6 Lessons You Learn the Hard Way on Your First Cruise

couple beach first cruise tips lessons
Don't embark on your first cruise unprepared! - Photo by ALotOfPeople/Thinkstock

If you’ve done a lot of research before your first cruise, chances are, you’re overwhelmed. There are so many important things to remember and tips and tricks to keep straight. Coupled with all the excitement that comes while you get ready to set sail, it’s no surprise that in our more than 116,000 cruise reviews, we often hear of cruisers not being aware of some important lessons. Since we don’t want you to learn these lessons the hard way, here are some critical things to remember before your cruise.

1. Return to the ship on time.

woman beach watch ship time cruise

Photo by Wavebreakmedia/Thinkstock

When you’re enjoying a day in port, time can quickly escape you. Not only do you need to be mindful of when you have to get back to the ship, but you also need to make sure you’re aware of what “ship time” it is - it could be different than the local time zone in your port. Forgetting to be aware of ship time, having a few too many drinks, and just losing track of time completely are the two main reasons people are either “pier runners,” or miss sail away altogether. Do NOT be one of those people.


2. Buy the drink package.

bartender bar drinks first time cruise

Photo by Creatas/Thinkstock

If you’re someone who is going to enjoy a number of drinks throughout each day during your cruise, you’re probably going to want a beverage package. Though the costs and break-even points vary from cruise line to cruise line, if you’re likely to enjoy at least 4 to 5 drinks most days of your cruise, chances are a beverage package will be a worthwhile investment and you will kick yourself on the last day of the cruise when you see your bar charges if you don’t get it. Depending on the cruise line, many alcoholic packages also include things like soda, bottled water, and specialty coffees. Read what’s included in each package carefully before setting sail, and do the math to see if buying one makes sense for you.  It could literally save you hundreds of dollars.


3. Your cruise is probably not all-inclusive.

carnival cruise casino first time lessons

Photo by Carnival Cruise Line

Unless you’re sailing a premium line like Regent Seven Seas Cruises or Silversea Cruises, there will be a lot of aspects of your cruise vacation that are not included in the fare. You can expect accommodations, some select dining venues, entertainment, and most activities and to be complimentary, but in general the freedom ends there.  You’ll pay for shore excursions, alcoholic drinks, internet, gratuities, playing in the casino, specialty dining, and even some select entertainment options. Gather all of the info that you can about your ship and itinerary ahead of time to price as much as you can out, and be sure to make reservations (if possible) for dining and activities you don’t want to miss. Another helpful tip is to pre-pay your gratuities so that you don’t have to think about the charges once your voyage is over.


4. Expect spa upselling.

spa massage cruise first time lessons

Photo by Princess Cruises

We’ve seen many reviews on our website saying that the spa crew members threw a hard sell at them when their treatment was barely even finished.  Of course, there are also many praising the relaxing massages they had. The point is, the cruise line is in business to make money, and one easy way is to try to sell guests the products that are used on them during spa treatments. Don’t let them pressure you into something you don’t really want to buy; just politely but firmly say “No, thank you” and relish the relaxing experience you just had. Similarly, some of the lectures offered by the spa staff onboard during sea days are rarely more than sales pitches to get you to book a treatment or a medi-spa service. If you go to that free seminar that promises to show you how to “drop 25 pounds in 10 days,” don’t expect some magical secrets, but rather a hard sell to get you to book some sort of weight loss treatment or consultation in the spa.


5. Cabin upgrades aren’t always good.

carnival cabin stateroom cruise ship lessons

Photo by Carnival Cruise Line

It’s true. While most of the time getting a cabin upgrade is a time to celebrate your good fortune; make sure you know what you’re being upgraded to before you say yes.  For example: you booked an unobstructed balcony cabin in an area of the ship that you know will be quiet come nighttime. The cruise line offers to bump you up to a mini-suite, which sounds wonderful!  But do your research: is it right underneath the noisy lido deck? Does it have a balcony, and if so, is it unobstructed? Look at deck plans, find out the specs, and then decide which features are most important to you. And, as hard as it may be, you might have to say no to an “upgrade” if it really isn’t an improvement.


6. Open deck chairs can be hard to find.

cruise ship lido deck pool chair

Photo by Carnival Cruise Line

Most cruise ships hold thousands of passengers nowadays, and there’s only so much outdoor deck space to go around.  Because of this, it might be tricky to find a couple of unoccupied deck chairs near each other… or any at all. Though official cruise line policies usually prohibit chair saving, it isn't usually enforced, so you can wake up early to claim your spot.  Or, if you’re traveling without children you can opt for exclusive adults-only decks that only offer a certain number of passes each voyage - making it less crowded. Two examples are the Vibe Beach Club on Norwegian Cruise Line, and the Sanctuary on Princess Cruises. These passes do cost an additional fee, and they go fast so make sure to reserve them as soon as possible once you get onboard.  Another option is to walk around the ship and find quieter spots; often there are sun decks high atop the ship, or lower decks at the aft of the ship that are only accessible through unmarked doors, thus making them somewhat secret and quite relaxing.


Join the discussion

What tips do you have for a first-time cruiser?


Posted by rearle

check first prior to ordering the Drink Packages...our experience on Princess was terrible, instead of bottled/cans of sodas/soft drinks...we were given only fountain drinks, each had an 'off taste'...so we went back to ordering our drinks in the original container, we just cut down a bit on our consumption to reduce cost.

Posted by Deckchairs

I don’t know of any cruise line who has solved the problem of hogging deck chairs. We’ve seen people put towels on chairs then go off for a tour! So rude!,,

Posted by radiationman

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