Essential Tips for a First Time Cruise

So you have finally taken the plunge and decided you want to experience your first ever cruise vacation. And you have no double discovered that the world of cruising offers some amazing destinations, and a huge option of cruise ships. We’re here to help you decide on which cruise is right for you by offering essential tips for a first time cruise.

Let’s look at the regions where travelers have found the most success with their first-time cruise experience. One that makes them want to cruise time and time again!

From family friendly Caribbean cruises to adventure filled Alaska cruises, this list will help you find your perfect destination as a first time cruiser.

If you’re looking to make your first cruise experience more memorable, consider these tried and tested destinations.

The biggest cruising regions in the world, with more cruise ships visiting these areas than any other region are the Caribbean, Alaska and the Mediterranean. You will, without a doubt, find both an itinerary and a cruise ship to suit you and your family amongst the many cruise lines sailing these well navigated waters.

All of the ports on these itineraries have the most popular excursions to all the major tourist sites. Places that you as first time cruisers certainly have on your bucket list.


Cruise ship in Charlotte Amalie bay on Caribbean cruise vacation

If you’ve never been on a cruise before, then the Caribbean is one of the most popular regions to visit. It’s easy to understand why when you see picturesque beaches and crystal clear water. The region includes many different islands so there is something for everyone!

The people of the Carribean islands are warm and friendly. There’s plenty to do on land as well as at sea – go snorkeling in shallow waters, enjoy some fantastic beaches, or be adventurous and join a hiking tour. First time cruisers may never want to leave this magical place once you’re there!

The region is a great destination because it offers some of the newest cruise ships with cruises throughout the year. Itineraries are packed full of interesting ports of call.

If you want to reach the Southern Caribbean, then you will most likely have a longer cruise with a couple more days at sea. You’ll need this due to the distance and time it takes the cruise ship to reach Southern Caribbean islands such as Aruba, Bonaire and CuraƧao.


Breath-taking, pristine scenery, thrilling excursions  and much more on an Alaskan cruise

A lot of people say that their first cruise experience is what truly gets them hooked and this has been true for many first time cruisers who have been on a cruise in Alaska.

Whether you’re looking for an adventurous vacation for your first cruise, or just want to kick back and relax with your loved one, Alaska has something for everyone. All the major cruise lines offer fantastic cruises in this region, including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise line and Holland America who have super itineraries.

Experience breathtaking, pristine scenery, thrilling excursions and plenty of relaxation all at the same time. With so much to offer, Alaska is a great destination for first timers. One of the reasons it’s so popular is because there are tried and tested excursions that allow you to experience the best of what Alaska has to offer. Imagine whale watching, glacier tours, dog sledding and much more.


A Mediterranean cruise takes the first time cruiser to some of Europe's most popular countries

A first cruise will be unforgettable in the Mediterranean with its ancient history and culture, charming towns and picturesque villas.

Visiting the most popular Mediterranean countries is an ideal first time cruise because once aboard the luxurious liner, you can relax and enjoy your floating resort as it takes you from country to country. Experience many different cultures in one and the same trip.

The Mediterranean cruise season generally runs from April to October, with a wide range of itineraries that visit ports in countries such as Italy, France, Monaco, Spain, Turkey, Greece and Malta. It’s a wonderful region for first time cruisers.

To make the most of your precious vacation time, start off by staying in the departure city for a few nights. Not only will this ensure that you reach your cruise port in good time (never fly in the same day your cruise departs!), it gives you the opportunity to explore a new city or revisit an old favorite.

Rome, for example, is worth many visits and there is always something new to see and do before you cruise from Rome. If your journey to the Mediterranean starts in northern Europe with a cruise from Southampton, England, then there is plenty to see and do on the beautiful south coast of England or by spending a couple of days in the exciting captial, London.

How to Choose The Right Cruise Line

One of the most difficult decisions to make as first time cruisers is deciding which cruise line is right for you.

Ask yourself the following: What kind of traveller are you? How old are you and the friends or family you are travelling with? What do you want out of your vacation?

