27 Important First-Time Cruise Tips for Travelers

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Getting ready for your first cruise and a bit unsure of how to best prepare yourself? You’re in the right place! I’ve been on lots of cruises and have had time to perfect my cruising travel. But most importantly, I’ve been a first-time cruiser! 

If you’re new to the world of cruising, get ready for your new favorite way to explore the world. Whether you’re traveling solo, with friends, or with family, your first cruise can be a bit overwhelming. 

With these 27 first-time cruise tips, you can sleep peacefully knowing that you’ll be prepared for anything that comes your way. 

From packing efficiently to planning accordingly, I’ve got you covered. And, fair warning: once you experience the world of cruising, it just might become your new addiction! So, get ready to set sail and make unforgettable memories. 

27 First-Time Cruise Tips

Cruise ship
Image Credit: Caribbean Uncovered

Let’s dive into the most important first-time cruise tips that I wish I’d known before setting sail on my first cruise.

1. Don’t Fly in on Your Day of Departure

Arriving at the port on your embarkation day is one of the riskiest moves and biggest mistakes you can make as a first-time cruiser. Flights are notoriously delayed and canceled, so it’s impossible to predict if you’ll make it in time. 

Even if your flight is on time, you can’t control the traffic when you land, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll make it to the cruise terminal in time. And trust me, cruise terminals are notoriously bumper to bumper. 

This first tip is the most important – if you don’t even get onboard the ship, these other tips don’t matter! Plan to arrive a day or two before to give yourself plenty of time to check in. 

If you hate wasted travel days, make an extended vacation out of it and book a tour or experience the day before to explore the port you’re leaving from. 

2. Check Into the Boat Early

A common first-time cruiser mistake is thinking you should check in as late in the day as possible, right before departure. Unless you have plans during the day, check in as soon as you can. 

The party starts when the first guests board the boat. Checking in late is like missing a few hours of your vacation! The music will be playing, the pool will be open, the drinks will be pouring, and the grill will be smoking. Hop on and get your vacation started. 

This is also a great day to explore the boat before everyone else arrives. Get your bearings, find your favorite spots, and plop down on a nice beach chair before the ship heads out. 

3. Book Your Dinner Reservations Beforehand

Cruise dinners at bookable restaurants aren’t necessary, but they can be part of your experience if you choose. 

Not only do they offer delicious food and drinks (sometimes award-winning!), but they also provide an opportunity for guests to enjoy a unique atmosphere with their fellow cruisers.

Unfortunately, these dinner reservations fill up fast! With only so many days and seats available, reservations fill up fast. Specifically cruising days when you’re not at a port. 

To make sure you don’t miss out, contact the cruise company or your travel agent as soon as possible to find out when and how you can book your dinner reservations. Sometimes, you can make reservations on an app, and sometimes you have to call. 

4. Take Time to Tour the Whole Boat When You Arrive

Once you arrive onboard, take some time to tour the entire boat. This will give you a better sense of your surroundings and make it easier to find activities, restaurants, and shops throughout your cruise. 

Plus, checking out the boat before it gets crowded can help you locate hidden spots for a bit of downtime away from the excitement of the boat.

I’d suggest taking a walk around the boat once in the afternoon and once in the evening to get an idea of which spots are busy and which ones remain quiet as the day goes on. 

5. Check the Calendar of On-Board Activities and Plan Your Schedule

cruise ship indoor pool
Image Credit: Caribbean Uncovered

Time flies faster than you can imagine when you’re having fun on the boat! Check out the weekly and daily schedules for a clear idea of what you want to do during your cruise to make the most of it. 

Each day brings a wide variety of engaging activities – poolside fun, game shows, challenging trivia sessions, thrilling casino tournaments, captivating shows, and so much more! It can be easy to miss out when you’re lying poolside or enjoying the buffet. Set a reminder or alarm for the events you don’t want to miss!

6. Research the Ports Before Arriving

Setting sail on a cruise is an exciting adventure, but don’t let the excitement cloud your judgment. One of the most important steps before arriving at your cruise port is to do your research. 

Don’t show up and have no plans! It’s better to get an idea of what’s popular at that port, what there is to do, how much time it will take, etc. Some ports, like Grand Cayman, require you to tender into the port, which adds additional time to your day. 

Research is the key to being prepared and making the most of your cruise. Don’t miss out on amazing experiences by not taking the time to plan ahead. 

7. Book Excursions Before You Get on the Boat

Booking excursions before you board your cruise is another step towards researching and being prepared. 

Shore excursions can fill up quickly, and you don’t want to be stuck wandering around a port with nothing to do, therefore missing out on an amazing adventure. 

Research your ports and find out what excursions are offered at each port so you can decide which ones you want to do ahead of time. 

Don’t wait until the last minute, either. With careful planning, you can make sure to get in on all the excursions that interest you for perfect port day experiences. 

