines. The staff on your ship will direct you to where you need to go to complete the check-in. During the safety briefing, you will learn how to don a life vest and where you must go in case of an emergency. Everyone is required to do this before the ship can sail. It is a good idea to get this done as soon as possible. Once you have gone through the safety briefing, you can begin to explore your ship.

Use Your Cruise App to Learn About Your Ship

The cruise app comes in handy as you begin to explore your ship. The app will help you familiarize yourself with the layout of the ship and where everything is located on board. You can also check to see what dining options are currently open during your embarkation day. 

Keep Your Phone in Airplane Mode During Your Cruise

Keep in mind that using your cell phone data on your cruise can be very costly. This, of course, will depend on your cell phone provider. You should verify in advance if you are covered while at sea and what the cost will be. If you want to be sure that you do not end up with a huge cell phone bill after your cruise, keep your phone on airplane mode. This is one of those very important cruise tips for first-time cruisers. The cost of using your phone on a cruise ship can be exorbitantly high if you do not have the correct phone plan or if you are not aware that you do not have a phone plan that covers you while cruising. Keeping your phone on airplane mode can save you thousands of dollars.

View of a man holding a cell phone with a cruise ship in the background.

Enjoy Lunch on Embarkation Day

Lunch usually starts early during embarkation day, and this is more than likely where you will be headed after boarding your ship. The buffet is open for guests so that they can enjoy lunch. Since this is embarkation day, you will notice that the area can be very crowded, and on some ships, it can be difficult to find a place to sit in the buffet dining room. You will more than likely find sitting areas outside of the buffet, which are not so crowded. Also, some ships have other dining options available other than the buffet. Don’t be afraid to explore the area, you might find a better place to eat during embarkation day. Unfortunately, if you did not check your bags with the porter upon arrival, you will have to lug your bags around with you until your room is ready. 

Pack Your Swim Suit and Necessities in Your Carry-On

You will not be able to access your stateroom until a designated time assigned by your cruise line. On the majority of cruises we have traveled on, our staterooms have been made available around 1:30 pm. The time can and will change depending on the policy of the cruise line you are traveling with. Your luggage may or may not be in your stateroom at the time your room is ready. Cruise ship personnel are delivering thousands of pieces of luggage on the ship. It could be several hours before your luggage arrives in your stateroom.

To avoid any problems or worries, it is a good idea to pack any necessities such as medications in your carry-on. If you pack your swim suit in your carry-on or wear it underneath your clothes, you will be pool or hot tub ready on embarkation day. Instead of spending the afternoon walking around, you can begin your cruise vacation at the pool or hot tub without a care in the world.

Make the Most of Onboard Activities

This is a great time to start exploring onboard activities available on your ship. You can use the cruise line’s app to do this. Many of the apps allow you to view all activities scheduled during every day of your sailing. 

Exploring Your Dining Options

Your cruise app is the perfect place to learn about dining options available throughout your cruise. If you have a set dinner time, you do not have to worry about making a reservation for dinner. If you have the “My Time” option for dinner, you will need to reserve your table through the app. Keep in mind that busy times can fluctuate depending on the day’s activities. You will have to wait a few minutes for a table. And at times, you might have to wait much longer. The longest time we were scheduled to wait for a table was 90 minutes. This was during a port day that ended shortly before dinner. We opted to cancel our table and ate at the buffet instead of waiting. 

Enjoy a Specialty Restaurant on Your Cruise Ship

Specialty restaurants are a great choice on cruise ships. There is a fee to eat at specialty restaurants, but they are worth trying. Specialty restaurants have an elevated dining experience. The food is 5-star on almost every cruise line, and the dining experience follows suit. It is worth trying at least one specialty restaurant on your cruise. There are some specialty restaurants, such as Cucina del Capitano on Carnival, that are free at lunchtime. The lunch menu is different from the dinner menu, but it is worth a try. This will give you a small sneak peek at what their dinner would be like. It really is a small sneak peek at that. The dinner menu is quite different and worth a try.  

One of the best specialty dining cruise tips for new cruise travelers is that if you schedule your specialty dining at Carnival’s Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse on the first night of your cruise, you will receive a free bottle of wine. This is a great way to enjoy your first dinner on board your cruise.

