Cruising Tips From a First-Time Cruise Ship Traveler
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pack a Cover-Up. A bathing suit cover-up is recommended for the trip from your room to the pool.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bring "Disposable" Sunglasses. Bring a pair of sunglasses that you won't be afraid to lose if they should fall overboard or get lost.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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!
© 2018 Peg Cole