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7 First-Time Cruise Tips

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IMG_0649By Barry Vaudrin

A cruise vacation is a big investment and one that should be researched throughly, here are seven first-time cruise tips.

1. Choose a cruise with more days at sea

In my opinion, most first-time cruisers make the mistake of choosing cruise itineraries with way too many port visits.   The whole purpose of taking a cruise vacation is to enjoy the ship in it’s element, which is being at sea.  When the ships are docked in a port each day, passengers enjoy less time at sea, which is what the ships were built for.  When a ship is in-port, in the hot sun, most of the entertainment on the ship is shut down, and most of the passengers, like cattle, make their way into the port, many on shore excursions.  Shore excursions are great, but it can be very tiring if you are booked for an excursion nearly every day in a different port.  Many passengers return to the ship hot, sun-burn, sandy, and tired, only to turn around and do it again the next day.  That’s not a relaxing vacation.  So try to choose a cruise with fewer port visits and more days at sea, because it’s during these days at sea when a cruise ship comes alive.  Passengers can enjoy being at sea, all the activities, the sea air, and the great cruise ship entertainment.

2. Plan your cruise with a cruise-only agency

I am amazed at how many people think they are getting a better deal by booking their cruise directly with the cruise line.  This simply is not true.  When you’re ready to plan you first cruise, locate a cruise-only travel agency and find a cruise-only travel agent that you can work with.  A cruise-only travel agent can give unbiased cruise advice based on which cruise line would best fit your personality and expectations for the best cruise vacation.  Each cruise line and each ship has it’s own personality and attracts a certain demographic, so it’s important for first-time cruisers to be placed on the right ship and cruise the first time.  All too often, I hear of negative first-time passengers experiences that could have been avoided if they had been placed on a cruise and cruise line that is tailored for that particular passenger.  It does NOT cost anything extra to plan your cruise through a professional cruise-only travel expert, and you’ll get the best possible advice based on your personal requirements for the perfect vacation.  Here are a couple of great cruise-only agencies to consider: Cruises Only, The Cruise Web, and iCruise.

3. What type of stateroom should you consider?

Cruise ships have numerous different categories to choose from.  There are inside staterooms which have no porthole or window, then you could choose a stateroom with a porthole or window, and finally, you could luxuriate in a stateroom with it’s own verandah.  First-time cruisers tend to skimp on the cost of their first cruise because they want to get the best deal and save money in-case they discover they may not enjoy their first cruise experience.  This is not the best logic, in-fact the best choice is to book a stateroom based on your preferences for the perfect vacation rather than price.  Most people who book an inside stateroom for their first cruise realize after the fact, that for a few more dollars they could get a room with a view or a verandah.  Yes, a private verandah is a luxury, but most ships today have more private verandah’s than inside staterooms, and there are some great deals out there which include a balcony.  Don’t be one of those passengers who regret not upgrading to a verandah.  Go for it! It will be worth it.

4. Try to vacation with friends

If it’s possible for you to plan a cruise vacation with friends, make it happen, because a cruise is such an exciting vacation, it’s best to share the experience with friends.

5. Purchase Travel Insurance

This is one option that many first-time cruisers forget.  Get advice from your cruise-only travel agent, and ask about travel insurance.  You can never forecast when an unfortunate event or accident will happen.  If, for example, you’re on a cruise in the middle of the ocean, and you have a heart attack or some other unforeseeable incident, the last thing you want is to be air-lifted from the deck of the ship by the coast guard and face a $50,000 expense.  Anything could happen: the airline could lose your luggage, you could accidently fall and break a bone, a family member could die, forcing you to cancel your cruise, etc. For peace of mind, buy travel insurance, and avoid unexpected expenses.

6. Avoid motion discomfort

One of the biggest concerns of first-time cruisers is that they worry about getting seasick.  Motion discomfort is not something to worry about.  Today’s ships are so large and have the latest technology in stabilization, so chances are you will not experience motion discomfort.  Some people, however, do have some sort of motion discomfort, and there are some very simple ways to prevent or fight against this issue.  Try not to buy Dramamine, the patch, or any sort of drugs, this will only cause you to not fully enjoy your cruise experience.  Some natural and proven remedies include the following:  If the discomfort is focused on your stomach, eat an apple and saltine crackers, this will calm your stomach acids from causing discomfort.  If the discomfort is focused on your head, equilibrium, purchase wrist-bands from any pharmacist prior to your cruise just in-case.  SeaBands is a brand that offers these wrist bands that will trick your brain into NOT falling for the equilibrium-issues.  Avoid consuming alcohol the first couple of nights to allow your body to develop “sea-legs”.  Alcohol will greatly exaggerate motion discomfort.  If all of these natural remedies fail, make a visit to the doctor onboard and ask for “the shot” which will cure your motion discomfort for the duration of your vacation.  The drugs like Dramamine and the patch have side effects that may disrupt the quality of your vacation.

7. Purchase shore excursions on the ship

Many people fall for the trap that they can get a better deal on their shore excursions on their own.  While seasoned travelers might be able to save money arranging their own shore excursions, the average person will most likely spend the same amount of money and end up with a lesser quality excursion.  As a first-time cruiser, choose the shore excursions offered by the ship, that way you’ll know the excursion is sanctioned by the cruise line, you’ll return to the ship in time, you’ll avoid the pitfalls of less-than-honest tour guides, and you can be confident the excursion will give you your money’s worth.  Many of these cruise ships visit the same port week after week, so they have developed relationships with proven and tested excursions that offer the best possible experience.  Yes, you could probably save money buying an excursion at the pier in port, but  you could also end up with a less-than-honest tour guide that might rip you off.  The excursions offered on the ship may cost more money than if you booked it on your own, but again, when you try to beat the system, the chances of being ripped-off, or getting back to the ship late, could ruin your whole vacation.

Barry Vaudrin is an author, cruise journalist and the Host of Cruising Authority.  Visit www.cruisetalkshow.com and check out the guest list of those we have interviewed.  You may also be interested in our special series of videos featuring Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam.

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