Cruise lines offer different itineraries and levels of service at different price points. If you have a strict budget to stick to there are ways you can cruise for less.

Think about what kind of cruise you are looking for. If you are first time cruisers and a couple over 60 you most likely will want a completely different type of cruise compared to a family with children who are looking for the best cruise ships for families.

Perhaps you want to focus on health and wellbeing and use a cruise vacation for total relaxation, with a focus on good fitness facilities, room service and spa treatments.

You could be a single traveller looking for rest and relaxation, or to meet other cruise passengers travelling alone.

Or an adventurous couple looking for as much action and party atmosphere as possible. Perhaps you will choose the cruise company that has the largest cruise ship in the world, currently Royal Caribbean with their mega-ship Wonder of the Seas.

Different cruise lines offer very different experiences on board. And for a first time cruise it’s essential you get it right.

First time cruisers looking for variety, action & entertainment

  • Royal Caribbean International
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • MSC Cruises
  • P&O Cruises
  • Carnival Cruise Line

All the above cruise lines have ships that are resort-style floating hotels. Especially if you are looking to cruise on one of the cruise line’s newer, mega ships, then they are jam-packed with every conceivable form of entertainment at sea you can imagine.

From go kart tracks to zip lining, movie theaters to bowling alleys and ice skating rinks to surf riders. If you are looking for action, entertainment, a big variety of restaurants, an extensive shopping mall and large gym and fitness centers, then these ships are for you.

The dress code for these cruise lines is smart-casual for the main dining rooms and specialty restaurants, but casual everywhere else onboard. But there are also guests who like to dress up – think evening gown or a dinner suit, as you certainly should if you want to!

Many ships do not allow you to bring your own alcohol onboard but there are some exceptions. Check the FAQ section on the cruise line’s website or ring the cruise line directly to be sure. It is popuarl to purchase a drink package but see if you can get this added to your cruise booking without extra cost, often you find such promotions with the cruise lines.

Many of the newer ships these cruise lines offer have well over 3500 guests, some reaching up to 6700 guests. They are busy, amazing and great fun. Does this suit what you are looking for?

A classic cruise is a great choice for a first time cruise

Classic cruise lines such as these listed below offer wonderful cruises with fewer facilities than the great big resort-style cruise ships. You will absolutely still enjoy a party, just on a smaller scale. And by small we still mean that many of these ships can accommodate up to 4000 guests.

You can enjoy classic cruise activities such as the pool, sports and gym facilities and the casino. You can also find culinary and musical programs and live music venues.

With the exception of Disney Cruise Line, the others on this list generally have a slightly older average age on board.

  • Cunard
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Princess Cruises
  • Disney Cruise Line
  • Holland America

Cunard in particular has a formal, more elegant cruise ideal if you are a couple or friends travelling together who want to avoid families with children. This cruise line offers a nostalic cruise experience, with formal evening, black tie dinners and gala evenings.

Small, exclusive cruise lines for a memorable first time cruise experience.

Our first time cruise tips include cruise lines that have smaller ships.

These are more exclusive, have a higher price tag and a more traditional cruising experience. There is less choice on board in terms of facilities and entertainment, but you will certainly find excellent service with attention to detail.

You will feel like you are on a more personal, more exclusive cruise with these cruise lines:

  • Viking
  • Azamara
  • Windstar
  • Saga

Ultra luxury cruise lines

Very often these cruise lines offer an all inclusive experience at a high-end price. That means that everything from your beverages to your shore excursions are included in the price.

We include this category of ultra luxury cruise lines in our first time cruise tips if you are looking for personal service and a sophisticated atmosphere on board. And all cabins on board are a balcony cabin or suite.

You will sail into the most exclusive destinations in the world, into ports that the larger cruise ship just cannot use due to their sheer size.

Onboard activities are calmer – think interesting lectures and cocktail evenings. Dress code is elegant casual and everything around you is classy and tasteful.

It’s an amazing, ultra-luxury 7-star experience on board ships that carry a smaller numbers of guests – from 100 to around 1000. Enjoy the good life from the moment you board your ship on embarkation day, to the moment you leave.

