Cruises are great if you want to relax and not worry about planning too much. They are good for groups, as you can go on excursions together, but also have your alone time and do what you want on the boat. If you’ve never been on a cruise, please see my tips below.
Planning the cruise
Figure out where you want to go and narrow down the cruise lines that go there. Price should be a consideration, but also purpose. If you want to party, the Caribbean cruises tend to be younger and more fun. If you want peace and quiet, a more expensive cruise will probably give you a tamer experience. You definitely want to share a room to save costs, as you have to pay for a full room, whether it’s 1 or 2 (or 3) people. For the three person rooms, ask if you will have a bunk bed or beds on the floor. I do not recommend the retractable murphy bed, as you may forget you are so close to the ceiling every morning when you wake up and hit your head. If you don’t want to be surrounded by kids, do NOT go on a Disney Cruise. Also, avoid Spring Break and school breaks, if you don’t want a bunch of college kids with you. If you DO want that crowd, aim for times they are off. I recommend flying to your destination a day before the cruise leaves, in case there are any flight delays. The ship will leave you, make no mistake, so take your risks at the expense of your trip.
I absolutely love Caribbean destinations (of course). I prefer to go to destinations that are not privately owned by the cruise company. But wherever you go, make sure you get some time on the island by the beach. You can do excursions through the ship or you can get off the boat and book an excursion on your own with a local. If you do venture on your own, make sure to be safe, and to keep track of ship time. Even if you change time zones, the ship will leave, as promised, according to the ship time published. If you are late, you may miss the boat (NO JOKE).
Things to know when booking
Cruises typically range from 3-7 days. Depending on where you depart, you will probably have 1 or 2 days at sea, just traveling to your destination. Most cruises leave from a coast near the destinations (i.e. Florida, Seattle, or Louisiana), but now you can get a Caribbean cruise out of ports like Baltimore. The advantage is that you may not have to fly, but you may have an extra day at sea.
When booking your room you can stay near the bottom of the ship or near the top, have an interior room or exterior room, and get a balcony or porthole. You can be near the front of the ship (forward) or near the back (aft). You can choose to be on the left (port) or right (starboard). If you want to save money then stay at the bottom, but I would recommend at least having a room with a porthole. Then you can look outside and tell where you are. I personally have never stayed in an interior room, and for my own comfort, I think I would get antsy not being able to see outside. It sounds strange, but sometimes you won’t be able to tell if you are moving or not. Some people say they don’t use their balconies, but I find them to be great. You can step outside in your pajamas and feel the temperature. You can have some quiet time if you are sharing a room. Or you can just enjoy the view and sounds of the ocean in the privacy of your own room. Balconies are fun with groups, as you can book adjoining rooms and open up the balconies.
When booking, look at the layout of the ship you will be going on. The lower you are the more you may hear and feel the movement of the water. The higher you are, you may have more traffic on your floor. It really becomes a preference. If you are traveling with people that need help getting around, you may want to stay on the same floor as your dining room. There are elevators and stairs, so access is never a problem, but make your choice based on who’s traveling with you.
There’s usually two seating times for dinner: early (6pm) and late (8pm). Unless you specify, you may be seated at a table with a group. So if there’s two in your party, you may be seated at a six person table with four strangers. You will have the same waiters, so they learn your names and greet you. I like the later seating, as you can rest in the day a bit more and not feel rushed. Activities are repeated so that one going to early or late dinner could participate in either activity. Usually the early shows are PG-rated and the late shows may be for adults. On the ship you should have the standard amenities and activities: gym, spa, 24-hour food, nightclub, club for the kids, bingo, comedy, karaoke, piano bar, casino, movies, mini-golf, arcade, basketball, pool, bars, etc.
Before you go
You should probably figure out if you are seasick or not. I would recommend going on a small dinner cruise or something local and seeing if you get sick. If you do get sick you can prepare yourself by stocking up with Dramamine. You have to take it 1 hour before getting on the boat, or it will be too late. Some people also need to look out a window, so if you do get seasick, you should not get an interior cabin.
