Know Before You Go: Cruising for First Timers

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Within the cruising community, it’s often said that once a cruiser, always a cruiser. It could be the variety of activities and entertainment, the five-star service and food, or possibly the pure luxury of waking up somewhere new everyday without having to drive or fly anywhere. Whatever your reasons for cruising, welcome to the club. From those of us who are long-time members, here are a few tips for first-timers.

Anticipate the Extras

Despite the luxury of paying for room and board, entertainment, and travel all in one, most cruises aren’t all inclusive. When budgeting for your trip, anticipate the extras. On most cruises, alcohol, shore excursions, specialty restaurants, spa treatments, Internet use and laundry services cost an extra fee. While most ships automatically add a gratuities surcharge of $10-$15 per person per day to your account, it is expected that you tip some staff members in cash. Room-service waiters, the wait staff in specialty restaurants and the maitre’d are included in this category; the person who brings your bags is not.

Pack the Necessities

The average cruise cabin is about 170 to 200 feet, according to, which is about half the size of an average hotel room. In other words, don’t over pack. Most ships will provide shampoo, soap, towels and hair dryers in the room. Most won’t include an alarm clock, or any clock. So what do you need to pack for a cruise? A power cord, small flashlight, and foldable mesh laundry bag are items that top our list. For a free, printable checklist for cruisers, visit

Don’t Forget Your Documents

Many ships require that you show photo identification and your charge/key card every time you board or exit the ship, even on shore excursions. Generally at check-in before you board the ship for the first time you will be given this card.

Before leaving home, make copies of your passport, driver’s license, cruise insurance cards, vaccination certificates, and credit cards. Leave one copy at home in a secure place, and pack one with you along with the original documents and cards. That way, if you are in a bind you at least have the information you need.

Know the Code

Not all ships require you to dress up for dinner anymore, but many do. Check with your cruise line to know just how formal you have to be for meal times.  Another question to ask is what are the ship’s electrical specifications. You’ll need to know if you need to pack power converters and adapters if traveling international, or if the ship provides U.S.-style current and plugs.

Helpful Hints

If you are prone to sea sickness, suggests that the best cabin for you is on a lower deck in the middle of the ship, midway between the bow and stern. Ship movements are less noticeable in that area.

Don’t waste luggage space by packing books; many ships have a library filled with novels that will help you pass time at sea.

Don’t miss the morning sun inside your cabin.  In the morning, turn on your TV to the “view from the bridge” channel and watch the sun rise.

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