8. Pack Your Bathing-Suit and Toiletries in a Carry-on

cruise ship pool
Image Credit: Caribbean Uncovered

You’ll probably want to start your party as soon as you get on! If you check your bag with the porters or if your room isn’t ready, it might take a little while to get your belongings. Pack your bathing suit and the important stuff you might need for a few hours. That way, you can head to the pool deck, grab a drink, and jump in the pool until your room is ready. 

9. You Can Pack Your Own Alcohol (Sometimes)

Some cruise lines allow you to bring your own alcohol in your suitcase, usually one or two bottles of wine or champagne. Spirits are never allowed. 

This is a great way to save money and enjoy your favorite wines during your cruise. Make sure to check the personal allotment requirements before boarding so you can pack accordingly. 

P.S. While your state attendant can probably open those bottles of wine for you, I always suggest keeping a little portable wine opener with you so you can enjoy your bottles when you want. 

10. Decide Whether You Want a Food or Drink Package

Cruise lines often have various packages that you can add to your cruise cost. This includes restaurants with higher-end food, specialty drinks, and spirits available for purchase. Before deciding on a package, consider what is included in the basic cost of your cruise – many restaurants and drinks like coffee, tea, and water are free. 

You can always pay per drink or restaurant as well. Calculate the cost of the package in comparison to buying everything you want individually and decide if it’s worth it for you.

11. Download the Cruise Ship App Before Arriving

Having the cruise ship app downloaded before you arrive can be incredibly helpful during your cruise! Each ship has its own app with different benefits. 

Depending on your cruise line, apps can help you make dinner reservations, view the schedule of events, sign up for activities, keep in touch with other guests on the boat without needing WiFi, track your spending, pay for onboard purchases, and more. 

It’s important to download the app before you arrive so that you have all of the information and resources that you need right at your fingertips when the time comes.

12. WiFi Is Expensive

While it’s true that WiFi can be expensive, consider going off the grid during your cruise and embracing the ride without constant connectivity. 

However, if you do find the need to stay in touch with family or work for a day, opt for purchasing a day of WiFi as opposed to the whole week. This way, you can plan ahead to get everything done while you have access to it while still enjoying the rest of your vacation!

If you do need or want WiFi for every day of your vacation, purchasing it beforehand can save you a little bit of money in most cases. 

13. Bring Reef-Safe Sunscreen if You’re Traveling to the Caribbean

It is super important to the Caribbean ecosystem to bring reef-safe sunscreen when taking a cruise to the islands. Many countries enforce laws that require it to protect the corals and sea life. 

Additionally, companies will often check that all travelers have reef-safe sunscreen before they embark on any excursions. 

Reef-safe sunscreens are specifically formulated with ingredients that won’t damage or harm the environment, allowing aquatic life to thrive and grow unharmed. 

It is an important part of responsible traveling and protecting these incredible ecosystems! 

14. The Middle of the Ship Is Best for Avoiding Seasickness

cruise ship stateroom
Image Credit: Caribbean Uncovered

Booking a room in the center of the ship is the best way to avoid seasickness. 

This may be tempting to avoid, as larger rooms with balconies or windows can seem more desirable. But if you are prone to motion sickness, you’ll want to avoid those rooms! 

The middle of the ship offers the least motion and will hopefully reduce any discomfort that can come from being on an ocean cruise. If all else fails, the onboard medical center should have Dramamine or seasickness patches if you forget yours!

15. Get in Line Early for a Tender if the Ship Is Not Docked at the Port

Getting in line early for a tender is essential if you are trying to get to ports like St John USVI or Turks and Caicos. A tender is a small boat that will take you from the cruise ship to shore. It can take quite a while to board everyone who wants to get off the ship. 

Make sure that you get in line early if you’re on a time crunch or have an excursion planned for the day. Some ports can also be quite busy with multiple ships arriving at once, so getting in line early ensures that you won’t miss out!

16. Make Friends!

Making friends on a cruise is one of the most unexpected joys of cruising – just like meeting new people when traveling. Spending time with people you enjoy being around makes your experience so much more fun. 

Whether these friendships last a few days or last a lifetime, taking the opportunity to get to know other passengers can be an unforgettable experience. 

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to weddings hosted by friends I made on cruises, making them all the more special! 

So take some time to socialize, and you can make some amazing memories that will stay with you long after you return home.

17. Do Not Miss the Departure Time!

Missing your boat’s departure time at the port can be a huge disappointment. It can put a damper on your vacation if you’re forced to miss part of or the rest of your cruise.

It’s important to keep a close eye on the time and allow plenty of time to make it back to the ship after a day at port. 

Depending on the type of port and how far away you are from shore, you may have to wait in line for tenders to bring you back, which will take even longer.

If you do miss the departure time, the boat will leave you stuck at your port! This is where travel insurance might come in handy.

18. Try All of the Included Restaurants

One of the highlights of any cruise is all of the dining options available to you, almost 24-7! 

While the main dining room buffet may seem like a convenient choice for every meal, don’t forget to explore the other included restaurants as well. 

