Cruise Ship do's and don'ts
Advice for first time cruise-goers
So, you've decided to go on a cruise – that's really exciting! You've probably heard stories of people addicted to cruising and you want to see what all the fuss is about. Check out our list of Do's and Don'ts so that you can enjoy your first cruise, and many more to come.
Research the Ship, the type of passengers, and the route
There is a lot to decide about going on a cruise, not just where you want to go or how much you want to spend. Decide whether you want to be on a cruise with 4000 passengers or 400, and narrow your search accordingly. Do you want to be surrounded by a younger crowd or older crowd? Would you like a cruise with kids on board or not? Travelling on a family-friendly cruise during school holiday time is a very different experience to travelling on an adults-only ship outside of peak periods.
Image Credit: pocruises.com.au
Researching the route is also important. You may be getting a great deal because it's not the best time to visit that location. You also want to be aware of the number of "sea days", that is days that you don't stop at a port. If you're wanting ports every day and don't like the idea of a couple of days in a row with no stops, make sure you specify this in your search. You may find it best to fly to a major port and choose a cruise that island-hops before flying home, if that's your preference. Be aware that these shorter cruises can often attract a younger, more party-like crowd.
Note that travel agents who specialise in cruises will be able to help you sort through these questions to help find the ideal cruise for you. Booking through a travel agency may get you added bonuses like onboard credit, free drinks, spa & dining bonuses that you may miss out on otherwise.
Choose your travel companions wisely
You may not be able to choose who the other guests on the ship are, but you can be picky about who you travel with, as you're likely to be stuck with your own travel party a lot. Make sure you know if your friends are expecting drinks flowing and partying until dawn. Or if your mother-in-law won't approve of your planned activities and will constantly be telling you so. Yes, there will be space to get away, but let's face it, you're on a ship and she will be able to track you down!
Read the fine print
Understand what the limitations and expectations are of you on your cruise. This will include what travel documents you need, any visas required and what the cancellation fees are. Being aware beforehand will save time scrounging documents at the last minute, or being denied boarding due to medical reasons or pregnancy.
Forget to bring the documents required
Many cruise lines will now allow you to enter your passenger information, credit card details and passport details ahead of time, saving you time when it comes to check-in. Find out what is required and get on top of it early. You don't want to be missing your cruise because you left your passport at home. Remember, even if you did give them your passport details, you need to bring it with you.
Find out the added costs involved
There are lots of things that can add cost to your cruise. Some are optional, like drinks and shore excursions, and some are automatic, like taxes, port fees and tips. Being aware before booking will help you work out the real cost. It may look like the cheapest option, but once you add the extra costs another cruise may be better value.
Image Credit :pocruises.com.au
Be too picky about cabin location for your first cruise
Yes, the balcony suites cost more for a reason, and yes they can be worth the added cost. Just not usually on your first cruise. Most first time cruisers spend so long exploring the ship that they don't spend much time in their cabin, except to sleep. The added bonus is that the cheaper cabins are usually lower down and near the middle of the ship, which will minimise the rocking of the ship and help you if you find yourself a little seasick. You'll also be closer to a lot of the ship's main attractions.
Plan some activities and book ahead of time
You don't want your whole cruise to be a rigidly planned schedule, but there will be some activities you don't want to miss out of either. Your cruise line will have information about their planned activities, onboard amenities and shore excursions ahead of time. Book any "must-do" activities, but leave time for relaxation or other activities you may not have thought of.
If you're wanting to book into one of the specialty restaurants, don't make that the night you plan to see an early show. You may also like to look into others' recommendations about the ports you're going to. You may be able to book a table with a spectacular view as you're sailing out of a picturesque port.
Schedule your arrival and departure too close
Flying in the morning of a cruise departure, or scheduling the next leg of your journey too close to the ship's return can leave you stuck. If your flight is delayed you may end up missing the ship altogether. Or you may not be able to get off your cruise in time to make your connections. It's always best to stay locally the night before your cruise. Booking a tour or connection after the ship's return should also have a long window to avoid problems. Customs or some other unexpected delay could hold you up on your return, and you don't want to be rushed or having to reschedule.
Think about how you're getting to the port and getting home again
Ports offer cruise passenger car parking – it's convenient and costly. Doing a little research may show you nearby options that will save you a bundle. Some hotels offer free cruise parking, so if you're staying overnight the night before look into hotels with this option.
