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Quiet Cove on Disney Wonder

Cruising for the first time can feel like you’re sailing into unchartered waters – literally! Here are 12 of the best tips for first-time cruisers.

How long should my first cruise be?

This depends on how long you want to stay on the ship and how much money and annual leave you have, but around four nights is a good guide for first timers. This is long enough to get the hang of a cruise holiday but not too long if you decide it’s not for you. Think twice before you book a brief one- or two-night ‘sampler cruise’ as these tend to attract a party crowd and offer a cruise experience that’s rather different to a regular cruise holiday.

Which cruise line should I sail with?

Each mainstream cruise line has its own distinct characteristics so it’s crucial to select the one that aligns with your interests. Australian and New Zealand cruisers can sail locally with Carnival or P&O Cruises Australia which have a fun and laid back onboard vibe. Lines like Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line offers a more sophisticated experience, but still cater to all ages. Family friendly fun abounds on Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line, with a plethora of entertaining activities and shows for all ages. Mature cruisers who appreciate the finer things in life will probably prefer the likes of Cunard, Holland America, or Azamara.

Quantum of the Seas
Quantum of the Seas

Which ship should I choose?

Even if you’ve chosen the cruise line you would like to sail with, ships in the same fleet can vary significantly. Take Royal Caribbean, for instance. This line is renowned for its family-oriented mega-ships such as Ovation of the Seas but it also has smaller, slightly older vessels like Jewel of the Seas that accommodate less than half the passengers, offering an ideal option for cruisers seeking a more traditional experience without the family-oriented amenities. Older and smaller ships in a fleet tend to be more affordable to sail on too.

How do I stop getting seasick on a cruise?

If you’re worried about getting seasick, consider reserving a cabin with an ocean view or balcony positioned in the centre of the ship on a lower deck, where the motion of the ocean is less pronounced. For peace of mind, packing over-the-counter tablets from the pharmacy, a seasickness pressure band or patch, or herbal ginger tablets can be a good idea for first-time cruisers.

Celebrity Edge Pool
Herbal ginger tablets can be a good option for all ages

How to do I book things onboard my cruise?

Whether you’re reserving dining, shows, and activities ahead of your voyage or while on board, the cruise app for your ship is an essential tool. Some apps offer a personalised daily schedule that you can put together yourself with just a few clicks. These free cruise line apps work without an external Wi-Fi connection, allowing you to utilise them on board without incurring additional charges.

What should I pack for my cruise?

Unless you’re sailing on a luxury line, most ships have a smart casual dress code. Check the cruise line website before your cruise to get an idea of what is required. Toss in a light sweater, rain gear, and a hat no matter where you’re cruising as the weather can change out of the blue.

Should I get a passport or travel insurance for my cruise?

Always confirm you have the appropriate paperwork, such as a current passport and all the necessary visas. Even if you don’t intend to disembark at a foreign port, a visa is likely still required. Additionally, cruise travel insurance is a must, as onboard ships, whether sailing locally or internationally, neither public health services nor private health insurance are applicable.

What is the currency onboard on my ship?

The onboard currency can catch first-timers off guard when it’s time to pay, so make sure you find out about the onboard currency before you book and plan your budget accordingly. Oh, and keep an eye on your bill using the app, because mistakes can happen. If you spot any errors while you’re on the cruise, it’s no problem —just swing by guest services and ask them to sort it out.

Your paying in US Dollars
Be careful with onboard currency as you might be paying in US Dollars

When will I get my luggage on a cruise?

As your luggage might not reach your cabin until late afternoon or early evening, it’s advisable to prepare a day bag for your initial day aboard. This bag should contain swimwear, a dinner-appropriate change of clothes, toiletries, and important items like medication and power cables for your devices. This way, even if your luggage is delayed, you’ll be well-equipped for your first night on the ship.

Can I drink the tap water on a cruise?

Feel free to drink the tap water in your cabin, eliminating the necessity to purchase bottled water unless you have a preference for its taste (the water out of the tap is desalinated seawater which has a distinct flavour). Most cruise lines offer alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink packages for purchase, but it’s wise to consider whether this is worth it depending on how much you drink. Remember that sharing a single package is not allowed; get caught and you could forfeit the package you purchased.

Tap water is the go but remember drinks come at a cost including bottled water

Are cruise ship restaurants free?

Every ship has multiple complimentary dining venues that are included in your fare, but if you want a fancy night out, a specialty restaurant is the way to go. These cost extra and tend to be more upmarket, with a higher standard of service, plus a few bells and whistles you probably won’t find elsewhere on the ship. Book in as a one-off or purchase a restaurant package that entitles you to multiple specialty restaurant visits for a set price to make your holiday dollar go further.

Celebrity Edge Normandie Restaurant, main dining, French cuisine
This Celebrity Edge main dining room has French cuisine

Can I use my mobile phone on a cruise ship?

Activating your phone’s flight mode when at sea is crucial because cruise ships rely on satellite services. If your phone unexpectedly transitions to global roaming while on board, the potential cost can soar into the hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars per day. If you want to access the internet or engage in FaceTime calls with family and friends during your cruise, some cruise lines offer complimentary Wi-Fi, or you can purchase an internet package or find a café with internet onshore. Find out more about more about using your mobile phone at sea here.

Download the Royal IQ app
Remember to put your phone on flight mode

Want more great cruise advice? Check out our tips for choosing the perfect cruise, cruising with grandchildren, cruising with tweens and cruising with kids of all ages, solo cruising, the best activities on Ovation of the Seas, doing a Transatlantic cruise with kids, cruising in Australia or Papua New Guinea, Iceland cruise tips, cruising on a megaship, scoring a bargain cruise fare, cruising the Mediterranean, making the most of a cruise ship kids club, luxury cruising with kids, and the Byron Beach Club onboard P&O Cruises. We have also reviewed Disney Wonder, Pacific Adventure, Celebrity Edge, Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas, Pacific Encounter, Carnival Splendor, Voyager of the Seas, Nieuw Statendam, Viking Helgrim, Pride of America, Coral Expeditions in Tasmania and the Great Barrier Reef, Celebrity Solstice, and Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth.

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Trevor Templeman is a photographer and writer who travels the world capturing the essence of locations through their landscape, architecture and people. His words and photographs are published in magazines, newspapers and online around the world.