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What You Need to Know Before Your First Cruise

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My husband and I have been on several cruises. Here's everything we wished we knew before hopping aboard for the first time.

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For a lot of people, there is simply no better way to travel than a cruise. Often after a vacation people will joke saying they "need a vacation from their vacation". Perhaps they spent seven days being dragged around overpriced theme parks waiting in endless lines and aggressive crowds of people, only to lose their lunch on some cursed children's ride. Or perhaps they don't want to wash sand out of all their hard-to-reach areas for a week at some exclusive hotel simply because they're out-numbered in their hatred of the beach.

Is it possible that there is a vacation that can tick off all the boxes without having to be painstakingly planned to the point that it cancels out the fact you are trying to recharge? Maybe, just maybe.

Meet the Cruise!

Odds are, even if you haven't been on one yourself, there are several people you know who have been on one, and some of them might even cruise frequently. You kind of know what they are like, but not really. You also might be a little hesitant to try one because you just don't know what you would be getting yourself into.

My husband and I have been on a couple, and every time we go, we learn something new. With each person we meet, we gather one more morsel of information that makes the next cruise that much better and more comfortable. Most of my experience is in regard to Carnival Cruise Lines, so this information may not be exactly the same for other lines. Nonetheless, it should still serve as a helpful guide on things to expect.

Some Things I've Learned About Cruising

Not everything on the ship is free.

While there is a lot included in the price of your cruise, it doesn't include everything you might want to do. Your price will usually include taxes, port charges, your stateroom, basic beverages (not alcohol or soda), gratuity for housekeeping and servers (if you prepay when you buy your ticket), most food on the ship, and entertainment.

In my experience with Carnival, spa services, exercise classes, games (like Bingo), casino, and excursions will cost extra. Also, most of the food on the ship is included, such as the lido-deck buffet and the dining room. There will often be a couple of restaurants on the ship that cost money if you want to try a fancy steakhouse or Italian.

Personally, my husband and I find it easy to not spend extra money on food when cruising. There are usually plenty of quality breakfast, lunch, and dinner, options, we well as, burgers, pizza, sweets, salad, fruit, and ice cream. Also, the dining room has been a wonderful experience for us. They let you order what you like, for example, if you are torn between two different appetizers, you can order them both.

You can also purchase phone and/or internet packages if you wish to stay connected while you're on board.

You may be allowed to bring limited amounts of alcohol and soda.

Since alcohol and soda cost extra on the ship, sometimes you can bring limited amounts onto the cruise with you for consumption. Of course, check with the cruise line you are cruising with and see what their policy is on how much and how to pack them.

We were able to bring one sealed/unopened 750ml bottle of wine per person. It was my husband and I (and lucky for me, he doesn't drink) so I had two bottles on board with me, meaning I didn't have to pay for as much alcohol on the ship. I believe the same goes for champagne, but I am unsure if you can bring beer or alcohol.

There is also a certain amount per person limit of soda beverages, and usually it has to be packed in carry-on luggage and not checked luggage. Again, while this may be an option, you should definitely check with your cruise line.

There is a doctor's office/hospital on board for emergencies.

This can offer some peace of mind to many when out in the middle of the ocean. They have an infirmary that can handle most things from minor medical injuries and conditions to some surgeries. I acquired a bladder infection while at sea (and was in misery), and I was able to fill out some paperwork, see a doctor, and walk out with antibiotics and medicine to ease my symptoms for a fairly reasonable cost and fairly quickly.

They don't take most insurance but will charge a flat fee in most cases. It was worth every penny for me that day. I felt better within hours, and there would have been no way I could have waited until I got off the ship to seek treatment. It's good to know these services are there if you really need them!

It's worth a try even for the pickiest of travelers

A friend of mine and her husband just took their first cruise. When I found out they were going I was hoping they would like it, but I wasn't sure. She suffers from anxiety and was afraid of getting seasick. However, they both loved it! Now they want to go every year, even twice. It is definitely worth a try because the odds are good you will like it. If you are unsure, you can always take a shorter cruise. If you enjoy it, you will want to go longer. I like a seven-day cruise myself. We went on a five-day cruise a couple of years ago and it wasn't quite long enough for my taste.

