First Time Cruise Tips

Inside: I am giving lots of first time cruise tips here.  They are all from the mind of a first time cruiser and what made our trip the best it could be.  There are so many unknowns when its your  first time cruising.  I will help you answer some of those questions.  

Cruising for the first time

I was nervous about lots of things as I planned for our first ever cruise.  We went to Bermuda and chose a shorter 5-day  cruise on purpose, mostly to see if we would be sea sick or not. It turns out we were not sea sick at all, in fact the motion of the ocean was one of the best sensations I have ever felt. We slept so well, rocked to sleep like babies in cradles.  This was one of our best ever family vacations, you can read about it here.

Prep work before you leave for the dock:

Research and packing:

– What ports will you visit? Find out where the dock is located at each port and use this info to sort your list of things to do into close and far so that you have a plan a and a plan b.  I did not know how critical it would be to sort our destinations on the island by what was near the dock and what was far.  Our ship was delayed and we lost about half of our first day on Bermuda.  But it was easy to change plans the afternoon we docked because we had a near and far list so we did everything on the near list and had a great visit to Bermuda.

– List all the things that look interesting. Just write them down as you find them and include any info that will help you sort through your list later as you come back to over time.  One of my favorite searches for finding fun things to do in a new area is to use # or location searches on social media.  I find so many gems this way because I am seeing the places local go and things they enjoy in their region.  It keeps me out of all the tourist traps that are created with the main goal being to separate me from my money.

– Use social media to find out about your ship, and the places you will be porting. Your ship may have a facebook page full of followers that love that ship. Ours did and I learned so much and asked so many questions there, which were answered sweetly and promptly. You will learn a lot on a page like this. There will be pictures of rooms, comments on staff, activities and menus that will help you plan your trip well. You may even find a facebook page for your specific cruise ship’s departure day. I found one for ours and it is not uncommon. So I actually met some people before we sailed.

– Be mentally prepared for a lot of pressure to up-sale you on the the drink packages, the special dinning, the excursions, the photos, the art auction, the ship tours and on and on. You will be greeted everywhere you go on the first day with people wanting to sell you more and you will be able to resist better if you know it is coming and you know why you are or are not going to buy that special offer. Also if you do plan to purchase any of these things, you will get a better deal by buying before hand so spend some time looking at all the options. You will save money and avoid last minute decisions, which are most often my biggest waste of money and regret.

– Find out what you are and are not allowed to pack. We were not buying the drink packages because we don’t drink soda, but I did pack 12 cans of [Zevia] ginger ale, which is our soda of choice, and I also packed two bottles of kombucha. That is what the cruise line allowed per state room and am I ever glad I looked into it rather than go with the advice of a friend to bring my own case of bottled water, which was not allowed. These rules change and are specific for cruise lines and ships so get the facts and pack accordingly.

– Have a plan to address sea sickness. Get the meds ahead of time and take them with you so you are not at the mercy of the pricing on the ship.
We took ginger, Bonine and Sea-Bands.

– If you are traveling any significant distance to the dock, flying or driving, plan to get there the day before embarkation and spend the night so you get a good night’s sleep and arrive at the dock early to start you vacation as soon as possible.

– Complete your online check-in and print out your luggage tags and documentation at least a week before you leave.

– Find out what times the rooms open and what is the earliest moment you can board. Have your swimsuit in your carry on or under your clothes so you can swim in an empty pool or bask in your own personal hot tub. It is one of the only times it will be empty over the next few days.

– This is the most important thing you need to do before you leave:


I am so serious about this one, because you do not want to come home from days on end of people waiting on you hand and foot, to a house that needs to be scrubbed. Just trust me, it will make your entry into the real world much easier if you come back to clean bathrooms that require nothing of you.

First time cruise tips: an overview of how each day works.

Four kinds of days on your cruise:

Embarkation day

This is the official name for the day you get on the ship. There will be some waiting and inconvenience. Prepare yourself to go with the flow. Keep in mind that the crew have had the most stressful day of their week. They were up early getting people and their bags off the ship, feeding them, cleaning up after them and getting ready for you. Then they will work late getting you settled and making sure you have enough pillows to be comfortable, making and serving you dinner. They will do all this with a smile and greet you warmly when you arrive.

