Things to Consider as a First-Time Cruiser
As a newcomer to cruises it is imperative that you avoid some beginner's mistakes. Doing so is only possible when you take into consideration these tips:
- Plan ahead
As ships get bigger and technology evolves, you need to plan important parts of your trip before you get to port. On larger ships, for example, it is important that you book any shows you want to see and any dining reservations 30 days before the cruise departs. Sign up online long before your cruise sets sail if there's something you absolutely have to see, like a flight over Mendenhall glacier or the tours might be sold out. Make sure you read the fine print though, because some cruise lines won’t give you a refund if you pre-book and change your mind later.
- Pack lightly
You can store a standard suitcase or duffel bag under your bed or at the bottom of your closet but do not pack an oversized suitcase. If you fill your suitcase to maximum capacity, it will be too thick to fit and there is no place to stow it except in the open. In spite of many improvements over the years the amount of storage allocated to each traveler is still limited, a price you pay in order to enjoy a multitude of entertainment and dining options among hundreds if not thousands of other vacationers.
- Always check the weather
A lot of people are excited about the cheaper cruise prices to areas like the Caribbean especially between September and early December. Sometimes, for regular vacation spots, going during the off-season can provide you with a great vacation but perhaps without access to certain annual festivals. A vacation to Munich for example is decidedly cheaper every month but September due to Oktoberfest. Making port at Kiel outside of the summer festival season is cheaper, but the activities are significantly limited. Cruise lines, however, are often cheaper during the off-season because it's hurricane season and the likelihood of rain is significantly higher. Cruising to Europe in the off-season can mean fewer tourists, but it also means chilly temperatures and rough seas. So simply be prepared that if you want to spend less money you will be compromising on the quality of the weather and access to certain onshore activities.
- Relaxation is not part of the game
Many people like the idea of booking weekend cruises. There are a great deal of short cruises to warm weather location such as the Caribbean, Mexico, and the Bahamas. This can seem very appealing but understand that it also attracts a great deal of 20-somethings looking for an excuse to party on the weekends. Three-night cruises departing on Fridays are certainly not the peaceful and relaxing vacation you might want. A four-night cruise which starts on a Monday will attract fewer partygoers, so if you truly want the weekend of peace and quiet you might have to compromise and go during the week.
- Fly in one day early
You might think it prudent to fly into your port the same day that your cruise departs, but it will likely lead to more stress for you. If your flight is delayed you could be stuck in a serious bind, especially if you only have a few hours in between landing and the cruise departure time. If your luggage is lost you won't have any time to file the complaint, let alone purchase the new items you need before you get on board. Make sure you are on the safe side and fly in the day before, taking in a night of sightseeing in your port of embarkation.
- Be aware of school holidays
If you do not have children or you do not plan to travel with your children, make sure that you avoid booking your cruise during school holidays. Up to one-third of all passengers on summer or holiday cruises are children. On bigger ships that can mean more than 1000 children splashing around the pools in the hot tubs, running through the hallways, and making mealtime a chaotic and screaming affair.
- Budget for onboard expenses
In recent years, many cruises have added a great deal of onboard options and activities but they come with additional charges. It is not likely that the cruise you book will be fully all-inclusive given the wide array of activities possible. And chances are you'll want to take in at least one or two of the specialty restaurants, take a fitness class, or maybe watch a movie. It can be easy to spend a great deal more than you anticipated if you did not work into your budget the cost of these extra items. So do yourself a favor and budget ahead of time so that you are not surprised at the end of your trip.
- Know what is included
Make sure that before you go, you understand all of the extra things which are included in your cruise fare. You don't want to eat in the buffet every meal simply because you assume your main dining room will cost you extra. In fact, on nearly every ship the main dining room is free. There are also likely a lot of shows available on board which are included in the cost of your cruise. You won't have to pay extra but you will have to book ahead of time. There is a daily newsletter which is delivered to your cabin every night and it will tell you what things are happening the next day. It will also tell you whether something is included in the cost of your trip or not. If you have any questions you can always talk to guest services for additional information about shore excursions, cruise line activities, and meal options which are included. Add some variety to your upcoming trip.