Planning a cruise can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never done it before. Everyone wants to have a relaxing vacation without any headaches, but you might not know where some of the pitfalls lie. Here are some first time cruise mistakes people make and how you can avoid them on your next cruise adventure. Keep Reading
Have you ever asked – which side is port side on a cruise ship?
Get on board any cruise ship and you will soon see and hear terms that may sound familiar to you yet foreign. Everyone who cruises would benefit from knowing some cruise ship terms that will help you navigate the ship and understand the crew better. Having this knowledge can also help you when choosing the best part of the ship for your stateroom.
It happens every time you board a cruise ship. The bars and activities all close and your captain or cruise director announce it will be starting soon: The Muster Drill! So, what exactly is it and what do you need to know about it? Keep Reading
After you do all that careful planning, collect all the items you want to bring with you, find a way to pack it all into your luggage, you then travel to your port of departure and finally get to board the cruise ship and let the fun begin. It’s finally here! Embarkation Day. Keep Reading
Ideas for things to do after boarding
You’ve made it through the embarkation process and finally boarded the boat. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with options on the first day of your vacation. Boarding hours are usually between 11 AM to 2:30 PM on most cruise lines, depending on the scheduled departure time. Keep in mind that your cabin and luggage may not be available for hours after you board, so make sure to pack your boarding bag accordingly. Here are 20 first day cruise ideas for you to consider:
- Eat Lunch
Since the embarkation times overlap with the lunch rush, you may be hungry by the time you get through security and check-in. Most cruise ships open up their main lunch buffet for guests. Keep in mind that the buffet is often crowded for this reason, so if there’s another restaurant open on board – consider trying it instead.
- Take a Tour
While you won’t be allowed in the cabin room areas until they’ve been cleaned, there is plenty to see. For those who want a walk-through, there is often a guided tour of the ship offered. Alternately, you can use the deck maps and set out exploring on your own.
- Pose for Some Pictures
Since the cruise is less crowded, the first day is often the best time to get some photos taken around the ship. Just try to stay off the main pathways.
- Share Your Special Dining Requests
If you have food allergies or other special dining needs, its usually best to make them the first day that you board. Usually, you can speak with the headwaiter or dining room host to set this up. If you follow a kosher or halal diet, make sure you know what you’ll be getting before you book!
- Make Reservations
You can make reservations for the spa, specialty restaurants, and shows. Some cruises let you book these before you board, but many will make you wait until you are checked-in before allowing this. Keep in mind that offerings during the ship’s Days at Sea often fill up first and fast.
- Schedule Shore Excursions
If you didn’t do it already online, you can change or schedule an excursion after you board. The shore excursion desk is typically located near the guest services on a cruise ship. Lines can be long for this on the first day.
- Visit the Children’s Club
There is usually a free open house at the kids’ club onboard on the first day, it lets your kids check it out before you officially register. The clubs are typically complimentary, but require a one-time registration. This is also a great chance for them to meet other cruising kids in their age group.
- Go for a swim
The pools are practically empty on the first day. That makes it the perfect time to go for a dip. This goes double for the hot tubs. Many people don’t want to get wet before they get their luggage, but if you’ve planned ahead properly, that shouldn’t be a problem for you. Towels are available for rental, so just make sure you pack your swimsuit in your boarding bag.
- Start Sunbathing
|The pools aren’t the only thing empty on the first day. Loungers everywhere are available, if you prefer soaking up the sun instead of a swim. The bars are also open, so you can grab that piña colada while getting started on your tan.
- Meet a Character
If you’re on a Disney cruise, you are probably planning to meet some characters. There are always some character greetings the first day. These are frequently less attended than those later in the week.
- Try an Activity
Cruises have a variety of different activity offerings. Since most are less crowded on the first day, it’s the perfect time to try them out. While other guests are wandering aimlessly around the ship, you could be playing miniature golf or shooting hoops at the basketball court.
- Learn How to Play Poker
Have you ever been interested in learning table games, but without the financial risk? Casinos often have free gaming lessons, which can be great if you want to gamble but don’t know the ropes. Try not to feel pressured to purchase after receiving free information.
