Cruising Tips From a First-Time Cruise Ship Traveler

Updated on November 17, 2018
PegCole17 profile image

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

We made a few mistakes on our first cruise, but you don't have to! Read on to learn how to make the most of your first cruise.
We made a few mistakes on our first cruise, but you don't have to! Read on to learn how to make the most of your first cruise. | Source

Planning your first cruise can be overwhelming and stressful unless you know certain things ahead of time. Despite watching hours of cruising tips on YouTube, we made a few blunders, such as packing too many clothes. Another mistake was choosing a set dinnertime schedule, which wasn't ideal for us. Luckily, you don't have to make the same mistakes we did.

From packing tips to advice about how to make the most of your time on board, here are some ideas that will help your first cruise go more smoothly.

Approaching the Ruby Princess after an excursion to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, October 2018
Approaching the Ruby Princess after an excursion to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, October 2018 | Source

Get Your Paperwork in Order Well Ahead of Time

Signing up for a cruise seemed effortless, at first. We sent in our deposit and the agency took care of room assignment and notifications. Shortly after that, we became aware that we would need passports. Some destinations require this important document and others don't. To be on the safe side, it's best to apply for a passport and have it handy well in advance of your cruise.

Note: If you've had name changes in the past, remember that you'll likely need to show evidence, whether it's the result of marriage, divorce, or both. Be sure to provide an official copy of marriage licenses (if names differ from your birth certificate) and divorce decrees when you apply.

Check online for passport requirements before going to apply.
Check online for passport requirements before going to apply.

Old, dark photocopies of birth certificates are no longer acceptable to most passport application offices even if they're notarized. Be sure to request a certified copy from your State Department of Health Services or relevant agency at least 20–25 days ahead of time.

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.

Our mini-suite with a balcony. The quarters are spacious and comfortable.
Our mini-suite with a balcony. The quarters are spacious and comfortable. | Source

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 ocean 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.

Bonus Tip: Order Morning Room Service

Use the ship's online Wi-Fi system to order your morning coffee and juice the night before. Taking advantage of room service gives you time in the morning to relax before rushing out for breakfast. It's a good time to check the daily planner for the ship's activities, too.

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. | Source

10 Cruise 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. Pack for Varied Temperatures. Pack at least one or two comfortable pairs of long pants or jeans and one long-sleeve pullover top along with your shorts and sleeveless tops. It can get breezy on the deck, and nights are often cool.
  2. Put Outfits Together in Advance. Pack several shirts that go with your neutral-color pair of pants. This will save you from having to pack too many different outfits.
  3. Pack a Light Jacket. Bring a neutral jacket that will serve 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," but if you plan well, you can change out the top or accessorize it and wear it again on 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 Advil, Tylenol, anti-motion sickness pills, Pepto-Bismol, or Tums in your carry-aboard bag. Buying OTC products 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 the next few days.
  9. Bring "Disposable" Sunglasses. Bring a pair of sunglasses that you won't be afraid to lose if they should 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.

Items You're Better Off Leaving at Home When on a Cruise

  • 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're desperately in need of one, seek out one of the ship's launderettes.
  • Towels. Don't waste space bringing your own towels. Clean beach towels were available at each pool, as well as in your cabin.
  • Alcohol. No alcohol or beer can be carried on board the Ruby Princess, though some ships may allow a small quantity of wine or liquor per person.

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. | Source
We had lots of space to store our clothes and things, including a room safe for our valuables. They even provided robes to wear!
We had lots of space to store our clothes and things, including a room safe for our valuables. They even provided robes to wear! | Source

Take the Stairs

With 19 floors on the ship, one of the most important things is to bring only comfortable shoes. When the elevators are slow due to high usage (immediately after boarding and at mealtimes), you'll be glad you did.

