33 First Time Cruise Tips – Everything You Need to Know Before Your First Cruise
When I was invited to go on a cruise with Princess Cruises I was very excited to try a new style of travel. It was my first time travelling this way, so when I got planning and thinking about what I needed, I realised that I had a lot of questions that needed answers. Having everything you need to know before embarking on a cruise in one place can be very useful, so I decided to put together a list of first time cruise tips to help you out planning yours.
Table of Contents
- 1 First time cruise tips – Before you go
- 1.1 Book a room with a balcony
- 1.2 Pack as much as you want (within reason)
- 1.3 But leave the hairdryer at home
- 1.4 Pack a light jacket for the evenings
- 1.5 Get travel insurance and check it covers cruise travel
- 1.6 Don’t forget a travel adaptor
- 1.7 And a multi plug outlet
- 1.8 Check if there is a dress code
- 1.9 Get fancy on formal nights
- 2 Cruise tips and tricks while onboard
- 2.1 Your card is your best friend
- 2.2 You don’t need money onboard
- 2.3 But what about tipping?
- 2.4 You don’t need to bring currency for international ports
- 2.5 Get your Revolut card here
- 2.6 You can buy a drinks package in advance
- 2.7 Check the alcohol policy onboard
- 2.8 You can keep track of how much you’re spending
- 2.9 Switch off roaming on your phone
- 2.10 You can still stay connected while at sea
- 2.11 Read the ship daily newsletter
- 2.12 Enjoy the wide range of restaurants
- 2.13 Don’t miss the sail away party
- 2.14 Room service is free and 24/7
- 2.15 Be nice to the crew
- 2.16 Are you celebrating? Let the crew know!
- 2.17 Arrive early for the entertainment
- 2.18 You can minimise seasickness
- 3 Cruise advice for shore days
- 4 And the final tip…
- 5 Check out my other articles about cruising
First time cruise tips – Before you go
Book a room with a balcony
I’ve read cruise advice that says that interior cabins are great for first time cruisers. While interior cabins are fine if you are on a tight budget, if you can afford to book a room with a balcony, I’d recommend going for this option. There’s nothing like enjoying the sunset or the sunrise from your own balcony, and it will definitely add to a more complete cruise experience. Just imagine yourself looking out to sea as you enjoy a morning coffee or an evening drink.
Pack as much as you want (within reason)
My Princess Cruises cruise sailed off from Southampton, so I didn’t have to fly to get to the port. The great thing about cruising from your local port is that there are no luggage restrictions, so you can pack as much as you like. Just bear in mind that you still need to carry it around.
But leave the hairdryer at home
I always pack my hairdryer, even if my accommodation says they have one. I find that most hairdryers in hotels, etc are never powerful enough for my super thick hair. However, the hairdryer in my stateroom (that’s what the rooms on a cruise ship are called) was excellent and I didn’t need to use my own. So free up some space in your luggage and leave yours at home!
Pack a light jacket for the evenings
Even if your cruise itinerary takes you to warm climates, it can get a bit chilly on the deck in the evenings, especially while sailing. There will also be some areas inside the ship where the air conditioning is quite powerful, so better safe than sorry… or should I say better warm than cold?
Get travel insurance and check it covers cruise travel
I never leave on a trip without travel insurance. I have an annual policy with World Nomads and I’m very happy with it. Make sure you have your own insurance too, as a lot of cruise companies like Princess Cruises will not let you onboard without it. If you already have a policy, check that it covers cruise travel.
Don’t forget a travel adaptor
Princess Cruises ships are American-owned, so all the sockets on the Sapphire Princess are American, which means you will likely need a travel adaptor if you’re travelling from Europe. Always check what type of sockets your ship has, but if that information is not available, it’s always a good idea to pack a universal travel adaptor.
And a multi plug outlet
We all travel with a number of electronic devices nowadays – phones, tablets, cameras, laptops… They all need charging while we sleep, so I always travel with a multi plug outlet. That way I don’t have to worry about whether there are enough sockets in the room or whether I have enough travel adaptors.
Check if there is a dress code
Many cruise companies have a dress code onboard. Princess Cruises asks that beach attire, shorts, baseball caps and casual jeans with fraying/holes are not worn in the dining rooms. Also shoes, rather than trainers, must be worn. It’s really the same dress code that would apply to any stylish restaurant anywhere in the world – smart casual.
Get fancy on formal nights
My cruise had two formal nights, when everyone gets dressed up for dinner. But if dressing up is not your thing, there are still places where you can still grab some food in a more casual environment, like the buffet or the grill. I would, however, really recommend joining at least one formal night. With all the travelling that I do I don’t get to dress up very often, so it was really nice to make the effort and feel fancy for the evening. The formal nights dress code can include from evening gowns to cocktail dresses or stylish trouser suits for women, and from tuxedos to dark suits or dinner jackets and trousers for men. So make sure you pack some dress-to-impress outfits!
