28 Helpful Tips for First Time Cruisers

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A while back, we took a Mediterranean cruise and visited 10 ports, from Rome to Athens. We collected a few important tips for first-time cruisers to share with you.

These cruise tips work for river cruises too, so read on!

Tips for choosing a cruise line

1. Check your passport expiration date immediately. Cruise lines require that your passport will be valid for at least 6 months AFTER you return from your trip. Renewals can take weeks, which is why you need to check it now.

2. Different boats for different folks. Families, seniors, luxury, budget, party lovers … every cruise line has a different appeal, so you’re bound to find one that fits your style. Use online cruise sites to get the real scoop. (Our favorite is Cruise Critic.)

3. Consider taking a short weekend trip to see if the chosen cruise line fits your style. This is a great way to avoid wasting money and time on a longer cruise you may not enjoy.

Linda in Kotor with ship in background

Tips for choosing a cruise itinerary

4. Don’t pick an itinerary just because it’s cheap. Choose where you want to go because the ports intrigue you and it fits your schedule.

5. Don’t limit yourself to oceans and seas. There are also canal and river cruises – say, on the Rhine or a Grand European tour through four or five different European countries. This is an especially good choice if you’re prone to motion sickness, because there aren’t any high waves.

6. Look for itineraries that spend a lot of time in port. You need time to soak up the local culture, people and natural scenery. This will give you time for leisurely exploration as well as a cooking class or tour.

7. Don’t limit yourself to the cruise line’s excursions. It’s perfectly fine to book your own excursion. Despite what the cruise director might say, you won’t miss the boat if you take a tour from a local company. They base their reputations on it!

ⓘ TIP: You can find reputable tours on Get Your Guide and Viator.

A gondolier approaches his boat in Venice

Tips for booking your cruise

8. Request a stateroom on a low floor, mid-ship, if you get seasick. Although modern ships have phenomenal stabilizers that minimize movement, motion sickness pills bring peace of mind. Read more about avoiding seasickness here.

9. Request a large table for dinner seating so you’ll have interesting people to talk to. They like to share their experiences. Also, you’ll be more likely to sit with someone you’ll connect with. In our case, we often spend some of our shore time with people we’ve met on board.

10. Buy travel insurance. Cruise lines won’t give refunds unless you cancel months ahead of time. Unless you can afford to lose all your investment, insurance is essential. It covers things as varied as flight delays, lost luggage, on-board medical problems, family emergencies, evacuations, and approaching hurricanes. Both cruise lines and private companies offer it, so compare prices and coverage before you decide.

We spent some of our shore time with people we met on the cruise ship.

How to pack for a cruise

11. Find out if your cruise line has a formal night. If you want to eat in the dining room on those nights, you’ll need to dress accordingly.

12. Research what to do online before you go. Previous passengers will have a lot of helpful suggestions about which of the ship’s excursions are worth it and which are fine to do on your own.

13. Use luggage with wheels and don’t pack a lot. There are laundry facilities on board. Also, you’re going to have to lug everything – along with your souvenirs – to your next destination.

dining room aboard Holland America Rotterdam

The day of your cruise

14. Remember to bring your passport and cruise documents with you! These are required documents. You won’t be permitted to board the ship without them.

15. Arrive in town the day before you cruise. Flight delays and unforeseen traffic snarls can happen. If you stay in port the night before, you can rest assured you won’t miss the boat

16. Arrive early on the day of the cruise. You’ll be able to explore the ship, settle in, enjoy a leisurely lunch on board, find your table for dinner, and relax with a drink as you wave goodbye to port. Plus, the check-in lines will be shorter.

17. Check out the spa and gym on the first day. They usually offer embarkation promotions.

ⓘ TIP: If you plan to use the spa, prices are lower while the ship is in port.

Heated spa lounge chairs

While you’re cruising

18. Take advantage of “port talks.” They’re the best way to maximize your visit. You’ll learn more about the region, how to get into town, don’t-miss sights, local crafts, foods to try, and more.

19. Plan the next day before bedtime. Check your program – delivered to your room the night before – and compare notes with your travel buddy about what you want to do, both on shore and on the ship.

20. Keep an eye on the clock if you’re visiting port on your own. You don’t want to see the ship sail from shore.

21. Enjoy the variety of cuisine experiences on board. You can get two entrees for dinner, enjoy the late-night dessert buffet, and order room service at no extra cost! (A tip for room delivery is always appreciated, though.)

22. Keep your curtains closed after dark. People CAN see in if you have a walkway outside your stateroom or if you’re in port. So be sure that the heavier curtains are drawn after dark, not just the sheers.

23. Ask to disembark on your own at the end of the cruise. You’ll be able to leave on your own schedule, whenever you’re ready.

Tower clock in Kotor, Montenegro

Money saving cruise tips

24. Find out if tips are included in your fare or if they will be automatically added to your final bill. If not, you’ll need to budget for it. Most cruise lines suggest tipping $10 to $12 per day per passenger (not per couple or per family). For a seven-day cruise, plan on at least $70 per person, or $140 per cabin for two people.

25. Use onboard credit wisely. If you have it, put it toward the gratuities first, then apply the remainder to shore excursions, drinks, restaurants, and other costs you’ll incur on board.

26. Check your balance halfway through your cruise. Those excursions, spa visits, slot machines, alcoholic drinks, photos, and so forth can add up quickly. You don’t want a horrible shock to ruin the end of your cruise.

27. The drinks package may not be the best deal. Get out a calculator and figure out how much you’ll spend on drinks per day. In general, if you think you’re going to order five or so alcoholic drinks a day during your trip, a package is worth considering.

28. Don’t rush to book your next cruise while on board. It may be tempting to book when you hear them offering shore excursions, gratuities and so forth. However, they advertise promotions like that year-round, and sometimes have sale prices too, so there’s no need to make a hasty decision.

More cruise planning tips

Here are some ideas to help you plan your own trip. If this article was useful, you can thank us by using these links to make your plans. Some of these companies will pay us a referral fee, at no extra cost to you.

  • Lodging: Check hotel prices on Booking.
  • Transportation: This website shows how to get anywhere by plane, train, bus, ferry and car.
  • For more travel inspiration, look for shots of your destination on our photo site.
  • Find our favorite travel gear in our Amazon shop.

Other travel tips on As We Saw It include

ⓘ TIP: For even more tips for getting the most out of your cruise, search online using phrases like “tips for first time cruisers,” “beginner cruise tips,” or “cruise tricks.” You’ll find pages and pages of good advice.

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages inspired her to create As We Saw It, where she documents her trips, shares practical itineraries, and offers insider tips. She’s passionate about helping fellow travelers save time, money, and hassle, and loves to discover new places to explore.

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6 thoughts on “28 Helpful Tips for First Time Cruisers”

  1. Great tips, Linda. I’ve only been on two cruises so far. I think we were lucky with the cruise lines both times, so I have no complains. I would like to do a river cruise in Europe also. I’ve heard they are great.

  2. I have yet to go on a cruise, but thinking that one could be in my future. As you said, it’s a matter of finding the right cruise — there are so many different types and itineraries. I think an Adriatic cruise would be wonderful. You’ve got me thinking ….

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