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Cruise Tips: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Peg traveled often during her business career and now she travels for pleasure. Share the adventure along with some of her favorite photos.

How to make the most of your first cruise

How to make the most of your first cruise

Planning a cruise can be overwhelming unless you know some insider tips ahead of time. From packing ideas to advice on how to make the most of your time on board, these suggestions can make planning your first cruise a breeze.

Arriving at the hotel the day before departure is important.

Arriving at the hotel the day before departure is important.

Arrive at Your Departure City a Day Early

Staying at a hotel in your departure port assures you that you'll be in town when it comes time for the cruise ship to leave. What if your flight has a mechanical delay or there's a cancellation? There's nothing worse than missing the boat because of travel delays - unless it's lost bags that don't arrive until after you're gone.

It usually takes 24 hours for the airlines to find and transport your bags to you if they get delayed. Traveling for days with only one set of clothes and no cosmetics would put a damper on things. And buying those items onboard the ship can be costly.

Carry On A Few Important Items

It may take a while for your checked luggage to get to your room. Carry on at least one change of clothes and a swimsuit.

It may take a while for your checked luggage to get to your room. Carry on at least one change of clothes and a swimsuit.

Paperwork and Passports

Our trip was booked before we learned that we would need passports. While some destinations require this and others don't, it's best to apply for a passport and have it in hand long before your cruise.

When applying for a passport, we learned that dark photocopies of birth certificates are no longer acceptable at most passport application offices. Request a certified copy of your birth certificate from your State Department of Health Services or relevant agency. It may take between 20–25 days to get this record, so plan accordingly.

Once you receive your passport, it's recommended that you make a photocopy to carry separately from the original in case it gets lost. You don't want to be stranded in a foreign country without proper documentation.

Each morning we had coffee and juice delivered to the room. What a treat.

Each morning we had coffee and juice delivered to the room. What a treat.

Choose a Room With a View

If finances allow, try to choose a mini-suite with a balcony. Drinking a beverage on your balcony as you cruise along is part of the appeal. It's like having the beach without the sand.

You'll also appreciate the sitting room in the evenings when you watch newly released movies on your big-screen TV. The bed is amazingly comfortable, and the full-sized tub in the bathroom is another advantage.

View From the Balcony

Arriving in Mazatlan as the sun was rising

Arriving in Mazatlan as the sun was rising

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10 Packing Tips

Be sure to check the online rules posted for packing restrictions on your ship. For example, some ships allow you to bring an unopened bottle of wine or liquor aboard, while others don't.

  1. Put outfits together in advance. Pack different shirts to go with a neutral-color pair of pants. This will avoid having to pack too many different outfits.
  2. Pack for varying temperatures. Pack at least one or two comfortable pairs of long pants or jeans and a long-sleeve shirt with your shorts and sleeveless tops. It can get breezy on the deck and nights are often cool.
  3. Pack a light jacket. Bring a neutral jacket that serves for daytime or nighttime wear. Now you need it, now you don't, depending on the climate and the weather.
  4. Bring at least one dressy outfit. You'll use this for "Formal Night." Plan to change out the top or accessorize it and wear it again another night. Most dress codes for men include a shirt with a collar and a tie. For the ladies, choose a nice dress or a fashionable blouse with classic slacks.
  5. Pack comfy shoes. Pack shoes that are comfortable for lots of walking. I recommend taking three pairs—rubber-soled shoes for use on sometimes slippery decks, a pair of slippers for the room and one nice pair of dress shoes for formal nights. There's no need for 6 pairs of shoes.
  6. Pack a cover-up. A bathing suit cover-up is recommended for the trip from your room to the pool.
  7. Keep medicine in your carry-on. Put any medication, from prescriptions to over-the-counter products like pain relievers, anti-motion sickness pills, or anti-acids in your carry-aboard bag. Buying OTC medicine on the ship is expensive.
  8. Pack in advance. Start packing at least a week before you're set to travel. You'll be surprised at the random things you'll think to tuck in your suitcase over those few days.
  9. Bring "disposable" sunglasses. Bring a pair of sunglasses that you won't be afraid to lose should they fall overboard or get lost.
  10. Don't forget the sunblock! Try to find a trial size in the travel section at the pharmacy that meets airplane size guidelines. You'll be glad you applied it when spending a couple of sunny days at the pool or jacuzzi.
This lightweight jacket cover-up got a lot of mileage during the day and at night.

This lightweight jacket cover-up got a lot of mileage during the day and at night.

