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Cruise Tips: What You Need to Know Before You Go

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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 a flight 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 aboard ship can be costly.

Carry On

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 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.

View From the Balcony

Arriving in Mazatlan as the sun was rising

Arriving in Mazatlan as the sun was rising

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. 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 Varied 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 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 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. 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.
Poolside on the Royal Princess

Poolside on the Royal Princess

Take the Stairs

With 19 or more floors on the ship, one of the most important things is 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.

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 and 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.

Fine Dining

The Crown Grill offered formal dining with delicious food, attentive service and an amazing view for a small additional fee.

The Crown Grill offered formal dining with delicious food, attentive service and an amazing view for a small additional fee.

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.

Zumba classes were held each morning on deck.

Zumba classes were held each morning on deck.

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.

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 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.
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

Comments

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on July 12, 2019:

Thanks for coming by Cynthia. You know, for many years I wouldn't go on one until I found a celebrity cruise I was interested in. (Lt. Joe Kenda Cruise, star of Homicide Hunters) All my reasons suddenly went away and I signed up. Since then, I can't get enough time on board. I absolutely love cruising! Everything you need is within walking distance: food, shopping, movies, theater, cable TV, exercise, dancing, specialty coffee shops, pastries, pizza, pools, spa.

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on July 12, 2019:

I've never been on a cruise. I admit, I am afraid of sharks and I guess I have watched the Titanic movie too many times :) However, your advice sounds fantastic, with tips that are sure to make the cruise more comfortable and enjoyable. I never would have thought to order coffee the night before and I certainly would have been a grouch without it.

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on March 21, 2019:

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.

Frank Atanacio on March 21, 2019:

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

Ann Carr from SW England on March 20, 2019:

Hope you have a great time, Peg!

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on March 20, 2019:

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.

Ann Carr from SW England on March 20, 2019:

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

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on January 03, 2019:

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 from England on January 02, 2019:

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

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 22, 2018:

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.

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 21, 2018:

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. :)

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 19, 2018:

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

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 17, 2018:

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.

Dianna Mendez on November 16, 2018:

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

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on November 11, 2018:

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.

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 11, 2018:

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

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 08, 2018:

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.

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 08, 2018:

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.

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 07, 2018:

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

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on November 05, 2018:

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.

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 05, 2018:

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..

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on November 05, 2018:

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

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 04, 2018:

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

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 04, 2018:

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 from USA on November 03, 2018:

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.

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 03, 2018:

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.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on November 03, 2018:

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!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on November 03, 2018:

Peg, an HP cruise would be beyond awesome!

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 03, 2018:

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?

Liz Westwood from UK on November 02, 2018:

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

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 02, 2018:

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 Woods from Houston, Texas on November 02, 2018:

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.

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 02, 2018:

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.

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 02, 2018:

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.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 02, 2018:

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.

Peg Cole (author) from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 02, 2018:

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.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on November 02, 2018:

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?

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on November 01, 2018:

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 from the beautiful south on November 01, 2018:

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!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 01, 2018:

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!