If you're able to walk down a few flights of stairs, it's faster and takes less effort than climbing up. Take your time, hold the handrail, and enjoy the displays of 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. | Source

Dine Out at the Ship's Many Eateries

The Botticelli Dining Room was nearly empty the night that most passengers were on shore at Cabo San Lucas. The main course was prime rib followed by cheesy potato soup and shrimp cocktail. Dessert included a New York-style cheesecake along with other choices.

For snacks, the International Cafe was a great place to drop in for fresh-brewed coffee and a dessert or late-night sandwich. The chocolate mousse was divine and so was the carrot cake. Portions are small enough to enjoy without feeling too stuffed.

Speaking of feeling stuffed, this is the place to forget about dieting. You'll want to try all the delicious desserts and high-quality food in the many fine restaurants on board. From the incredible selections at the buffet to the upgrade-for-a-fee restaurants, the food is top-notch quality prepared by expert chefs.

Note: Like with any buffet, you may wish to avoid cut fruit and mayonnaise-based foods if you have a sensitive stomach.

Bonus Tip: Look Before You Leave

Once on board, look around when you get up to leave an area. Waiting in line at Passenger Services Desk for lost-and-found items is time wasted. The lines are especially long toward the end of the voyage.

The Crown Grill, a high-end steak house, offered formal dining with delicious food, attentive service and an amazing view for a small additional fee.
The Crown Grill, a high-end steak house, offered formal dining with delicious food, attentive service and an amazing view for a small additional fee. | Source
Our first treat aboard ship while waiting for our room to be ready was from Salty's Burgers and Grill. We got to the embarkation place a few hours early and were among the first to get on board.
Our first treat aboard ship while waiting for our room to be ready was from Salty's Burgers and Grill. We got to the embarkation place a few hours early and were among the first to get on board. | Source

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 Zumba 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.

My concern about gaining weight gain 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.

Zumba classes were held each morning on deck.
Zumba classes were held each morning on deck. | Source
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. | Source

Leave Room for Gifts for Caregivers, Family and Friends

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. | Source

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. | Source

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. | Source
Cabo San Lucas Marketplace in the Port of Cabo, where we shopped for souvenirs.
Cabo San Lucas Marketplace in the Port of Cabo, where we shopped for souvenirs. | Source

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 in Mexico, 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 on board held an outlet-style clearance sale the last day of the trip, and many items were marked down far below their original price.

Armed Border Patrol soldiers are stationed at the port to ensure that rules are followed. Identification is required to return to the cruise ship.
Armed Border Patrol soldiers are stationed at the port to ensure that rules are followed. Identification is required to return to the cruise ship. | Source

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!

There's sunshine even on a cloudy day.
There's sunshine even on a cloudy day. | Source

© 2018 Peg Cole

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    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      8 weeks ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Frank, Hope to see you on the high seas. We're about to head out on our second cruise. I'm sure I'll learn something new on board this new ship. Bon Voyage. Good to see you.

    • profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      8 weeks ago

      you know the packing tips really help.. the most and also what to bring cuz we gotta know how we look each night, thanks for the share

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      2 months ago from SW England

      Hope you have a great time, Peg!

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      2 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Ann, Glad to hear your cruise experience was as much fun as ours. Walking around in the fresh air is invigorating, although, I prefer the tropical warmth to a North Sea exposure.

      We're heading out for our second adventure next week aboard the Regal Princess this time. I'm trying desperately not to pack more than I'll need. I must stop adding stuff to take. The baggage gets so cumbersome and even heavier on the way home with souvenirs.

      So nice of you to stop in and thanks for sharing your take on cruising.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      2 months ago from SW England

      Six years ago a friend and I went on a cruise (on a much smaller ship!) to see the Northern Lights at the northern tip of Norway. It was wonderful. It was a first time cruise for both of us.

      Your tips are brilliant. I found that I packed too much, though it wasn't really a problem just that the case could have been lighter! There were lots of activities on board whilst crossing the North Sea and other between-stops times. Like yours, the food was great too.

      Your idea about exercising is good too; we walked round the deck at least once a day - even though it was freezing cold, but we had the gear - and there was lots of walking on land, as well as dance lessons on board! We also lost weight!

