April 18, 2024

Answering The 12 Most Asked Questions From First Time Cruisers

Cruising is a preferred method of travel for many adventurers. It’s easy — you only unpack once. It’s convenient — you can hit multiple fabulous cities during one trip. And it’s fun — there are usually a number of activities offered on board, ensuring there’s plenty to do and experience.

If you’re a first-time cruiser, you’ve likely got a lot of questions before stepping on board your new floating home. From passports to packing lists, here are a dozen things to consider before heading out on your sail!

Ships will provide you plenty of beach towels.

Photo credit: Lost_in_the_Midwest / Shutterstock.com

1. Do I Need To Pack Towels?

Cruise itineraries often include tropical, beachy destinations. Many ships also have large aquatic areas including pools, splash pads, and even waterslides. All those options might leave you wondering if you need to pack towels. The answer: Nope! Save that space in your bag for souvenirs to bring home. The ships will provide you plenty of beach towels, although you might need to present a cabin key to check them out. Also, be kind: Once you’ve used them, drop them off in their designated place.

2. How Does Tipping Work?

Most of us are happy to tip for a job well done and your cruise crew works hard to make sure you have a great time while on board. Expect to pay between $15 and $25 a day per person in gratuities, but keep in mind collection methods vary. Some lines roll them into the price of your fare; with others, you can prepay. And then there are some lines that simply present you a gratuity bill at the end of the cruise with your other shipboard charges. It’s important to point out that this money is typically shared among the crew, so if someone provides you stellar personal service, consider a cash tip at the end of the sailing specifically for them.

3. Are Formal Nights Still A Thing?

Cruises of yesterday conjure up thoughts of ball gowns and tuxedos. And while some lines still have dress codes at dinner (such as no jeans or shorts) and “dressy” nights, these policies aren’t as strict as they once were. Double check your itinerary but know if you do have a formal night or two, a jacket and slacks for men and cocktail dress for women should do the trick.

girl holding passports and boarding pass

You never want to bring anything along you can’t do without and your passport certainly applies.

Photo credit: Jsnow my wolrd / Shutterstock.com

4. Should I Take My Passport On A Shore Excursion?

Folks have differing opinions on this question, but I’m here to tell you: Don’t do it! Unless your tour requires it, leave that passport behind in your cabin’s safe. You never want to bring anything along you can’t do without and your passport certainly applies. Your driver’s license and a photocopy of your passport should handle any identification needs you’ll have.

5. Should I Book Excursions Through The Cruise Line Or On My Own?

I’ve done both. Most cruise lines do a nice job on their excursions, and while they might be more expensive than if you’d booked them on your own, you can’t discount the convenience factor. It’s so great to board the ship and know all of your onshore activities are covered. The cruise line will also help if there’s an issue with any of them. The one exception: local guides. If you don’t want to be stuck with a crowd, do your research, find a reputable guide service, and splurge. You’ll learn a ton and not get sucked into tourist traps.

6. How Much Cash Should I Bring?

Sometimes those shore excursions don’t include meals, snacks, or drinks, and depending on your ports of call, credit cards might not be an option for purchases. That’s why I recommend taking $100–$200 worth of local currency with you on each stop during your cruise. Bring a card as well, but cash is king. It’s better to be safe than sorry when you spy something you just can’t do without or you’re longing for a local cocktail. Keep that money in a belt or another secure holder.

7. Where’s The Best Place On The Ship To Stay?

Rule of thumb: the higher the deck, the quieter the cabin, but the more movement you might feel — not great for those prone to seasickness. But lower cabin decks are often noisy — closer to entertainment or restaurants — and can pick up vibrations from the ship’s engines. Your best bets are cabins on the middle decks where you’ll be less likely to feel or hear anything disruptive.

Cruise ship dining room table

The trend is moving away from assigned seating altogether.

Photo credit: Solarisys / Shutterstock.com

8. Will I Be Assigned A Table At Dinner?

This came up during my first cruise years ago. My husband and I had assigned seating for dinner every night during our 2-week Mediterranean sail. While we first dreaded the thought, we became fast friends with several of our tablemates and we keep up with them to this day! Now, most cruise lines offer “free-to-dine” options where you decide where and when to take your meals. The trend is moving away from assigned seating altogether.

9. How Much Food Can I Order?

Once you’re seated, the sky is technically the limit, at least at buffet-casual options and in main dining rooms. Want an extra appetizer? Go for it. Fancy a couple of different entrées? Get them both. And if you’d like the eggs and waffles during your room-service breakfast, that’s just fine too. However, just because you can doesn’t mean you should: Be mindful of food waste and only take what you’ll eat.

A possible exception to the culinary free-for-all: specialty restaurants. These are the elevated eating spots not covered in your cruise fare. You’ll either pay a la carte or an additional fee to dine at these restaurants, and the waitstaff might limit your order.

10. Can I Do Laundry On My Trip?

Nearly every cruise ship offers guests laundry service. It’s super-convenient: Your clothes will be picked up, washed, pressed, and delivered back to your cabin. However, that service comes with an added fee which can be fairly steep. Many ships, especially ocean-going vessels that tend to embark on longer voyages, also have self-serve laundry areas. They’re often free, with everything you need to wash up if you have a spill or just want to have clean clothes before you pack to go home.

11. What If I Get Sick On Board?

Rest assured, every cruise ship has a medical staff on board; sometimes, complete infirmaries or mini-hospitals are located on the ship as well.

If you’re looking for basic care to treat mild ailments like a headache or seasickness, you’ll be able to find and purchase meds at the ship’s store. For more serious conditions, you’ll want to consult with the doctor or medical staff, who are also trained to stabilize patients during medical emergencies. Keep in mind: That care might not be covered by your regular health insurance, which is why considering a travel policy is so important.

Waiter serving cocktails next to a department head

There is something convenient about being able to order whatever you want from the bar.

Photo credit: Salvador Aznar / Shutterstock.com

12. Are Drink Packages Worth It?

Last but certainly not least, let’s talk drinks. Trying to smuggle in your own booze is frowned upon to the point that it can get you kicked off the ship, so you’re going to have to pony up for that glass of wine, beer, or Seabreeze if alcohol isn’t included in your cruise fare. But is it worth it to pay as you go or order a drinks package? 

If you run the math, you’d have to drink a lot to make most packages worth your while, as they are priced per person and can’t be shared. That said, there is something convenient about being able to order whatever you want from the bar and not have to worry about getting the bill at the end of your trip. Sodas, mineral water, and fresh juice are included in these packages too. Bottom line: If you’d rather not be surprised by extra charges, it can be worth it to opt for that drink package.

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