Going on a cruise for the first time? Get ready to have one of the best vacations of your life! Cruising is becoming very popular and there seem to be more and more first-time cruisers out on the open sea.
To start off your cruise in the best possible way, get to the departure port as early as possible. Most ships that depart at 5:00pm usually start allowing passengers on board close to noon. The earlier the better. When you get to the departure port, you’ll check your luggage and wait in line to get on the ship. First you’ll go through security. Then be sure you have all your forms filled out (that your travel agent should have been able to give you) and identification ready. You’ll check in by showing your ID and customs forms and then you’ll get your room keys. Most ships use cards as room keys that will also be connected to your credit card. This will be the only form of payment you can use on the ship, so choose the right credit card and be sure not to lose your room key! On most ships, you will also have your photo taken. This photo will also be connected with your card and will be used when you get on and off the ship at various ports of call. Whenever you debark or board the ship, you’ll buzz in with your card and the crew will see your photo to be sure that you are a true passenger.
Once you’re on the ship it’s time to explore. Find your cabin, get to know the layout of the ship, and just look around. You can usually grab a delicious buffet lunch, have a drink and relax. You’re luggage may not be in your room right away, so if you think you’ll want to swim or work out or just change your clothes, you may want to put the change of clothes in a carry-on bag. Be sure you don’t get too involved in anything because if you’re departing at 5:00, you’ll have a muster drill at around 4:30. This is required by every ship. The captain will announce instructions for what you should do and where you should go over the intercom, so you’ll have plenty of time to prepare. Most likely, you will have to go to your cabin and retrieve your life vests and proceed to your muster station. You can always find the location of your muster station posted in your cabin.
Once the muster drill ends, you’re ready for the cruise to truly begin! Return your life vests to your cabin and prepare to sail away! I love to get back up on desk as soon as I can to get a good spot outside to watch the send off. After you sail away, if you are scheduled for early dinner, it may be time to get ready to eat again. If not, you’ll have some more time to do what you wish until about 8:00. Some ships are moving away from scheduled seating and allow you to eat whenever you choose. This works well for a lot of people. The only reason I prefer scheduled seating is that you get the same waiter and assistant every time and they get to know you well over the course of the cruise. A show will also be scheduled for the night. Each show is usually scheduled twice a night – once for those with early seating and once for those with late seating. In order to see show times as well as information about every other activity on board, most ships deliver a newsletter to each cabin every day. There will be one in your room when you first board, and one every night describing the next day’s activities. These newsletters are the key to making sure you do all that you want to do. Every night before going to sleep, I check out the next day’s schedule and plan out my day. This way I’m sure not to miss anything that I’d be sorry about and it doesn’t take more than 5 minutes.
Another tip I have learned about cruising is that if you’re planning on doing any shore excursions, book them through the ship – don’t try to book it yourself. This is important for many reasons. If you book a tour yourself and you arrive back too late, the ship cannot wait for you. If you are on an excursion from the ship, you’ll be with a large group of people from the same ship and you’ll be sure to get back on time. Also, if any changes need to be made to the itinerary, a tour that you booked yourself will probably not be refundable, whereas the ship will give your your money back for any missed excursions that were missed because the ship could not go to that particular port of call.
If you are on a cruise with one of the major cruise lines, it’s a good idea to sign up for their members club – whether or not you are planning another cruise. It’s free to join these clubs and if you ever do decide to go back on the same cruise line, it can help. You may receive money off, on-board credits, gifts, and coupons to use around the ship. You may also get invited to private member parties, wine tastings, and other events specifically for members. Members can also get deals on special cruises and offers for member-only cruises. Even if you think you’ll never cruise again, sometime in the future you may want to, and these memberships can come in handy.
When you are returning home and getting ready to go home, there are a few things to remember. The day before departure, you will receive luggage tags in your cabin with debarkation instructions. be sure to read these carefully. You will have to pack most of your luggage the night before debarkation and leave your suitcases outside your cabin. They will be picked up later that night for you to receive back at the port. On the morning of debarkation, breakfast will be offered. Take your time eating because after that there isn’t much to do but wait to debark. Most ships use a color-coded system. Your luggage tags will have a color, and you’ll be called by color to get off the ship. You’ll be allowed to wait in any lounges or on deck for your color to be called. Once it is, you will debark, go through customs, get your luggage and thats that.
Finally, remember to relax, kick back and enjoy yourself – that is the whole point of the cruise! I strongly urge everyone to go out on deck at least one night and just look out at the darkness all around; it’s so calming and peaceful and beautiful. Take the time to lay out in the sun (wearing sunscreen of course!) and get a fruity, tropical drink, and listen to the sounds of a calypso band by the pool. Try new things – take a yoga or spinning class, take walks around the ship, try new foods, try new drinks, get a spa treatment, do something that you’ve always wanted to do. Always remember – there’s something for everyone on a cruise ship!