25 Crucial First time Cruise Tips for Beginners (2024 Guide!)

Bradley Williams
Written By:
Bradley Williams
Last Updated:
January 1, 2024
Heading on your first-ever cruise!? That's awesome! Check out our top tips for first-timers to ensure a cruise adventure that's smooth sailing...
first time cruise tips

There’s no denying that cruising is one of the best ways to see the world! 

Not only do you get to see a variety of cities or countries in a short period of time, but you don’t have to worry about organizing any of the transport yourself.

You’ll also have access to fantastic facilities no matter which cruise liner you choose, and there will often be an action-packed itinerary that you can follow too!

If you’ve never been on a cruise before, then honestly, your first trip may feel a little overwhelming.

From booking the cruise itself to creating a packing list, there’s a lot to consider. Don't worry though, as I’ve brought together a list of the top cruising tips for first-timers!

In this guide, you’ll get to learn about how to shop around for the best deals when booking, the free services that you can take advantage of, and how to save yourself some money.

Here are the ultimate first-time cruise tips so keep reading…

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25 First time Cruise Tips for Beginners

1. Shop around for the best deals when booking a cruise

cruise website

The first thing you’ll want to do when booking a cruise is to shop around for the best deals.

There are three main ways to snag a bargain on cruises; with the cruise liner itself, a local tour agency, or metasearch databases such as Cruises.com

You’ll find that some cruise liners offer fantastic deals on their websites such as up to $750 in savings, or that children can go free. Although that’s great, often travel agencies and other databases sometimes offer more significant savings.

When booking a cruise, you’ll be offered a variety of package deals such as WiFi, specialty dining, and drinks (I’ll talk about this one later). However, you often won’t need these packages and they’re just going to be an extra expense.

Better yet, find a cruise liner that includes some of these packages within their price.

For more information, check out our in-depth guide on how to book a cruise!

2. Check what's included with your cruise line

Norwegian Cruise Line

Before you’ve even booked your cruise, you’ll want to check what’s included in the price! 

Many cruise lines offer awesome package deals, where you'll often get free drinks and WiFi. Better yet, your tips might even be included.

Another thing you’ll want to research is the type of facilities on board. Many cruises will have a variety of dining and entertainment options, but some go that one step further.

Some cruises offer spa facilities (at an expense) while others have a free sauna that guests can use! 

You might even have the option to dine at several specialty restaurants at no extra cost either, or some ships offer 24-hour room service.

Here are some cruise lines that offer awesome packages:

  • Norwegian Cruise Line - they have a ‘Free at Sea’ promotion which includes WiFi, extra meals, unlimited drinks (including alcohol), and tour discounts.
  • Celebrity Cruises - tips are often included with Celebrity, as well as basic WiFi and a drinks package.
  • MSC Cruises - has an ‘All in’ package that includes drinks and WiFi.

3. Consider buying the drinks package

drinks package on cruise lines
NCL free at sea upgrade is worth every penny

If your cruise doesn’t include a drinks package then it may be best to research whether you need one!

There’s no denying that sipping a cocktail or two whilst on deck is something special. However, if you’re not careful, you can really put a dent in your holiday spending.

Drinks are EXPENSIVE on cruises and they soon add up so do the math carefully!

For our cruise, onboard Norwegian Jewel, having just 2 drinks a day on average made the upgrade worthwhile. 

To check whether it’s worth purchasing a package, you can google the cost of alcohol on your specific ship. Then, do a rough calculation of how much you think you’ll drink.

Just be aware that there are often exceptions with these packages, where some of the alcohol options aren’t included.

If you’re not a big drinker and you don’t tend to drink much, then you can always pass on this one! 

4. Choose your cabin location wisely

inside cabin on cruise ship
This a room with a window on NCL

For first-time cruisers who are on a relatively strict budget, there are a couple of ways you can cut your costs when it comes to accommodation.

If you’re not planning to be in your room very much, then why not opt for an interior cabin? They are often much more affordable, although they can feel claustrophobic at times! 

Just keep in mind that you won’t have access to a window, so won’t benefit from natural light.

If you’re only going to be sleeping here then that’s not much of an issue, but it’s worth noting.

The next tip is to opt for a cabin that’s on a lower deck.

