1. Do your research
Like any holiday it is important that you do some research before you book your cruise and this includes looking at the destinations you want to visit and checking the facilities that are available on the cruise you are going on.
The President of Cruise Report, Chris Dikmen shares some of his research tips, “There are so many choices in cruising now that there is something for everyone. Take a little time to do some research, and use a good, cruise travel agency. They can usually steer you in the right direction, and it does not cost you a penny.
“Check your Credit Card benefits, you may get special perks or shipboard credit when you pay for your cruise with certain cards.”
Cruise blogger Emma, who runs the Cruising Isn't Just For Old People site, agrees that it is important to do your research.
“Make sure that you research which cruise line fits your needs before booking. Cruise lines vary dramatically and by picking the right cruise line you can ensure that you don't get stuck doing anything that you don't want to do. For example, I tend to avoid formal nights because I like to pack light. I usually book with cruise lines that have no/few formal nights. Most importantly, remember that it is your holiday and you have come to enjoy yourself. A cruise gives you so much more freedom than a land-based holiday so make sure that you utilise all the options given to you.”
2. What to pack for a cruise?
This is a common conundrum for both experienced and novice cruisers as you try to decide what the essentials you need to pack are and what items you could leave behind.
A first-aid kit and items to save space
Adam Coulter, UK Managing Editor at Cruise Critic, recommends packing a first-aid kit and has some tips to save space.
“Apart from the usual holiday essentials such as hats, sunglasses and sun lotion on a cruise, we highly recommend that you take a first aid kit, since medications on-board can be expensive. To create more space in a small cabin, we also suggest packing an over-the-door shoe holder so you can easily store small items such as make up, toiletries and jewellery. It is also worth taking a foldable bag for bringing back things you want to buy on-board and ashore, as well as a good size bag for day trips or beach trips. This can also be used to house your first day essentials on-board, since you might not receive your luggage in your room for a good few hours.”
Emma from Cruising Isn’t Just For Old People also packs a lot of medicines as the last thing you want is to be feeling unwell during your cruise.
“I am usually able to pack pretty light when I cruise. On many occasions, I have packed for a week or two in only a cabin bag. However, one area that I do not cut down on is medicines. I always make sure that I have a large toiletries bag full of pills and potions to cure any ailment. There is nothing worse than feeling unwell when you're meant to be enjoying yourself.”
Bring hand luggage
Marcus Adams, a passionate and experienced cruiser who runs the popular Sparkx blog, says he always brings hand luggage.
“My top tip is that hand luggage is your best friend. All essentials such as cruise documents, ID, medication should all be packed in your hand luggage. Suitcases can take a while to reach your cabin, so consider packing a change of clothes so that you can go swimming or go to the gym. There’s no reason to miss out on the first day of your holiday! Definitely pack a camera so that you can capture memories as soon as you’re on board.”
Extension cord, water shoes and a light sweater
Ben Souza from Cruise Fever thinks there are a few things that are very useful when deciding what to pack for a cruise such as an extension cord, water shoes and a light sweater.
“There is a saying among the cruise community when it comes to packing: ‘Lay out all the clothes and money you want to take. Take half the clothes and double the money.’ While there is some truth to this, there are a few things that come in extremely handy when packing for a cruise.
“I always bring an extension cord/power strip, clothes for formal night, a light sweater (lounges and dining rooms can be cool from air conditioning), and water shoes are a must when visiting the Caribbean.”
Take an alarm clock
Emrys Thakkar, who is the Cruise Hive editor, says that taking an alarm clock is a great idea as it will ensure you don’t rack up any roaming charges.
“When the time comes to pack for that long-awaited cruise vacation there are some items worth taking along to make the experience hassle-free. I would suggest taking a simple travel alarm clock as you wouldn't want to take the risk of using a phone with all those roaming tariffs.”
Pack some white clothes & other formal wear
Ricky & Yves, who run the Cruise To Travel blog, recommend packing some white attire as a lot of cruises have white parties and other themed-nights.
“One of the essentials any (future) cruiser should certainly remember to pack is something white. All cruises have some sort of themed-nights (seventies-disco nights and parties...) and most also have a white party. So you can never go wrong with packing white clothes. And yes a cruise is the perfect excuse to wear that seventies' wig and those platform shoes.”
3. Book as many activities as early as possible
As you can imagine a luxury spa treatment or special dining experience on a cruise can get booked up fast.
Adam Coulter recommends booking up activities as quickly as possible. He says, “It is advisable to book spa treatments and speciality dining experiences early, as these get booked up quickly.”
Emrys Thakkar says cruises will often offer special offers on the day of departure so you’ll need to keep an eye out for that.
“During the cruise don't wait to make any dining reservations or spa bookings, they can be taken up fast as often there are limited slots. Often on embarkation day, there can be special promotions and discounts which can be taken advantage of.”
Marcus Adams, adds, “Having a spa treatment on a cruise needn’t be expensive. If you’re willing to be flexible on the time, so for example going on a port day or the day of embarkation, you can save a lot of money. Cruise lines tend to run special offers on these days that you won’t find every day of the cruise.”
4. Cruise etiquette – how to behave & what not to do on a cruise
Dave Monk, who runs the award-winning cruise blog Shipmonk, says to avoid funny stares there are certain things you really shouldn’t do.