  • Seabourn
  • Silver Seas
  • Ritz Carlton Yacht
  • Regent Seven Seas
  • Crystal Cruises

The Best Cruise Ship To Suit You

So now you have an idea of which cruise lines will be right for you. Try to narrow your choice down to around 3 cruise lines that you think will suit you.

From there, you can then start thinking about the itinarary you want and see which cruise line is sailing in the region at the time of year you want to travel.

Cruise ships within each cruise line vary drastically from size to facitilies on board. Many first time cruise guests choose to sail with the newest cruise ships. However some of the older ships are firm favorites with long time cruisers too as they have undergone an extension renovation program over the years.

As part of our first time cruise tips, we encourage you to read about cruise ships as much as possible on the websites such as this one, or on the cruise line’s website. You can read more about the ships belonging to the major cruise lines here:

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

Celebrity Cruises

Norwegian Cruise Line

MSC Cruises

Cruise Critic have an excellent forum where you can see what guests who are looking for similar experiences to you are saying and choosing.

The Importance Of Choosing The Right Cabin

Choosing the right cabin in the right location on board may be more important than you would think.

You may be looking to save money and just book in the best priced category in order to keep to your travel budget. But do pay attention to where you cabin is located. This is one of our most important tips for first time cruise guests.

First you start by choosing the type of cabin you want. This will determine the price category. From least expensive to most expensive here are your choices:

  • Inside Cabin without a window
  • Exterior Cabin with a window
  • Balcony Cabin (a private balcony either with an ocean view or on some of the mega-ships a view of the boardwalk facing the ship internally)
  • Suite

For more information about how to choose a cabin in the right location on board the cruise ship, and where to avoid staying, see our expert tips here. Then study the deck plan of your chosen ship. These are available by searching the name of your cruise ship into the search field on the cruise line’s website.

Additional Costs To Expect After You Have Paid For Your Cruise

There are two major expenses you should expect over and above the price you pay for your cruise:

1. Transfers, Hotels and Flights to suit your cruise booking

Decide how you are going to tackle your flight and hotel package. And transport to and from the cruise terminal.

Do you want to book flights and hotel yourself to get the best possible price? or do you want the cruise line to take care of your ground arrangements in conjuction with your cruise booking?

When booking your own flights, we recommend that you fly into your city of origin at least 2 to 3 days ahead of your cruise start date. Book a hotel and enjoy some days in the city before embarkation day and that way you will be sure not to miss your boarding due to a cancelled or delayed flight .

Before you choose your flight time for your homebound journey after your cruise, check what time your ship arrives at port on the last day. Then allow extra time for delays. Bad weather for example can delay a ship anchoring in port. If you ship arrives in port at 7am on the schedule, choose a flight which leaves early afternoon to allow yourself plenty of time to get to the airport with stressing.

However there are benefits of booking a fly and cruise package with the cruise line. When the cruise line books you will most likely pay more. But they guarantee that you get to the cruise ship at the cruise terminal on time for your departure, and that you get to your flight home in good time too. The cruise line are then responsible for the logistics and making sure you get on a flight. Even with flight delays.

This is a good option if you are not interested in exploring your origin city before you sail as most flights booked by the cruise line arrive the same day as your ship leaves port. You will get a flight and transfer package that matches up with your sailing time.

2. On board expenses

Extra costs on board such as drink packages, internet packages, spa treatments, room service, specialty restaurants, some special activities such as zip lining or go karting are in addition to your basic cruise fare.

Many first time cruise guests choose to book and pay for these in advance before the cruise starts. That way you don’t have to worry about these costs on board, and you can have a better eye on your total spending budget for your cruise vacation before you even leave home.

At the time of booking, ensure you have all the necessary information you need to book your cruise package, including any optional extra you want to book before you cruise to get a better price. Often extras are more expensive once you are on board.

If you do decide to purchase extras once your are on board, you can monitor your spending with your onboard account displayed on your cabin tv.