Cruise tips and tricks while onboard
Your card is your best friend
When you check in, you will be given a cruise card with your name and with a few more bits of information on it such as your allocated dining room for Traditional Dining, with your table number and dinner time, depending on what dining options you’ve booked. This card will also be your room key and your ID to get off and on the ship on port days. It is also your payment card, so everything gets charged to it. So make sure you keep it safe and don’t lose it.
You don’t need money onboard
As mentioned, everything that is not included in your cruise package such as additional drinks or a spa day, gets charged to your cruise card, so you don’t need to carry cash onboard at all. Bear in mind that all prices onboard Prince Cruises ships are set in USD.
But what about tipping?
Some people recommend having a few dollar notes but your tips get automatically added to your account. Depending on your type of stateroom, a daily tip of between $14.50 and $16.50 will be added to your account. This tip will be shared amongst all staff, including all waiting staff, stateroom and buffet stewards, and housekeeping staff across the fleet.
To make it more convenient, you can also pre-pay your tips online up to 2 days before setting off.
You don’t need to bring currency for international ports
On some cruise ships you will find ATMs where you can withdraw the currency you need for port days. However, there is a more convenient and most likely more cost effective way of making sure you have the right currency in each country. I use a Revolut card, a prepaid card and app that can hold and exchange 29 different currencies with no fees and the best exchange rates in the market. You can use the card to pay directly from your currency account or you can withdraw up to £200 a month with no fees.
You can buy a drinks package in advance
Drinks can set you back up to $12 a piece. I particularly love cocktails, and I loved the pineapple mojitos on my cruise, so if you think you’ll be opting for a few drinks, it may be worth buying one of Princess Cruises drinks packages, which includes cocktails, beer, spirits, soft drinks, water and hot drinks such as tea and specialty coffee.
Check the alcohol policy onboard
You will find that each cruise company will have different policies when it comes to bringing alcohol onboard. Princess Cruises allows you to bring one bottle of wine or champagne per adult per voyage. You can bring more bottles but they’ll incur a $15 corkage fee.
You can purchase alcohol at the duty free shops onboard or at any port of call, but they will be collected and stored for you until the last day of the cruise.
You can keep track of how much you’re spending
Princess Cruises have this web messaging tool called Princess@Sea that you can access when you connect to the ship’s wifi. It’s free to use and in addition to having information about events and activities, you can keep track of your onboard purchases by logging into your stateroom account. You can also check your expenditure through the TV monitor in your stateroom.
Switch off roaming on your phone
You may be able to use your internet data abroad with no extra charges depending on your mobile phone plan, but once you leave port, your phone will automatically connect to the Maritime network, which is really expensive no matter what. So make sure you switch off roaming on your phone as soon as you leave port and while at sea to avoid surprises!
You can still stay connected while at sea
Pretty much all cruise ships have wifi onboard nowadays, but packages, which are based on usage time, can be a little bit expensive. To make the most of wifi, make sure that you buy a package and log out as soon as you’re done with it to avoid accidental usage. Some Princess Cruises now have MedallionNet, said to be the fastest internet at sea, which you can purchase in advance from $9.99 per day.
There is a lot going on a cruise ship every day, from yoga classes and wine tastings to live music performances and Movies Under the Stars. To make sure you don’t miss out, read the daily newsletter to find out what’s happening onboard every day. You can also find if there are any special offers for that day for things like the spa or onboard purchases.
Enjoy the wide range of restaurants
I was really pleasantly surprised with the quality and variety of places to eat onboard the Sapphire Princess ship. I enjoyed international cuisine as part of two nights of Traditional Dining, delicious Italian fare at Sabatini’s, really yummy pizza at Alfredo’s Pizzeria, voted the pizza at sea by USA Today, and mouthwatering steak at Sterling Steakhouse (my favourite).
Don’t miss the sail away party
On the first day, all the passengers congregate on the top deck to wave goodbye to the port where they’re sailing off from. There is live music and the drinks flow nicely as you see land get further and further away. The sail away party has to be one of my favourite moments, when everyone is really excited about the adventure ahead!
Room service is free and 24/7
Yes, you read that right! Complimentary room service and 24 hours a day. Make sure that you make the most of if and order breakfast in bed at least once. If you have a balcony stateroom I recommend setting yourself up with your breakfast while you enjoy the view of the sea or the coast. It’s also great if you fancy a late night snack before going to bed.