- Download the Mobile App
Most major cruise lines have their own free mobile app. This typically contains deck plans, restaurant menus, and activities information. Some ships even offer a message system to help you keep in contact with other passengers. Mobile apps use the ship Wi-Fi, typically at no cost.
- Put Your Phone on Airplane Mode
Avoid international fees, but putting your phone on airplane mode. Many apps, such as WhatsApp and Skype offer free calling, video calls, and messaging with access to Wi-Fi.
- Sign Up for the Spa Raffle
Interested free spa services? Sign-up for the spa raffle. You’ll have to both sign up and then show up for the raffle drawing. Since guests often have to be present to win, this can increase your chances of getting free stuff. They usually take about 30 minutes of your time and everyone who attends gets a discount offer. Prizes include free facials, tooth-whitening, and manicures.
- Compete for Free Prizes
Cruises have trivia type games throughout the cruise. These are more lightly attended the first day, so you are more likely to win. The topics range from Harry Potter Trivia to Naming TV Tunes. You can win things like hats, water bottles, t-shirts, and magnet, which make great souvenirs.
Make your temporary home comfortable by unpacking and organizing your personal items. If you would like any changes to your stateroom, such as having the beds separated, just let your cabin steward know.
- Attend the Muster Drill
Every ship has a mandatory muster drill (aka the lifeboat or assembly drill). This takes place around 3:30 PM, once the embarkation process has closed. All ship activities are typically suspended for a prior to and directly after the drill. However, you’ll want to make sure you are not otherwise occupied during that time. Instructions will be provided by the captain and crew. These drills only last about 30 minutes. You can be kicked off a ship for non-compliance, so don’t skip it.
- Pick your Position
After the muster drill, many people start seeking out spots to watch the ship leave port from. If your traveling companions are not in the same muster drill group as you (this is based on room location), make sure you have a plan where to meet up afterward. Ships typically set sail between 5 and 6 PM.
The great thing about cruising is that you don’t have to do anything unless you want to. You can take a nap in your room or sit out on your stateroom balcony. This is YOUR vacation, so take it at whatever pace you prefer.
Stinky Swimsuit? Keeping it Clean Is Easier than you Think!
If you’re like most cruisers, then most of your cruise days are spent in your bathing suit. Whether you are snorkeling, lounging on a beach or relaxing in the hot tub, your swimsuits get plenty of wear. With all the saltwater, sand, chlorine, sunscreen, and sweat, those bikinis and swim trunks can get filthy (and moldy!) fast. Luckily, swimsuits are already best washed by hand. This is both free and easy to do at sea in the comfort of your own cabin! Here is how to wash your swimsuit in your stateroom sink (or at home):
What to bring to clean your swimsuit
The great part about planning to wash your swimsuits onboard, is you don’t have to pack anything extra. All you need to bring is:
- Your bathing suit(s)
- Your regular body soap/shampoo
- A stain remover (optional)
If you forgot your own soap, don’t worry. You can also use the shampoo/body wash dispenser in your cabin’s shower to do this. While mild soaps, unscented soaps are best for washing clothes, almost any shampoo or body soap will do. If you want to invest in a swimsuit-specific detergent Fashion Care’s Splash Swimwear Wash ($10, Amazon.com) is a good option and won’t take up much space in your luggage. If you’d like, a stain remover can also be helpful to avoid sunblock stains.
How to clean your swimsuit
Washing your swimsuit doesn’t have to be a chore. Here are 5 easy steps to follow to keep your suit ready for the next day of fun.
- Clean. Use cold water to clean any sand or dirt on your bathing suit. Use a stain stick, if desired.
- Soak. Fill the sink with cold water. Add about a quarter-size squirt of soap (about 5 ML) to the water, and stir. If using a bar soap, lather up your hands and gently massage it into your wet suit. Then, leave it to soak for about 15 minutes.
- Wash. Gently massage your swimsuit for 1-2 minutes.
- Rinse. Rinse off all the suds with cold water, for about 1-2 minutes.
- Squeeze. Don’t wring out your suit! Squeeze the suit into a ball until it is damp. If your suit drips when you hold it up, it means you need to squeeze more water out.
