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
Why have so many of us been bitten by the cruising bug? Well 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. That’s pretty good value – and you only have to unpack once. Holiday heaven!
Not sure if cruising is for you? Here are our top tips for first time cruisers, and advice on what to expect on board.
To the first of our first time cruising tips and 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, so it’s nice to have a space you actually like being in.
There are generally three main types of staterooms on a cruise ship. The cheapest option will always be the inside cabins, which have no natural light (some ships now provide ‘video windows’).
The outside cabins are the next best thing. They do have a window, but it doesn’t open. However, you do have a source of natural light. The windows can vary in size, so it’s worth checking this before you sign on the dotted line.
The next step up (both in size and price) are the balcony staterooms, followed by the various suites. All these options will have an outdoor area, probably with seating.
The to-do list
You can do as little or as much as you like on a cruise and most daily activities are included.
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 a diverse range of pastimes to spread passengers out evenly. Everything from traditional stalwarts like bingo and trivia, to specialist guest lectures and cha-cha lessons.
And of course, there’s always the pool(s).
The reality is there’ll be plenty of organised activities for those that want them. And for those that just want to drop anchor on a deck chair for the duration, that’s fine too.
Generally, all meals on board your cruise are included, while drinks are charged to your stateroom account. ‘Specialty’ restaurants on board may attract a small 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.
Dining arrangements vary. 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.
Dining on a cruise is really like one long dinner party – at someone else’s place, so you never have to wash up.
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 even so, the dress standard will be reasonably relaxed.
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. Works a treat and will save you big dollars on the valet service.
The shore excursion
There are two schools of thought on how best to spend your precious days on shore – DIY or DITSW (do it the ship’s way). 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 the ship will wait for you if things go pear-shaped.
Another of our top tips for first time cruisers – 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.
You can prebook your shore excursions on most cruise lines. Check your cruise company’s website.
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 at the bar, head for the casino or take in a show.
Evening entertainment is generally included, and these days you’re likely to be treated to everything from Broadway musical extravaganzas to circus performances and stand-up comedy.
Try before you buy
Still not sure if cruising is right for you? These days there are lots of reasonably priced sampler cruises on offer – usually two and three day itineraries, travelling between capital cities on Australia’s eastern seaboard.
Unless specified, the images used in this story are stock images and 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 us a comment.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a Melbourne-based travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. Adam has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. He 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. Adam also appears regularly as a travel commentator on Sky News Business Class. 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.