Some cruise lines will offer airport transfers. Check the price of these against sharing a taxi or rideshare. Unless you're one person travelling alone, it's generally better to opt for the cab / uber.
Book at least one night of specialty dining
It's another extra cost, but especially on a longer cruise, it's worth trying the fancy food at least one night. They're generally reasonably priced and the food is worth the price.
Let the cruise line know if you've got any dietary requirements
Image Credit :pocruises.com.au
If there are certain foods you can't, or won't, eat let the cruise line know soon after booking. Leaving it until you're onboard may limit your options.
Research your ports and shore excursions before leaving home
Many cruise ships will dock in the same ports over and over again. This builds up a tourism trade around the ports. This can be handy for access to souvenir shops, food and activities, but can also lead to higher prices. A little online research will show you if there are other options a short walk from the main port, for example. Even taxis may be cheaper if you walk a few blocks from the port before jumping in. Just remember if you book an activity that's not linked to the cruise ship, you'll need to keep an eye on the time for your return.
Check what food and drinks you can take onto, and off, the ship
Some cruise ships will allow you to bring a small number of drinks with you. They usually don't allow beer or spirits, but you can often bring a bottle or two of wine or champagne and about 12 cans of soft drink. Bringing along your allowance can help save you money on your trip. Supplying tea bags from home is another way to supply your own drinks.
Note – if you buy alcohol in a port the crew will look after it for you until it's time to go home. You may like to have a few drinks at ports where it's cheaper, but don't count on bringing a whole bottle back with you.
Be aware of taking food off the ship to get you through a shore excursion. You may think nothing of grabbing an apple off the buffet table to eat while you're off the ship, but most ports won't allow this. Fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, cheese, nuts, seeds and baked goods can present a biohazard and you'll get stopped by sniffer dogs. You're better off with prepackaged food like chips or muesli bars.
Book a drinks package without doing your sums first
Cruise ships will often have drinks packages which look pretty good. It's mostly a set fee per day that will include a set type of drink. Some cruise ships make everyone in a cabin take up the same package to avoid people sharing drinks. These packages will apply every day, even if you spend the majority of the day off the ship. You'll probably find that you need to drink 7-10 drinks every day for the package to be worthwhile.
Note – tips may apply to drinks packages as well, charging 15% or 18% per drink.
Check what the tipping expectation is – sometimes it's automatic
For Australians tipping is not an everyday part of life. Sure, if someone gives you outstanding service, but it's not common or expected in the way it is in the US. Find out what the tipping policy for your cruise is. Some of the Australian cruise ships have stopped compulsory tipping, meaning you can tip if you want to. Other cruise lines will charge you a daily fee or add a compulsory tip to each service, be it drink or massage, charged to your room. Find out beforehand what tips are expected, and what has already been included in your deal. If you have questions on tips, charges or fees you can check with the cruise line beforehand or the purser on board. You may happily include a tip, and then find an automatic tip has also been included in your bill.
Be aware of the currency you'll be charged in
Find out what currency is used aboard the ship. Where things are charged in another currency, mostly US dollars, it is open to fluctuations in the exchange rate, which you won't know beforehand. Your credit card provider may also charge extra fees for paying in a foreign currency. To avoid this problem, if you're travelling on a ship that charges in a foreign currency, you can get a prepaid credit card in the right currency and load it at the best exchange rate you can find. Then you know how much things are costing you without worrying what the exchange rate will do.
Note: some ships will offer you their exchange rate to charge you in your home currency, however, there is an extra charge for this and you can usually get a better exchange rate through the banks or currency dealers.
Read the FAQs for your cruise ship online before departing
The cruise line will usually supply FAQs online or in a document before you set sail. This is a great resource for answering all your questions, be it "What time is dinner?", "Do I need to tip the staff?", "What is the dress code?" or "What duty-free can I bring on board?". If you have a question that isn't covered in the documents, contact the cruise line or your travel agent for more information. It's better to get the answers beforehand than be surprised on board.
Check what power outlets are provided on your ship
An international cruise ship could have power sockets from anywhere in the world. Usually, they're wherever the ship is based. It's a good idea to find out so that you don't have to buy an adapter on board. Rather than buying multiple adapters for multiple power points, consider bringing 1 adapter and a power board to allow you to charge several things at once. Be aware that you can't use surge protectors on the ship so make sure you have a power board without a surge protector.