How to dry your swimsuit
After squeezing as much of the water out as possible, use a dry towel to help remove the excess water. Lay it flat on a towel, then roll the towel up and squeeze gently. Let the suit air dry. If you hang up your suit to dry, it’s best to drape it. Using clothespins or hanging by the straps can wear out the elastic.
Most cruise packing guides recommend packing 2-3 swimsuits for a 7-day cruise. Since it often takes at least 24 hours for a suit to completely dry, packing 2-3 allows plenty of time from them to dry between use. If you’re going minimalist (check out: How to Pack for a Cruise with Only a Carry On) and only packing 1 suit, you can use a hairdryer to finish the job.
How to tip on a cruise can be confusing. Knowing what is the proper or best way to tip on a cruise is one of those questions if you ask five different people you’ll get six different answers.
For first-time cruisers as well as seasoned travelers may find it very difficult to understand how or when to tip on board a cruise. The guidelines for tipping vary from one cruise line to the next. Officially there are no really hard rules to follow when it comes to tipping but it would be wise to ask your cruise agent what the tipping policy is for the cruise line you are going on and consider the options that you can take.
Generally, giving tips (or gratuities) on cruises are classified into three categories:
To remove the trouble of figuring out what the proper tips to give is at the end of your trip, many cruise lines are adding tips automatically to your on board account. Some of the lines, such as Carnival and Norwegian, add ten to thirteen dollars per day, per guest to cover gratuities. These are pooled and split between all crew who are eligible to receive tips. In some cases you can even prepay these charges before you even board the ship.
It is important to not however these are not mandatory. The amount of the tips is controlled by you when the account is closed. If you desired you could with hold the entire gratuity. Not something we would recommend unless you happen to have the worst experience imaginable. Keep in mind that part of the crews compensation is tied up in receiving these tips.
Some cruise lines simply give out gratuity suggestions. Cruise ships offer you the alternative of paying your tips in cash at the end. You can also include them in your on board account, which is finalized before you disembark.
No Tipping Policy
Most luxury cruise ships let you know that giving gratuities is not needed. The tips are sometimes built into the price of these upscale cruises. Sometimes it’s really quite good if you’ll award a tip for a quality service. Next if you have decided to wait until you are on the ship then you need to talk with the on board help desk to find out what is the standard tip that should be left and who should be tipped. It is standard to tip your waiter and his helper in the dining room. Also you want to tip the steward that cleans your room.
Take time to plan out your tipping options because cruise lines can really drain a lot of your money if you’re not aware of how things work. Going on a cruise is like walking inside a floating Las Vegas casino. Everything inside the ship is designed to make you spend lots of money. It is also common to tip the person who is in charge at your dinner. They are usually the head waiter and you should leave them a little something. It is standard to tip your waiter and his helper in the dining room. Also you want to tip the steward that cleans your room.
You want to let the people who serve you know that you appreciate their hospitality. It will benefit you to tip because the service will improve and be the best each time you take a cruise. These are the 3 categories of how cruise tipping works but you’ll get all the benefits once you’ve known what crew members actually think about the passengers. There are only 2 simple rules that can make you the most favored passenger on any cruise ship.
One of the biggest decisions you may have to make before embarking on a cruise is if you should purchase a cruise drink package. A drink package on a cruise has a set price per person, per day, to allow you to consume an unlimited amount of drinks on board. Depending on your tentative plans for the cruise, you may ask yourself if the drink package on a cruise is worth it.
While the cost may vary somewhat, cruise drink packages are generally the same price on every cruise.
General Costs of Drinks on Cruises
The first thing you’re going to want to consider before purchasing a drink package is how much money each drink costs and how much you think you’re going to drink.
- Soda: $4
- Beer: $6-8
- Water bottle: $3
- Coffee/tea: $2-4
- Mixed Drinks: $7-10
If you plan on only purchasing one or two drinks per day, then a drink package may not be worth it.
Generally speaking, cruise drink packages on cruises cost around $40-70 per person, per day. That may seem like a lot, but if you have a coffee, a soda, and a few mixed drinks throughout the day, then you’ve already gotten your money’s worth.
The Cruise Drink Package
There are pros and cons to purchasing a drink package.