Pros and Cons of Cruise Vacations

Pros

  • You can plan as little or as much activity as you like.
  • You can visit several destinations in one trip.
  • After buying your cruise ticket, you can spend as much or as little money as you like.
  • Once the ship leaves the port, you have no choice but to relax.
  • You can be as connected or disconnected from home as you'd like.
  • Tax- and duty-free shopping is available.
  • If you have children, there are special places where they can go with qualified people so you can have time free to yourself (I don't know if this costs extra or not, but it is available).

Cons

  • There is a chance you could get seasick.
  • If you do purchase extras, they can be a little pricey.
  • Sometimes due to rough waters, the production shows will not do the full production with sets, costumes, etc. This is a big con for my husband and I, as we are both performers and look forward to this part.
  • Although you visit several places, time spent at each one can feel a little limited.
  • If you are a smoker, there are only a couple places on the ship you can smoke, and you can't smoke inside your stateroom or stateroom balcony/veranda.

What should you pack?

It's important to know a few things before you set sail...

  • You can do laundry on-board
  • You can purchase basic essentials (although higher-priced) on the ship
  • You can buy things in-port
  • Shampoo, body wash, and beach towels are provided in state rooms

With that knowledge that you can purchase things in a pinch, here is a list of things you will want to bring. NOTE---This is not an inclusive list, just a good, general guide.

  • Medications
  • Passport, ID, Wallet
  • Prescription glasses or contacts
  • Dramamine or Sea-Band Bracelets (Just in case. Cheaper than buying them on-board. Better to be prepared.)
  • Toiletries
  • Clothing that is formal/semi-formal
  • Sandals, dress shoes, and sneakers (if you do something adventurous)
  • Fanny pack or small bad for a few personal belongings while your out and about the ship
  • Lanyard (for your on board card that you need to have on you at all times)
  • Soda and wine within the guidelines (if you want to save a little money and aren't buying a drink card. READ GUIDELINES FOR YOU SPECIFIC CRUISE LINE FOR LIMITATIONS!)
  • Corkscrew (if you bring wine)
  • Clothing that is suitable for hot, rain, and windy weather (you may encounter one or all of these.)
  • Sunglasses (it is the only time I wear them. It's SO bright on the open seas!)
  • A medium/large reusable cup to fill with water, iced tea, juice, or coffee (the cups they provide are tiny)
  • A really good suitcase on wheels, you will do a lot of walking with it
  • Chargers (phone, computer, tablet, etc...)
  • Nightlight (interior state rooms are dark when the lights are out!)
  • Towel Clips (It's windy on the ship when it's moving)

Things you CANNOT bring...

  • Hair dryers
  • Coffee makers
  • Electric blankets
  • Iron
  • Too many clothes (you won't need them, trust me)
  • Heirloom jewelry
  • Homemade food from home
  • Pool floats
  • Kites or anything that can be launched off the ship
  • Power strip
  • Weapons

Questions?

Hopefully this has helped answer some questions you might have had. Please feel free to ask me any questions in the comment section below. I am not an expert by any means (nor am I affiliated with any cruise line), but if I can answer a question or offer advice, I will do so to the best of my ability based on my experience. Thank you for reading!

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: If I can’t bring a power strip to the cruise, may I bring a small extension cord (6’)?

Answer: Hi there! I’m not sure. I would think so just because you can use a phone charger, but I would definitely double check with the cruise line. The worst thing they would do is confiscate it when you get on the ship or they see it in your room. At the end of the cruise, you go to a location on the ship and they give those items back to passengers. So it wouldn’t hurt to try I don’t believe.

Question: Do cruises cater well to single people?

Answer: I have never gone on one as a single person but they do seem to have all kinds if activities for people of all ages and activities tailored to different interests, such as trivia, games, karaoke, cuisine, etc... I believe you can even book special cruises where the cruise is specifically for a group of people of the same interests (such as a gospel cruise, etc.). I think a time of two on my last cruise they even have events on certain days/evenings where people can come together in one of the clubs on board (like a ladies night, LGBT, seniors, etc) and mingle with other people. If you eat in the dining room, you will most likely be sat with other people and that's a great place to bond with people over the week. It's worth a try at least once, there is definitely plenty to do and things going on at all hours of the day/evening. They can be a great place to socialize with others.

© 2019 Jess B