Pack a carry on for the first few hours of your trip
As a rule, you'll usually end up in your cabin before your luggage does. Make sure you have any necessities, such as medication, phone chargers and important documents, packed in a carry-on. It's also worth having your bathing suit and sunscreen packed in the carry on so that you can get straight into your holiday, and not sit around waiting for your luggage.
Note, your carry on doesn't have to have the special cabin tags printed and attached like your main luggage. You'll look like a newbie for doing it.
While you can bring as much luggage as you want, unlike air travel, remember that you have to carry it, and store it all somewhere. Cabins have limited space so you don't want 3 suitcases cluttering the room. If you're flying on to another destination you'll be limited by airline baggage allowances anyway. Things like a hairdryer aren't necessary as your cabin should have one for your use.
Bring a fan and nightlight, particularly if you have an interior cabin
A small fan and a nightlight are useful in your cabin, particularly if you don't have a cabin with windows. The interior cabins can get quite stuffy and have no source of natural light. Save yourself a stubbed toe and keep the airflow happening in your room with these handy little additions.
Bring seasickness tablets
If you've never been on a long voyage by sea it is worth having seasickness tablets with you, just in case. If you're worried about seasickness, you can book a cabin close to the middle of the ship, or limit your 'sea days'. The ship's medical centre or guests services may be able to provide tablets or injection if you're feeling unwell, but sometimes it's better to have it on hand, than needing to lurch around the ship when you're feeling poorly.
Get travel insurance that includes cruise ship cover
We can't say it enough, travel insurance is a must-have when leaving the country. When looking at insurance policies make sure it covers cruises. Make sure you read what is covered and what is not covered when buying any travel insurance. There was a recent example of someone refused cover as he'd had too many drinks when his accident occurred.
Note – some cruise lines sell their own travel insurance. Look carefully at what the policy covers and the price, you're likely to find a better deal elsewhere.
Arrive early if you want to avoid queues
Everyone thinks they can get on faster by arriving first. Even if you manage to be the first one there, you'll be waiting a while to be processed and board. Unless your ship has staggered, scheduled arrivals, aim to be there in the last hour of boarding. You'll find the queues are much shorter and you'll get through faster. The same applies when leaving – despite the wonderful time they've had on board, everyone tries to get off first, causing long waits. Enjoy an extra half hour lounging and get through the queues quickly.
Note – some cruise lines allow you to pay to skip queues. If you don't have the patience for queues this may be the way to get around them.
Wait until later for the newest attractions
Again, if you don't like long queues, plan to do the latest attractions until a few days into your trip. Whatever the new and exciting thing the ship is offering will be in highest demand early in the cruise. If you can, wait until a bit later in the cruise to avoid the initial rush.
Switch off the phone and data on your phone and other communication devices.
Most ships will have wifi that you can access (often for a price), but many a cruise ship passenger has had a nasty surprise when they get home and find they've been charged astronomical rates for their phone connecting to an international network. Your ship may have an app that you can access via wifi without charge. Check with the cruise line if you'll need to download an app before leaving.
Note – if you do need to have phone and internet access, compare the communication packages on offer from your cruise line with international rates from your phone provider.
Miss the muster drill on the first day
The muster drill is a compulsory safety briefing that happens on the first day of every cruise. Even seasoned cruise fanatics aren't allowed to miss it. It's important to know the safety information, which can change from ship to ship and over time. Like the airline safety demonstration, you need to be present. Learn what you can, and don't risk being kicked off your cruise for not attending.
Take up the Ship tour on the first day
It's a great way to orient yourself around the ship and to find out what kind of activities are aboard. Yes, it's aimed at first-time cruisers, but there's a lot to learn, so embrace the tour and you'll find out so much about how shipboard life works.
Keep your key card with you at all time
Your key card is more than just a room key – it also allows you to change things to your room, and is your identification when you get on and off the ship. Make sure you bring it with you when disembarking the ship on the final day, otherwise you'll have to go back and get it. Some ships are moving into wearing pendants to replace the key cards. Whatever it is they give you, make sure you have it.
Be aware that you'll be photographed a lot
One way to remember your trip is through photographs. There will be photographers snapping photos of you all over the ship. You only have to pay for the photos if you want to keep a copy.
Note – if you do want a copy of your photo, don't leave it until the last minute. There can be a queue of people lining up to get photos on the final morning, and sometimes the photos have been discarded already.
Take a photo of the daily schedule each day
To keep track of what's going on it's useful to have the daily schedule on hand. An easy way is to photograph it in the morning, then refer back to it as needed. At the end of the day you can delete the photo, or keep it to prompt you what the other photos on your camera could be of.
