16 Tips for a First-Time Cruiser:


Before You Go:

1. Find and Complete the Online Check-in For Your Cruise.

Go to the cruise line website – and complete the Online Check-in. Some cruise lines require that you do this 5 or more days before departure.  You don’t have to complete but it really speeds the check-in process.

2. While You Are on the Cruise Line Website, Look for the “Know Before You Go” or “Frequently Asked Questions”.

This is where you will learn on the important information such as the dress code, what you can and cannot bring on the cruise, tipping policies, etc. It is a great idea to read in advance, and to contact your travel agent with any questions.

3. Review the Shore Excursions Offered by the Cruise Line.

Even if you don’t plan to take any shore excursions through the cruise line, reading the descriptions is a terrific way to learn about the most interesting activities in a given port.  If you do decide you want to do a specific tour, you may want to book it in advance so that you aren’t disappointed if it is sold out.  If there are several options that interest you, you can wait until you are on the ship, and ask questions and advice from the shore excursion staff on-board. There’s generally a number that you can call in advance to ask shore excursion questions as well.  Our rule: if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing that we really want to do, we book in advance. Otherwise, we book on board, or research and find our own thing to do in port.  If you do book in advance, be careful not to overbook yourself – you want it to be a relaxing vacation.

4. Print a Hard Copy of All of Your Cruise Documents and Other Confirmations.

If you purchase anything in advance, or are to receive any special benefits (such as a shipboard credit or drink promo, etc.), it’s a great idea to have a printed copy of the confirmation with you.  We make a simple folder, and keep all of the flight information, hotel confirmation, cruise docs, and any advance purchases in the file for easy reference. If you are driving, have the port directions and address printed out, and any confirmations of advance parking reservations. 

5. Have Your Passport and Other Identification in Order.  

It is best to have a valid passport with at least 6 months remaining before the expiration date. Some cruises that leave and return to U.S.A. ports don’t require a passport , but it’s a good idea to have one anyway. If you don’t have a passport, be sure to confirm with the cruise line that you have the proper documentation – you do not want to get left on the shore.  One more tip: scan a copy of your passport and email to yourself, and also make a photo copy.  These won’t allow you into the country, but they do help expedite a passport replacement should your’s get lost or stolen while on your vacation.

6. Buy Insurance. 

Be sure to protect yourself when you are out of the country. Many insurance plans and Medicare do not cover you when you are outside of the Canada or U.S.A. It is generally preferable to buy third party insurance rather than through the cruise line. Even if you aren’t worried about having to cancel your cruise, you can buy a low-cost plan that gives you emergency medical coverage, medical evacuation, and trip interruption coverage once you depart on your vacations.

7. After Reviewing Your Ship’s Dress Code, Plan Your Packing in Advance.  

While a cruise means unpacking and repacking only once, it’s nice to take only what you need, especially if you are flying to the port. In general, pack casual clothes for the daytime – shorts, shirts, flip-flops and swimsuits for the Caribbean. You will want to take sunscreen – it’s more expensive to buy it on the ship. Take workout clothes and tennis shoes for exercising or just walking around the ship. For evenings, generally there are two formal or elegant nights on a 7-day cruise.  For these nights, women usually wear cocktail dresses or pants and a sparkly top. Men wear suits or jackets. For the other evenings, women wear sundress, pants and tops, or even jeans, although they are hot in the Caribbean. Again, check the recommendations of your cruise line.  If you plan to do certain excursions in port – say hiking through Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica, you will want water shoes, or sandals or tennis shoes that can get wet.

8. Take a Small Medicine Kit.

Put Advil (or your preferred pain reliever), antacid, Band-aids, and other every-day things you might need in it.  Get some Dramamine if anyone in your party is worried about getting sea-sick. (For the record, we never have, even in rough seas.)  Most likely, you won’t need this but if you have a headache you don’t want to search all over the ship for headache relief.

9. Take A Stash of Small Bills. 

Tipping on the ship is usually handled by auto-gratuities charged to your shipboard account. However, it is nice to have a stash of $1 and $5 for tipping the luggage porters at the pier, tour guides, room service deliveries, cabs, bartenders on occasion and anyone on board whom you want to show a little extra gratitude to for doing something extra for you.  There will be a safe in your cabin where you can store your money, passports and credit cards when you aren’t using them.

10. Wine or Champagne. 

It is essential to check with your cruise line on this – most do not allow you to carry on hard liquor or beer in any form, but some (such as Carnival) allow adults 21 and over to carry on one bottle of wine or champagne each. If you drink in in the dining room, you will be charged a corkage fee. If you want to have a champagne toast in your cabin at sail away, this is a way to do it.

11. Power Strip.

Power plugs are often very limited in cruise ship cabins. Take a small Power Strip that turns one plug-in into four. It’s easiest to find these on Amazon. They are inexpensive and help keep all your devices charged in the cabin at night.

12.  Check Your Bags With the Porters at the Cruise Port. 

When you arrive at the cruise port, the first stop is to check your bags with the porters, who will get them to the cruise ship, where they will be delivered to your cabin. Be sure to use the pre-printed luggage tags (when you complete online check-in) or ask the porter for a hand-written tag.  NOTE: you won’t have access to this luggage for a few hours. Anything that you will need immediately once you get on-board such as medicine, passports/documents, cameras, computers, wine, swimming suits, change of clothes, etc. – you want to carry on these items in small bag or backpack. Once you go through check-in and board the ship, you may not be able to get into your cabin yet, so make sure this bag isn’t too big or heavy.

13. Once On-Board Either Head to Your Cabin .

 Once you get on-board, you may be able to head directly to your cabin. If you are boarding early, (before 1 pm on many ships), your stateroom may not be ready. If that’s the case, find out where lunch is being served and head there. Generally, it’s in the Lido Buffet.  Or, find an outdoor bar, and have a drink to get into the vacation mood.  There will be an announcement when staterooms are ready and then you can head to yours.

14. Explore the Ship.

Embarkation day is the perfect time to explore the ship.  Usually there is signage and you are also given a deck plan in your documents when you check-in. Look for the daily program (usually in your cabin) with the blow by blow details of everything going on. Don’t feel like you have to do everything. You are on vacation after all.

15. Don’t Miss the Lifeboat Drill. 

Cruise lines take these drills very seriously and you should too. Attendance is mandatory and roll-call is taken.  Follow the directions, and remember, you only have to go through this one time. Once the drill is over, it’s generally close to time.

16. Unpack and Have a Terrific Cruise.  

By now, your bags should be delivered to your room. Unpack and store the suitcases under the bed. If anything is amiss in your cabin, first look for your cabin steward and then contact the front desk. Don’t miss the sail away party, usually on one of the upper aft decks.  Let the fun begin and have a terrific cruise.