Updated 22/07/22

Cruising is a popular choice for many holiday-makers, offering a chance to see more of the world in one swift trip. Sail across multiple seas, to various shores and experience local life as you go, there’s nothing more exciting! But, like all unfamiliar things, it can be a little nerve-wracking. What do you pack? How do you plan? What are the rules for cruising?

Luckily for you, we’ve compiled this ultimate guide to cruising for beginners to answer all your burning questions.

Packing

Once you’re cruise is booked, it can be easy to just kick-back and relax as your embarkation date draws nearer. Packing is a love or hate task, with this made even trickier due to the multiple destinations you will likely be visiting.

Open suitcase - packing for holiday

Now, a lot of what you pack is dependant on where you’re going – it’s unlikely that you’d pack the same items for the Caribbean as you would for cruising the Norwegian Fjords. However, there are a few items you’ll want to bring on every cruise trip.

  • Swim Wear (to enjoy those pools and hot tubs)
  • Formal Wear (for formal dining)
  • Travel Documents (passports, visas, boarding passes)
  • Clothes for all weather possibilities
  • Plug adaptors (European or USA depending on the cruise line)
  • Travel sickness tablets (just incase)

As your luggage may not be delivered until a few hours after you board, we suggest packing your carry on wisely. One top tip is to put a bathing suit in your carry on so you can start making the most of the pool from the second you arrive.

If you’re simply cruising, luggage restrictions are a little lax than when fly-cruising, with cruise lines generally allowing you to take more on-board. However, there are still limitations so it’s best to check with your Cruise Concierge to ensure you pack accordingly.

Planning

Planning and prepping is always handy to ensure your holiday goes as well as possible. Now, this doesn’t mean having an airtight schedule for your cruise – you’re there to relax after all. It just means having an idea of when and what to book, and a rough plan of what you’d like to do.

When booking your cruise, consider what time of year would be best for you. For example, if you’re keen to avoid kids and families, don’t book a cruise in the school holidays.

If you’re going on a fly cruise (a cruise where you take an airplane to your embarkation port) we advise booking your flight as part of your cruise package, as this means the ship will wait for you if your flight is delayed. If you’re departing from the UK and are driving to your port, we suggest finding a hotel to stay in the night before you cruise which offers special cruise parking rates.

Once you’re on your cruise holiday, we recommend booking specialty dining, spa treatments, and any other bookable activities as early as possible, as these fill up fast and you don’t want to miss out! Taking a tour of the ship on your first day is also a fabulous way to get your bearings.

Activity programmes will be left in your room every morning, allowing you to plan a rough itinerary of all the things you’d like to do that day. Just remember- you can’t do everything, and you need time to chill, so just focus on the activities that you’re most eager to partake in.

Dining

The most famous aspect of cruise dining is the formal sit-down dinners in the main dining room. These are an opportunity to dress your best and eat some delicious food. They are often included in the cost of your cruise, and you can order a wide range of fabulous dishes.

During formal dinners, you will be seated on a table of around ten to fifteen people, giving you an opportunity to socialise with your fellow passengers. Many people make great friends with their cruise ship table-mates, but if you would like, you can simply request to be moved.

For more informal dining, head to the buffet or snack bars. Snack bars provide universally popular options like burgers and hot dogs, whilst buffets offer a wide variety of all-you-can-eat foods. Both of these are often included in the cost of your cruise too but is worth checking with the cruise line.

Specialty restaurants do occasionally cost extra, but they are well worth it. Depending on your ship you could enjoy cuisines from a range of cultures from Italian to Japanese- just make sure you book early so as not to miss out!

Sailing to shores anew

While sailing on a cruise, particularly during days at sea, it can feel overwhelming with the choice of things to do. Don’t rush around trying to see everything at once, you will have plenty of time to experience it all during your stay.

We recommend taking a short walk to familiarise yourself with the ship before finding somewhere to enjoy a bite to eat and drink with a programme of activities over the next day or two. You can get a programme from Guest Services or your room, making it easy to plan out your stay and ensure you do a bit of everything!

