Dubbed the ‘Oscars of cruising’, the Wave Awards recognise cruise lines, travel agents, tourist boards and ports. Credit: Shutterstock

10 top tips for first-time cruisers

Author: Nicole Carmichael

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If you’ve never booked a cruise before, the choice can easily seem overwhelming. But follow a few simple rules and it’s all plain sailing, says Nicole Carmichael.

There’s never been such a great time to give cruising a try. With new ships, dazzling destinations and exciting itineraries launching every week, there really is a cruise that will suit your style and budget. But with so much choice on offer, it pays to do a bit of homework first – so here’s our list of top tips for turning your first cruise into the voyage of a lifetime.

1. Phone a friend

If you haven’t cruised before, maybe you know someone who has. If so, they’ll be a fund of good advice, helping you choose between different cruise lines or even between a river cruise and an ocean voyage, which offer very different experiences. They may say they enjoyed sitting next to the same couple every night, eating at exactly the same time every day and knowing just what to expect on the menu – but if that doesn’t float your boat, at least you’ll know what to avoid. Quiz them on the size of their cabin, the quality of the food, whether they liked their fellow cruisers and whether or not they got value for money.

2. Do your research
Check out the new comments section on our website, worldofcruising.co.uk, and look at online reviews by cruise bloggers and influencers. Don’t just rely on cruise lines’ own websites, which all say they serve delicious food and have the most comfortable staterooms (cruise-speak for cabins). On any forum you can find disgruntled passengers who believe they deserve seven-star service on a two-star budget, but reading the cruise line’s reply can be revealing, and it will help you decide whether this company is right for you.

One of the most important things to do when booking your cruise, is to ask questions. Credit: Shutterstock

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3. Book with a specialist
It really pays to use a specialist cruise travel agent. The cruise industry moves fast – and if you’re a newbie, an experienced agent’s inside knowledge can make the difference between holiday heaven and an experience you won’t want to repeat. For example, if you’re under 40, you may prefer a cruise with Virgin Voyages or Royal Caribbean. But if 40 is a distant memory, you might prefer a more traditional line. Either way, a specialist agent will tailor your trip to match your needs.

4. Try a mini-cruise

There are so many preconceptions about cruising that you may even have misgivings yourself. Will I feel claustrophobic? Will I have to be sociable with strangers all the time? WillI always have to follow a tour guide around the ports? It’s a big commitment to pay for a cruise that might not be right for you, but a mini-cruise is a more affordable way to experience what life on the water is all about. You’ll be able to judge the design of the cabins, the friendliness off the crew and the behaviour of your fellow guests. You’ll also discover that you can do everything at your own pace, so you don’t need to opt in to organised excursions and can explore a port on your own. For an authentic taste of the cruising experience at a bite-sized price, a mini-cruise is hard to beat.

5. Glass half full

All-inclusive drinks packages are popular because they mean you don’t have to keep tabs on what you’re spending. But there are lots of deals available, and terms differ widely – one may include only non-branded spirits and house wines, another may offer unlimited cocktails and champagne. You may find there’s a cap on the number of drinks per day, gratuities may be extra (sometimes 15 or 20 per cent per drink), or there may be a special offer if you book a drinks package in advance. Work out (truthfully) how much you like to drink everyday, check the prices of the drinks on board and calculate which deal is best value for you. Note that drinks packages generally can’t be shared with other people in your party. Non-alcoholic drinks packages are also available.

If you've never cruised before, you might have a few preconceptions.

6. Be a small-print pedant
Check and discuss all the details with your agent. A deal may claim to be all-inclusive, but there might be caveats. For example, a cruise line may offer unlimited free excursions, but only if you book them in advance. Also, bear in mind that the most popular experiences are likely to be snapped up quickly, so don’t go thinking you’ll get a place on the Northern Lights excursion if you try to sign up the night before. Similarly, ask about any hidden costs – whether, for instance, you pre-pay tips onboard, and whether ‘free’ wi-fi is limited to one device per cabin.

7. Pack like a pro
As you’ll only have to unpack once on your cruise, don’t scrimp on your packing. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothes, so check weather apps in advance and look at what your itinerary involves. If you’re going to Alaska or the fjords, for example, you’ll need extra layers and a good pair of walking shoes. But note that even northerly countries like the Baltics can get extremely warm in summer.

8. Explore the ship
Many of today’s ships are truly vast, and they take some getting to know.You don’t want to be discovering that dream cocktail bar with amazing sunset views on your last night, so arm yourself with a pad and pencil, and map out where everything is. That way you’re less likely to get lost on your way to morning yoga, and you’ll know where to find a cool sushi station or a great place for afternoon tea. While you’re at it, get to know the staff. This isn’t just polite; it’s likely that your crew will have sailed everywhere on your itinerary before, and they’ll have some great local tips to share.

Enhance and customise your cruise holiday by downloading the cruise line's app.

9. Get out of your comfort zone
Going on a cruise is a wonderful way to try new experiences. You’ll have paid in advance for a raft of onboard entertainments, so give them a try. Go to a theatre show or a talk about an area you wouldn’t normally think of visiting, or do a class such as art or dancing that you’ve always secretly hankered to try. And use the cruise to experiment with different dining options, too. Larger cruise ships offer just about every cuisine under the sun, so why not take your taste buds on holiday too?

10. Healthy start
You’ve paid for this trip so make sure you stay in the best shape to enjoy every minute of it. Use the hand sanitisers provided (keep a bottle with you, too) and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Try to stick to your regular sleep pattern, and if possible use the stairs instead of the lifts to get about the ship. It’s tempting to take advantage of every appetising treat and over-indulge on cocktails, but your body won’t behave any differently just because you’re on a ship. Wouldn’t it be a shame to lose a precious day of your holiday because of a killer hangover?

Celebrity Cruises offers a variety of all inclusive drinks package cruises. Credit: Celebrity Cruises
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