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Cruise Critic’s 10 essential tips for cruise virgins

Cruise Critic’s 10 essential tips for cruise virgins

This summer, a record number of cruisers are expected to take to the seas, and many of them will be taking a cruise for the first time, prompting Cruise Critic® ( to launch a new Cruise Planning section dedicated to helping rookie cruisers plan their first cruise.

Cruise Critic is the leading cruise reviews and news site, best known for its community of avid cruisers, but also popular with new cruisers who turn to Cruise Critic and its members for tips and advice on all aspects of cruising, from which cruise line to sail with, to what to pack for a vacation at sea.

The new planning section addresses the questions most frequently asked by new cruisers—with tips on everything from shore excursions to kids programs. Travelers can also find critical information, such as articles on cruise safety, travel insurance and health issues. To help these new cruisers get their sea legs, Cruise Critic has created a list of the Top Ten Tips for Cruise Virgins:

1. Not all ships are created equal.

Don’t choose your cruise based on destination, duration and price alone. The cruise line you book with and the ship you sail on are very important. That’s because some cruise lines cater to families, while others market to seniors. As such, onboard facilities and activities vary, so do your research, ask questions, and find a cruise that’s right for you.


2. It’s okay to arrange your own shore excursions.

There’s no stigma attached to going it alone or teaming up with other travelers to save money instead of paying for the shore excursions arranged by the cruise line. However, investigate your options before you cruise to ensure that you are spending your day in port with a reputable tour operator. And remember this crucial piece of advice: Don’t be late getting back for the ship—it won’t wait for you.

3. Travel agents have access to perks and special offers you might not find elsewhere.

A reputable cruise agent can be a great help to a rookie cruiser booking for the first time, and he or she may also have access to offers and incentives you might not find elsewhere.  Do make sure you investigate your travel agency. Does the agency have “preferred” relationships with cruise lines (most do), and if so, which ones? What’s the schedule for paying for your cruise? Does your agent respond promptly to your questions—not just pre-booking but also once you’ve committed to a cruise?

4. Don’t be left for lost in port.

Cruise lines rarely go beyond offering a list of shore excursions and a map of the local jewelry stores (with which they have special business agreements), so read up on the ports you will visit before you set sail. 

5. It rains in the Caribbean ... and other dreamy destinations.

The tropical Caribbean climate (not to mention weather in the Canary Islands, Hawaii and the South Pacific) can be unpredictable, so high on our list of must-pack items is a lightweight, waterproof jacket or poncho. For a broader look at what to pack on your upcoming cruise, check out Cruise Critic’s Cruise Packing 101 story.

6. You can’t take your own booze onboard.

Years ago, you could drag a crate of beer up the gangway without raising an eyelid, but cruise lines no longer allow this. Check out the alcohol policy for the cruise line you are traveling with before you go for full details of what beverages you are allowed to take with you.

7. Don’t tip double on beer—remember, there’s auto-gratuity.

Check cruise line tipping policies before you sail; most big-ship lines—Carnival, Royal Caribbean, NCL and others—automatically tack on a 15 percent service charge to bar bills. Unless the service was spectacular, there’s no need to add another tip on top.

8. Staying in touch with home.

Using your cell phone on a cruise ship can be prohibitively expensive, and onboard Internet cafes are not just pricey. The connections, which are made via satellites, are much slower than you’re used to at home. Before you leave home, investigate options for staying connected, whether it’s purchasing a special cruise-friendly cell phone package (through your local provider) or compiling a list of in-port Internet cafes.

9. Use the stairs (and you can enjoy the buffet guilt-free).

There’s usually a gym on most of the larger ships and plenty of active tours to choose from, plus new spa menus and lighter dining options are available. But, the simplest way to stay in shape is to take the stairs instead of the elevator for a little exercise. The flights of stairs on a 15-deck cruise ship will help to keep off the extra pounds.

10. On Embarkation Day, avoid the buffet throngs, and score a quiet meal.

Most people pounce on the buffet the minute they get onboard, leading to long lines, so bypass the buffet or pool grill, where the masses gather, and head to a dining room for some peace. Not every line opens its dining rooms for lunch on embarkation day, but some lines, including NCL and Princess, do.