Modern cruise ships are packed with things to see and do – sometimes more than you could even hope to try on just one cruise. Not every ship is the same, and each has its own character and sense of identity, so every time you cruise you’ll be able to try something different.

From the moment you arrive at port to the second you disembark, the cruise ship is both your home and your gateway to the world. Here you can read all about the typical on-board experience, but be sure to check out our guide to a day in port to learn more about the other side of cruising.


A warm welcome on-board

A warm welcome on-board

When you arrive at the port where your cruise begins, your luggage will be taken by crew members to be placed in your stateroom. Indeed it’s possible, if you’re enjoying a fly cruise, to have your luggage picked up at the airport – and you won’t see it again until you get into your stateroom.

You’ll go through check-in – which varies for each cruise line and can take anything from 10 minutes up to a couple of hours or so, depending on queues and when you’ve arrived – before being allowed to board. This will be the first opportunity to grab an official photograph, but certainly not the last. Your stateroom probably still won’t be ready, so now is the perfect time to grab some lunch or check out the pool.

Your accommodation

Royal Loft Suite aboard Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas

Royal Loft Suite aboard Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas

You’ll be notified when you’re able to go to your stateroom, where you’ll find your luggage waiting. Take the time to unpack but don’t miss your muster drill – this is an important safety briefing that you cannot miss, and it really doesn’t take up a lot of your time.

From there, the rest of the afternoon and evening is yours to enjoy. You could check out the entertainment in the theatre, or head to the casino, or you may prefer a relaxed first evening in your stateroom, particularly if you have a balcony.

By now you should have met your stateroom attendant (or, if you’re on a higher-end ship or you’ve booked a suite on certain ships, your butler). They are here to help make sure your cruise goes as smoothly as possible, and as well as changing bedding for you they may offer all kinds of services, from booking speciality restaurants or spa treatments to serving food course-by-course in your stateroom or even unpacking your suitcase for you!

The one thing you don’t want to miss, particularly if it’s your first ever cruise, is that first sunset. It’s something special on a cruise – the sky changes colour so gradually over the ship and the various shades offer an awe-inspiring experience.


Innovative cuisine at Celebrity Cruises' Qsine dining venue

Innovative cuisine at Celebrity Cruises’ Qsine dining venue

From here, it really is down to you and the ship you’ve chosen as to the typical on-board experience. For example with dining, all cruise lines have at least one main restaurant where you can dine without any extra charge. You’ll often be sat with a group, but often you can request a table for two if you prefer (it’s a good idea to do this as soon as you can).

Menus are generally high quality and will include dishes for meat-eaters and vegetarians. If you’ve notified the cruise line in advance of special dietary requirements, you’ll have no trouble enjoying your dining experience. Also remember that the food is all included – so order as much as you want! It’s not unheard of for indecisive people to order two mains, or those with a sweet tooth to ask for a second dessert. It’s your holiday – go for it!

Then you have the more casual options – buffets, or poolside grills. Or you may decide to visit a speciality restaurant – they have a small cover charge, but the food is always worth it, whether a stunning steakhouse or a contemporary Asian fusion restaurant.

Some cruises still operate formal nights. For these, you may not be allowed in the main restaurants if you aren’t appropriately dressed (suit with a jacket for the gents, evening dress or equivalent for the ladies). You can still go to the casual dining venues, or eat in your stateroom. However there are usually only one or two formal nights per cruise and many cruise lines are now moving away from this tradition completely – so check our cruise line pages for more information.

Entertainment and activities

Guests playing roulette at Norwegian Cruise Line's Casino at Sea

Guests playing roulette at Norwegian Cruise Line’s Casino at Sea

Most, if not all, entertainment is free, from the pools to the kids clubs, the mini golf to the live shows. Usually the only things you’ll need to pay extra for are drinks, spa treatments, arcade games, and of course casino games. It’s totally up to you how you unwind, but usually you’ll not have the time to do everything on-board, so it’s important you choose and plan your day carefully.

To help you with this, most cruise lines will post a newsletter under your stateroom door which details the upcoming day. This not only shows you the entertainment and competitions you can enjoy, but also any group meetings – perfect to help you find like-minded people on-board.

Tip: Speak to an expert before you book

Speaking to someone with years of experience in cruising is the best way to make sure that you avoid any pitfalls and have the best cruise holiday possible. Our expert cruise concierge team are on hand to answer any questions you may have prior to booking. Just give us a call on 0207 980 2847 if you’d like a chat.

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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