Pros of purchasing the drink package
- You are a family and don’t want to keep track of how many drinks each person has. This may allow for peace of mind, instead of having to keep track of how much you’re all individually spending and adding up the costs each day.
- You’re planning to drink a lot (coffee, soda, alcohol)
- No surprise bar tab at the end of the cruise
- You can drink as many drinks as you want without having to worry
Cons of purchasing the drink package
- You may feel like you have to get your money’s worth and may end up drinking more than you normally would
- You prefer expensive liquor or bottles of wine (which might not be included)
- It’s per person, so you can’t sneak someone a drink!
- Some alcohol may already be included
- There may be a limit to the amount of “unlimited” alcoholic drinks you’re consuming. Make sure to read the fine print.
Not Purchasing a Drink Package
There are pros and cons to not purchasing a cruise drink package
Pros of not purchasing a drink package
- You’re not obligated to drink on the cruise
- Some cruises allow you to bring a limited amount of alcohol. If you’re not a big drinker, this may be a huge pro!
- You may end up saving money if you can bring your own alcohol and are not planning to purchase any other drinks (coffee may come with breakfast, etc).
Cons of not purchasing a drink package
- Your bill may add up quickly if you do end up drinking a lot, and surpass the drink package cost
- You will have to keep track of how much you’re spending to make sure you’re in your budget
If you embark on your cruise and end up wishing you purchased a cruise drink package beforehand, many cruises allow you to purchase one on board, usually for a more expensive price.
Based on the pros and cons, you may be able to decide if the cruise drink package is worth it. If you’re a big drinker and don’t want to worry about how much money you’re spending on drinks, then purchasing the cruise drink package may be a good idea.
More information on cruise drink packages:
Cruise Packing Tips
We’ve packed for every kind of cruise imaginable, from 3 days to 7 days and from the Bahamas to Alaska. We’ve got some handy tips to make sure all your necessary cruise attire and items are accounted for, all in a printable cruise packing list to make the job even easier. With our help, the only choice stressing you out around your cruise is which lido deck bar you want to try first!
With all the activities and experiences offered on cruises from on deck to port, deciding what to pack for a cruise can be an overwhelming task! If that wasn’t enough, the limited space in state rooms and hefty excess baggage fees encourage many cruisers to pack light. Finding the perfect balance of both can really make cruise packing a puzzle!
It’s In the Details, Darling
The perfect place to begin is…well, the beginning. The following details will influence the things your bring on a cruise. Consider:
- How many days is your cruise?
- Where are you traveling to, and what is the weather forecast?
- What activities have you selected to do when in port?
- Who are your traveling companions?
All of these details combined shape what to pack for a cruise. such as, the sun, surf and sand of Hawaii calls for different cruise attire than a voyage to Iceland!
Your Cruise Carry-On is Crucial
Don’t forget to include your carry-on and what you pack in it as part of your cruise packing list. It can make or break the beginning of your trip, and should never be an afterthought in the cruise packing mission! Even more important than an airline carry-on, your friendly little tote or backpack will hold the keys to your activities for a whopping six hours or more until your checked bags are delivered to your stateroom.
Make sure you’ve got all your important documents like your passport, boarding pass, cruise documents, medical cards, auto insurance (if you plan to rent a car at port) and any forms of identification required. Keep these all together in a waterproof bag!
It’s a good idea to store basic toiletries just in case your bags show up to your stateroom after you plan to freshen up for dinner. Travel-size shampoo, conditioner and body wash including any makeup you need for a light touch up are some good things to pack for a cruise carry-on.
Lastly, you’ll want to pack some wardrobe items in your bag for when the boat gets underway. There will be some downtime when you don’t have access to your stateroom quite yet, and an even longer stretch without your checked bags. Packing a swimsuit and a full change of casual clothes in your carry-on insures you can get more comfortable as the cruise gets underway.
All Aboard With Awesome Attire
Back in the day, a lot of cruises had a very formal night, but many of the main lines have relaxed their standards quite a bit. Some dining rooms still require a semi-formal or formal attire on multiple or all evenings, but the truth is you could go your entire cruise without having to dress up in slacks or a cocktail gown even once! Instead, most of your time on the boat will be spent in casual-wear. For major time savers, we recommend pulling basics together for your outfit, such as t-shirts, shorts and jeans and then dressing them up with statement necklaces or accessories. Everyone may think you’re being effortlessly chic, but really this is a major space saver in that suitcase!