Be nice to the crew
I was super impressed with the service on my Princess Cruises trip. It was one of the things that stuck with me on my impressions on my first cruise. The whole team, from housekeeping, to waiting staff to guest services offered an incredible service and you can tell they work really hard to achieve this. I also found out that they can spend up to 6 months onboard without going home! That’s a lot of dedication! So make sure you show your appreciation for their hard work and be nice and polite to them.
Are you celebrating? Let the crew know!
As I mentioned, the crew work extremely hard to make sure you have a fantastic time and have everything you need. So if you are celebrating a birthday, an anniversary, honeymoon or whatever, let them know and they will pull out all the stops even more so you have an unforgettable experience.
Arrive early for the entertainment
Some shows like musical productions and Movie Under the Stars are extremely popular, so it’s always good to arrive a little bit early so you can get a good seat.
You can minimise seasickness
I am lucky not to get seasick, but I realise that some people do and it can be a big deal if you are on a ship and can’t get off. Fortunately, the bigger the ship, the less likely you are to get seasick, as you don’t feel the movement as much, so cruise ships are great for this. If you are still worried that you may be affected, try and book a stateroom in the middle of the ship on as low a deck as possible. The centre part of the ship is the most stable and the closer to sea level, the better.
Cruise advice for shore days
Read up ahead on destinations
On shore days you will have the option to explore the destinations on your own or to book a tour. For some sights you may need transport and for others it’ll just be very easy to roam around at your own pace. To give you an example, on my trip with Princess Cruises we visited Gaztelugatxe, a breathtaking Game of Thrones filming location, located just outside Bilbao in Northern Spain. I wouldn’t have been able to visit this without an organised tour. However, for my day in A Coruña, also in Northern Spain, I just explored the city in my time.
So read up on each destination in advance so you know what there is to do in each port and you can decide whether you would like to book a tour or just do your own thing.
Book shore excursions and the spa in advance
If you do decide to book a shore excursion on any of the ports, book in advance to ensure you get a place. Tours can be very popular and you don’t want to miss out, especially if there’s a particular sight you have your heart set on visiting.
Days at sea are ideal to spend half a day in the spa, but as you can imagine, a lot of people will have the same idea. So if you are planning on a relaxing day either at The Sanctuary, the adults-only chill out area on Princess Cruises, or at the spa, book it ahead.
Disembarkation is super quick (mostly)
I have to be honest that I expected to have to queue for a long time to get off the ship and then again to get back on. But I didn’t queue at all! All I had to do was to show my cruise card so it could be scanned, and on the way back it got scanned again, I went through a security gate (like the ones at the airport) and that was it. It was actually really quick! Ok… I did say mostly.
Some ports, like St Peter Port in Guernsey, are too small or too shallow for cruise ships to dock on them so they have to anchor a bit further out, which means that passengers need to take a tender to reach the port. This took a little bit longer, but even so it wasn’t too bad at all.
No need to carry your passport but take it anyway
When you book your cruise you will provide the cruise company you passport as well as visa(s) details, if needed. They will then take care of all the immigration paperwork so you don’t have to do that yourself. That means that you don’t need to go through passport control and you could leave it behind in your stateroom safe.
However, the advice is that you take it with you always. You never know what could happen, and while you may have travel insurance that will take care of any mishaps, you don’t want to find yourself in a different country without a passport in the unlikely event that you have to stay back.
Don’t get left behind!
This one is really common sense, but you’d be surprised to hear about how many people arrive late back to port and end up missing the ship. The ship has so follow a schedule to if you are delayed, it will not be able to wait for you. So make sure you are back at the ship with plenty of time!
The itinerary may change
As I explained earlier, some ports are too small or shallow for cruise ships, so you have to get a tender boat out to port. However, if you are unlucky and get bad weather, the tenders cannot come out to the ship. Unfortunately, that means that some ports may need to be cancelled.
We were warned that we may not be able to stop at St Peter Port in Guernsey if the weather was bad, but we were lucky in the end and it ended up being the sunniest day of the whole trip!
And the final tip…
Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Even if it’s overcast, you may get sunburnt, especially out at sea, so don’t forget to pack the sunscreen and, most importantly, put it on!
Do you have any questions about first time cruise tips that I haven’t covered?
Let me know in the comments!
Check out my other articles about cruising
- Confessions of a First Time Cruiser – Is Cruising for Me?
- Cruising Spain, France and the Channel Islands with Princess Cruises
- Things to Do in A Coruña, Spain – Cruise Itinerary
- The Perfect Itinerary for One Day in Bilbao, Spain – Cruise Itinerary
- 10 Adorable Things to do in Guernsey, Channel Islands UK – Cruise Itinerary
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Disclosure: This trip was taken in partnership with Princess Cruises, who hosted me on this trip. As always, all views are my own.