Bring your passport and read all of the documentation they send you. Things will go smoother if you have forms pre-filled and your luggage tags printed before you get to the port. There are THOUSANDS of people getting on the boat at the same time as you. Read the 10 pages they give you and follow the instructions.
You don’t need a travel agent for a cruise. Pay your cruise deposit and then start looking for flights and a hotel. I would also take a day off when you get back to give your body a day to acclimate before going back to work. You will feel like you are still on a boat for a couple of days after you get off the boat.
You can add money onto your account or connect your ship card with a credit card. The ships are cashless (except for tips for musicians/artists) so it’s nice not having to carry your wallet or purse around.
Once you get on the boat
In a world where we stopped learning how to unplug, the level of connectedness is up to you. For a price, you can purchase internet and stay connected on the ship. Personally, I think the prices are outrageous (and for good reason). You should be relaxing and offline. However, if you have a loved one at home who may need to reach you, you can purchase a social package (fraction of the internet package cost), which allows you to use Facebook, Whatsapp, etc, which you can use to make calls and stay in contact. If you want to stay completely offline, put your phone in airplane mode (or turn it off) as soon as the boat leaves the port. Recently, I travelled on a cruise that had a cruise app that worked on the ship wifi, and it was a great way to stay in touch with my large group. Regardless, once you get to the different countries, you will be charged if you use your phone, so check with your cell phone provider. Easiest thing to do is just keep your cell phone on airplane mode. Done!
From the moment you arrive on the boat, the staff will make sure you relax. Strangers will talk to you and hi-five you. There will be happy music everywhere. You will immediately forget that you just left work the day before. You’ve paid for everything, so everything you see is already included (aside from alcohol/drinks/games). If you see a buffet and you are hungry, go! If you want to sleep and relax, go to your room! If you want to swim, go to the pool! Whatever you want to do is at your fingertips.
There will be a mandatory safety spiel on what to do in case of an emergency, and you should definitely go to the welcome show where they explain all the things you can do. I would also take 30 minutes and explore the boat, so you can make sure to use all of the amenities.
Let’s take a second to talk about pictures. It’s the hugest ripoff/tourist trap. Every time you breathe there will be a photographer there to take your picture – when you get on the boat, when you get off the boat, at dinner, at excursions. The way that they get you is they have the pictures printed every night and put on display. There’s nothing like seeing your pretty face looking all shiny and glossy, to make you fork out amounts of cash. To be honest, some of the pictures will come out nice and it’s a good memory, so I’m not opposed to purchasing some photos. Just don’t go crazy. Get your LinkedIn faceshot and a nice photo with your group. Use your own camera on and off the boat to capture personal memories. Skip the professional photos from dinner and just do it yourself. And no, you can not take pictures with your camera and their backdrop. Ha ha, nice try though.
What to bring
- Toiletries (don’t forget the showercap)
- Chargers and adapters (if non-US ports)
- 3 formal outfits
- tank tops
- Cardigans (no matter the destination, air conditioning can get cold)
- Sandals/flip flops
- Gym clothes
- Going out clothes (yes, there’s a club)
- Swimsuits (2)
- Lanyard card holder (cheaper than buying on the ship)
- Suitcase locks
- Plastic bags for dirty clothes
Things you don’t need
- Towels (beach or regular)
- Hair Dryer
- Robe (usually provided)
- Beverages (You won’t be allowed to bring liquids on the boat)
- Leave the diamond’s at home
- Detergent (if you need to wash, they have services on the boat)
Have fun!! Cruises are a great way to vacation. Feel free to ask questions below and I’ll answer them! Share this article with your friends!
Excellent information! Very thorough! I enjoyed learning the mairtime ship terminology and appreciate the pointers on tourist traps. Thanks for including what not to bring; great advice for optimizing the cruise experience. This article is very useful for my upcoming cruise! Thank you!
This was helpful! Thanks for sharing!
Awesome! Thanks for reading!
Always a pleasure reading your blogs. This was coincidentally very useful! I had just talked to a colleague about this very specific topic as I’m planning a trip for next year for my family. Thank you for the rest tips and knowledge.
Thanks, Taha! We definitely appreciate our parents and families more as we get older.