With the explosion in the number of people that are going on cruises, never has there been a time when there are so many first time cruisers. An increase in people seeking the best and right way to venture forth onto the high seas for the first time.
I remember so well when I first started to go on cruises, and based on that and experiences since then I have developed this list of top tips and advice for travellers considering a cruise for the first time. If you have any thoughts or tips to add, please leave a comment on the blog posting, send it to me on twitter or email me.
Here are my Top 16 Tips for Travellers about to – or considering – becoming a first time cruiser:
(1) USE A CRUISE EXPERT TRAVEL AGENT
I am one of those people that like to do my own research and book directly when travelling. But I found very fast that it is much better when cruising to use a cruise expert agent. Not only do you get better prices and packages, but also you seem to get better cabins and more chance of upgrades if they are on offer. I found this out with the 1st 2 cruises we went on, and now only book via a cruise agent. We have seen the benefit in both prices, cabins selection and upgrades.
We found our agent via cruise site message boards where she was an active participant answering questions and helping people out. She is based in the Uk and called Jane Chadwick. Her site is at: http://www.gocruisewithjane.co.uk/
The next best option is to ask friends or work colleagues and find out who they use and recommend. Focus on a cruise dedicated or expert, as they will also be able to understand what you like and the best cruise line for you – as well as getting the best deals.
(2) RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH
This is really key. For me the best were the message boards on the main cruise fan sites. I used them extensively when first considering a cruise. The best by far (in my view) are the ones on Cruise Critic at http://cruiseforums.cruisecritic.com/ as they split by topic and also by Cruise Line. This site also has professional and traveller reviews on the site that are added to regularly. This is an excellent way to research.
If you are looking for something more physical, then the cruise “bible” has to be the Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships by Douglas Ward. It is updated every year and reviews cruise lines and ships and rates them based on his own experience. He spends most of the year at sea.
(3) CHOSE YOUR BRAND CAREFULLY
There are now so many cruise lines, although in reality most are owned by 2 mega companies (Carnival and Royal Caribbean). Carnival is the largest and owns everything from Cunard through to P and O and Holland America. The reason is each offers a different experience and different levels of service and features. It is important to understand these so you find yourself on a ship that is most likely going to meet your tastes. Your agent can help as can the message boards and Berlitz Guide. All lines are not the same and increasingly they are trying to target different types of cruisers. Chose carefully!
(4) GO ON A TASTER CRUISE
Many cruise lines run short cruises of anything from 1 to 3 nights. These usually go from and return to the same port and are perfect for first time cruisers to feel out of a cruise and a certain brand is for them. I strongly recommend you do one of these before you commit to a longer cruise. They are usually well priced and give you a full on experience of the experience and what the particular cruise line experience is. Then if you love it, you are ready and eager to book something – and if you hate it then you only have a night or two to pass by.
(5) CONSIDER A REPOSITIONING CRUISE
These are cruises usually at the start and end of the seasons where cruise lines move their ships to and from the Caribbean area in Europe/ USA winter to the summer in the Med. They usually involve 5 or 6 nights at sea and 4 or so nights at some ports. They tend to be great prices as more people seem to like routes with lots of ports, and also many people like to start and end at the same port. These though give you the best of many worlds!
(6) DON’T WORRY ABOUT GETTING SEASICK
I was really worried about this. But the reality is that is you do feel seasick it can be dealt with by buying anti-seasick pills from your pharmacy before you go – or worst case by going to the ship medical centre and paying for an amazing injection that makes you sleep but wake up read to take on the roughest of seas. I can vouch for this as on my first long cruise we did a winter crossing of the Atlantic on Cunard’s QE2 with 50 and 60 foot waves and had the jab and had no issues at all.
Saying all of this, modern ships have stabilizers that reduce and pretty much cut out the “roll” effect and so even when the sea is choppy you don’t really feel it and so less likely to have any effect. If you are concerned aim for a cabin in the middle of the ship and low down as that is where there is the least movement of all in a ship.