These cabins are often much cheaper because you won’t be treated to the epic ocean views that cruises are most famous for. 

The main thing to know when choosing a cabin is that no matter which one you go for - you’ll have a private bathroom.

5. Upgrade to the balcony room if you can afford it

cabin choice on a cruise
We loved our balcony room!

Leading on from the previous point, if you can afford to upgrade your room to a balcony then do it! 

This is fully dependent on your budget of course, but sometimes it only adds on an extra 10-15% compared to a porthole room.

A balcony is Cazzy’s favorite part of cruising and is more than worth the upgrade. It also helps make the cruise feel much less claustrophobic, which can often happen with interior cabins.

Honestly, there’s no better feeling than waking up in the morning, pulling back the curtains, and just admiring the views!

The one thing with cruising is that you do tend to have a lot of free time. If you’re like me and like to kick back and read a book then where better to do so than on your private balcony?

Not only will you be treated to epic views and sunsets, but balcony rooms are often naturally bigger too.

6. Make sure you create a suitable cruise packing list

cruise packing list
Check out our cruise packing list! 

After you’ve booked your holiday, you’ll probably be thinking - but what do I pack for a cruise?

Well, this will all depend on where you’re cruising to, the time of year, and how long you’re going for. You’ll also want to consider what types of activities you’ll be getting up to! 

Luckily, some cruises will offer you an idea of what to pack, but that’s generally the case for more active cruises. Otherwise, it’s simply up to you.

As you can see there’s a lot to think about, but our cruise packing list will make this so much easier, as we’ve given an in-depth breakdown of what to (and what not to) take.

No matter whether you’re heading to the Arctic or the Caribbean, I’ve got you covered. The article offers a breakdown of what clothing to take for both climates, as well as a list of other miscellaneous items!

7. Do some research on cruise tipping policies 

large cruise ship

Tipping is always a bit complicated no matter where you go, but it’s especially the case when it comes to cruising.

During your cruise, it’s recommended to tip your cabin stewards and restaurant crew.

Although you used to have to work this out for yourself, luckily, times are changing! 

Many cruise lines now include these gratitudes in your daily charges and these go straight to the credit card kept on file. For this reason, you’ll want to keep your budget in mind.

These charges differ depending on your cruise company and destination, so just do some research on your ship beforehand. It’s also important to note that some companies don’t do this, so you’ll have to tip the staff yourself.

Here’s some more information about tipping on cruise ships

If you can snag a cruise where tipping is included then fantastic! That means you won’t have to worry about allowing for these extra costs.

8. Join a Facebook group for your cruise line

cruise Facebook group

There’s no denying that cruise ships are a great way to meet people! You can be on these ships for anywhere from a couple of days to months, so you’ll have ample opportunities.

Whether you join a fitness class, get involved with a language lesson, or dine with others, you’ll have plenty of chances to make friends.

However, many cruise liners also have private Facebook groups where you can meet other cruisers and learn all about your upcoming itinerary.

Royal Caribbean Cruises and Holland America Line both have these groups as well as other cruise companies, so what are you waiting for?

Not only will you get plenty of advice from other cruisers, but you’ll also get to learn more about cruising holidays, and what they offer. 

Joining one of these Facebook groups is one of our top cruise tips for first-timers, so don’t miss out! 

9. Check out the onboard currency in advance

United States dollars

Before embarkation day, it’s important to research the onboard currency in advance.

Today, most cruise lines are cashless (especially after the pandemic). However, they operate under a specific currency, which is what your bill will be displayed in.

This will also be the currency that will be displayed on drinks menus, in gift shops, and for any extras such as classes or shore excursions.

For this, you’ll want to work out a currency exchange and see if you’ll get more or less for your money, in terms of currency conversions.

You’ll really only need cash for the casino or if you’re hitting the games room, as most other expenses are typically charged to your room. On some cruises, you can even use your key card to pay for things!

If you work out what you’ll need in advance you can also avoid using the onboard ATMs, as they come with hefty charges - sometimes up to $6.

10. Arrive at your departure point a day in advance (if you can)

cruise departure

When it comes to tips for first-time cruisers, this is the main one you’ll want to remember! 

If your cruise port is nearby then you don’t need to worry, but if it’s a long drive or a flight away, then make sure you arrive the day before.