Note – if your ship has an app, you'll often be able to find the schedule there instead.
Let the staff know if there's a problem
Don't be rude, or over the top, but if there's a problem mention it to your cabin steward or other staff. If your bed isn't comfortable or something isn't working they will try to find a way to fix it for you. If your ship has fixed seating dining, for example, let the head waiter know if there's an issue. They'd much prefer to switch things around than have unhappy customers. The reception desk crew are also generally happy to help.
There are so many things to do on a cruise, shows & bands, movies, arts and crafts, movies, as well as the shore excursions and meals. You won't be able to fit it all in, so work out the activities that are important to you and don't stress yourself to get to the others. The ship's daily newsletter may entice you into more activities and being a holiday, it's good to get in some relaxing time too.
Fear the cabin safe
The safe in the cabin is not perfect, however leaving things lying around opens you up to crimes of convenience. While the safes are generally small, they'll hold your jewellery, passport and tech devices.
Note – Just don't leave your belongings behind on the morning of your departure!
Climb on railings
It's a long way to fall from a cruise ship railing and will cause you and the cruise ship all kinds of troubles. The railings are designed to protect you from falling overboard during normal behaviours, but can't protect you if you're horsing around.
Smoke where you're not supposed to
Smoking on a cruise ship is only allowed in designated areas. This is not only about containing smells and passive smoking, but about minimising fire hazards. Should a fire break out on a cruise ship it can be disastrous. Penalties include fines and being expelled from the ships. The rules apply to candles and certain types of heaters as well.
Skip a port day
If there's a port that doesn't appeal to you or you feel the weather is too hot / cold / windy or otherwise, it's often a nice experience to skip the excursion and have the ship to yourself. There may be a few others doing the same, but it's a great way to enjoy the ship without the normal crowds of people.
Have some US dollars in cash for stopping in a port
As we've mentioned, ports that commonly have cruise ships docking there will have a tourist trade centred around the port. To encourage tourists to spend money, most businesses around these ports will accept US dollars as well as their local currency. It's handy to have some small notes to buy things in markets or smaller businesses in these ports, however, most of the larger businesses will accept credit cards. For cruises around Europe, the same will apply in Euros.
Be late returning from a shore excursion
Your time to get back on the ship is non-negotiable. You need to be back when they say you do (your "all aboard time"), not when the ship is scheduled to leave, and definitely not after that. Some cruise-goers place themselves above the gangway after shore excursions just to watch the pier runners frantically hurrying back to make the departure time.
Be aware that the time zone of the port may be different from the time zone you've been in. It is the ship's clock you need to go by, not necessarily the local time.
Remember that the walls are thin and you have neighbours
Sound does carry through the ship, particularly through the walls between cabins. Be aware that sound travels, especially at night, and keep the noise down accordingly. If your neighbours aren't as considerate, you'll be glad you brought a fan to create some "white noise". If there's really a problem with loud neighbours speak to the crew, they may be able to help.
Be aware that the itinerary can change
There are all sorts of things that can cause a change in schedule, be it the weather, an issue with the ship, or something happening at the intended destination. It's not unusual to find that you've stopped somewhere different to where you expected, or to have a port stop cancelled altogether. Try to be reasonable, even if this upsets your schedule. The cruise line wouldn't be making the change for no reason.
Note – Rules of the sea mean that if another ship is in trouble, the nearest ship, including cruise ships travelling nearby, are expected to stop and assist where possible.
Head to the back of the ship or lower decks if you're after privacy
Most people, and activities, tend to focus on the upper decks. If you're after a quieter place to relax, head to the back of the ship or the lower decks.
Consider taking the stairs when you're only going a few decks
The elevators can get really busy on cruise ships. If you're only going up or down a few decks it's worth taking the stairs. This can get you around faster and burn off a few of the excess calories you're consuming on board.
Note – when using the elevators make sure you wait for people to exit before trying to enter. It's polite and you'll save yourself some angry glares.
Stress about the Formal Night
There are people on board who'll go all out for the formal night, bringing along their finery and getting all dolled up. If that's not your thing, don't stress about it. Make sure you've got something nice to wear, without being over the top.
Let the staff know if you're celebrating a special occasion
It's no guarantee, but if you let the staff know that you're celebrating a special event you may receive a little bonus, whether you're on top of the list for an upgrade, or find yourself with some bubbly or fresh fruit in your cabin. Cruise lines know that happy customers are a great advertisement for them, and are more likely to come back again and again.