Some restaurants, even if they’re included, might require reservations. Be sure to check them out early on in your trip. Whether you are craving a steak, sushi, or pizza, take the time to make a plan and visit the restaurants that pique your interest before the end of your cruise.

You may discover your new favorite dish or dining spot. Don’t be scared to mix it up – you won’t regret trying all the included restaurants on board!

19. Don’t Purchase Snacks or Incidentals on Board Unless Necessary

Save your money and only purchase snacks or incidentals on board if you have to. Onboard pricing can be astronomical, so try to avoid buying anything that you don’t need. We’re talking $7 Pringles! 

You can bring non-perishables on most ships, such as crackers or chocolate, if you know that you’ll want them during your trip. 

Plus, with so many food and snack options included in the cost of your trip, there’s no need to purchase anything additional.

20. Enjoy Your Vacation!

Image Credit: Caribbean Uncovered

When you go on a cruise, you don’t have to do it all. Take the time to enjoy some relaxing activities like reading on the balcony, sipping wine by the sunset, or simply watching a movie in your room. 

Cruises offer a wide range of experiences, whether you’re looking for adventure and fun or a peaceful and quiet getaway. You can customize your cruise experience to make it exactly what you want it to be.

First-Time Cruise Tips for Packing

Packing efficiently is crucial to a successful cruise, as it allows you to bring all the essentials. Here’s a short packing list of items you may not think of bringing but can make your first cruise even better!

21. Pack Towel Clips – The Deck Can Get Windy!

Towel clips are a must-have when packing for your first cruise. When you’re at the pool deck, chances are that it will get windy, and your towel will blow away or into your face while you’re trying to lie down and relax. 

Having a few towel clips can make all the difference – and turn you from a first-time cruiser to a seasoned pro. Towel clips are small and lightweight items; they are easy to pack in any suitcase or handbag without taking up too much room. 

Plus, they come in fun designs like palm trees, sea animals, and beach umbrellas, so you can pick something that matches your style!

22. Bring Comfy Clothes

Don’t forget to keep comfort in mind when packing for your cruise! Bring comfortable clothes that you can wear during the day and into the evening. 

Grab a sweater or a pair of sweatpants for chilly evenings on the deck or movie nights in the theater.  

You don’t have to always be dressed up in sundresses or dinner clothes – opt for something more lightweight and airy if you’d like. Don’t forget your favorite pair of sandals or tennis shoes to walk around the decks and explore the ship! 

23. A Dry Bag to Keep Your Belongings in During Port Days and Excursions

Bringing a dry backpack or bag to keep your belongings in during port days or excursions is super helpful. Not only will it help you stay organized, but it also ensures that your items (like phones and wallets) won’t get wet if you go swimming or splashed on a boat. 

Make sure to pack all the essentials – like medications, sunscreen, passports, hats, sunglasses – into the dry bag before you head out for an excursion so you don’t forget anything. Plus, it’s much easier to carry around than a heavy purse. 

# Don’t Pack What You Don’t Need

24. Too Much Cash

Cash is unnecessary on the cruise ship as all expenses can be charged to your room card, app, or bracelet using the ship’s unique payment system. 

However, it’s smart to keep a small amount of cash on hand for tipping porters, taxis, and your excursion hosts. You can keep cash or valuables in the secure lockbox in your cabin until you need them. 

25. Towels

Towels are one item you won’t need to worry about packing for your cruise. Fresh towels will be available in your room every day for showers, and new towels will be available on the pool deck throughout the day. 

If you’re going off the ship on an excursion or to the beach, there are usually separate beach towels in your room to take with you for the day. Towels can take up a lot of space, so save that room for other items, and don’t waste time packing them!

26. Fancy Clothes and Heels

Unless the ship specifically has a black-tie night, sun dresses and sandals will get you through! Some restaurants will require more formal attire, which you can check ahead of time. Don’t bring too many nice clothes. You’ll want to be comfortable while hanging out on the ship. You’re on vacation, after all!  

27. Don’t Bring Too Many Bags and Suitcases

To ensure a comfortable and enjoyable cruise experience, it’s best not to bring an excessive number of bags and suitcases. 

The cabins are relatively small, so don’t clutter your room with backpacks, bags, and suitcases. By keeping your luggage to a minimum, you’ll have more space to relax and unwind without worrying about your belongings everywhere. 

Summary: Tips for Your First-Time Cruising

Are you ready for your first cruise? While the thought of being away at sea for the first time might seem nerve-wracking, trust me, it’s an adventure that’s worth having!

With these 27 first-time cruise tips, you’ll be well-prepared to make the most out of your experience- without any surprises or hiccups. 

From packing the essentials to preparing for days at port, these tips will ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip. 

Once you’ve taken your first cruise, you’ll be itching to come back for more.

This article was written by Caribbean Uncovered and published by Our Woven Journey.

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Rachel is passionate about encouraging you to stop waiting and start exploring. After over a decade of traveling through the Caribbean islands, she’s sharing all of her secrets. Rachel is on a mission to help you find the best islands in the Caribbean - making planning your trip as easy as lying on the beach.