Not only will it save you plenty of stress, but you’ll allow time for unexpected issues or delays. This could be a change in flight departure or a crash on the motorway, but either one will mean you could miss your cruise if you’re short of time.

If you’re late, trust me when I say that your cruise ship will not wait for you. Unfortunately, this has happened to plenty of cruisers!

Another reason to arrive early is so you’ve got the chance to recover from jet lag if you’ve made a long journey to your departure point.

11. Board your cruise early (to avoid crowds)

views from cruise ship

If I were you, I’d recommend boarding the cruise super early to avoid the crowds. Whenever you’re allowed to board the ship, make your way over!

This will allow you to avoid the crowds that inevitably occur throughout the day when everyone is trying to get on the ship at the same time.

To board, you’ll need to go through a security-style screening and your documents need to be checked. Sometimes, you’ll have to fill out a health questionnaire, and you’ll need a security photo taken (if these haven’t already been done).

All this can lead to long queues, whereas if you head there early you’ll be straight on. You’ll then have time to explore the ship whilst it’s not overrun by other passengers.

If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, then you can always board late too. However, as we all know with travel things can go wrong, so it’s not worth it in my opinion! 

12. Some cruises offer special ship tours on the first day

take a ship tour on the first day
This is a great way to get familiar with your ship!

If it’s your first cruise, then you might not even know about this until you actually get on the ship! However, it’s a great way to familiarize yourself with where you’ll be staying.

Many cruise ships will offer special ship tours on embarkation day, and it’s definitely a good idea to join in.

You’ll be taken around the cruise liner to give you an idea of where everything is, and you can always ask any questions if you’re a bit overwhelmed.

By doing this, you’ll be aware of where all the restaurants are located, what kind of facilities you can access, and other information like how to access the outer decks.

Wandering around a cruise ship may feel a bit daunting if you’ve not gone on this tour, as they are huge! Honestly, you could spend hours just wandering around and not get to where you’re supposed to be.

13. Make sure you attend the ‘Muster Drill’

lifeboats on a cruise

This isn’t just a tip for first-time cruisers as every passenger is required to attend this!

A Muster Drill is essentially an emergency drill and it’s required by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

It must be held within 24 hours of embarking on the ship, but they generally occur before departure.

It’s a similar vibe to the safety drill you’ll be given on airlines, but of course, with a lot more information! 

You’ll be notified before the drill occurs and will be guided to meeting points, this is usually in a large space such as a lounge, theatre, or outer deck.

During the Muster Drill, you’ll be given instructions on what to do in case there’s an emergency, and the staff will demonstrate how to put on your life jacket. 

It’s important to note that if you don’t attend this drill, you can be forced to disembark the cruise ship! You’ll also want to notify a crewmember if you’re unsteady on your feet, as there’s a lot of standing involved for this.

14. Research your destinations ahead of time

research cruise destinations ahead of time

If you’re cruising for the first time then you might not realize that you can save a ton of money on tours and excursions.

The cruise lines themselves offer shore excursion packages and although they may seem like a great deal, steer well clear. 

Often the prices are massively inflated for these tours, and sometimes they’re up to $200 more expensive than they would be otherwise.

Whenever we cruise, we tend to pre-book tours ourselves through Get Your Guide or Viator. These are the best platforms out there for excursions and activities, and there’s a lot on offer.

In all honesty, we’ve saved up to 50% on tours simply by booking them ourselves in advance and using local transport to get there! 

For this reason, we wholeheartedly recommend doing some research on the destinations you’ll be visiting. This way, you can check out tours in advance and compare the price to what you’ve been offered. 

15. The premium restaurants just aren’t worth it (in my opinion)

premium dining options on NCL
One of the "premium" dining options on NCL

No matter which cruise ship you choose, you’ll generally find that there’s a main dining room and then a variety of specialty restaurants.

Although you may be tempted to go with the latter, these restaurants can be costly as the likelihood is that they won’t be included in your package.

I often find that the ‘specialty restaurants’ serve food that will normally be served in the main dining hall anyway, so I don’t see much point in wasting my money there! 

With some cruises, you won’t have to choose, as some packages allow you to dine at a couple of these specialty restaurants for free. 

