Three Tips for First Time Cruisers

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First time cruisers often have a lot of questions about cruising. They run the gamut from “what part of the ship should I book a stateroom” to “how much I should plan to spend on beer.” Like all things, the answer to those questions is “it depends.” Questions about cruising are numerous, but some rise to the top when it comes to how often they are asked. Here are our top three first time cruise tips.

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All the advice you can get is never a bad thing, but beginning your cruising career with these three things in mind might help you get started on the right foot.

  • Don’t automatically write off the value of a good travel agent
  • Don’t overpack
  • Don’t be afraid to eschew the organized ship shore excursion

Travel Agents are Still For Real

We won’t attempt to define each of these in order of importance, but will try to give some clarity to why these are our top three tips. Travel hackers and frequent fliers often give you a mystified stare when the word “travel agent” is mentioned. For sure, you may not need to use travel agent for every cruise, but for special cruises – those where experiences matter, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call a trusted agent. An “experience” might be 2 weeks on the Mediterranean, a river cruise, a Galapagos expedition cruise, or a trip around the horn of South America for an experienced cruiser. Or it could be a 5-night cruise to Cozumel and Key West for a first timer. The point is, a good travel agent can be indispensable in helping build the right kind of experience for you. Travel agents well-versed in cruising to the destinations you desire can be invaluable in helping you pick the right cruise itinerary and most importantly, the right cruise line for you. You won’t pay any more than you would booking directly, and you very well may find some agents offering special deals like onboard credits for booking with them. How do you find a good agent? The best can sometimes be found by word of mouth. Ask some well-traveled friends.

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Quantum of the Seas – Image © 2014 by Marshall Jackson

Steamer Trunks Are Not Necessary

Don’t overpack. Packing requirements depend on destination, of course, but your typical Caribbean cruise is very t-shirt friendly. A few of those, some shorts, swim trunks, and yes…underwear, is key. “Formal night” has evolved over the years depending on the cruise line you choose. For the majority of your mass market lines, a decent pair of slacks and a sport jacket will suffice. And for those times when you feel like a tux, don’t be afraid to rent one on board. Pack enough clothing for 4 or 5 days, and plan on doing laundry on board. Some ships have laundry facilities, while others will require you to use the ship’s dry cleaning and laundry service. Pricing is not usually excessive, and if you’ve climbed the loyalty ladder to some level of elite status, your cruise line may even provide complimentary laundry services to you.

You Can Build Your Own Shore Excursion

Ah, the shore excursion. The organized cruise line shore excursion usually comes with a specific appointment time very soon after your ship arrives in the morning. You may prefer to sleep in when you’re on vacation. While there are some great organized excursions offered by cruise lines, sometimes it’s just more fun to do your own thing. The best shore excursions are those booked privately, perhaps with a small group of friends or fellow cruisers. No 50 passenger busses, and you control the timing…..within reason, of course, as you don’t want to miss the ship! Beyond that, there’s always the option to purchase a travel book, read about a destination, and go exploring on your own!

first time cruise tips
On our own at Maho Beach – Image © 2014 by Marshall Jackson

While these three first time cruise tips are not everything you need to know to get ready for your cruise, they are a great place to start with your planning. Do you have your own cruise tips you’d like to share? Please feel free to comment to this article.


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  1. Mike Friedman says

    I’ll throw one in: Take out insurance. You are investing thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars in a vacation. This is one of those rare occasions when the insurance is worth it. Worst case scenario, you can always take out the insurance that the cruise line offers you, but that will be the most expensive, since it builds in a margin for the cruise line. Look on your own or ask your travel agent.

  2. Mike Friedman says

    Actually, I’ll throw in one more, since I can’t figure out how to modify the quote above: Fly in the day before. You don’t know how many people I’ve met who fork out a fortune for the cruise but don’t want to pay $150 for an airport hotel for a night. That’s a very easy way to miss your cruise if your flight is delayed.

    • Zomby Woof says

      A very important tip and don’t fly in on the last late flight that evening. I did that on my first cruise and my connection was canceled. Made it to the cruise port with 2 hours to spare the next day.

  3. Marshall Jackson says

    I’ve often called arriving the day before a cruise the cheapest travel insurance money can buy. 🙂 Of course, travel insurance is a bigger story than that. Which reminds me, that might make for a fine IF article.

  4. Paul Davis says

    I’m an insurance agent. Best travel insurance website I’ve found is

    They quote dozens of companies and a great variety of coverage. I know several travel agents that use this and recommend.

    I thought it not appropriate to list my personalized weblink that they pay me a referral fee for. If you’re in the travel business you should look into this.

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