Tips for the First-Time Cruiser – Part II

Yesterday we started things off with preparing to get on board the ship for the first time. Today we are looking at tips for once you are on board. Everyone will look like they know what they are doing and you might feel like the odd man out, but statistics show that less than 25% of the US population has ever been on a cruise so believe me, you’re not the only one feeling out of the loop.

Once on board:

  • You’ll almost immediately see a table where they’ll be pushing their unlimited soda program. You “pay” by giving them your card and they immediately add it to your account and then put a sticker or punch a hole in the card of the person who is using it. If you must have soda, then this is the way to do it, but keep in mind that water, ice tea, lemonade, milk, coffee, and tea are always free on most cruise lines.
  • Depending on the cruise line, you might be allowed to bring a small amount of non-alcoholic beverages and/or wine with you on board. Please check the cruise line’s web site before you do this. If it is agains their policy, they will confiscate it.
  • Alcohol purchased in the gift shops on board or in port will be held for you until the last night of the cruise. The prices are pretty good, but they aren’t going to let you consume it on board.
  • Be aware that the “drink of the day” generally includes a souvenir glass. Although while on board you will think you want this, you probably won’t and you probably won’t want 10 of them. You can always order the drink in a regular glass for less money – just let the server or bartender know that’s what you want.

Explore the ship!:

  • Now you are free to roam the ship and have some fun. If you’re planning on going with a group of people, finding a way of knowing where everyone is may be difficult. But knowing that walkie talkies work well on cruise ships, it might make it easier for you to communicate with one another. This could be something worth considering.
    If they hand you some papers with activities for the day, this is the time to look it over as well as the ship’s deck plans. You can head up to the buffet, generally on on a high deck, and have lunch or you can just wander and explore.
  • You should have packed your bathing suit in your carry on bag the morning. If you don’t have your bags, but want to go in the pool, you can slip into the bathroom and quickly change and jump in the pool. Your cabins won’t be available generally until after 1 pm, but that doesn’t mean you can’t swim or have a drink.
  • Once your cabin is available, you’ll probably go up to check it out and either unpack or sit for a minute and soak it all in. Then you’ll go off and explore again. Just make sure you are up on deck with your camera before the ship leaves port.

Ship basics:

  • Main dining room: If you are seated at a table with other people and for whatever reason you don’t like the table, the other guests, the location, etc. — tell the person who will seat you the next night that you didn’t like the table and you want to sit somewhere else.
  • If you get a drink while you are in port the first day before sailing, they will charge you tax, but that won’t happen any other day.
  • Tips are automatically included in your bill when you order a drink. If you want to tip on top of that, then do, but just realize it’s included.
  • If you go to a bar and like the bartender, strike up a conversation and tip him/her. Then go back to that same bartender and he/she will remember you and maybe you’ll even end up getting better drinks
  • The shops on board are closed when you are in port and open when you are at sea. This is also true of the casino on board.
  • If you play in the casino and win big you don’t pay taxes. Yes, it’s true! Since you are at sea, there are no taxes to pay! Love it!Miscellaneous Items:
  • Realize that once on board, your kids might forget you exist. Remember that this is a safe environment and that the people working with the kids and teens often have degrees in Education and training from the cruise line. They’ll be safe!
  • Since it is still a family vacation when we go on a cruise with our teenage son, we eat breakfast and dinner together during sea days and on port days we are together all day and after dinner, we let him have time with his new friends.
  • We do set a curfew as does the ship, so be aware that they won’t be allowed to roam the ship all night. We also have a “no strange people in our cabin” rule. I have a cute teenage boy and I’m not even going to think about him bringing a girl in our cabin, you know what I mean? Whether it’s one or 2 dozen, no one is allowed in our cabin unless we’re there. That’s just our rule, but you’ll need to figure out what’s right for you.
  • One of the added benefits of cruising is that they are great for letting kids relax and be themselves without the repercussions they usually face with their friends or when they are in school. You’ll see them totally blossom while on board because of that.
  • When you go ashore, you will need to bring your passports and your cabin cards for each member of your family. If you don’t, this will cause serious problems as not only the cruise line needs to identify who you are, but the authorities from the country you are visiting as well.
  • The spa will book up once on board just like excursions. Be sure to reserve them as far in advance as possible because once on board it may be slim pickings. If there are specialty restaurants on board, too, make those reservations as well.
  • We like to bring something from home for the cabin attendant and our waiter to say thank you. Yes, you are giving a tip, but these men and women spend up to 10 months at sea away from their families. I look for t-shirts with my hometown or something like that and I give it to them the last night of the cruise. Everyone is different and whether or not they appreciate it I’ll never know, but it’s nice to make a connection with them. It has to be a very lonely existence on board.

Your cabin:

  • Your cabin will have a safe, but it can be rather small. When we unpack, we put our suitcases under the bed (yes – there’s room under there for this) and if we need to put something valuable away, we put it in one of the locked suitcases.
  • Your cabin will have a stocked refrigerator with items for purchase. I always ask the cabin attendant to take these items out and then I can use it to put my own water or soda inside and keep it cold.
  • Your cabin attendant will clean your cabin after breakfast and will turn down the beds while you’re at dinner. There will be a way to indicate to him/her that you are out of the room and want service or that you want privacy. If you’re going to dinner, remember to do this as it will make it easier for him/her to see that you are out of the room.
  • Often there is only one outlet in the room and many people bring power strips with them to accommodate all of their gadgets. I personally like a product from Belkin that I featured in a previous blog post (“Must Have Travel Accessories“) that is compact, but also allows you to plug in via two USB ports for double duty.

Leaving the ship:

  • The last night of the cruise you will need to pack your bag and leave it outside of your door before something like 10pm if you want them to take it off the ship for you. Make sure it has it’s lock on it if you do this. If you are carrying it off yourself, no need to do this because taking care of your own bag.
  • They will also slip your final bill under your door that night and you will need to look it over and make sure it is correct. If not, head down to Guest Services. Some cruise lines have you to view your bill on the TV in your cabin as well.
  • You will be given a time to disembark and a location for your final morning and you can go have breakfast and head back to your cabin before leaving. Leave your bags in your cabin and let your attendant know or leave him/her a note that you’ll be back for your bags after breakfast. You’ll see people lugging them to breakfast, which is ridiculous and completely unnecessary.
  • Once you are given the go ahead to leave, make sure your have your cabin card and passports in hand as you’ll have to show that one more time before getting off the ship.
  • The disembarkation process is relatively simple and quick, especially if you carry your own bags off. The only negative to know about is that you will probably have the “post-cruise blues.” The only cure? Start planning your next cruise!I do hope these tips are helpful. Do you have any that you would like to share?

2 thoughts on “Tips for the First-Time Cruiser – Part II

  1. Great article! I would also suggest to really look at the cruise newspaper that first day to get a feel for the types of activities you’d like to do. Many people are so awed by the ship that they forget to get involved, and that can be the best part of it all.

  2. Great tip Kaleigh! I agree that some people will feel overwhelmed and forget to get involved while others will try to do absolutely everything that the cruise offers. Pace yourself and try to remember to enjoy yourself over everything else.

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