Cruise Ship Tips for First Timers

So, it’s your first time on a party cruise in playa del carmen. You’ve earned it, and you want to relax and feel a bit of luxury with your loved ones. But since a cruise ship isn’t just a simple mode of transport – it’s packed with activities and new things to experience – it pays to do some research before you hop on. A lot of people who were not as prepared learned things the hard way. Now, you can learn from others’ experience and remember these cruise ship tips for first-timers: 

Mind your timing

The number of crowds may vary depending on the cruise location, your chosen destination and the time of the year. Sometimes, children, families and spring breakers increase at certain times of the year. Before you plan your first cruise, keep holidays and vacation dates in mind, as well as any occasions or holidays that will be ongoing on your port stop-overs.

Pack wisely

Travel organizer bags inside a suitcase


For a lot of activities you are looking forward to in a cruise, packing for it seems like a daunting task. You know you’ll be on gala nights, chilly dining rooms, hot ports, beach days, snorkeling excursions – if you want to be ready for anything, you can easily get your luggage full. But over-packing can cause excess baggage fees, so you want to avoid that. Here are some helpful packing tips to remember:

  • Pack a carry on. With the amount of luggage you have, plus the hundreds of other passengers with the same amount of baggage, you may wait for a few hours before your bags arrive at your suite. Make sure you have a carry-on bag with a change of clothes, toiletries, ID, travel documents, camera, meds, bathing suit and the like. If you have a carry on, you can enjoy the onboard activities right away, rather than waiting for your bags to show up at your door. You can also pack a waterproof jacket or umbrella, since port excursions will still continue, rain or shine.
  • Know the dress code. If you’re on a luxury cruise, it’s just proper to get glam, especially for the hip’s formal nights. Most people dress more informally now, like cocktail suits, flowy pantsuits and little black dresses for women. Think what you’d wear on a date night – most probably that will be fine. You must also dress for your destination. When travelling to Europe, pack a more resort casual attire. For other cruise itineraries like the Caribbean and Hawaii, something more casual is the norm. But if you’re visiting religious sites, like in Europe or Middle East, bring modest clothes.
  • Plan your outfits ahead. Make your clothes do double duty and mix and match them, so you won’t need to be hit with excess bag fees. For instance, you can opt for one formal outfit and just bring different accessories, rather than pack two cocktail dresses. You may stick to one color scheme, and then just re-wear the bottoms with another top. You can also look for items that can be layered or dressed up when the occasion sees fit.
  • Consider doing laundry onboard if you want to pack light. You can use self-service laundromats (if your cruise has that) or avail a laundry and pressing services if you’re on a suite. You can also bring travel detergent and do some laundry in your cabin’s bathroom.
  • Bring your own toiletries, if you’re particular with your brands. Luxury cruise lines can offer branded toiletries, but if you’re going with a regular cruise line, toiletries are limited. Also, if for instance you have a major preference for the type of body soap or wash, or the brand of shampoo you use, make room in your luggage for them, because you don’t always have the option in the cruise.
  • Bring an extra duffle bag. Most likely, you’d want to bring home some souvenirs during your cruise, so make room for them by bringing an extra bag. You must also bring plastic bags for transporting your wet things or clothes.
  • Check what you can and cannot bring. You may want to bring your favorite wine or spirits with you, but cruise lines have a variety of policies regarding how much alcohol (if permitted) you can bring onboard with you. And it isn’t only limited to alcohol – some cruise ships have strict ground rules on what items cannot be brought on board, so it’s best to check them before boarding to avoid having anything confiscated.

Research ports in advance

The ship’s itinerary will be detailed in regards to shore days, ports of call, and times for disembarkation and re-embarkation at the end of the day. If you didn’t research about the destinations, you may be cruising blind. Read as much as you can, because otherwise, you may end up left in the port, overwhelmed and with no clue about what to do for the next few hours. In terms of port info, lines rarely go beyond handing out a map of the town stores (and it’s mostly their business partners only). It would be wise if you know exactly what to do for every location you’ll be visiting to make the most out of your trip (and to look like it isn’t your first time).