Enjoy Onboard Facilities Such as the Pools, Fitness Center, and Spa

The pool on your cruise is the perfect place to enjoy some sun and relaxation.  Keep in mind that the ambiance of the pool area will be different depending on the cruise line you sail on. Carnival is more of a family cruise line, there will be many kids enjoying the pool. Royal Caribbean is a megaresort type of cruise line, and there will be many kids in the pool area as well. Luckily, there are adult-only areas where you can relax and enjoy the pool without kids in the area. Carnival has the Serenity adult-only area for people 21 and older. Royal Caribbean has the Solarium for people 18 and older.  While there may be a time when someone younger slips in, they will gently be asked to leave the area. Other cruise lines have similar areas, and there are specialty adult-only cruises as well. 

View from the gym in the Carnival Radiance
View from the gym in the Carnival Radiance

Select Your Shore Excursions Early

You should research and book your excursions in advance, on embarkation day, or towards the beginning of your cruise. Shore excursions do sell out, and generally it is the most popular excursions that will sell out first. If you have your heart set on a particular excursion, you should book it as soon as you can. Here is an awesome cruise tip for new cruise travelers to help you save some money. Many cruises have a presentation that highlights the ports of call. The presentation is usually held on or very near the first day. Some cruise lines will give you a discount on one shore excursion for attending the presentation. They also have raffles with prizes that include shore excursions. Getting a discount or winning a prize is a great way to save a little bit of money on a shore excursion.  

Going on Your Shore Excursion

If you have purchased a shore excursion through your cruise line, you will be given the information you need, such as what time you will need to be in line for your excursion and where you need to wait. If your port requires a tender, you will be given the same type of information on where to wait and what time you need to be there. Your excursion group will be kept together and led off the ship and onto the tender. You will then be guided to where you need to wait for your tour bus. Cruise lines have this process down to a science. Another benefit of booking a shore excursion through your cruise line is that the cruise line guarantees that if your tour is delayed, the ship will wait for you. There is very little to worry about when you book through your cruise company.

Exploring the Port of Call On Your Own

It is very easy to venture out on your own and create your own personal excursion. At most ports, there will be taxis available for passengers very near the cruise port. Many ports have set prices for taxis and charge by car instead of per person. You can catch a ride into town and explore the area on your own. You can also purchase shore excursions through Viator, ToursbyLocals, and Shore Excursions Group. Just make sure you return to the ship on time, as there is no guarantee that the ship will wait for you to return.

View of the La Romana Cruise Ship Terminal with the Carnival Magic Cruise Ship in the background
La Romana Cruise Ship Terminal

Set Your Watch or Phone to Ship Time

You will be told exactly what time you need to be on board your ship on port day. It is very important to return to the ship on time so that you do not get left behind. Make sure your watch and/or phone is set to the ship’s time and not the port time. This is one of the most important cruise tips for new cruise travelers. Times can differ between the port and the ship, depending on the country you are visiting. You want to make sure that you know the exact time you need to return to the ship. The time is always based on the ships time.

Your cell phone will automatically change its time based on your location. You can set your phone to ship time and turn off the option that sets your phone’s time automatically based on your location. This will ensure that the time on your phone does not change. If you choose not to set this option, make sure your watch is set to the ship’s time so that you return on time.

On port days, many people gather on the top decks that overlook the entrance to the ship to watch and/or take videos of ship runners. Ship runners are people who are late returning to the ship and find themselves running towards the ship. It can be fun to watch them get cheered on as they make their way on board. However, the goal is to not become a ship runner or get left behind. Setting your watch or phone to the correct time is essential.

Health and Wellness on a Cruise

Staying healthy on your cruise is important. If you are prone to seasickness, you can prepare by bringing motion sickness medication on your trip. There is sea sickness medication for sale on board most cruise ships. You will also find other medications for sale, such as fever reducers and cold medicines. This is one of the top tips for new cruise travelers. Sea sickness and other ailments happen, it is better to get ahead of the problem so that you can enjoy your cruise.

Many ports of call, especially those in the Caribbean and Mexico, can be hot. Staying hydrated is important. There are water stations available on cruise ships where you can refill reusable water bottles. You can also purchase water on board. 

If anyone in your party falls ill, or if you have questions, you can contact guest services or the medical center. If you need care, there is a medical center with a physician available on board cruise ships. Visiting the medical center is an additional charge. 

Conclusion

Going on a cruise as a new cruiser can be both exciting and overwhelming, but with the right guidance and preparation, it can be an enjoyable and unforgettable adventure. From selecting the perfect cruise line and itinerary to making the most of shore excursions, these tips aim to empower you to navigate the seas with confidence and ease. So, whether you’re setting sail on a weekend getaway, a one-week adventure, or a world-spanning odyssey, I hope these cruise tips for new cruise travelers serve as your compass, guiding you towards smooth sailing and unforgettable memories on the high seas. Bon voyage!

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