We have compiled a list of some of the best tips for first time, or really even the seasoned sailors.
1. Always fly in to the Port City you are sailing out of the a minimum ONE day before your cruise, but preferably more. The fewer flights out of your home airport, the more days you want to pad your trip with. 2023 has been off to a very rocky start as far as airlines go, so have a back up plan just in case your flight gets cancelled. An extra night of hotel is a lot cheaper than missing your cruise.
2. The next crucial tip is in regards to your return flight. Everyone seems to be in a big rush to get home. Don’t be. Never book your return flights before noon, and really I never book returns before 2pm if I can avoid it. Airports are not the funnest places to hang out, I get it. But better bored than stranded. Remember, last minute flight bookings come with a premium price tag.
3. Know the seasons of your destination. If you travel during the summer you are going to be sailing with lots of children that are on summer break. If you travel during hurricane season you can expect delays and skipped ports. Cruises during Christmas and New Years are also premium cruises which means you can expect to pay double or more for those sailings in addition to the fact that they are usually at full capacity. For first time sailors, you want to go in more of an off season. Personally, I love sailing in February, early March (pre Spring Break), November and the first week of December.
4. Research is your friend. Get to know your ship and ports of call before sailing. This way when you first step on board you will have a sense of familiarity. You will thank me later. The same goes for your ports. You will find that some ports are safer than others. Do your research. Reach out to your Travel Agent (you did book with an Agent, right??) and ask them for tips and advice on the ports. YouTube has tons of videos on virtually every ship and every port out there.
5. When booking your cruise, try to start with a 4 or 5 day cruise. This is enough time for you to figure out if you like it and if not, you are not stuck for too long. While you will be tempted by the myriad of 2 and 3 day sailings, I really don’t recommend them as they tend to be filled to the brim with college aged party animals. Destination is almost as important as length. The Caribbean is always a safe choice as there really is something for everyone there and the weather tends to be fabulous year round. While Alaska cruises are visually spectacular, they can be jolting by those expecting tropical weather.
6. As the saying goes, Ship Happens. Ports change. Shows change. Excursions sell out. Heck even the ships can change due to mechanical issues. Don’t let any of that fluff your feathers. Go with it. The ship itself has plenty to entertain you and not having to cook or clean for the duration is vacation enough.
7. Know your budget. Once your cruise is booked and paid for, the only other sailing related expenses you will have is gratuities and a drink package if you are a drinker. All of the meals in the main dining rooms are included in your fare. Yes, specialty restaurants cost addition funds. BUT you don’t have to book them if you don’t want to or if they don’t fit in your budget. Ports of Call are different though. This is where the budgeting comes in handy. Depending on the port, it is not always the best idea to book an excursion for each stop. Sometimes, it is wonderful to just get off the ship and walk around exploring, or going to a public beach. Grand Turk is the perfect example of this. There is a glorious beach on each side of the pier. Walk along it, stop for refreshments and local bites along the way. In other ports such as Belize, Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Costa Maya book an excursion that fits your budget.
Know what time the all aboard is! You do not want to be a Pier Runner! And yes, the ship will leave without you. If you get off the ship it is your responsibility to get back on time.
8. A cruise is a vacation. Do not over do it. Plan for down time. Sleep in on sea days. Relax and enjoy being taken care of. Don’t feel you need to go wild at every port or every night on board. Mingle. Meet people. You already have cruising in common. I’ve met some of the most amazing people on ships and enjoy lasting friendships and reunion sailings for years to come.
9. Get to know your cabin steward, bartenders and favorite servers! Remember, the staff are giving up time with their families to take care of you. Treat them with kindness and respect and you will be surprised how well they treat you in return. The crew on a cruise ship amaze me. Every week the ship empties and refills but within a day or two they will remember your name and your favorite beverage. If your sailing happens to be forced to skip a port, or if the kitchen is all out of pickled beets, it is not the server’s fault. Or the deck crew’s. Or any other crew member. Remember, Ship Happens. Always treat them the way you’d like to be treated.
10. Last but not least, know the dress code and amenities of your ship. Don’t over pack. You don’t need at least half of the stuff you have crammed into your bag. You do really need comfortable walking shoes, close toed shoes (required for rope courses, roller coasters etc as well as required for cruiselines such as MSC) and if you are going to be walking the beach you will want water shoes. Perhaps ONE pair of dress shoes can also be handy.
I always bring two bathing suits so I have one to wear while the other dries. A cover up is handy for trips to the buffet or bar.
Closet space is very limited on all ships, so unpack once your bag is delivered to your cabin and store your suitcase under your bed. Bam now you can enjoy the meager space that your cabin offers.
Virtually all sailings will offer at least one formal night. Formal attire is subjective and largely optional on ships such as Carnival. However MSC, for example, requires men to wear close toed shoes, no tank tops and no jeans. For the ladies, there really doesn’t seem to be any restrictions other than no bathing suits in the dining rooms. Dressing up can be a lot of fun. Think of those regal Titanic scenes (before the sinking of course). I try to dress for dinner every night, and don’t worry, no one will notice if you wear the same outfit more than once.
That sums up my top ten list, but stay tuned for future posts on Ports of Call, Excursion and must know Cruise rules.
What are you favorite tips and tricks? Any thing you can think of to make sailings easier for future cruisers?