People have done this before. There is no need to reinvent the wheel or fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to cruising. There have been first-time cruisers fresh off their maiden voyage who learned what they didn’t know and come back with answers to the questions they had (and maybe didn’t get answered) before boarding. What should we pack? What’s the deal with drinks? What do we do at ports? What are the best dining options? And just as valuable are the insights offered by the long-time cruiser, folks who know the decks bow to stern. Here are tips from both parties:
1. Don’t Get Left Behind
Believe it or not, you can and will be left behind at a port. Whether it’s on embarkation day or at a destination on the itinerary, the ship must adhere to a strict schedule and the captain and crew are not liable for late arrivals. We highly recommend arriving to your embarkation port a day early in order to avoid missing the ship. Arriving early will ensure you avoid any day-of traveling mishaps. If for some reason you still miss the ship, your primary hope is to catch a flight to the next port destination on the cruise itinerary. If you miss the ship departure because of flight delays or cancellations, you might be covered by trip delay if you’ve opted in for trip insurance and we always highly recommend trip insurance.
The other potential scenario for being left behind is at one of the ports of call. In order to avoid this headache and inevitable additional expense, always pay attention to the time, be aware of time differences (read the daily newsletters), and listen for ship announcements. Also, when planning shore excursions, do your research and heck to be sure the excursion provider has a track record of punctuality. Finally, make sure you get back to the ship an hour or two before the posted “all aboard” time, not a few minutes before.
2. Research Ports in Advance
While on the boat, you will find everything you need to have a great time and more. Multiple restaurants, bars, options for entertainment, and other amenities are scattered throughout the vessel. However, the boat is always heading to a destination and once they’ve arrived at a new port, there will often be a full day (8 hours) of an anchored boat. This presents cruise-goers with ample opportunity to take advantage of cruise excursions, shopping, local cuisine, and all sorts of other fun activities. We highly recommend researching the ports on the itinerary before embarkation. Otherwise, you might end up in a decent-sized port, overwhelmed and without the slightest clue of what to do for the next eight hours.
3. Don’t Tip Double on Alcohol
Most big-ship lines — Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and others — automatically tack a 15 percent service charge on bar bills. There is generally no need to hand your bartenders additional cash per drink as is customary in U.S. bars and restaurants. That being said, if you receive exceptional service or plan to frequent a particular bar or bartender, feel free to give additional gratuity. It can often go a long way in establishing report with a bartender when you show he/she a little extra appreciation.
4. Pack Wisely
Before traveling, research climates of where the boat will be traveling and pack accordingly. While you will have no shortage of options for shelter from inclement weather while on the boat should the situation arise, while at port and off the boat is another story. If you’re traveling anywhere in the Caribbean for example, rain storms can come seemingly out of nowhere, so be sure to pack a lightweight rain jacket or poncho. You’ll also want to pack some layers as nights can be cool while out on the open water. Last but certainly not least, always pack your swimming gear.
5. Work Off the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet
Cruises are known for the myriad and delicious options for diners, often including a bountiful and unlimited buffet for guests. You should absolutely take advantage of this perk while on the cruise, but make sure you work off a few extra calories by taking the stairs instead of the elevator for a little exercise. Also, take advantage of the ship’s gym facilities if you feel so inclined. And many cruises offer exercise classes as well.
6. Avoid the Buffet on Embarkation Day
From the early wake-up call, shuffling to your departure port, waiting in a terminal, and going through lines to finally get on the boat, embarkation day can be a bit draining. You will most likely be very hungry when you board the ship and avoiding the buffet may be difficult, but it is recommended.We recommend bringing some light snacks to stave off the hunger during the period of wait time before embarking Most everyone else is as famished as you and will be lining up for the free food and who wants to wait in one more line at this point? Instead, make your way to one of the ships dining rooms and find some peace and respite from the masses.
7. Map Out a Ship Tour for Embarkation Day
For a first-timer, the prospect of navigating a 3,100-passenger, 15-deck mega-ship can be daunting. A few days before embarkation, create your own ship tour. Gather information on the whereabouts of lounges and alternative restaurants from cruise ship deck plans, message boards and ship reviews. Map out the closest options for entertainment, dining, and beverages from where your cabin is located and you will save yourself time and trouble once aboard. Many cruise lines have ‘Were Am I’ locators scattered throughout the ship and these can be very helpful in your travels around the vessel.