This was the case with our Norwegian Cruise, as we got 4 free evenings included in our package, and could choose from the 6 additional restaurants that were onboard.

The food on cruises tends to be extremely diverse as they’re looking to cater to everyone.

Because of this, dishes vary by the day so you won’t miss out if you don’t choose to dine at the premium restaurants.

16. Make sure you have some downtime

on board cruise ship library
Reading a good book with a sea view is a great way to relax!

One of my top first-time cruisers tips is to simply allow some downtime on your cruise! 

We’ve all been there if you’re a keen cruiser. It’s your first time on a ship, and you want to cram in all the activities and experiences that are available to you! 

However, it’s important to remember that you’re on vacation and you’ll probably be in need of some rest and relaxation.

As well as cruise ports where you'll be able to dock for the day, many ships also have a cruise planner. This planner will include classes, activities, and facilities that are available to you during your stay!

As you can see there will be a lot going on, but one of the best parts about cruising is simply relaxing. Whether you’re looking to hit the spa, chill out on your balcony, or head to the bar, there are plenty of ways to just kick back.

17. Formal nights are a real thing

cruise ship interior

Although formal nights don’t take place on every ship, they’re a big favorite with regular cruisers (well, some people hate them too).

Formal nights are essentially a night when the dress code changes from casual to dressy! You’ll need to put on your best for this dinner, and that’s part of the fun.

These formal nights take place on most of the classic cruise ships, as well as many of the newer ones. Just make sure you check in advance because you’ll need to pack accordingly.

Otherwise, you risk rocking up in your t-shirt and jeans and you won’t be able to join in on the ‘dress up’ fun!

If your cruise does have one, then pack an evening dress or a suit, and some smart shoes. 

Personally, I love formal nights as they’re a great way to spruce up and they make a great date night! You’ll also be able to take some awesome photographs to remember your trip by! 

18. Take advantage of free services

free cruise services

If you’re going on a cruise for the first time, then you may be unaware of all the fantastic services that you can access for free.

First of all, many cruise ships offer a fitness center that you don’t need to pay for.

Some ships even offer a free sauna, talk about fancy right?

Many cruise liners also offer free lessons and classes that are based on the culture and history of the destinations you’re visiting.

This can include dancing classes, language lessons, and cooking classes.

Not only that but there tends to be an onboard party on the first night where you can often grab free drinks!

Still not convinced? Some cruises offer complimentary pizza so you definitely won’t need to spend money at their specialty restaurants.

Lastly, some ships even offer a free laundry service!

For more information on how to save money on a cruise, then check out our in-depth guide! 

19. Make sure your phone is on airplane mode

phone airplane mode

I can’t stress this one enough - make sure your phone is on airplane mode when you board!

This may not be one of your first thoughts for cruising but it’s something that’s going to save you a lot of money in the long run. 

Using your data on a cruise is unbelievably expensive, especially as you’ll be racking up data roaming charges. Of course, this differs with the destination you’re cruising so you’ll want to do a bit of research first.

If you’re living in Europe, and you’re cruising around the continent then you won’t be hit with data roaming charges. However, this is generally an exception to the rule, as elsewhere this isn’t often the case.

The last thing you want is to enjoy your cruise, and then come home to a hefty bill. And trust me, it will be a fair amount! 

20. Download the app for your cruise line 

Disney Cruise Line app

There are plenty of first-time cruise tips that I can give you but this is one of the best!

Many cruise companies now offer their own app that you can download straight to your smartphone. Just download it in advance before you board (remember the data charges).

Some of the cruise lines that offer an app include Carnival, Disney, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Princess Cruises.

From these apps, you’ll get to look at the itinerary, the variety of activities available on your ship, and even order food/drink to where you’re standing (in some cases).

Not only that, but these apps can allow you to make restaurant reservations and book excursions - all without being connected to WiFI. 

They will make your trip so much easier as you can access everything from the touch of a button, quite literally.

Here’s some more information on cruise apps if you’re interested! 

21. Use a points card for onboard purchases (cruise or airline credit card)

Disney credit card

If you’re a frequent traveler (not just a cruiser) then this is something that you’ll want to think about! 

Many people choose to book cruises with an airline or cruise credit card, to rack up points that they can spend in the future. However, you can also use them for onboard purchases.

