Wow, you're planning (or already booked) your first cruise trip ever! Cheers to that, it's so exciting!
I remember the feeling when booking our first time cruise, I was so excited and felt privileged as until that moment for some reason I believed that cruise ships are only for the luckier senior citizens of this world. 🙂
How wrong I was! From the moment we boarded the flight I knew it was a great choice and couldn't wait to set foot aboard. I've been on many holidays, all around the world, but this was different of course - everything was new.
So, if this is going to be your first cruise, let me share some knowledge I gained on my first journey and hopefully it'll help you to plan better and enjoy your trip to the max with my first time cruise tips.
We chose an Asian cruise, leaving from Thailand. Our cruise port was Laem Chabang where we arrived by bus from the airport.
Once we were on board, everything was perfectly organised. We had to queue to meet our cruise line's staff at a kind of pop up reception area where they checked our passports (and took them away to our biggest surprise), gave our room numbers and room keys and briefed us quickly about few basic things like the compulsory emergency training which happened couple of days later.
We had to leave our luggages too which were brought to our room later on in the afternoon. It was a heartwarming experience to walk up the stairs and be greeted by the staff who lined up; everyone said "Welcome aboard!, Enjoy your stay!" etc., it felt very special. Once everything was done we had some time to discover the onboard activities and walk around the ship.
Oh boy, the rooms are small! We knew about it, but seeing it with our own eyes of course was different. We booked last minute which meant there were only inside rooms available, the only thing we could upgrade was the floor, so we wouldn't hear the engines working.
Other than the size (which we really didn't care about, who wants to spend their holiday in the room, right?) everything was nice and neat. We organized our stuff, the wardrobes and drawers had more than enough space.
We had all the things we might need, a kettle, some instant coffee and tea, a mini bar, the cruise itinerary, pen, paper, towels, shower gel, shampoo. What more we could ask for to get us started?
We traveled with Tui on their Marella Discovery. She is a beautiful ship and can carry about 2000 people.
It's an ex-Royal Caribbean ship which has a seven-storey lobby, a climbing wall, on-deck pool, mini golf, spa centre and a spacious gym with a cosy sundeck behind it.
I highly recommend you to explore all the things you can do on board, especially if you have lots of sea days. It's good to know what restaurants you have available for you, what sort of entertainment they provide and what costs extra if you decide to indulge yourself for example with a spa treatment.
Our cruise was absolutely all inclusive with food, drinks, entertainment and tips. The extras we had to pay for were excursions, exercise classes, couple of restaurants and spa/beauty treatments.
There were numerous restaurants, bars and fun stuff to do, we never really ran out of activities.
I'm pretty sure every cruise line is different, so I say this again; explore what you have available on your ship, it's literally a swimming resort.
We thoroughly enjoyed the main dining area, all the restaurants and bars and every evening we had at least one thing to do. Every evening there was either a play in the theatre, or live music, dance class or singing in the lobby. On top of that there were certain nights when they played a movie on the "deck cinema", all set up under the sky with sun beds, blankets and popcorn waiting for you.
During the day we had the opportunity to play mini golf, climb the climb wall, have a deck run (on designated runner's lanes). They also had an open pool and jacuzzis plus entertaining programs like pub quiz (Tui is a UK company), cocktail competitions etc.
If we felt to stay out longer there was a casino which was super lively, many times with live music and some dancing.
Marella Discovery had a decent retail area too where you could get travel gadgets, clothes, jewellery and drinks too.
Ok, let's get to those first time cruise tips. You want to know what to avoid, what to do, and how to enjoy your first ever cruise holiday.
It's not difficult at all but there are some things I definitely had no idea about and was gonna be glad if someone told me beforehand.
Let me talk a little bit about things I highly recommend you to take onboard to enjoy your vacation even more - these are things that I didn't think of before, when I was a cruise-virgin.
Not much explanations needed, decks are windy as hell. If you don't want towel in your face every second or maybe even seeing it fly away and leave the ship then get some towel pegs, you really don't want to ruin your chill time on the sun deck.
As lame as it sounds you'll need one of those. Nothing's worse than wanting to take photos but you really only have one hand available because you're trying to carry a handbag, let's face it, you're on holiday, not on a fashion show, so during the day who cares if you look comfortable rather than fancy.
A bumbag is perfect to carry some cash, your passport (when you have to take it with you), your phone and few other little necessary things (like eyedrops for me for example or a small sun protection cream).
Only if you are as curious as me. 🙂 A binocular will allow you to look around on land if you are on a coastal cruise and not a transatlantic one. Pretty much self explanatory, if you are a spy type traveller, get one, you won't regret it.
It would be a mistake to leave home your snorkelling set when you're cruising through the most beautiful waters and passing heaven-like islands. I personally love snorkelling and after putting my passport, credit card and swimming costumes in my bag, my snorkelling gear is the next to follow.
The biggest mistake we've done is not planning our time better. We like to see stuff on our own without any excursion involved but what we didn't know is that people who booked programs with the cruise line could get off the ship first as they have places to be at certain times.
