Ensure your onboard adventure is smooth sailing with our ultimate guide for first-time cruisers.
Cruising is the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure – you can galivant around exciting ports, flop and drop by the pool or explore the exciting onboard attractions, all at your own pace.
There are as many reasons to cruise as there are types of cruises on offer. Take your pick from a weekend jaunt, a sun-soaked island hopper or a history-filled river sailing. Before you hit the water, don’t miss our top 10 tips for first-time cruisers, to help you get the most out of your voyage.
Ready to book your cruise escape? Check out Luxury Escapes’ range of exciting cruises.
Before you sail
Choose the best cruise line for you
All cruise lines can look the same, making it difficult for a first-time cruiser to choose. With budget and itinerary being major considerations, it’s equally important to decide based on the onboard experience. Cruise ships can vary in size from boutique river cruises with less than 30 cabins to mega-ocean liners with capacity for over 5,000 guests. Large ocean liners including Royal Caribbean®, Carnival Cruise Lines, P&O Cruises, Celebrity Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line attract families predominately from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom or America, and boast resort-like facilities such as waterslides, amusement rides, movie cinemas and extensive dining options.
Boutique ocean liners and river cruises include Scenic, Azamara and Viking offer a more intimate experience (often, children under the age of 11 or 12 are not permitted onboard).
If you’re unsure about which cruise is for you, why not try a sampler cruise? Sampler cruises are two- or three-night voyages often centred around a theme like comedy or food and wine, or quick weekend trips.
Choosing your cabin
The ideal cabin on a cruise ship will vary from person to person. The size, view, location and amenities are all factors that should be considered. What kind of view do you want to wake up to? Are you dreaming of a balcony overlooking the shimmering sea, or perhaps you’re seeking all of your whims to be tended to by a private butler?
The location of your cabin is a consideration. Do you get seasick and need a mid-ship cabin for stability? Do you prefer to be near or far from the elevators? Which amenities are worth the extra cost? Asking yourself these questions before you book will help determine your ideal cabin.
Selecting the right itinerary
Just like choosing the right ship and cabin, selecting a suitable cruise itinerary is vital to a successful holiday. It pays to be mindful that ships sailing in the school holidays will often draw more families with young children than itineraries sailing during the school term. Travelling during the low season will likely be more affordable, but sometimes there is a higher chance of sailing through rough conditions. Alternatively, some itineraries are only available during certain times of the year. Alaska cruises, for example, only sail between May and September, whilst Antarctica cruises typically sail from October to March. Lastly, one final consideration is the number of sea days and variety of ports an itinerary has.
What to pack & what to leave at home
When packing for your first cruise, there are a few factors to contemplate. Typically, staterooms have limited storage space, and evening wear may be required, so you’ll need to consider what you’ll need to bring aboard aside from daily outfits.
International power adapters may be required, as well as a tote or day bag, entertainment including books, iPads, laptops, beach equipment or personal items. Additionally, zip-lock bags to protect valuables, a plastic bag for wet items and a highlighter or pens to note key activities on the daily cruise planner are all useful items to have.
It is also helpful to note which items may be banned onboard. Most cruise lines won’t allow power strips with surge protectors or anything with heating elements such irons and garment steamers. Guests may be allowed to bring a limited amount of alcohol and bottled water onboard, depending on the cruise line policy.
Arrive in your departure city the day before embarkation
Unless you live within close reach of the port, it's suggested that you arrive at your embarkation city at least a day before sailing. You may not be required to board until midday or later, but if you're late, your cruise won’t wait.
Arriving one day before departure allows you to explore the city where your cruise departs and ensures you will be able to arrive at least 30 minutes before your boarding time.
Keep your documents handy
When you arrive at the port for embarkation, you’ll be required to present your official documents – passport or another legal form of ID, boarding pass and visa (if required). Typically, you will be required to present your paperwork multiple times during check-in so it’s a good idea to keep it handy to avoid holding up the lines.
Once you are onboard, it’s unlikely you will need to present these documents again, however, on cruises sailing to international ports, it's recommended you keep a digital copy of your paperwork and carry your passport with you.
Research your ship
Some cruise ships are as large as a small city, and these floating metropolises offer an abundance of attractions just waiting to be explored. Spend some time researching the onboard facilities, entertainment and dining options to make sure you don’t miss anything. Pre-book any must-try experiences and familarise yourself with the onboard amenities upon embarkation.
Carry-on is king
If you choose to check your luggage, it won’t arrive at your room as soon as you board. You might be waiting a few hours, so taking a carry-on bag with your ID and documentation, wallet, swimming gear, cameras, medications, sandals, sunscreen, a change of clothes and toiletries is a good idea.
Dress to impress
Depending on the style of cruise you choose, dress codes may apply. Cruises are a mostly casual affair calling for sundresses, shorts and sandals. However, most offer formal evenings where appropriate attire is required. Men's jackets can be hired for a surcharge onboard most ships. Some cruises offer themed nights like Hawaiian shirt or pirate night, which are optional to take part in.
It’s also important to dress appropriately based on the ports you are visiting and shore excursions you take part in. Many venues of worship including churches, mosques or temples require modest clothing to enter and active adventures will require appropriate footwear.
Maximise your time on land with shore excursions
Make the most of your cruise by maximising your time ashore with guided excursions (surcharges may apply). While shore tours are not required and you are free to explore your port however you wish, these guided trips are the easiest way to see the sites. Led by local experts with transportation included, these land-based trips run the gamut from sightseeing city tours to cultural events and active pursuits. Plunge into iridescent waters and snorkel among kaleidoscopic corals in the South Pacific, get up close and personal with wildlife in Canada’s inside passage and discover medieval charms in Germany.
These excursions can be booked onboard your ship's excursions desk; however, we recommend booking online before you depart to avoid disappointment.
Looking for more cruising inspiration? All Aboard: Why a Cruise Should be Next on Your Bucket List.