“Also, to avoid stares from other passengers, don’t:
- Call the ship a boat
- Reserve sun loungers by the pool without using them
- Turn up to the main dining room in shorts or tatty jeans on formal nights
- Disrespect the crew
- Barge in on the buffet line or, heaven forbid, move along it the wrong way, against the flow.
- Brag about your cabin, your children, your home, your salary - well, just about anything.
- Start a debate on tipping, dress code or big vs small ships - people become very heated.”
Being courteous of others is one of the most important aspects of cruise etiquette, especially in your cabin, according to Chris Dikmen, the President of Cruise Report.
“Your stateroom walls are very thin and your neighbours can hear just about everything you are doing. Make sure to have your TV turned down at a reasonable hour. Use your ‘inside voice’ when in the stateroom. And, DON”T slam your stateroom door or balcony door!”
Ben Souza from Cruise Fever agrees, “When it comes to things not to do, the most important thing to remember is that you’re sharing the ship with thousands of other guests. Always treat other passengers and the crew with respect. Line cutting, saving of seats, obnoxious/loud behaviour have no place on a cruise ship.”
Emma, the Wave Awards 'best cruise blogger' finalist 2018, says one act she appreciates is when people wait for you to get off the lift.
“If I could give everybody one piece of advice it would be to let people out of the elevator/lift before trying to get on. Good manners cost nothing and can sadly be forgotten by some people when cruising. The majority of cruisers are lovely, friendly, polite people but a little more awareness and care for others is never a bad thing.”
A pet hate of Sparkx’s Marcus Adams is people that hog or reserve beds. He adds, “Many ships have thermal spas, saunas and Persian Gardens. These are amazing facilities are available to all guests (sometimes at an extra cost). They can become busy some days, so if you are going to use these facilities, respect your fellow guests and don’t hog or reserve beds and space.”
Do not be cheap when tipping
Cruise To Travel’s Ricky & Yves say it is important to be generous when tipping the cruise staff and that you should treat them well, as they are the ones looking after you.
“Please don't be cheap when it comes to tipping/rewarding the crew (or treat them like you're better than them), because they are the guys and girls who work hard every day to make your vacation the best vacation ever.”
5. How to exercise on a cruise
On any cruise, regardless of what kind of ship you are on, you can always find ways to exercise and stay in shape. Here’s what some of our experts suggest.
Adam Coulter from Cruise Critic, says, “In recent years, nearly every new midsize to mammoth cruise ship introduced has come with a fitness centre that's well stocked with the equipment you'd find in your neighbourhood gym: treadmills, steppers, bikes, medicine and fitness balls, and free weights. Group classes in yoga, Pilates and spinning are offered on numerous lines, as well.
“To make exercising even more fun, Marella cruises has introduced innovative Virtual Dance lessons on Marella Discovery, with Strictly Come Dancing's Anton du Beke teaching you how to rumba and cha-cha-cha with added professional live coaches to help out. Discovery also features the fleet's first climbing wall located on Deck 10, where sessions take place under the supervision of rock-climbing experts.”
Dave Monk, adds, “For fresh air, find the walking/jogging track which will normally be on the promenade deck or near the top of the ship. Feel extra smug (or jealous) as you stride past lots of fellow passengers on loungers eating ice cream and sipping cocktails.”
6. Book walking tours on your shore excursions
Shore excursions allow you to explore the city or town you have docked at and Cruise Fever’s Ben Souza says walking tours are a great way to learn about the history of the destination you have visited.
“Walking tours are a great way to not only get exercise, but also to learn about the ports that you are visiting. You will find that they are full of interesting history.”
7. Use the stairs instead of the elevators
Not only will using the stairs help you stay active, but the elevators on a cruise ship can get packed very quickly.
Cruise Hive’s Editor Emrys Thakkar, says, “With the growing dining choices many cruise lines offer these days, keeping fit is more important than ever. Some ships can carry over 5,000 passengers so it might be a good idea to keep using the stairs as those elevators will likely be packed anyway.”
Marcus Adams, agrees, “Avoid the lifts as much as possible. Depending on the ship, you can easily waste a lot of your holiday waiting for a lift to come. I personally try to walk up and down the stairs when I’m on board. This has the added benefit of giving you a good workout over the course of the week, burning off extra calories for those yummy deserts.”
8. How to avoid piling on the pounds
It is quite easy to over indulge on a cruise as there is so many desirable things you can eat, but there will also be lots of healthy alternatives.
Dave Monk, says, “With tempting buffets, second helpings and delicious desserts on offer, it’s easy to be led astray. Fill yourself up with a healthy breakfast, have a light lunch and a two-course dinner, without too many cocktails in between. Most ships now offer healthy venues or alternatives.”
9. Don’t skip the muster drill
A muster drill is an exercise to help you and the other guests get familiar with the location (muster station) where they will need to assemble in case of an emergency.
You will also receive other safety information such as how to wear a safety jacket during this drill.
10. Don’t overdo it on the alcohol
Of course you want to have the best time possible and yes you may want to have a few alcoholic drinks to toast your holiday, but as Adam Coulter says it is important not to get carried away.
“It is really easy to get carried away with drinking alcoholic beverages on a cruise, so make sure you pace yourself and eat in-between drinks.”
11. Make your own experience
Emrys Thakkar believes it is important to make your own experience and not worry about missing events or trips you were looking forward to.
“You have to make your own experience on a cruise ship. There are so many things to choose from just take it day by day and plan. Cruise lines will have an easy way for guests to keep track of events so nothing is missed.”