Both cruise-line and airline credit cards offer a ‘buy now, pay later’ approach, where you’ll be able to purchase items, pay them off afterward, and be rewarded with lots of points.

Whether you’re looking to pay for a meal or buy something from the shop, make sure it’s charged to this kind of credit card. These points can then be claimed against future cruises, airline tickets, or further onboard spending.

Here are some articles that you might find helpful when it comes to points cards:

22. Invest in seasickness prevention

glass of water

There’s no denying that seasickness is an awful feeling and unfortunately, I always tend to suffer from it. 

It usually comes over me during the first full day at sea and depends on the ocean conditions. Either way, it’s not pleasant and it can really ruin your cruise if you’re not careful! 

To help avoid seasickness, it might be best to book a balcony cabin. This way, you’ll have access to fresh air and a view of the horizon whenever you’re feeling a bit peaky.

If you’re prone to feeling seasick, then you’ll also want to pick up a remedy from your doctor or pharmacy before you travel. Don’t worry if you forget though, as there will be some available onboard! 

Some little things you can do to help alleviate the symptoms include avoiding alcohol, drinking plenty of water, and eating (the last one sounds counter-productive, I know).

Here’s some more information on preventing seasickness whilst on a cruise…

23. Enjoy the sunsets

sunsets on cruises
How Cazzy liked to enjoy the sunset!

No matter where you choose to go or which cruise company you end up going with, you won’t run out of things to do during your cruise! 

From the port days to activities available onboard, you’ll be overwhelmed with the variety of things on offer.

However, something just as simple as watching the sunset from your balcony or the outdoor deck is not to be missed.

In fact, the epic sunsets are one of the best parts of cruising and once you encounter one, you’ll soon agree! 

Aside from your balcony (if you have one), there are a couple of other awesome places to view the sunset from. First of all, the top deck is an obvious choice. 

You’ve also got the back of the ship which is often just as picturesque, and sometimes much quieter! This gives you a chance to grab some awesome photographs.

Some of the onboard restaurants and bars also offer fantastic sunset views!

24. Keep up to date with your daily cruise planner 

cruise deck

As you’ve already seen, there’s always something going on if you’re cruising! So, how do you keep up to date with everything?

Well, usually you’ll have a steward deliver a daily cruise planner at night for the next day. Either that, or there will be an app that you can access to find out that information.

This cruise planner will break down everything that’s going on within the ship including classes, port times, entertainment, and restaurant times. 

You’ll have detailed times and locations of each activity in this cruise planner, so it will be super easy to plan out your next day! 

For the best experience, I’d recommend checking out the cruise planner as soon as it’s available. This way you can make reservations (if needed), and you’ll have a good idea of what you’d like to do the next day.

25. Make the effort to get to know your fellow cruisers

cruise ship

As I mentioned before, making friends on a cruise is incredibly easy as you’re bound to have something in common.

For starters, you all obviously love to travel if you’re on a cruise. That’s already one common interest right there, and that’s without actually speaking to anyone! 

The best way to meet people on a cruise is to get involved with the free classes and activities on offer, or you can make some friends during the excursions (if you choose not to do your own).

If you’re wanting to meet people then also check whether your cruise offers communal seating, or head to the lounge area and see if anyone’s up for a drink or two.

Not only should you make an effort to get to know your fellow cruisers, but take some time to get to know the staff as well. 

As it’s their job to cruise around the world, you’ll hear some fascinating stories and you’ll have someone else to share travel experiences with apart from cruisers. 

So where will you go on your cruise?

As you can see there are plenty of first-time cruise tips that can help you save money and make the most of your cruise!

Now that you’ve got an idea of what to do to ensure your cruise is smooth sailing, it’s time to decide where to go - a difficult decision in itself.

First of all, you've got to make a choice between hot and cold destinations! 

If you’re not bothered about the climate then some of the best cruising destinations include Alaska, Antarctica, Iceland, and Norway. Or, why not head to Europe, Japan, Mexico, or Australia for warmer weather?

Secondly, you’ll want to decide whether you’re looking for an active cruise or a relaxing getaway. 

Now that you’ve got a good idea of what kind of cruise you’re after, ask yourself these questions…

What is your budget?

How much time do you have?

For some inspiration, here are some guides that you may find helpful:

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