– Get on the ship as early as possible to explore and enjoy.
– Drop your carry ons at your door, everyone does it and your checked baggage will be left outside your door too.
– Eat lunch, swim, explore. This is your home for the next few days and there are mysteries to uncover and treasures to find.
– Rooms will open and luggage will arrive in the afternoon and you should just unpack everything and put your suitcases under the bed. The rooms are small and you don’t want to trip over your luggage all week or be digging through for your underwear.
– Don’t be late for the muster drill. It takes about 20 minutes and if you don’t show up everyone has to wait for you. Don’t be rude.
– Walk around the decks and find your spot to watch the shore fade into the distance as the sun sets on all your stress.
– Dress and go to dinner. It is probably my favorite thing about a cruise, that dinner is a reason to dress up. For just these days, enjoy how different your cruise life is from your everyday life and start out by dressing for dinner and being utterly civilized.
– Read your list for of activities for the next day and decide where you want to eat breakfast and what time they are serving so you can be there and seated before it closes. This is a critical step if you want to avoid the buffet, which turns out to be my main goal at meal time.
– Fall asleep and sleep long as the motion of the ocean rocks you all. night. long.  I used to laugh at my mom for telling me that her favorite thing about her most recent cruise was how well she slept.  But now I totally get it!  The sleep is so peaceful.

A Day at Sea

This is the least stressful day you will experience on a cruise, unless finding a spot in a hot tub stresses you out. And let’s take a minute to acknowledge that it is stressful getting in a hot tub with a bunch of strangers. I’m just here to tell you that this is as bad as it gets.

Take your list of activities for the day and some highlighters and plan your day at breakfast. Do everything or do nothing at all but sit in a deck chair, it does not matter. Let’s be honest again, if you fall asleep in the chair by the pool and miss playing Jeopardy in the South Pacific lounge, it doesn’t matter. If you miss dinner just have room service delivered, it doesn’t matter.

A Day at Port

This can be a stressful day and there is no away around that because this ship will leave with or without you. They will wait for those who booked the excursion through the cruise line and the guests who book through the cruise line also have priority to leave the ship first, so there is an incentive. You pay a premium for those incentives, so you just have to decide if it is worth it.  We planned our own excursions and loved every minute of doing just exactly what we wanted when we wanted.  I wrote about that magical day here.

If you did not book an excursion and are up for an adventure here is my advice:
– Hopefully you have done your research and you have plan a b and c. Pick the one that fits your time because there is not guarantee that your ship will arrive on time and everything will go smoothly.
– Don’t plan too much to do. Have one goal, one destination and if you see more along the way, that is just a bonus.
– Don’t get off the boat hungry. Do plan to eat at your destination, but don’t start out hungry. I make the worst decisions when I am hungry and you know you do too.
– Do not cut it close getting back to the ship. I know you want to eek out every moment at your destination, but it is fine to get back 30 minutes before the boat leaves.
– If you want a stamp in your passport you have to ask for one as you disembark.

Disembarkation Day

This day had to come. You can’t live on a cruise ship. Well, you can but that’s a different blog post.
– Pack everything the night before and have your luggage in the hall so that the cruise line can take care of getting it off the ship.
– Keep your hairbrush and your toothbrush and your multivitamins for the next day, but if you are not wearing it off the ship, put it in the suitcase.
– We even left our carry ons in the room and went to eat breakfast. By the time we finished eating our final meal served on white linen table cloths we were able to pick up our bags and walk right off. The process was fast and easy. We grabbed our luggage, loaded the van and drove home.

The day after a.k.a. The dreaded homecoming

This will be the hardest day because you are on your own again. No one is coming to make your bed and tidy your room. There will be no friendly face welcoming you to the dining room, seating you, putting the white napkin in your lap. If you want coffee, you have to make it. If you want two over easy eggs and a side of bacon, you’ll be the one heating up the skillet and doing the dishes later. Its a sad day, so console yourself by ordering a pizza for dinner. Enjoy that last meal delivered to you, because tomorrow its time to get on a diet and loose the 10lbs you gained on your cruise.

You can read more about things we did right and wrong on our first cruise here.

Tell me, what is your favorite day of a cruise? I am dying to hear from experienced cruisers and first timers, so leave a comment and let’s chat.

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