Booking a first cruise is exciting! You're in for stress-busting fun, fabulous food, extravagant shows, and breathtaking views. But, exactly what else can you expect? Here are some hints to help you prepare.
Watch our packing tips on You Tube
and then download our
packing tips and checklist here.
When your documents or electronic documents arrive, be sure to check them over very carefully. Make sure that all of the information is correct and fill out any paperwork that is required.
Most cruise lines offer an online check in option to complete paperwork, book
shore excursions or spa treatments and customize your cruise vacation. Make sure you have your valid passport, or valid copy of birth certificate and photo ID. Passport expiration dates must be at least six months after your return date. Documents will also include information about appropriate clothing for the climate you are visiting and what is acceptable for dining and other onboard activities. The documents will also advise you
how many on-board nights are formal, semi-formal or casual.
AT THE PORT
Boarding a ship is similar to boarding an airplane. You can take a carry on
sized piece of luggage with you and other luggage will be handed off to porters
at the pier where it will be whisked away for screening and then delivered to
your stateroom. You may wait in line before you reach the check-in counter where you will check your luggage and provide your birth certificate and photo ID or valid passport. Then you will be invited to board.
Boarding a ship for the first time, or the tenth, is one of the most exciting moments of a cruise. Sailing away is another one! A crew member
may escort you to your cabin. Do not be surprised if your luggage is not in your cabin. It will show up. There will be an envelope in your stateroom with
vouchers for any pre-reserved shore excursions, spa treatments or specialty
dining reservations. A copy of the daily newspaper will also be placed in your
room and you'll see a new one every day of your cruise so you can keep up with
Most ships run on a cash-less system except in the casino,
which is cash-only so you'll also be asked for a credit card to bill your
onboard expenses to. This is very liberating, especially when you are spending
your day in a swimsuit! From then on, you will use your room key to pay for
anything you purchase on the ship whether it's drinks, excursions, souvenirs,
massages. You can check on the amount you have spent anytime during the cruise
and a summary of your charges will be put under your door on the last night of
the cruise. Be sure to review it carefully and report any errors immediately.
GETTING ACQUAINTED WITH THE SHIP
After you get settled in your stateroom, it's time to tour the ship. Check out the excursions offered during the week at the Shore Excursion Desk, located near the purser's desk. If you see something you really want to do, reserve your spot! It may fill up later and you could miss out.
Lunch will be served so now is your chance to start checking out the buffet or
other dining venues.The first time you wander the ship is a memorable experience. You won't believe this will be your home for your entire vacation!
There are two events on a cruise that most people wish did not have to happen. They are the lifejacket drill, and disembarking (more on that later.)! The lifejacket drill,
sometimes referred to as the "muster drill", is important and is for your safety. The Coast Guard requires this drill to take place within 24 hours of sailing. On the day you board, there will be information about where to meet when the lifejacket drill horn is blown. When the horn blows seven times, everyone must get their lifejacket and go to their assigned muster station and put on their lifejacket. Crew members will be there to help and each passenger must be checked off of a list before the drill is over. Bring your camera to the drill and use this great opportunity to get pictures of friends and family wearing a huge orange vest!
LIFE ON BOARD
Every day you will receive a ship newspaper and the ship's day sheet. The day sheet will list everything that is happening onboard that day, including whether the evening meal will be formal or casual. Have fun reading it and planning your day or just recycle it and plan to do nothing!
A word about the ship photographer, you will be photographed as you enter the ship and many other times during your vacation. Imagine walking down a secluded path on a private beach in paradise, turning a corner and nearly bumping into the ship photographer! He's everywhere, ready to snap pictures to record your journey. Every evening you can go to the photograph gallery and view your photos. If you like them, you can buy them. If not, just leave them there and eventually they will disappear. There is no obligation when you let the photographer take your picture. These pictures are usually excellent and are a great way to save your memories.
Tipping may vary from ship to ship but the cruise lines are good about letting you know what they expect. Here is the most common approach:
gratuities are added automatically to your onboard account up front. Most cruise
lines add $10-$13 per day per person for gratuities. If you feel you received better service than expected, you can tip more.
In most cases you are expected to tip your cabin steward, waiter and assistant waiter. Everyone else is optional. Usually bar tabs include gratuities, but if you have a wonderful bar server who took the time to form a relationship with you, you can tip them
extra too! You can usually find tipping information regarding your particular ship on-line, in a brochure, or just call
us and we'll get it for you! It is good to know what to expect so you can have the cash with you
beforehand if that is the ship policy.
Another important thing happens the last night. Read on.
Darn, the dreaded day is going to arrive, despite your best efforts to ignore it! Disembarkation actually starts the night before. If you didn't guarantee your onboard account with a credit card, you must pay off your onboard account. If you have used a credit card, this is just like express checkout in a hotel, nothing to do.
You must also leave your packed suitcases outside your cabin door to be taken by the stewards to prepare for disembarkation. Be sure to keep the nightclothes you will sleep in, your clothes for the trip home, and anything you will need to get ready in the morning. Be sure you have a carry-on that can hold these items, as you will not see your suitcases again until you are off the ship.
In the morning you will have one last wonderful breakfast and then you will leave your cabin for good. Make yourself comfortable in any one of the public lounges until the number or color you have been given is called. If you have one of the earlier flights, you will be called quickly. If you are driving, staying for a post-cruise vacation, or have an evening flight, you will be one of the last to disembark. Please remember that you may be out of your room for an hour or two before you disembark. When your number is called, you will disembark and go into the terminal where you will find your luggage. Finding your luggage has been organized. The luggage has color-coded tags, and you find the row with your color and locate your bag. Putting something bright or obvious (such as ribbon) on your bag is also a good idea.