What did it mean for us? If we were in a port where we could only use tenders to get to shore then we had to take a numbered ticket and if we were not fast enough we had to wait even couple of ours for our turn to get off the ship.
Not nice when you only have 5-6 hours in a port, is it? So I say this again; plan, plan, plan! Although I have to add, I've only been on one cruise holiday with a cheaper company, so do your research, you might get luckier than us if you book with a more prestigious, luxury cruise company.
So what does sea day mean? It means, you won't stop anywhere, won't see any place, nobody will get off the ship. See where I'm going with this? Yes, everything will be super packed! The restaurants, the pool, the sundecks, the spa.
What we did to avoid missing out on stuff; we woke up early and went to the deck straight after breakfast so we had beds available at the right spots (let me whisper it in your ear quickly, that's the back of the ship if there is a sundeck available on your boat there, as there is no wind in the back, every other part of the ship is windy most of the time. Because you are on sea, you know.)
Also useful info to know that there are a lot more programs on sea days so people are nicely, evenly distributed on all parts of the ship, and evenings don't look like peak hours on the morning train.
On our cruise there were a lot of places available to eat; some of them were fast food/snack places, some of them buffet restaurants and some of them are a la carte (which of some had some cover charges to be paid - research before).
If you'd like to go for a la carte dinner, definitely book ahead if you don't want to wait around for too long. But if you're not about starve to death then feel free just to pop by to your chosen restaurant's reception desk and ask if they have a table available right then. This didn't happen to many times for us; very likely you'll be sent to the bar for a drink with one of those buzzer thingy and when your table is ready they "ring" you to come.
Breakfast in a a la carte restaurant; be early, so there is not much waiting and you can choose on of the lovely tables by the window.
We had snack bars by every pool for when we didn't feel to move around the ship and dress up for eating. They were like a mix of a posh Starbucks and KFC with some sandwiches, hot food, healthy options and alcohol available.
Well, that's a tricky one. Our cruise did not have strict dress codes but there were certain rules. For example we could not go to certain restaurants in flip flops (not that I would go to any decent restaurant in flip flops) or shorts, beach dresses etc.
Our trip had a "welcome evening" for newly boarded passengers in the lobby, for that we had a formal attire dress code which meant suits with ties or tuxedos for men and cocktail dresses or evening gowns for women. That was about the most "serious" event where we could show our best look with some fancy clothings, but as I said, Tui is a low cost cruise line, not one of those classic posh lines like Oceania or Royal Caribbean.
So to conclude the dress code question, it is a thing on cruise lines and it needs to be taken seriously otherwise you might be sent to your room to change before entering certain areas of the ship. Read up on it on cruise forums or ask the cruise line's customer care to be prepared.
As we come from hospitality background with my husband we always like to get to the bottom of things when it comes to tipping the staff.
Our all inclusive package was advertised with tips included but we found out from staff that it actually makes up their salary which according to them wasn't too high to be fair. So we always left extra tips to the guys wherever we could.
Starting from the bartender to the croupiers and room attendants we gave some cash or brought some gifts from land to everyone. It not only made us feel better but got us some lovely gestures from the guys, like amazing towel art in the room (ok, everyone got those swan towel sculptures but not that well made like ours), or extra chocolates, or they just simply remembered that you want your gin and tonic with 2 slices of lemon. You know what I mean. So be nice and sure you'll get some kindness in return.
2000 guests on board. Same ship, same restaurants, same pools, meaning the same faces for the next couple of weeks.
Although 80% of the guests were older than us (I was 32 at the time and my husband was 38) we made some amazing friends who we are still in touch with years later.
Maybe it's just me but I always had a lot of respect for people who are older than me simply because they have more experience in life. This cruise trip has proved to me that senior citizens are not only more experienced but a lot more fun too! Geez, the nights we had in the casino getting wasted, dancing around and having massive laughs or the stories we shared with each other..
And that's just one reason to be open about getting to know some of the other passengers.
The other reason is the port. Ok, you embark at the port and then you get off the ship to go about your day. There will be lots of passengers like you (if you're that type) who just want to stroll around, get to know the area by themselves or take a cab to the nearby beach.
So to save some money you can buddy up with another couple and share the cab fare. And I'll tell you, most of the passengers are open to do that, as you're all tourists and the locals will want to squeeze out as much money possible from you. Don't be afraid to ask. To split these expenses is going to help you to spend more money on souvenirs or anything else that you'd like.
This is something you'll need because even though you might have a cool mobile phone package with internet allowance abroad, it won't be useful on water as there is no reception there..
Look into what's available on your cruise and how much it costs and probably the bigger package you buy the less you'll pay.
It is not cheap but it is because there are no signal towers on water and the internet comes through satellites.
The best way to save money here is to try to limit your phone usage to land only and if you have the right package or roaming deal then you're definitely better off using that.
Cruise trips are amazing and with these first time cruise tips you can make your vacation even more chilling.
Don't forget to do your research about your ship, pack well, get information about each country, enjoy every opportunity and facility you have on board and don't forget to tip the staff.
I would love to hear about your journey, or if you would add anything else - pop it in the comments.