Days at sea

Celebrity Cruises - Day at sea

These days are perfect for finding relaxing moments and making the most of your time on-board. As you’re sailing, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on a port or excursion onshore, so you can sunbathe, work out or snooze in your cabin guilt-free.

Find a spot beside the pool and enjoy some rays or bag a space in the hot tub for ultra-relaxation with sea views. If you’re travelling with young family, many cruise lines have fun splash parks and water slides for them to enjoy while you sip a cocktail on a sun lounger. Utter bliss.

You can even take that bliss one step further and enjoy time in the spa, enjoying a massage or treatment which can work wonders on your skin, circulation and well-being to refresh you while on-board.

Why not challenge yourself and take a class where you can learn to cook, develop your photography skills or learn the salsa? Days at sea are ideal to indulge in a workshop or make a new hobby for yourself.

Days in port

For many, port days are the highlight of a cruise, exploring fascinating new places and experiencing a variety of cultures. However, you have no obligation to leave the ship at any port. If a certain destination doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can instead stay on the ship and enjoy the extra space.

You will receive an announcement for arriving in the port and you can make your way ashore. Larger ships may allocate you a designated area to go ashore to avoid crowding so make sure you know where to exit the ship.

When heading off for your in-port adventure, don’t forget to take your cruise card with you, as you’ll need this to get back onto the ship. We also suggest making a note of your cruise ship number and port agent so you can find the vessel easily later. Pack a few items for the day such as bottled water, camera, sunglasses and a towel if you’re heading to the beach.

Taking an excursion run by your cruise line means the ship will wait for you if you are late, but these can be expensive and may not offer the sights you wish to see. A private tour can be more personal, but you may have to pay cash and the ship won’t wait if you’re late. Sightseeing alone also entails keeping your eye on the clock to avoid getting stranded. However, this shouldn’t be a major worry. Just make a note of the boarding time to get back on the ship and bear in mind that the port may be in a different time zone to your ship’s clock.

Tips for your days ashore:

  • Book your shore excursions as soon as you can if going with the cruise line
  • Make sure you make a note of your cruise ship number and port agent so you can find the ship easily later
  • Take note of your ship’s boarding time for passengers to get back on the ship – vital if you’re running late!

Picking the right cabin on the right ship

There’s no one right room or right ship for every cruiser. Instead, it’s about picking the room and ship that’s right for you.

The cabins or staterooms you can choose from include:

Interior Cabin: These are small and simply furnished, and can be very cheap. And as you’ll be far too busy enjoying the on-board activities to spend much time in your cabin, it’s a great cost-effective option.

Oceanview Cabin: Slightly larger than an interior cabin, with a window looking out onto the sea, although still relatively cheap.

Balcony Cabin: As suggested by the name, these staterooms come with a balcony from which you can admire the ocean views and bask in the sea air.

Suite: Like a little apartment, suites come with a sitting area and often a balcony and multiple bathrooms too.

Luxury Suites: The most glamorous accommodation on-board, luxury suites are spacious and beautifully furnished. They often come with butler or concierge services, as well as a host of other amazing extras from private whirlpools to slides!

When picking a ship, consider what’s important to you. If you want flashy amenities like the biggest waterslides and coolest bar, pick a newer, larger ship. For a cheaper voyage, an older vessel is your best bet. Smaller ships, on the other hand, are more intimate, with more personal service. And adults only ships are available for those who want a child-free cruise.

Seasickness

Perhaps the biggest fear for first time cruisers is seasickness. Most find that they are absolutely fine, but if you’re still worried, we have a few tips to help you avoid the dreaded nautical nausea.

