Tips for the First-Time Cruiser – Part I

Are you a new cruiser about to embark on your first cruise? The excitement of it all may be all you can think of right now, but as your cruise approaches, you may start to think or obsess about what you don’t know. Did I pack enough or too much? Will the balcony be safe for my kids? I’m hoping this list of tips will provide you with a little insight on what to expect and help prepare you for your trip. Since this is an unusually long list, I’m breaking it into two parts and will post the second part tomorrow.

First-Time Cruiser
Pool deck on Majesty of the Seas

Before you leave for your trip:

  • Make two copies of the page with your photo of your passport for each member of your party. Give one copy to someone you trust back home to hold onto in case of an emergency and keep the other copy with you. Once on board, put the copies in your safe. In case something should happen and you lose your passports, you’ll have the information you need to get replacements immediately.
  • What to pack? Definitely pack comfortable clothing and shoes as well as dressy clothes if you like that for dinner, dancing, etc. Dress shoes vs. sneakers in the dining room and no shorts although I promise you that you will see everything in the dining room. I always tell my husband and son that they can change immediately after dinner, but to do it for me. That usually works! Keep in mind that there won’t be a whole lot of hangers so either bring some if you intend to bring a lot of clothes.
  • There is a hairdryer in the cabin, but no clock. If you need to wake up at a certain time, bring your a travel alarm clock or use your phone.
  • If you are traveling to the port city the day before your cruise, pack what you’ll need for your hotel stay on the top of your suitcase so when you’re there, you don’t have to go digging in your suitcase to find things. Make sure each of your bags has a luggage lock on it that is operational and TSA approved if you are checking it through the airport.
  • Complete your paperwork online via the cruise line’s website. For some cruise lines you’ll have the opportunity to also print luggage tags. Only do this if you are checking them at the port. If you intend to carry them on board, no need to do this. If you carry them on board yourself, you’ll have to carry them everywhere until your cabin is available. If you don’t, your luggage can arrive anytime throughout the day on your first day up until around 8 pm. If it doesn’t arrive by that time, contact your cabin attendant. If you do intend to do the luggage tags, print them out and pack them in your bag and don’t put them on your bags until the morning of the cruise as you won’t need the tags on the bags going through the airport.
  • If you intend to check bags, both at the airport and at the cruise port, make sure you pack all of your important items (medications, cameras, iPods, etc.) in your carry on bags. In addition, pack your bathing suits in the carry on bag the morning of the cruise. More on this later.
  • Pack some granola bars, nuts, etc. not only for your flights, but for waiting at the airport and the cruise port.
First-Time Cruiser
Wyndham Nassau Resort & Crystal Palace Casino

If you’re staying at a hotel prior to your cruise:

  • When you check in at the hotel, ask about area restaurants that might have offers available because you’re staying at the hotel.
  • If there is a problem with your room, don’t hesitate to let management know and ask them to give you a new room. No one wants to feel stressed out the night before a great vacation.
  • Morning of the cruise: Eat breakfast! There will be some periods of standing in line and waiting to get on board and nothing is worse than doing that AND being hungry. You might have some snacks leftover that you packed, but everyone will be less crabby if they’ve eaten.
  • If you have a rental car: Plan to check out of the hotel and get on the road to return the car between 10:00 am – 11 am at the latest.
  • If you are taking a shuttle or taxi to the cruise port: When you check into your hotel, especially if you’re hotel rate includes a shuttle, let them know right away and make arrangements for your shuttle. You’ll be given a time for departure and you should be out of your room, checked out of the hotel, and waiting for the shuttle at least 15 minutes in advance of the departure.
  • I like to show up to the cruise port around 11 am because although there will be people there, it won’t be as swamped as it will be later in the day. Although the ship won’t depart for hours, most people don’t realize that you can get on board and start your vacation this early.
First-Time Cruiser
Cruise port check in for Royal Caribbean in Malaga, Spain

When you arrive at the port:

  • Have your paperwork out and passports ready. Have a pen with you as you will need to fill out a health questionnaire as well. Don’t worry – it’s a quick couple of questions and families can use one form for everyone. They simply want to know if anyone has been sick prior to boarding.
  • You’ll stand in a line and then go up to someone at a counter who will assist you. Give them your paperwork and have available your passports and a credit card. They will swipe your credit card and that will be the card used to settle your final bill on board. They will also provide each of you with a card that will work as a cabin card and a card to charge everything while on board. The ship works on a cashless system so put your cash away! Children’s cards will look a little different to signify that they are underage and won’t be served alcohol.
  • While we’re here, this might be a good time to discuss the cashless system with your children – if you have any. I have heard far too many stories from parents that didn’t have this discussion and the kids had a blast charging everything to their card. It’s up to you if you want to set a daily or cruise limit for them or if they can’t charge anything at all. You can always check your balance at Guest Services so you won’t be completely scared on the last day, too. This is especially true since there usually an arcade on board and when kids or teens get together, they somehow gravitate here.
  • After you get your cards, you are now free to go on board! There will be photographers there to take your picture so do stop and have one taken. You’ll be able to see them relatively fast in the photo area.

That’s the end of Part I so come back tomorrow for the second installment. Do you have any tips you want to share with new cruisers? If so, feel free to post them in the comments.