6 Great Cruise Tips for First-Time Cruisers

Congratulations on booking your first cruise! But now you want to know everything there is to know about your upcoming trip. As always, Your Cruise Girl is here to help with packing, beverages, ports of call, and dining. So here’s a look at a few tips for first-time cruisers.

A picture of a cruise ship pool deck for first-time cruisers.

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Research Ports Before Your Cruise

Everything you’ll need — food, entertainment, rooms, and ports — is perfectly arranged on a cruise. All you have to do is pay for the cruise, right? No, not exactly. Read as much as you possibly can before your trip; otherwise, you can end up at port overwhelmed and with no idea what to do for the next eight hours. Lines rarely go beyond handing passengers a map of the town’s jewelry stores regarding port information (with which they often have special business agreements). So it pays to do your homework before leaving with limited time in port. Even if you’ve planned an adventure, you can find yourself with several hours to kill after that three-hour snorkel trip.

Pack Smart

Packing for a cruise can seem like a daunting task. You want to make sure you take everything you need while not over-packing. First, check the weather for the ports you’ll visit to see the average temperature. This will help you determine what kind of clothes you need to bring. Things like a poncho and a refillable water bottle are also items you’ll want to consider. For more info on what to pack, click here.

Create a Ship Tour for Embarkation Day

The notion of managing a 3,100-passenger, 15-deck mega-ship can be intimidating for a first-timer. So prepare your own ship tour a few days before departure, gathering information on the locations of lounges and alternative restaurants from cruise ship deck plans, message boards, and ship reviews. So, while others meander aimlessly on their first day aboard, you can tour the ship like a pro.

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Skip the Buffet on Embarkation Day

While debarkation day is undoubtedly the worst day of the cruise, embarkation day comes as a close second. For many, it begins with a jolt out of bed, continues with a long journey to the port, and ends with a lot of thumb-twiddling in a desolate, amenity-free terminal. All of this pre-cruise time makes the soon-to-cruise passengers hungry. And then the frantic sprint to the buffet begins. Skip the buffet, where most cruisers usually go upon boarding, and head to a dining room or other open restaurant for a meal in a less hectic environment. One thing to keep in mind: not every cruise line opens its dining rooms for lunch on embarkation day.

Burn off the calories from the wonderfully luxurious food

You’re eating several lobster tails, cream sauces, and molten chocolate cake. How can you try to offset that? First, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Given the number of flights of steps on a 15-deck cruise ship, all that climbing will help you lose weight. If you enjoy working out, visit the ship’s gym or join up for a cycling or Boot Camp session to help you burn off those extra-large buffet meals faster.

Don’t tip twice for alcohol

You’re already automatically paying gratuities when you buy a drink at the bar—no need to give out extra tips for beverages.


Most major cruise lines, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian, automatically add a 15% service charge to bar bills. So there’s no need to put another tip on top unless the service was exceptional.

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