Even if you’re on a cruise to the most tropical and sunny location the world has to offer, it’s smart to account for the lower temperatures and wind out on the water. Pack at least one pair of long pants and a windbreaker or shell jacket to keep warm up on cooler nights!
Lastly, check out the cruise itinerary beforehand to find out if there are any events you’ll want to bring specialty clothing for. Many cruise lines offer a themed party, such as 80’s nights or country line dancing that you may want to pack a costume for .Or, if you’re opting into one of the formal dinners, make sure to bring your formal or semi-formal wear and proper accessories.
Perfecting Your Port Outfit
Depending on the port calls in your cruise, the weather and the activities you’ll be doing, you’ll have to consider what to pack for a cruise port to. One important thing to note is that you want to seem respectful to the locals, and so this is not the time to break out your offensive graphic tees or suggestive clothing.
Make sure you pack weather-appropriate and comfortable cruise attire for your visit to port. It should be clothing you don’t mind walking in and exploring, and camera-ready as you’ll be snapping lots of pics to remember your vacation by!
Finding Facts on Footwear
If anything will eat up space in your bag, it’s multiple pairs of shoes. This is often the packing zone that requires the most strategy, as we strongly advise you only bring a couple pairs of shoes that can be adapted to different pieces of your cruise attire easily.
Instead of an array of heels and fancy footwear, the more casual and relaxed atmosphere of cruise dinners mean that a nice pair of sandals can take you from day activities to night with ease. While we wouldn’t recommend Birkenstocks, a more presentable pair of sandals or wedges can travel from the deck to the dining room without anyone batting an eye. A couple of pairs of sandals to last you throughout your cruise is the way to go!
Port, the fitness center and a few activities on board will require closed-toed sneakers for comfort and ease. We recommend including at least one pair of your favorite sneakers on your cruise packing list. If you want to save even more room in your suitcase, make them part of the outfit you wear onboard!
Toting Around Your Toiletries
Stateroom bathrooms are notoriously small. With zero sink space, shelf-space or really just any space in general, cruisers have to get crafty to make their getting-ready experience as graceful as possible. Particularly if you’re on a longer cruise, we recommend grabbing a cheap cloth shoe organizer to hang on the inside of the bathroom door. You can tuck all your toiletries, makeup and even some accessories in one of these to keep it handy without having to juggle.
We also recommend you bring ziploc baggies on your cruise, and tuck liquids and creams into one of these when deciding what to pack. This prevents unfortunate spills over your precious cruise attire before you’ve even gotten underway! Plus, the transfer back into your bag will be a breeze when it’s time to disembark.
Other Things to Bring on a Cruise Guaranteed to Make Your Life Easier
With all our cruising experience, we’ve uncovered some handy hacks to make your cruise experience relaxing from start to finish. Consider bringing the following items to save you space, money and time!
If you’re major caffeine addicts like us, bring your favorite hot/cold insulated tumbler. For reasons unknown, most cruise lines have the tiniest coffee cups we’ve ever seen which means you’re making multiple trips to the coffee station instead of having fun! Bring your favorite cup with you on-board and that station will be a one-stop shop on your daily adventures.
If you’ve brought a lot of wardrobe pieces that wrinkle easily, including dresses, silk tops and more, invest in some fold-able hangers. Usually staterooms only have 8 hangers or so, which may not be enough. Collapsible hangers will take up minimal space in your baggage and save your outfits from embarrassing rumples and creases.
Lastly, tuck a power strip and/or extension cord into your luggage. This is particularly helpful in the bathroom, where you can plug in hair dryers, curling appliances, phone chargers and whatever else you need without having to majorly strategize about the plug placement in your stateroom.
Use Our Stress-Free Printable Cruise Packing List!
Cruising is one of the most relaxing, enjoyable vacation options around. With some minor strategy and an eye for space-saving techniques, your packing and travel experience will be a breeze. With our tips to start you in the right direction, download our free printable cruise packing list, to make sure you packed all your essentials. Download the packing list here.
