5 Tips for First Time Cruisers

How to make the most out of a cruise vacation.

Image courtesy Shutterstock.

Image courtesy Shutterstock.

Cruises aren’t like your typical vacation: Everything’s a touch more structured, a bit less spontaneous and a little (or sometimes a lot) smaller. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be a fantastic vacation option. If you’re considering taking your first cruise, read on to find out how you can make the most of it.

1. Research, Research, Research
Unlike with a resort, you can’t decide two nights into a cruise that you’d like to switch to another boat. Because of that, thoroughly research your potential ship and its itinerary. Topics that might be less important on land, like dining options or demographics, are key to a successful cruise, so read up on them in addition to what ports you’ll be stopping at.

Keep in mind that cruise ship itineraries are subject to weather and ocean conditions and that this can sometimes result in significant changes, including completely skipping specific destinations. If you have your heart set on seeing a particular location, visiting it by cruise ship might not be the way to go.

2. Don’t Pack That
Unless you splash out on a suite, your cabin is going to be noticeably smaller than a typical hotel room. And while we appreciate that you want to show off your many cute sundresses, your cabin likely won’t have room for all of them. Instead, pack only item you know you’ll wear, ideally more than once over the course of your trip.

Space is especially tight in bathrooms so skip the single-purpose products for those that multi-task or can be used by both you and your travel companion. Use your cruise research to find out if you can ditch bringing products like shampoo, something most boats provide. That same research should also reveal if you really need to pack items like a formal dress, a beach towel or snorkeling gear.

3. But Do Pack This
Create more storage space in a small cabin by bringing an over-the-door multi-hook hanger or a multi-pocket organizer. Also often missing from cabins? Clocks. Either pack a phone that can double as one or pick up a travel alarm clock.

Items that you should have in abundance include any commonly used toiletries or medicines.  While most ships do have an on-board shop, the prices are usually high and brand selection can be quite limited.

Another must-pack item? A power adapter or two if your ship doesn’t use North American electrical sockets.

4. Book Your Own Shore Excursions But With Caution

Shore excursions offered by cruise ships get a well-deserved bad rap: They’re often crowded, expensive and designed for the less fit – or engaged – passengers. While some people will tell you that these downsides are worth the convenience that these trips offer, we say don’t be afraid to book your own shore excursions.

Just make sure to only deal with companies that are use to working with cruise shippers. In addition to showing you a great time, any excursion operator should also be focused on getting back to the boat on time as ships will and do leave behind passengers who aren’t there come departure time. To keep this from happening to you, give an earlier-than-necessary return time and skip any excursion that risks going long.

5. Stay Healthy
The dreaded norovirus might be the cruise-related ailment that garners the most press but seasickness and sunburns are your more likely concerns. The latter can be prevented by always wearing a generous amount of broad-spectrum sunscreen that is regularly re-applied throughout the day. A rash guard, or swim shirt, is also good idea if you’re going to be frequently swimming under an equatorial sun.

Seasickness can be an issue on even the biggest boat. If you have a history of motion sickness, you may want to talk to your doctor about the scopolamine patch, which can prevent the condition. Every first-time cruiser should come prepared with anti-nauseous pills and be familiar with such tricks as consuming ginger and staring at the horizon, ideally while outside, to alleviate any symptoms. Another trick? Avoid discussions of seasickness, which can be psychologically triggered.