Rather than learn the hard way, here’s our top 10 things to consider.
1. Leave the slim fitting clothes at home
It sounds like a terribly hedonistic thing to say but … you will overeat on a cruise. Food is a central feature of cruising and it’s everywhere. You’ll bounce between buffets and restaurants, light dining options, constant snacks, bar food …
Most ships have a walking track around the upper deck so make sure you find time to break up the sedentary periods of over-indulgence with a bit of a sea-going gallop. If you can, also use the interior stairwells between decks rather than joining the queues at lifts.
2. Book shows ahead
One of the frustrations for first-timers is hearing so much about the fabulous nightly shows only to find out when they board, seats are either booked out or only matinees are left.
Most show bookings can be done online before you board and savvy cruisegoers are well aware of it.
At the very least, as soon as you board, head to the show bookings desk and lock in your full entertainment schedule for the week.
Like the nightly shows, book your preferred seating times for dinner ahead as well and match them with the show times to stay right ahead of the game.
3. Expect to pay more
Cruise lines have a very efficient way of keeping track of any onboard extras you might indulge in like dinners at ‘specialty’ (ie: cover charge) restaurants, shore excursions, souvenirs or health and wellness treatments for example.
These all generally come at an extra cost and it can become a bit of trap if you keep swiping your room key/charge card for seven days only to face a whopping credit card bill when you disembark.
Be frugal or at the very least, do your homework before you leave to see what’s included as only a handful of cruise fares are truly all-inclusive.
4. Charge your glasses
Further to the previous point, for most adults, the drinks bill is the one to watch.
Lazy poolside daiquiris, a cocktail before dinner followed by wine with the meal can leave you with a hangover when you see the bill after days of this. Investigate a pre-paid ‘drinks package’ that covers you for a one-off fee for the duration of your trip. The price may look steep up front but it’s surprising how quickly it starts to ‘pay for itself!”
5. Plan your dates
It’s a simple point but plenty of people who’ve been dreaming of a relaxing cruise of a lifetime have suddenly shuddered in fear walking up the gangway to board surrounded by shrieking kids suddenly realising it’s school holidays and they’ve joined a massive floating playground.
Plan ahead to make sure you don’t make the same mistake – particularly important if you are joining the ship in a foreign port where you may not be aware of the local holiday dates.
6. How long to cruise
This is of course personal taste but most experienced cruisers will tell you that anything less than five days just isn’t long enough.
It takes a few days to settle into the rhythm of ship life – and it is a real thing – so it can be a frustrating experience preparing to pack up and leave just as you get into the swing of it.
If you are unsure about whether you’ll like cruising or not, you could try a three-day sampler offered by most cruise lines at some point of the season.
7. Get beyond the hype
Cruising is big business and as a result, it’s ferociously competitive among the major players.
Just because you’ve seen the ads or read the stories about particular ships, dig deeper. If the idea of giant waterslides and roller-skating rinks is of no interest and you’re unlikely to use any of the hyped-up facilities and activities, explore more sedate options that offer say, adults-only pool areas or all-balcony cabins – think about what you want and what you’ll use on a ship and you could save considerably.
8. Travelling companions
A delicate subject but if you are travelling with someone and sharing a cabin, make the right choice!
Unless you have very deep pockets, you will share a space considerably smaller than the average suburban bedroom and despite the amount of leisure options on board, you will spend plenty of time in your cabin.
Even during daylight hours, you’ll see a lot of each other for ‘at sea’ sailing days or joining shore excursions. Be very careful about who you travel with or consider paying a solo supplement which guarantees to keep the peace.
9. Don’t be a wallflower
Cruisers are a friendly bunch and the Cruise Director on every ship is an affable ‘entertainment guide’ whose job is to keep people engaged and encourage them to mingle. There’s lots of fun group activities, shows, trivia, day classes and light-hearted interactive entertainment.
If you get out and about on the decks and follow the daily itineraries you can’t help but meet loads of people – some of whom may become lifelong friends as happens frequently on cruise ships.
10. And finally … jettison preconceptions
It’s only been a recent shift in perception that has seen cruising emerge from the ‘floating RSL’ legacy it carried for so long to become a holiday of choice for millions of people.
Ships cater for all ages and tastes these days and you will see that on board. Moreover, there’s entertainment to keep everyone satisfied. So don’t think you’ll be joining a five-day bingo festival, cruising’s a hoot and you will become addicted.
BONUS TIP: Wifi is generally not included on ships and can be very costly and often unreliable. Plan to live without it and only sparingly log-in with a casual per hour plan. You are on holiday after all!
Published under license from Well Travelled