Once you have the cruising bug it can be hard to shake, but going on your first cruise can be a daunting affair. There are so many unknowns for cruise virgins: where to go, when to go, what to pack, and how to get the most out of what could be your best holiday ever.
Never fear, World of Cruising has compiled its list of 10 top tips for making the most of your maiden voyage.
1. Where to go
There are lots of different options and they all offer a different flavour of cruising. Basically you can choose a cruise destination that suits your character and taste. If you want sun and excitement, maybe the Caribbean is for you. Adventurers could choose to travel to the Arctic or go swimming with bay sea lions. Culture vultures might opt for a Mediterranean jaunt stopping off at Istanbul, Venice or Rome. And for the trip of a lifetime, the glamour of a round the world cruise remains unbeatable.
2. When to go
Again, there are no rules, so when you cruise depends on you. Ships are constantly on the move and offer a range of exciting itineraries taking in different geographical regions, climates and cultures. You can enjoy a rejuvenating sunshine cruise early in the year, take a trip through European history with a river cruise as spring arrives, or look for an exciting long haul later in the year. By opting for a slightly off-peak time you could even save yourself some money.
It pays to do your homework. There are many different lines and they all offer slightly different services, approaches and prices. Families can opt for lines like Disney that cater specifically for them. The older traveller, free from the confines of travelling with children can meet likeminded sorts on a Saga Cruise. Those in search of luxury might look towards Crystal Cruises or Silversea. Get feedback from friends who have been on cruises, visit cruise shows, consult with specialist cruise travel agent, and don’t forget to renew your subscription to World of Cruising. Some cruise lines also run ship days so you can really see what you’ll be experiencing.
4. What to pack
Unlike flying, there are usually no restrictions on the amount of luggage you can bring on a cruise. Of course you may have to fly to your embarkation point so normal limits apply. Bear in mind that you have to fit what you bring into your cabin as well. There are lots of lists that suggest things that you might want to take to make your holiday complete, but use common sense to discriminate between what is essential and what is merely useful.
5. Walk on bags
Your ship will be handling the luggage of hundreds of other passengers in a short time window, so it is possible that you may not receive it in your room for several hours. Make sure that you have a walk on bag that includes everything that you will need for that time, be it warm clothes, medicines, nappies and food for a young child, or whatever. Some cruisers like to have a few emergency supplies – toothbrush, clean pants, etc – on the slight chance that their luggage goes AWOL.
6. Your wardrobe
It’s worth checking if there is a dress code on your ship. The likelihood is that it’s fairly informal, so pack accordingly. Cruises don’t usually require you to dress for dinner, although there will be instances when you want to look your best, so pack a range of clothing that will see you through the day, excursions and port visits, and any activities you might want to indulge in. Most ships have laundry services and laundrettes so you can cut down on your wardrobe.
7. Eating and drinking
Live like a king or queen in any number of on board restaurants and bars. Food will be included in your package although there are usually speciality restaurants that require individual booking and that you pay for separately. Book early as they can be very popular. In recent years celebrity chef eateries have become a bigger part of the cruising experience, from Jamie Oliver on Royal Caribbean to Marco Pierre White on P&O. Drinks on board are usually comparably priced to on land and many companies have drinks packages that cover the cost of a range of drinks. Cruise companies will also have a policy on what booze you can bring on board. Some are relaxed about it, some charge corkage if wine is drunk outside of your room, and others absolutely forbid it. Check before you book.
As great as the facilities on board your cruise ship are, you will really miss out if you don’t take advantage of the fact that you are visiting new ports all the time. Get hold of the itinerary in advance and plan what you want to do. There will be days when you absolutely want to be off the ship at the first possible opportunity to cram in as much as you can. The cruise lines plan plenty of excursions, but you can also make your own arrangements. Just make sure you are back in time or the ship may leave without you.
The days of the cruise director tinkling the ivories in the saloon bar are long gone. Cruise companies now plough millions of pounds into ensuring that the level of entertainment on ship is second to none. Top West Ends productions, big name singers, exciting attractions and engaging experiences are all available. You can check out Chicago with Royal Caribbean, go to cookery school with Silversea, or question top authors about their inspiration on Saga Cruises. Take full advantage.
10. Enjoyed it? Then do it again!
Hopefully you’ll enjoy your first cruise so much that you’ll want to do it all over again. And why not? There really is a world of cruising out there, and the world is your oyster.