Pick a simple cabin on your first time

Interior of a cruise ship cabin room

You may think that you need to be on board the most luxurious ship cabins (also known as staterooms) to fully enjoy the cruise experience. But as a first time cruiser, your tendency is to get out of your room most of the time because there is just so much to see and do aboard, and of course, in your port destinations. Because of this, your room will be under-utilized. For a first timer, you can take the cheaper interior cabin and enjoy every inch of the cruise ship. There are ships that has virtual portholes on the interior rooms, so you can view the ocean outside. Then, after your first cruise, you can go for balcony rooms for an upgrade.

Know your ship and plan your activities on board

It can be daunting to navigate a cruise ship, so it’s best to gather a lot of information about your specific cruise ship before going on board. Most people are excited about the destinations of the cruise, but they tend to forget that there are also so much to look forward to inside the ship, so they wander around aimlessly deciding on where to do next. Be a smart cruiser by creating your own ship tour. While other groups of tourists can’t agree on what to try first, you and your pals or loved ones can tour the ship like an old pro if you’ve got a plan.

Read the FAQs carefully and check out the cruise ship’s website, which will contain lots of tips and tricks to make the most out of your stay on deck. Most often, they include dining options and times, shore excursions, special events, dress code, tipping policies and more. These will be invaluable for you to enjoy your stay at the ship.

Pace yourself

Buffet aboard a cruise ship

Activities, food and drink will be abundant onboard, and perhaps you want to try, see and do everything. It’s understandable, especially for a first timer, but as we said earlier, it would be a lot better if you plan your whole trip ahead. There are times when you can just enjoy your stay in the cabin and relax. You can also skip a port day, since port days are the quietest on the ship. There are a lot less people around, and you will be free to enjoy the ship’s amenities without the crowds.

Also, it would be wise to avoid the buffet on embarkation day. All the pre-cruise time comes with an early morning trip then a lengthy stop over at the port, and lots of waiting in the terminal, so most people who will embark on the ship will be hungry. The majority dashes to the buffet, but if you want to experience a more peaceful dining on your first day at the ship, head to the dining room or a more private restaurant – you can enjoy the buffet another day. A real glamorous woman knows how to be poised by pacing herself. And also, if you do eat at the buffet, make sure you work off the excess calories you taken in. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, or hit the gym onboard and sign up for a fitness class.

Familiarize yourself with cruise lingo

Cruise ship passengers being tendered to a boat

During your first time on a cruise ship (or any ship, for that matter), you may not understand some of the terms people use. It pays to familiarize yourself with cruise lingo so you can settle in easier, help you blend in and sound like you know what you are doing. Here are some terms to know:

  • Stateroom – your cabin or suite
  • Berth – the built-in bed or bunk in your stateroom
  • Bow and stern – the front and back of the ship, respectively
  • Port – the left side of the ship when facing the bow
  • Starboard – right side of the ship when facing the bow
  • Muster station – a place close to your stateroom where you gather in event of an emergency
  • Deck plan – map of the cruise ship
  • Lido deck – place where the pool is
  • Bridge – navigational control of the ship (off-limits to passengers)
  • Galley – the ship’s kitchen
  • Wake – the trail in the water created by the ship
  • Roll – a little side to side motion that happens in the ship when the seas are rough
  • Sea day – when a ship remains on water all day
  • Port day – when a ship stays on a port all day
  • Gangway – ramp used to embark or disembark the ship
  • Port of call – designated stops on your itinerary
  • Dock or tender – two ways cruise ships transfer their passengers to land. It is placed next to each port of call. Dock means the ship docks at the pier and passengers exit the ship with the help of the ramp. Tender means there are no pier facilities around or the water is too shallow for the ship to dock, so the ship use small boats (called tenders) to bring passengers to land.
  • Shorex – abbreviation for “shore excursions”
  • Cruise director – the one in charge of hosting events on board
  • Purser – the person who handles all financial transactions on board