Booking Shore Excursions

Many guests choose to save money when they book shore excursions by booking with independent tours with a private vendor. After all, shore excursions can add up and increase the total cost of your cruise vacation by quite a bit.

There are many good excursion suppliers out there such as Viator and Alla Tours.

However there are benefits of booking shore excursions with the cruise line. And this includes getting you back to the cruise ship on time prior to departure time from the port. With a cruise ship shore excursion you are guaranteed to not miss your cruise ship.

However, if you are using an independant supplier and you are late returning, your cruise ship will leave without you.

It really comes down to what you want to do in a port of call. If you are close to the city center then exploring by yourself is doable as there should be plenty of transport options, often including a cruise shuttle, and you are not far from port to get yourselves back in time.

But if you are going further afield, for example up into the mountains for a hike or travelling to a wine district with a long transfer time, then booking with the cruise line is a smart choice. Most cruise lines have a huge amount of great shore excursions to offer you.

Pack A Carry On Bag

Once you are on board your cruise ship and set sail, your luggage may take a little time to reach your cabin. Cruise personal take care of your cruise luggage once you check in. You do not need to take it to your cabin yourself.

But you should alway keep your carry on bag with you. Not only should it contain your valuables and travel documents, but also any essential medicines and a change of clothing. And packing a swimsuit to use the cruise ship pool facilities.

All this will ensure that even if you are waiting for luggage to reach your cabin, you can start using the cruise ship facilties immediately, even before the ship actually leaves port and is ready to set sail.

For more tips on what to include when packing for a cruise read our essential packing guide here.

Monitor The Price Of Your Cruise

It is essential that you track the price of your cruise even after you have booked and paid your deposit. This is amongst the best tips for first time cruisers, as you may not know that it could be possible to get a better price even after you have booked and paid your cruise deposit.

Regularly check the cruise line’s website. If you see that the price of your cruise has decreased before you make your final payment, then call the cruise line directly and have them apply a credit for the different to your booking. They will do this for you.

You can also sign up to a price tracker, with Cruisecritic or Cruisewatch. That way you can get price information and alerts directly into your inbox.

And if you are working with a travel agent, they should price-watch your cruise for you and inform you of any reduction in price. A good travel agent will do this – talk to them. Be sure you do not miss out.

Read Your Cruise Contract Before You Pay

Read the small print and check your cancellation terms and conditions. It is really important to understand what you are purchasing.

There are some significant areas to be aware of that the cruise line has the right to do, without offering any compensation if you are not happy. These can include:

  • The cruise line can change the itinerary. So you may see that some of your original ports of call are no longer included in the sailing.
  • Cruise lines have the right to change the length of time they are in port. So you may find that a port of call where you thought you could enjoy the city until 8pm has now been shortened so the ship leaves at 4pm instead.
  • You may find your cabin choice is changed. And although the cruise line will give you an equivalent category cabin or higher, it’s important to know where your new cabin is located. If you are not happy, discuss this with the cruise line and get your cabin changed. Especially if you have paid extra for a specific location.

The Importance Of Cruise Travel Insurance

It is essential that you have good travel insurance booked and paid for before your begin your first time cruise vacation.

Travel insurance should cover you for all eventualities from lost luggage, full medical treatment, and getting your home in an emergency. It should also include cancellation insurance.

Contact your insurance provider long before your travel date and find out about the best travel insurance policy to suit you and your family.

What Happens Now?

You’re back from your first cruise and you most likely loved it. And it was expensive. But you are determined to cruise again so you start saving, and start planning.

Whether you are a seasoned traveler or a first time cruiser, these tips will ensure that you have know everything to do before you cruise for the best vacation possible.

Some of the greatest cruises available that offer experiences a cut above the rest and some of the most memorable cruises ever are to regions such as Alaska, especially visiting the Inside Passage and Skegway, French Polynesia including Tahiti, Hamilton Island and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Arctic Circle, Panama Canal, Scandinavia, the Norwegian Fjords and a journey to Scotland and Iceland.

So what itinerary will you choose for your next cruise? Start planning and remember to read our tops tips for a cruise vacation before you book your cruise!

Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..