What Not To Bring

Items You're Better Off Leaving at Home

  • Toiletries. Toiletries like shampoo, lotion and liquid body soap were provided along with a blow-dryer in the room, so there's no need to pack those items.
  • Iron. Irons constitute a fire hazard and are not allowed on board. If you desperately need one, find one of the ship's launderettes. Plan for a long wait on formal night.
  • Towels. Don't waste space bringing your own towels. Clean beach towels are available at each pool as well as in your cabin.
  • Alcohol. Bringing your own alcohol or beer is usually not allowed, though some ships may allow a small quantity of wine or liquor per person.
Poolside on the Royal Princess

Poolside on the Royal Princess

Take the Stairs

With 19 or more floors on the ship, it's important to bring shoes that are comfortable. When the elevators are slow due to high usage, like right after boarding and at mealtimes, take the stairs. That's when you'll be glad your feet don't hurt.

Walking down the stairs is faster and easier than climbing up the stairs. Take your time, hold the handrail, and enjoy the artwork and other features along the way.

The Promenade Deck was beautiful in all its glitz and glamour. That's where a lot of the shops were found.

The Promenade Deck was beautiful in all its glitz and glamour. That's where a lot of the shops were found.

Walk It Off or Take an Exercise Class

After meals, take a good long walk around the deck to burn off those excess calories and aid your digestion. You might be surprised, like we were, to find a magic show or an event about to begin. One night, we stepped into the theater and found great seats and high-class entertainment.

For those who enjoy exercise, there were fitness classes each morning on deck, led by an incredibly talented and flexible instructor. The music was upbeat and inspired bystanders to move to the rhythm.

Zumba classes were held each morning on deck.

Zumba classes were held each morning on deck.

My concern about gaining weight during our cruise was unfounded. By engaging in constant activity, moving about the ship, using the stairs and doing lots of walking, I actually lost weight.

Take advantage of the walking paths around the deck to burn off calories.

Take advantage of the walking paths around the deck to burn off calories.

Leave Room for Souvenirs and Gifts

T-shirts from your destination and small gift souvenirs are a good way to remember the folks back home, like the people who looked after your dogs or your house while you were away.

The key is to pack light and save room for all the things you buy during the trip. Luggage charges for checking extra bags at the airport won't be necessary if you plan wisely.

Save room for souvenirs! Souvenirs from your destination help bring back memories.

Save room for souvenirs! Souvenirs from your destination help bring back memories.

Take Lots of Photos

Be sure to bring along memory cards and charging cables for cameras and phones. Photo opportunities present themselves often. It's surprising how many truly beautiful places there are aboard the ship, over the rail and during offshore excursions.

Note: We opted not to buy the professional photo package that was available from professional photographers aboard, as it seemed a bit pricey to us, but we're well-established tightwads, and there were some beautiful portraits on display for those willing to pay the price.

Seal off the Cabo coast climbing aboard the boat to beg for a fish.

Seal off the Cabo coast climbing aboard the boat to beg for a fish.

Tips for Transfers From Ship to Shore

  • Get to the Disembarkation Area Early. The first few hours after reaching port, the lines to get on a transfer are extremely long, so if you're determined to get landside in good time, be sure to get to the disembarkation area really early.
  • Take Advantage of an Empty Ship. Another option is to wait until the first group disburses and enjoy a quiet dip in the pool while most of the passengers are off the ship.
  • Take Your Passport and ID. Bring your passport and photo identification to the disembarkation point.
  • Research Allowable Purchases. Take note of allowable purchases if you're in a foreign country. Packages will be x-rayed upon your return to the ship and to the port of entry.
The best time to enjoy the pool is while passengers are on shore.

The best time to enjoy the pool is while passengers are on shore.

Shopping Tips

  • Get an RFID Passport Holder. Consider buying an RFID passport holder to protect your credit cards from identity theft and for handy access to your identification. It makes hands-free shopping a breeze and lessens worries about losing your passport. I used mine at the airport and while on board the ship to carry small bills for tips.
  • Don't Be Afraid to Haggle. When shopping at a port, remember that the first price a merchant quotes may not be their lowest offer. Hold off on the impulse to immediately buy an item. Most sellers will negotiate a better deal.
  • Wait to Buy Items Onboard. Consider waiting to buy items on the ship until the end of the voyage. The stores onboard held an outlet-style clearance sale the last day of the trip, and many items were marked down far below their original price.
There's sunshine even on a cloudy day.

There's sunshine even on a cloudy day.

Bon Voyage!

An ocean cruise is a great place to relax, unwind, take it easy, make new friends and have fun. Attend only the events that appeal to you. There's no need to create stress with a tight schedule of activities.

Please feel free to add your own tips and experiences in the comments section. That's it for now.

Have fun and happy cruising!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Peg Cole

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