First Time Cruiser
For those who haven’t been on a cruise before, you might be a bit wary of what it’s all about. Some find it hard to imagine that all their needs can be met on one ship. To help you out, let me give you a general overview on cruising.
Cabins or Staterooms
These are the same thing – where you will sleep! Obviously, there are different styles and price points of rooms but they are usually broken down as follows: interior, ocean view, balcony, and suites. Think of them like a hotel, some rooms will have more amenities and a better vie Most have hair dryers, mini refrigerator, and a small safe to keep valuables such as cash, Passports, or jewelry.
Your stateroom will be serviced by a steward. He or she will usually introduce themselves early on during the cruise, so you come to them if you need any assistance. They are like magic housekeeping genies, making your beds, giving you fresh towels, and restocking supplies while you’re out enjoying the rest of the ship or port.
Your cruise fare not only includes your stateroom, it also includes your dining. You are able to take advantage of the main dining rooms during breakfast, lunch and dinner, if you would like to have wait staff serve your food.
You can also have meals and snacks in the ships buffet, which is usually more casual. Many cruise lines have additional dining venues throughout the ship, which will offer either food that is included or “specialty” restaurants, which will cost extra. The main dining rooms and specialty restaurants usually have a dress code for dinner, which we’ll discuss below. Room service is usually complimentary, although some line may charge a delivery fee.
Most cruise lines will offer basic beverages for free (such as non-bottled water, tea, basic coffee with meals) and you need to purchase a beverage package for anything over that, such as juices, milkshakes, sodas, or alcoholic beverages. The beverage packages range in price by cruise line but will usually be a set amount per person, per day, for the full extent of your cruise. For instance, one line has a basic beverage package that is $9.99 per person, per day. So on a 7 day cruise, it would be an additional $69.93. Some of the packages that allow you alcoholic beverages can run about $60 per person, per day. You can sometimes pay for the packages ahead of time but if not, you can have it added to our shipboard account.
Cruise ships operate on a cashless system, once you board. At check in, you’ll receive a cruise card or device which you will use for everything from getting into your stateroom, identifying you to the crew when getting on and off the ship, and making any purchases on board. Purchases can include specialty dining, beverage packages, port excursions, gift shop items, to name a few. It’s important to keep track of your shipboard account, as the payment on the balance is usually due the night before you disembark. The payment will be made to whatever payment form you set up prior to your cruise. If you received onboard credit as part of your booking, that amount will be applied to your account before final payment is due. Just be aware that some onboard credit is "per person" and some is "per stateroom." If it is a stateroom credit, it will usually be split between the primary 2 guests.
Since the cruise experience is cashless, the cruise line industry has set up a system of providing gratuities to those who serve you on the ship. The gratuities are usually a very small amount considering all the work the staff does during your voyage. The amount is based on the stateroom category you are staying in. For instance, on Princess Cruises, the gratuity for inside, ocean view and balcony rooms is $14.50 per person/per day. This amount is added to your shipboard account each day and covers staff such as your room steward, dining staff, and bartenders. This allows you to enjoy your cruise without feeling the need to tip each person. While it is not necessary to provide additional gratuities, some cruise passengers provide an additional cash tip at the end of the cruise to those staff members who excel in providing exceptional service.
Cruise lines vary in their atmosphere but most of the cruise lines have similar dress codes. It’s your vacation and you want to have fun and be comfortable. Most lines have a casual atmosphere during the day where jeans, shorts, tee shirts and tank tops are common. In the evening, slacks, polos or button up shirts, “nice” jeans are usually requested for main dining room attire, as well as skirts or dresses from women. Some lines will have a formal night, where guests are encouraged to dress in cocktail dresses for women and jacket and tie for men. Some may wear gowns and tuxedos but it’s no big deal if you dress as you would for a job interview. For those who don’t want to dress up during the formal nights, they can take advantage of the buffet or room service for the evening.
What do you do between ports? Each night you’ll get a printed itinerary of activities for the following day. The schedule usually starts early in the morning and ends late at night. In this itinerary, you will find all kinds of activities to choose from. You may to start out with a morning yoga class, listen to a presentation on the next destination after breakfast, play a trivia game after lunch, catch a production show or comedian after dinner. There is usually something for everyone and you may find that there are multiple things you want to do at the same time. Most entertainment is free of charge, although some more popular activities may require reservations. Maybe you just want to sit and read a book or watch the scenery as you pass by. Again, you can choose how busy or relaxing your day will be.
Port Days/Shore Excursions
You will most likely get information from the cruise line before sailing about shore excursions available during your port days. Unless you book on an upper end luxury cruise, shore excursions are not included in the cost of your fare. It is up to you on whether you want to take part in any of these off-ship tours or just explore on your own. Excursions can range from a city bus tour, shopping, fishing expedition, historical site tours, or glacier walks. There is a wide variety to choose from for various tastes and interests. I also work with a couple of companies that offer excursions that might not be available through the cruise line.
Exploring the port on your own can be a great way to connect to the locals. You can sometimes walk into town from the port dock and catch the art, flavor and music of the region. Locals often rely heavily on tourism and appreciate your business. As with any region, it is important to be cautious for those who may take advantage of travelers. Whether you’re on an excursion or particularly on your own, be very clear what time you need to board the ship. While the ship will usually wait if an excursion the cruise line offered is delayed in returning, the same is not true for those exploring on their own. The internet is full of videos showing passengers running down the dock as their ship is sailing away.
Another option on port days, is to just enjoy the solitude of the ship. Some passengers who have either been to the port city already or don’t want to bother with getting off the ship will spend their day enjoying the ship activities while their fellow passengers are away. The pools are usually empty, buffet lines short, and the spa may offer port-day specials for those on board.
** Another thing to keep in mind is itinerary changes. Cruise ships are beholden to the weather and the environment at the port location. The ship may not stop at a port for the safety of the passengers and crew. Your cruise contract states you are paying for your cruise stay and that ports are not guaranteed. If you miss a port, have patience and try to enjoy the activities on board. Sometimes cruise lines will provide passengers with credit toward a future cruise but it’s not required of them.
If you have any question about cruising or planning in general, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text me at 503-558-4418.