Whether you are staying in an interior stateroom or a premium cabin suite, space is hard to come by on-board a cruise ship. Most cabins are only half the size of an average hotel room, so it can be a challenge to find places to store all your personal items. These 12 cruise cabin hacks will help you cruise in comfort.
- Hang Things on the Walls. Cruise cabin walls and ceilings are magnetic. That means you can place heavy-duty magnetic hooks just about anywhere in your cabin space. They are perfect for hanging up your odds and ends or creating a privacy curtain. You can get a pack of these for around $.60/hook on Amazon.com.
- Invest in an International Adapter. Most cruise cabins have two outlet types, an American (120 Volt) and an International (220 Volt) option. For about $40, you can pick up a simple Universal Travel Adapter to double the number of electronics you can use. This means you won’t have to stop charging all your devices to plug in your laptop or curling iron.
- Pack a Power Strip with USB ports. Nobody wants their e-reader to run out of battery once they’ve snagged that perfect pool-side lounger. So, make sure you have charging stations set up for all your devices while onboard. A light-weight power strip (or two) is essential. Many newer-style strips also offer USB ports eliminating the need for more chargers. The cruise staff may remove items that might be hazardous, so make sure your power strip is undamaged.
- Get Rid of the Tables. Feeling crowded? On most cruise lines, you can ask your cabin steward to remove small furniture and items from your cabin. Chairs, throw pillows, and even the tables can be stored away to create more space. This can also be a great way to increase mobility for guests who have difficulty moving around.
- Go Collapsible! If you’re looking for a place to keep your dirty laundry, a collapsible laundry hamper can be easily stored flat in your luggage and tucked away in the cabin closet or under the vanity. You can use lightweight, collapsible containers for everything from water bottles (great for your excursion day-pack) to shoe storage.
- Relocate the Towels. When you’re spending every day at the pool, beach, or exploring tropical rain forests, everything comes back to your cruise cabin damp or wet. So, whether you are washing your swimming suit in the sink or just looking to air out your socks, the built-in towel rack is a great place to hang up your wet items to dry. Simply relocate the towels to another shelf in your stateroom (there is often a shelf located under the bathroom sink that works great for this) and start drying.
- Pack an Extra Poncho. Unfortunately, because the towel rack is often located directly above the toilet, hanging your clothes there results in a wet toilet seat. A simple solution is to pack an extra poncho and place it over the toilet while clothes are drip drying. It’s easily removed when you need to use the restroom, but helps you make the most of your small space.
- Use Hanging Toiletry and Cosmetic Organizers. Another way to save on bathroom space in your cabin is to use a hanging organizer. You can hang this on the towel rack or a magnetic hook. They come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors to fit all your needs.
- Relocate the Coffee Maker. If you aren’t a coffee drinker, the stateroom coffee maker takes up precious space. You can ask your cabin steward to remove it from your stateroom or stash it away in a cabinet. This gives you more room for items that you do want to use.
- Find the Hidden USB Charger. If you forgot your phone charger at home, don’t fret. Just use your cabin’s television to charge your device. Many rooms have a USB charger located on the flat-screen TV. You can find this port on the side or back of the screen. Here are some easy instructions on how to find and use this port.
- Ditch the Mini-Bar. Some cruise lines, such Viking and Celebrity, have pre-stocked mini-bars in some cabins. Not only do they take up extra space in your mini-fridge, they often cost extra if you remove them. You can request that these items be removed by your steward. If you decide that you want those $3 cans of soda after all, these can be ordered through your ship’s cabin service.
- Don’t Unpack Everything. While taking everything out of your luggage might seem like a good idea, it can actually cost you a lot of cabin space. A great idea is to use your suitcase to store bulky or infrequently used items. A snorkel set or hiking boots that you only use twice on your cruise takes up valuable closet space. Save the closets for items you’ll want to get access to daily.
Having a comfortable cabin space you can relax in is essential, whether your cruise is for 3 days or 3 weeks. You can help make the difference between an amazing vacation or a mediocre experience by using these hacks to make the most of your stateroom. When in doubt, you can always ask your cabin steward to show you around and help to make your home away from home a more restful and inviting place.