      Great advice and tips for all sorts here, Peg. A great help to lots who've never done it and an incentive to try. It's not for everyone but it's worth having a go, I think.

      Ann

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      4 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Nell, Sorry about your son's experience with the rain. When we were departing, a hurricane was headed directly toward our destination. We were fortunate that it veered away and never came close to the ship at all. There are no guarantees of the weather but there is lots to do while aboard ship.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      4 months ago from England

      Sounds absolutely wonderful! i have never been on a cruise but my son has. unfortunately, it rained most of the time! Great tips.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      5 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hello Dianna, It is amazingly relaxing and fun to be on a mobile city like a cruise ship. I believe you would enjoy it. Thanks for coming by.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Genna, I hope that this will help to reduce your concerns about going on a cruise. I know I was quite anxious beforehand but now I'm really excited about going again. Take plenty of hand sanitizing wipes with you and be sure to wipe everything down. You should be okay. :)

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Dora, Thanks so much for the comment and the visit. I love that you picked out that particular statement in the article.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      William, I hope that you and yours will have the opportunity to try out this adventure. I was hesitant for a number of years, but now I'm eager to do it again.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 months ago

      After reading your article, I am inspired to consider this as our next adventure. Looks like you had loads of fun.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      6 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I've never been on a cruise, as it never seemed to be quite my cup of tea, and I've heard some horror stories about trips taken by a couple of friends. But after reading this article and seeing your photos, I just might give it a try! Thank you, Peg. Happy Sunday.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Good morning, Maria. I truly enjoyed our time aboard ship. We took it easy, relaxed and had no particular schedule. It was good to get away together for the first time in ages. I'm hoping we'll go on many more cruises and looking forward to sharing the adventure. Love and hugs. Peg

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 months ago from The Caribbean

      You give great tips, Peg. Some suggestions answer questions we didn't even know to ask. My favorite phrase in the article though is, "the ocean without the sand." Good information in a very friendly tone.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hello Flourish, I resisted going on a cruise for the past dozen years that my hubby had been trying to talk me into it. Even my best friend, Paula, was unsuccessful in getting me to go with her on a cruise. Now that I've been on one, I want to go again. It was fabulous.

      I was also worried about going outside of the country and to a place that might be dangerous. We would have been happy to stay on board with all there was to do. But we actually ventured to the very close marketplace (walking distance even for my disabled hubby) where we picked up a few souvenirs. We were reluctant to eat or drink anything on shore as I already had one night of seasickness during the voyage and didn't want to take any chances.

      As long as you obey the restrictions, don't venture too far from the main area, bring valid ID and passport, you will be okay.

      There is constant video surveillance in the public passageways and from both ends of the ship to monitor anything that goes overboard whether its cigarette butts or people falling off. Stick with a buddy and you'll have fun.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hello Chitrangada, I hope that we'll meet one day aboard a cruise to somewhere wonderful! Thanks for your kind remarks.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      6 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Thank you, Peg. I've never been on a cruise, but I'll be sure to go back and read this again if and when the opportunity presents itself.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Liz, My hubby talked me into the room service morning coffee thing. We like to start the day with conversation and a cup of coffee at home so it seemed like a good idea. There's no extra charge for this service, either. Very enjoyable and our room attendant was helpful, friendly and pleasant the entire trip providing fresh towels, turn down service with mints on the pillow, etc..

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      6 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Peg,

      I loved travelling with you and appreciate the helpful tips you've shared with us.

      You look so relaxed in your pictures - that is wonderful to see.

      Looking forward to future posts about this rejuvenating time.

