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Top tips for first time cruisers

There are generally two types of people in Oz: those who cruise, and those for whom it’s only a matter of time. We've taken to cruise ship holidays like, well, ducks to water, and passenger numbers continue to increase year on year. Here are some handy tips for cruise novices.
14 Jan, 2016
Top tips for first time cruisers
Top tips for first time cruisers

Welcome to the wonderful world of cruising — the fastest growing segment of Australian leisure travel.

International cruise lines have responded accordingly, despatching more of their fabulous floating resorts full-steam Downunder to meet demand.

There’s a good reason why so many of us have been bitten by the cruising bug; cruise holidays are generally very good value. For less than the price of a premium economy air ticket to Europe, I recently embarked on an 18-day, all-inclusive South Pacific sojourn from Sydney to Honolulu with Celebrity Cruises. We visited several exotic ports, and all meals and most on-board activities were covered. And to top it all off, I only had to unpack once. That’s holiday heaven!

Not sure if a life at sea is for you? Here are some top tips for first time cruisers.

Top tips for first time cruisers
Top tips for first time cruisers: Cruise ships are floating resorts.

The stateroom

The first of our cruising tips relates to your all-important digs. Your cabin (also known rather grandly as your ‘stateroom’) is your little piece of sanctuary on a cruise. Your castle. So, think carefully about what sort of castle you can comfortably reside in. You will probably spend more time in your cabin than you anticipate, and it’s nice to have a space that you actually like being in.

There are generally three types of staterooms on a cruise ship. The cheapest option will always be the inside cabins, which have no natural light source. Even during the day, an inside cabin will be pitch black if you turn the lights off.

The outside cabins are the next best thing. They do have a window, but it doesn’t open. However, you do have natural light. The windows can vary in size, so it’s worth checking this before you sign on the dotted line.

Top tips for first time cruisers
Top tips for first time cruisers: Outside staterooms offer a source of natural light.

The next step up (both in size and price) are the balcony staterooms, followed by the various suites. All these options will have at least a small outdoor space with seating.

The to-do list

You can do as little or as much as you like on a cruise and most daily activities while ‘at sea’ are freely available to all guests. Depending on the size of the ship, and there are some big ones out there (Celebrity’s Solstice for example can carry up to 2,600 passengers, while an even larger ship like Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas has a capacity of well over 5,000), you might expect finding a little ‘me time’ to be tricky. But most cruise lines offer plenty of pastimes, which are designed to spread passengers out evenly.

Enjoy everything from traditional stalwarts like bingo (an additional cost usually applies) and trivia, to specialist guest lectures and cha-cha lessons. And of course, there’s always the pool(s) and gym. Alternatively, just drop anchor on a deck chair.

Top tips for first time cruisers
Top tips for first time cruisers: Work off those extra calories in the gym.

The menu

Dining on a cruise is like one long dinner party — at someone else’s place, so you never have to wash up. Generally, meals are included in the cost of your ticket, while drinks are charged to your stateroom account. ‘Specialty’ restaurants on board may attract a cover charge.

One of our most important cruising tips: try to negotiate a drinks package when you book, and make sure it includes incidentals like coffees and bottles of water, which all add up over the course of a cruise. Top-tier lines like Azamara Club Cruises include beer, wine and basic spirits in their fares.

Dining arrangements vary by cruise company. Norwegian Cruise Line operates a completely open dining policy allowing passengers to eat when and where they like, while on Celebrity Cruises guests can opt to dine in the main dining room at set times or at their leisure at the buffet.

Top tips for first time cruisers
Top tips for first time cruisers. Image: Celebrity Cruises

The shore excursion

There are two ways to spend your precious days in port. You can DIY your shore activities (and book tours directly with local operators for example), or DITSW (do it the ship’s way), which is generally the more expensive but also more convenient option.

It’s perfectly possible to explore most ports of call under your own steam (a little pre-cruise research will ensure you get the most from your visit), but the arranged shore excursions offer a guarantee of quality and a promise that the ship will wait for you if things go pear-shaped.

You can pre-book your shore excursions on most cruise lines. Check your cruise company’s website.

Tip: If you decide to head out on your own, give yourself plenty of extra time to get back to the ship. They won’t wait and it will be up to you to catch up (somehow) at your expense.

Top tips for first time cruisers
Choose between DIY shore excursions or those arranged by the ship.

The entertainment

Languid days morph into lavish nights and there’s more glitz and glamour per square inch on most cruise ships than the red carpet at the Logies. Enjoy a cocktail or two, head for the casino, or take in a show. These days you’re likely to be treated to everything from Broadway musical extravaganzas to circus performances and stand-up comedy.

Top tips for first time cruisers
Top tips for first time cruisers: Enjoy an evening cocktail.

The formal night

Dedicated cruise-types love to dress up and there is usually at least one formal night on board depending on the length of your cruise. But don’t panic — ‘formal’ is open to interpretation and the dress standard will still be reasonably relaxed. A standard jacket and tie will be more than fine for gents.

Formal nights do have a down side — the lack of irons. They are generally not permitted in guest staterooms (including the small travel variety) for safety reasons. Check your cruise line’s policy.

Tip: Iron all your formal wear at home and carry it on-board in a suit pack. This will save you big dollars on the valet service.

Top tips for first time cruisers
Top tips for first time cruisers: Most cruises have at least one formal night.

Try before you buy

If you’re still not sure whether cruising is right for you, these days there are lots of reasonably priced ‘sampler cruises’ on offer. These short two and three day cruises from key ports along Australia’s eastern seaboard are a great way to test the waters (so to speak) on a longer holiday at sea.

Unless specified, the images used in this story are stock images and are not attributed to any particular cruise line.

Do you have any top tips for first time cruisers? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.


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