Cruising for the ignorant: everything you need to know before your first cruise. Photo/Getty Images
If you are a first time cruiser; intrigued but somewhat intimidated, it’s wise to approach your maiden cruise with eyes wide open, writes Tiana Templeman.
I am waiting to board a ship in Brisbane when a host of cruisers dressed in tropical fruit salad shirts cruise past me, striking fear in the hearts of a couple dressed in crisp linens who look both terrified and puzzled.
It reminds me of my first cruise in the 90s when I learned that a “party boat” is not the best choice for a dreamy, romantic vacation with your new mate. Ignorance is definitely no bliss for newbie cruisers, and some of the following tips would have saved me a lot of money and regrets at the time.
If you’re thinking of trying a vacation at sea, or – like me – your first cruise was memorable for all the wrong reasons, this story is for you.
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Choose your cruise line carefully
All traditional cruise lines are unique and designed to appeal to different demographics and tastes, so it’s important to choose the one that’s right for you. If you sail locally and like to party, stay up late and hit the dance floor, then Carnival or P&O Cruises Australia is for you. For something a little more refined with great onboard entertainment, it’s Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises or Norwegian Cruise Line. For families, Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line have plenty of fun activities and shows to please your whole crew. Cunard, Holland America and Azamara attract a mature population and are more upmarket, with fine entertainment and stylish venues.
Discover the different ships of the fleet
Ask yourself if you’d rather have fun on a 5000 passenger ship that looks like a floating theme park, make new friends on a boutique ship filled with a small number of like-minded (and probably more mature) passengers ) or something in between – so do some research. This is important because even ships in the same fleet can differ significantly. For example, Royal Caribbean is famous for its family-friendly mega-ships like Wonder of the Seas, but its smaller, slightly older ships like Jewel of the Seas carry less than half the number of passengers and are ideal for cruisers who prefer Skip all that family fun and enjoy a more traditional cruise experience at an affordable price.
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Choose the right route
Your cruise itinerary is also important and often stumbles first-time cruisers. For example, you might think that a one or two night “sample cruise” is the perfect way to see if cruising is for you, but nothing could be further from the truth. These short sailings tend to draw crowds of revelers and don’t give new cruisers enough time to find their way around or settle into life on a ship. Longer sailings with lots of days at sea can be just as problematic, especially if you’re worried you won’t have enough to do while on board. Around four nights tends to be the sweet spot for beginners, as it’s long enough to get a feel for life on board, but not too long if you haven’t chosen well.
Download the cruise app in advance
Many cruise lines are embracing the technology and interactive apps are becoming the norm. Whether it’s pre-booking meals, shows and activities before you depart or during your trip, or seeing what’s on the daily schedule while you’re on board, your ship’s cruise app is a must. Some apps allow you to create a personalized daily itinerary and contact your partner, family or friends on board via messaging functionality. These apps don’t need an external Wi-Fi connection, so you can use them for free on board.
Passports, visas, vaccinations and insurance
Covid is still around, so check your cruise line’s website as you may need to show a photo of a self-administered RAT test, copy of your vaccination certificate or similar document before you can board. Make sure you have the correct papers, such as an up-to-date passport and all required visas. Even if you don’t plan to set foot in a foreign port, you will almost certainly need a visa. You will also need cruise travel insurance, as public health services and private health insurance do not apply on board ships, even when operating in local waters.
Some cruise lines charge in US dollars worldwide, regardless of where they sail. This can be a nasty surprise at billing time for unsuspecting first-time cruisers, so check the currency before you book your trip and budget accordingly. Also use the app to regularly check your bill, as errors can sometimes occur. These are easily resolved with a trip to Guest Services while you are on board, but are much more difficult and time consuming to resolve after you return from the cruise.
Pack smart, not big
First-time cruisers tend to overpack, but all you need is a compact selection of clothes to match. Smart casual wear usually takes you from day to night on most ships, unless you’re sailing a premium line like Cunard. Pack a light sweater, wet-weather gear, and a hat no matter where you’re heading, as the weather (and your route) can sometimes change unexpectedly.
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Have a day bag when boarding
Since your luggage will not be delivered to your cabin until late afternoon or early evening, prepare a day bag for your first day on board, including a bathing suit, a change of clothes for dinner, basic toiletries and essentials such as medicine and electricity. cables for phones and tablets. If your luggage takes a while to arrive, it won’t matter, as you’ll be ready for your first night on board.
Defeat seasickness like a boss
If you’re worried about seasickness, book an ocean-view cabin or a balcony amidships on one of the lower decks where there’s less movement, and keep an eye on the horizon when the ship moves (trust me, it works). Over-the-counter tablets from the pharmacy (take them before you start to feel unwell for best results), a seasickness pressure band or patch, or soothing ginger tablets for travel plants are useful preventive measures for beginners who are worried about not feeling well.
You can drink from your cabin tap, so there’s no need to buy bottled water unless you prefer the taste (ship’s water is made from desalinated seawater, so it tastes different). Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage packages are also available for purchase on most lines. However, it pays to weigh the cost against how many drinks you’re likely to have each day, as these packages tend to be (very) expensive. Unfortunately, you cannot buy a package and share it.
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How to dine for less (or nothing at all)
Each ship has several complimentary restaurants that are included in your fare, but if you want a fancy night out, a specialty restaurant is the way to go. These cost more and tend to be more upscale, with a higher level of service, plus a few bells and whistles you’re unlikely to find elsewhere on the ship. Book all at once or purchase a dining package that entitles you to multiple visits to specialty restaurants for one set price to make your vacation more enjoyable.
Put your phone on airplane mode at sailaway
Using your phone’s airplane mode while at sea is important because cruise ships use satellite service. If your phone switches to global roaming on board without you realizing it, it can cost you hundreds of dollars – a day! If you want to use the internet while you’re on board or Facetime with family and friends, some higher-end lines include free Wi-Fi, or you can purchase an internet plan. One memory you don’t want to bring back from your first cruise is a huge cell phone bill.