Bring appropriate footwear
Walking around poolside can get slippery. Be prepared with sandals or shoes with proper tread. While we're talking about footwear, make sure you wear proper walking shoes for your shore excursions. Fancy sandals or casual thongs have their place, but you'll regret them when you've walked the whole day.
Take sunscreen – and use it!
The strength of the sun can vary around the world, so it's a good idea to wear sunscreen when you're outdoors. A hat and sunglasses are also useful for protection against the rays.
Pack some warmer clothes
It may seem strange for a tropical cruise, but having a jumper, jacket or cardigan can be helpful in the evenings. Once the sun goes down it can get quite cold, particularly on deck where the wind comes off the water. Even during the day, you may find some areas are more air-conditioned than you'd like.
Cruise ships have a captive audience. They've already got you onboard so they're not worried you'll go elsewhere. One of the ways that this is evident is in the casino. Cruise ship casino payouts are worse than landbound casino payouts. You may get lucky, but the odds are even more in the house's favour than they are on land.
If poker's your game, this may be the place to clean up. On a cruise ship you'll often find people playing poker for the first time. This means if you're an experienced player it could be lucrative. Bingo is the other game of choice on cruise ships. It can provide a bit of fun and a bit of cash sometimes too.
Decide the night before final disembarkation if you'll carry your own luggage off the ship.
Most ships offer a luggage collection service to help you get your bags off the ship. They will give you a deadline for leaving your luggage out if you're using this service. They usually have to be left out the night before. Make sure you have enough clothes & shoes for the final day if you're using this service. There's nothing like leaving the cruise ship in your slippers or pyjamas!
Note – if you decide to carry your own luggage off the ship (a process that allows you to leave before other passengers), make sure that you can carry all of your own bags. Staff aren't available to carry your bags for you on the final morning unless you've booked through their luggage service.
Take the bathrobe (or other inclusions like the hairdryer)
Just because you've received your final bill before you leave the ship, doesn't mean you can walk off scot-free with whatever you like from your room. You'll find whatever you've pocketed charged to your card, probably at a ridiculously high rate! If in doubt about whether something is a freebie or just for use while onboard – ask.
Forget to check your bill before getting off the ship
When it's time to disembark you'll receive your bill. It will be tempting to take it and move along. However, it will be easier to dispute a charge face to face on the ship that phoning or emailing and convincing a stranger that you didn't have three massages on the same day or a bucket of beers that mysteriously appeared on your bill.
Let us know below your own tips for cruise ship travel!
Thanks for taking to time to read through our blog, we hope you've picked up some handy pointers. Have a wonderful time on your cruise, and leave a comment below with which tips you found particularly useful, or any of your own tips to help other cruise travellers.
Cruise Lingo to Help You Settle in (and Sound Like You Know What You Are Doing!)
Stateroom – your cabin or suite
Berth – your bed or bunk in your stateroom
Bow – the front of the ship
Stern – the back of the ship
Port – the left side of the ship when facing the Bow (front)
Starboard – the right side of the ship when facing the Bow (front)
Muster Station – every passenger is assigned a 'muster station' close to their stateroom where you gather (with your life jacket) in the event of an emergency. A muster drill will be called at the start of the cruise so that the staff can go through the emergency procedures with you. You need to attend and pay attention!
Bridge – navigational control room of the ship which is usually off-limits to passengers
Galley – the ship's kitchen
Lido Deck – the deck where to pool is
Deck Plan – the map of the cruise ship
Port of Call – a designated stop on your itinerary
Gangway – the ramp you use to embark/disembark the ship
Wake on a cruise ship – the trail in the water behind the ship is known as the ship's "wake"
Dock vs Tender – next to each Port of Call on the itinerary it will state 'dock' or 'tender'. 'Dock' is when the ship will dock next to land and you walk straight off into port; a 'tender' is when the ship will anchor in a bay close to the port and you will be transferred to land on a smaller vessel.
Sea Day – When the ship does not dock or visit a port of call, remaining out at sea all day
Port Expenses – each port of call will levy a charge based on local taxes and fees which are charged to the ship and in turn passed on to customers. These fees are not usually included in the cruise price.
Shorex – abbreviation of 'shore excursions' – you can book these through the ship or independently.
Roll – the side to side motion of the ship
Cruise Director – "the face of the cruise", who is in charge of hosting/emceeing events
Purser – the man or woman that oversees all financial transactions on board the ship