Planning your first cruise?
There is a lot to like about cruise vacations. The ports are exotic, the food is delicious, the service is excellent and the price is right. Cruise ships are big enough to keep everyone entertained, but small enough that it’s easy to meet up often. This means that they are a great option for:
- romantic getaways
- family vacations
- family reunions and other multi-family trips
However, there are a lot of things about cruising that may be different than other types of vacation. Here are my top tips for first-time cruisers.
Enlist a travel agent
We usually plan our own trips, but when we cruise, we turn to the pros. Travel agents can usually offer personalized cruise advice and customer service for the same price or less than a DIY internet cruise.
Those of us who live nowhere near a port must also book flights, hotel and transportation. A travel agent can help you with all of the details, and may still save you money.
Need a travel agent? We use Get Away Today Vacations. They have the best prices and top notch customer service. Get $25 onboard credit when you tell them Tips for Family Trips sent you! Learn more at www.getawaytoday.com.
Research your shore excursions in advance
Plan ahead to make the most of your limited time in each destination. Check Amazon.com, your local library or bookstore to read up on your ports of call. Here are the questions you should answer in advance about each port of call:
- How do you want to spend your time: touring, relaxing, adventuring, shopping… or a combination?
- Will you need transportation? If so, will you book a tour in advance or hire transportation at the dock?
- How much will these activities cost? Figure that and then bring extra. Many places do take credit cards, but you may still need more cash than you expect. Many international cruise ports – particularly in the Caribbean – accept U.S. dollars, but do your homework on this before you leave home.
Shore excursions are my favorite part of the cruise, but the costs can add up quickly! Sometimes it’s smart to book through the cruise line. But most of the time, you’ll spend more than you have to. Find out when to book through the cruise line and when to plan your own excursion in this post: 15 Tips for Perfect Shore Excursions.
What to wear
The cruise experience is reminiscent of a time and social class where people dressed for dinner and had a regular occasion to wear formal attire. I like to dress up, but I rarely need formal wear at home. Does that mean I had to run out and buy a lot of clothes to go on a cruise? No.
On most major cruise lines, you never need to change out of your shorts and t-shirt, as long as you prefer eating at the buffet. Shorts, t-shirts and swimwear are appropriate in most areas of the ship throughout the day, but they are generally not allowed in the dining room.
Dinner in the dining room is one of my favorite parts of the cruise, so I pack evening wear. Most evenings, women and girls wear slacks or skirts with dressy tops, or dresses. Dressy sandals are OK. Flip-flops are not. Slacks with a polo or button-down shirt, and perhaps a sport jacket are appropriate for men and boys.
I worried about formal night on my first cruises, but it really isn’t a big deal. If you own a tuxedo or formal gown, this is your chance to wear it. If you don’t have one, and don’t want to buy one, don’t sweat it. My husband looks great in his suit and tie on formal night and I wear a dress that looks nice alongside the suit. Whatever “nice dress” means to you is probably OK for formal night.
Cruise “staterooms” are tiny. They are so tiny that when I went on my first cruise as a single with friends, we all burst into laughter the first time we saw the room. The whole bathroom is not much bigger than a standard bathtub. It can be challenging to pack light when you need swimwear, casual wear, evening wear and formal wear for a week. Here are my tips for cruise packing:
- Wear everything except underwear at least twice
- Mix and match by packing around a single color scheme.
- Avoid denim, especially in the tropics. It’s bulky and uncomfortable.
- Rayon and polyester-blend knits are good fabrics. They take little space and don’t wrinkle easily.
- Don’t pack a beach towel. The ship will loan them for shore visits.
- Do pack a sweater or light jacket, even in the tropics.
A friend of mine recently returned from her first cruise. They had a good time, but she expects to enjoy her next cruise even more because she will know what to expect. Now you will too!
I have lots more tips for your cruise, and many ports of call. Click here to see them all on my Cruise page.
Here’s our checklist for planning a great cruise!
- Book your cruise – If you haven’t yet found your perfect cruise, we recommend Get Away Today Vacations. They are a family-owned business with 25 years of experience and a commitment to customer service. They’ll help you choose the best cruise for the right price, plus book your airfare, hotels and transportation, if needed. Read more about our partnership with Get Away Today here.
- Do you need passports? Adults probably do. For children, not always. Find advice and tips in this post: Does Your Child Need a Passport?
- Purchase travel insurance – It is nearly impossible to get a refund on your cruise if you have to cancel, and anything from illness to jury duty could happen before now and then. Protect yourself with travel insurance. Check rates at RoamRight.
- Plan your shore excursions – Start by reading our post 15 Tips for Perfect Shore Excursions. Then check out our Cruises page to see the activities we recommend for your ports of call.
- Guide Books – We love guide books! Buy one especially for your cruise, or check your local library. Check out these reputable guides for popular cruise itineraries