(7) GET TO THE PORT AND SHIP AS EARLY AS YOU CAN OR ARE ALLOWED TO
Although many cruise lines will try and encourage everyone not to arrive too early and all at the same time, as a First Time cruiser and also when new to a ship, I recommend getting there and on-board as early as you can and then you have time to explore the ship and find your way round before it is busy and everything is open. For many people, the first time on a ship they find getting around can eb a bit confusing as you charge off thinking you are heading to the rear of the ship to find yourself at the other end. Finding your way round, seeing where you dinner table is and other key areas you are likely to spend time on is a great idea. Then you get to enjoy disembarkation on deck!
(8) GET ON SECOND SITTING AND TABLE FOR 8
I recommend if you are a first time cruiser and on a cruise line with set seating, to go for a big table and the 2nd sitting (usually around 8 or 830pm). If a large table there will be a lot to discuss and learn, and even if you don’t click with some people on the table then it does not feel too uncomfortable!
(9) TALK TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS YOU CAN
People who cruise love to talk about it. They love to share their experiences and tips. So all you need to do is talk to as many people as you can, and they will share all sorts of great advice. We learnt a huge amount by doing just that on the taster cruise and came away from 2 nights with tips and advice we never got from other research.
(10) GET DRESSED UP ON FORMAL NIGHTS. RELISH AND ENJOY
Many cruise lines have formal nights. These are part of the cruise experience and you should embrace and enjoy them. If you really hate the idea, then avoid cruise lines that have them and especially ones that enforce them strongly such as P and O and Cunard for example.
(11) WATCH THE EXTRAS. THEY WILL MOUNT UP VERY FAST IF YOU DO NOT
Cruises used to be much more “all inclusive” but over recent years this has started to evolve, and even more so as the headline price of the cruise itself gets discounted and priced to attract. So cruise lines now work really hard to drive up the average spend by passenger from events, special restuarants, courses and training, gym classes, stores, excursions, on-board photos, internet access and of course drinks. It is very easy to spend a lot of money that may exceed the cost of the cruise. As everything you spend is charged to a cruise card you have on the ship, unless you set a budget and watch spending you may have an unpleasant surprise.
(12) STAY ON THE SHIPS ON SOME PORTS
Most people seem obsessed with getting off a ship rather than staying on it and enjoying it. I may be different, but actually prefer the sea days as you get to have a more leisurely morning and then can enjoy all the many events and options of things to do on the ship. If on a cruise with many stops, plan to spend one day just on the ship. You will find everything is quiet and so you can do things like enjoy the pool without the crowds, sit quietly in the bars reading and so on.
(13) SHORE EXCURSIONS – DO YOU REALLY NEED TO DO THEM VIA THE CRUISE LINE?
Research your stops. There usually is a free bus shuttle laid on by the cruise line if the ship docks not close to town centre. You may find that just doing that and exploring the town with some preparation before going, although also most of the towns will also have booths with maps and suggestions. We tend to avoid going on booked excursions to explore ourselves. They can be fairly costly and may not be worth it. There are also some companies online that run similar tours for when ships dock with smaller groups and at lower costs.
(14) BRING ENOUGH CASH FOR THE TIPS
Check if your cruise fare includes or excludes tips, or if they are added to your on-board account or if you are expected to pay cash tips. On the message boards, tips is one of the most discussed topics. Most cruise lines will recommend a level, and you can increase or remove them. Avoid the temptation to both pay what is charged to your account and then also pay cash. One tip though is maybe hand your cabin steward a tip when you first meet them for added sparkle in service!
(15) PLAN YOUR NEXT DAY BEFORE YOU GO TO BED
There is so much to do on a ship, and most provide a schedule for the next day for when you return from dinner. It is worth spending time digesting and planning the next day to make the best use of your time. Remember you are on vacation, so don’t go too mad!
(16) SELF SERVICE DIS-EMBARKATION
Depending on what level of cabin you are travelling, you may find yourself sitting about in public rooms from 8am for a few hours before your turn to disembark at the end of your cruise. Many cruise lines are now offering self disembarkation where you carry all your own luggage off the ship. You can usually get off the ship half an hour to an hour after the ship docks and is cleared. I really like this as means less time just hanging about. So when packing think about if you can manage with luggage you can carry, and make sure you have cases with wheels as a lot of walking and carrying through the ship and on the docks…
Do you have any tips to add? Leave comment on the blog posting or email me
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