      Love and hugs, Maria

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Linda, Thanks for sharing this experience with me. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Peggy, with your love of exploring, I feel certain you would love a cruise. We had a wonderful time just relaxing and taking it easy. The ship was fascinating with many things going on. For those who wanted the club scene, it was available. For the casino lovers, it was there, too. We chose to take it slow and explore a little every day. We came back new, just as their slogan predicts.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      6 months ago from USA

      Sounds like you had a good time and learned a lot about how best to take advantage of the experience. I’ve never been on a cruise but my husband has been itching to go to for awhile. The part about being in international waters where U.S. laws and other laws don’t apply has always given me pause. I have watched too much Dateline and too many of those murder shows where people go missing overboard mysteriously! The thought of a Disney cruise always appealed to me. Mickey wouldn’t let bad things happen on his ship.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Bill, I'm not exactly the voice of experience after one cruise. I'll definitely do better on my next adventure with what I learned on this one. Thanks so much for stopping in. Hope you get a chance to experience this someday. It's awesome.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      6 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Your well written article shows that you had a memorable experience. Your pictures are wonderful indeed. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

      I thoroughly enjoyed reading your tips and suggestions. I also believe in a well planned travel to avoid inconvenience.

      Thanks for sharing this useful information!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 months ago from Central Florida

      Peg, an HP cruise would be beyond awesome!

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Shauna, Thanks for the encouraging words about cruise articles. I definitely plan to describe the particular tour we chose which was a celebrity cruise with Q & A sessions, book signings and off-shore outings. The people we met were interesting, personable and fun. I appreciate your suggestion.

      I agree with you that the open air, sea breezes and forward motion is refreshing. I've always envisioned a HubPages cruise where we all meet in the real world. Wouldn't that be grand?

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      6 months ago from UK

      You give some great tips in this article. I especially liked the one about ordering room service in the morning.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      6 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The cruise sounds like it was very enjoyable. The photos are lovely and the tips sound excellent. I enjoyed reading about your experience, Peg.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 months ago from Houston, Texas

      I have never been on a cruise but know some people who did it over and over again. They said it was their favorite kind of vacation. Your tips sound like good ones. Hopefully, you will share more of what you got to do and see while on this cruise trip.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hello Verlie, Yes, that's him at the rail. We did a lot of picture taking of each other taking pictures. Hah! He really did forget his sunglasses and had to buy some at the drugstore before we left port. Could've been worse. Hope you get a sunny day soon and a chance to take a cruise.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Jackie, I'm certain that you would love an adventure on the high seas. It's so relaxing and delightful to be away from the Internet, phones, telemarketers and the city for a while. I feel refreshed and new.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Great tips from the voice of experience. I just don't see myself on a cruise but hey, one never knows, right? It sure looks like people have a blast on them.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Pamela, Lucky you! Four cruises. We went at that time of year when it's hot one day and cool the next.

      You're right on about the Dramamine. I brought along 4 wrist band type acupressure motion sickness bands that I ordered from Amazon. They seemed to work for the most part.

      Hope to see you at sea one day.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 months ago from Central Florida

      Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Peg. The photos are beautiful. Being out on the open sea is so freeing. The wind, salt air and expansive sky bring a different perspective to life, don't you think?

      Will you consider writing another article detailing the fun things you did while on the cruise?

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 

      6 months ago from Canada

      Peg, a sea cruise looks good on you. Sounds like you had a good time. I appreciate all these great tips on how to pack, and what to pack. Is that your hubby wishing he'd brought his sun glasses? Great photos in this piece. Looks inviting, here I sit on a rainy November night. Sigh, thanks lady, for sharing your adventure.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      6 months ago from The Beautiful South

      So interesting Peg. I know I would love this and have never been! Great tips and I bet next time you will be a pro! So happy for you and you look great! Can just imagine myself there!

      Thank you for sharing this experience!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      6 months ago from Sunny Florida

      We have taken 4 cruises and loved each one. We went in warmer weather and did not need long sleeves. I would recommend Dramamine or anything else for a queasy stomach if the seas are rough. I only took 1 credit card also, just in case. Cash in Mexico seems to be a better choice. Your tips were right on target, and we did about the same thing you did for the last few cruises. I would love to go on another one!

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