  • Rougher seas tend to be noticed on the Atlantic coast, North Sea and Antarctic sailings, we recommend visiting the Norwegian Fjords during the summer months.
  • Book a cabin in the middle of the liner, on one of the lower levels, as the ship is more stable here.
  • You can also obtain seasickness pills from the reception desk or bring your own.
  • Avoid drinking too much or indulging in too much rich or fatty food.
  • Pick a cruise with more port days than sea days on the itinerary.
  • Sip ginger tea.
  • Bring acupressure wristbands.

If you’re really struggling, visit the doctor on-board and they’ll be able to help you find the right solution to relieve sea-sickness.

Spends

Everybody wants to cruise in style without breaking the bank- and you can! But if you’re new to cruising you might not know how to be a financially savvy sailor. Thankfully, we have your back.

First of all, you’ll need to understand how money works on a cruise. Everything you buy on-board can be paid onto your cruise card, so save the cash for in-port. You then pay off your bill at guest services on your final night, and any purchases made after this are charged to your personal card.

One of the wonderful things about cruises is the fact that so much is included in the price- including lots of on-board activities, formal dining and buffets. However, a few things do cost extra, such as:

  • Specialty dining
  • Drinks
  • Spa treatments
  • Wi-Fi
  • Selected activities

Whilst we do recommend indulging in these things, it’s a good idea to set a budget to prevent costs adding up too much. On lots of cruise ships you can check your bill via your TV if you’re not sure what you’ve spent. And it’s worth remembering that gratuity and service charges are built into the bill too.

You can also buy a drinks package, where you can drink all you like for a set fee. However, it can be worth comparing the cost of the drinks package with the cost of the drinks on-board as you may not actually end up saving money unless you intend to drink a lot. We should point out that each individual passenger must have their own drinks package, so you can’t buy one package and use it for your whole party.

Embarking and Disembarking

Boarding and leaving the ship both have a few rules of etiquette that cruisers should follow.

For embarkation, cruisers should arrive promptly at their boarding time. Different passengers will have different boarding times, often dependant on room type. You can get early boarding for a small extra cost, or for free if you have accessibility needs.

When disembarking, remember that the time you have to leave your room is different from the time you must leave the ship, meaning you may need to wait awhile in a communal area. When both boarding and disembarking, we recommend having your documents ready and in hand to make the process as quick and easy as possible.

Your last night, though still part of your holiday, is when any outstanding balances are due on your account and when you need to pack ready to make your journey home. You can pay off your bill at Guest Services, with any additional purchases made after this time charged separately to your card.

You are required to pack the night before and leave your luggage outside your cabin for easier disembarking. On your last night, luggage tags will be left in your room for you to attach to your suitcase and leave outside your cabin to be collected by the crew. Make sure you pack essentials in your hand luggage as you will not retrieve this luggage until the following day, this includes documents, your clothes for the next day and any medication you may need.

You do have the option for self-assist disembarkation, however this means you are responsible for taking all of your luggage to the terminal yourself.

Luggage waiting to be collected

Top tips for disembarkation days:

  • Get up early and leave your room to enjoy one last cruise breakfast and coffee
  • Don’t stand around in the atrium or linger in your room as the crew are on a tight schedule to get the next group of holidaymakers on-board later that day
  • Have your documents to hand for swift and easy checking on your way out

Sailing with Cruise118.com

There are plenty of questions when it comes to cruising, especially if it’s your first time with a certain cruise line or even your first cruise altogether. Here at Cruise118, we will try our best to make sure your cruise is unforgettable and we are happy to answer any questions you have regarding your cruise.

Call us on 0808 278 3940 and speak to a member of our award-winning Cruise Concierge team today for help and assistance and book today!.

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Emma Smith
Emma has more than seven years' experience as a writer and has been in the travel industry for nearly five years. She loves learning about new places and cruise ships coming to market, as well as discovering fun and exciting activities to do while you sail. She has cruised with Princess Cruises, Cunard, Celebrity Cruises, Virgin Voyages, Avalon Waterways and Royal Caribbean and is looking to get something in her diary for 2024! Her favourite things to see on a ship include excellent entertainment, a delicious cocktail menu and extraordinary dining venues.

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