Despite increasing concerns over sustainability and overtourism in some destinations, cruise travel has never been more popular. Interest in cruising has largely bounced back since the dip caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, with new cruise records being set in some countries including Norway. While cruising is a relatively simple concept, it can be daunting for people who’ve never set foot on a ship before. With that in mind, here are ten top tips for first-time cruise travelers, reports Forbes.
Choose your cruise line carefully
Budget and location/itinerary are two very important considerations when picking your first cruise. But don’t ignore the choice of cruise line. Although it can be tempting to feel the cruise line doesn’t matter as you’ll be spending so much time asleep and in ports, the onboard experiences vary considerably.
For example, P&O Cruises and Fred Olsen both offer very British dining and entertainment experiences for its primarily British clientele, although this does vary by ship and itinerary. In contrast, MSC features Mediterranean food and makes onboard announcements in up to five languages because of the diversity of its passengers.
Lines such as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line offer resort-style ships with water slides, mini-golf, arcades and even go-karting, while the likes of Cunard, Viking Ocean Cruises and Holland America offer more traditional cruising experiences.
Before committing to a booking, read up on reviews of not just your chosen ship but the line in general on independent websites such as Cruise Critic.
Consider booking with a travel agent
Cruise specialist travel agents are regularly hosted on the ships by cruise lines, so they’ll know which one is right for you and your preferences.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that by using a travel agent, you’ll pay more. They often offer promotions that can be combined with cruise line’s offers, meaning in some cases you’ll pay less. A good agent can also assist with on-board bookings in advance and suggesting the best shore excursions for you, amongst other things.
Avoid some key packing mistakes
Your luggage will be scanned and possibly checked before joining you on board. Some items are banned including power strips with surge protectors and anything with heating elements such as travel kettles and irons. Some lines allow you to bring a limited amount of your own alcohol onboard but others do not.
Checking the rules for your chosen line in advance will save you frustration on the first day of your vacation.
On embarkation day, bring a carry-on bag with everything you’ll need for your first day including swimwear, a change of clothes and essential items such as medication. On the bigger ships it can be up to several hours before your main luggage arrives at your cabin.
Arrive the day before embarkation day
Unless you live within easy commuting distance, you should plan to arrive in your port of embarkation at least one day before sailing. This is especially true if you need to fly considering the disruption and last-minute cancelations seen in the aviation industry over the last 12 months.
Research your ship
You don’t need to learn the deck plans before boarding, but getting a feel for what is where onboard can save a lot of time during your first days. Committing to memory whether the buffet restaurant or that lounge you liked the look of is forward or aft, for example, will make things much easier.
Spending time researching the ship also means you are less likely to miss any features or attractions. There’s few things more frustrating on a cruise vacation than finding the perfect quiet spot on your final day.
Research the ports
You don’t need to make a detailed hour-by-hour plan, but spending some time investigating your ports of call before you travel is time well spent. It will help you decide whether you will pay for expensive ship excursions, independent tours or simply walk around at your own leisure.
In particular, look at how close the port is to the advertised destination. For example, many cruise ships advertise Rome as a destination whereas in actual fact they dock at Civitavecchia, almost 50 miles away.
Think twice about beverage packages
Beverage packages are often pushed heavily by cruise lines as money-saving deals. While it is usually cheaper to book such packages in advance, they still won’t necessarily save you money.
Whether a drinks package is right for you depends on your own consumption habits, the prices of individual drinks onboard and whether any drinks are included with meals, among many other factors. Consider also the number of sea days. On days when you don’t leave the ship, you’re likely to buy more drinks.
Cruzely.com runs a simple drink package calculator to help you estimate your onboard spend.
Choose a la carte over the buffet
It’s very easy to over-indulge on a cruise vacation given the all-inclusive nature of dining. Many first-timers seem to camp out in the buffet restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a much better idea to spend most of your time in the main dining room(s) instead. Typically it’s a much calmer experience with a better quality of food, service and presentation.
On most cruise lines, the main dining room also offers limitless food. Still hungry after dinner? Order another main course. Can’t choose between two starters? Order them both. Some cruise lines are introducing restrictions in their main dining room, but most still operate on an all-you-can-eat model.
Check your statement regularly
On non-luxury lines there are many additional costs for drinks, internet use and optional activities. The costs of these can add up quickly. It’s simple to check your spend at any time on your stateroom television or on the cruise line’s app. Do this regularly to check for any mistakes and keep on top of your onboard spending to avoid a nasty surprise on your final day.
Finally, pacing yourself on a cruise vacation is perhaps the most important first-time cruise travel tip of all. With so much on offer on modern cruise ships and in ports of call, it’s easy to throw yourself in at the deep end and quickly burn out. Take your time to explore the ship and eat in different venues.
If you don’t have shore excursions booked on a particular day, wait an hour or so until the rush to leave the ship has subsided. You’ll still have plenty of time to explore the port in a far more relaxed mood.
Depending on the length of your cruise, it can be a good idea to pick one day to stay on the ship when a port call doesn’t interest you so much. Some activities may be closed, but generally the ship will be much quieter allowing you to explore at your leisure, enjoy a quiet lunch and possibly make the most of discounted spa treatments or other cheaper and quieter activities.
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