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ULTIMATE First Time Cruise Tips from experienced cruisers

ULTIMATE First Time Cruise Tips from experienced cruisers

It is no secret that we love cruises. Between us we have cruised every continent in the world (bar Antartica and that is on our list) and considered ourselves experiences cruisers. The idea of going on your first cruise might seem daunting but we are here to make the world of cruises for first timers easier to navigated. So we have rounded up our first time cruise tips to help you with everything from booking your first cruise to everything you need to know about cabins, alcohol packages and shore excursions on your first cruise. 

Important Note: This post may contain affiliate links which means if you click through and make a purchase I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you!

ULTIMATE First Time Cruise Tips

Best cruise tips for first timers – how to book your first Cruise 

There are so many things to consider when booking your first cruise. Here is our list of the top things you should consider when booking your first time cruise:

  • What is the best cruise destination for first timers
  • Oceanic Cruise vs River Cruise
  • What is the best itinerary / ideal cruise length for first timers
  • What type of cabin you want 
  • Which cruise line is best for your first cruise

Best Cruise for first timers – What is the best cruise destinations for first timers? 

I don’t think there is one best cruise destination for first timers and this shouldn’t be the deciding factor on what first cruise you should take. If you dream first dream cruise is the Caribbean then go to the Caribbean – if going to the Baltic is your dream then choose a Baltic cruise

However while  I don’t think there is one right best cruise for first timers there might be a right cruise length. 

What is the ideal length for first time cruising

Again there is no right cruise length when you are first time cruising. However I would say that if you are nervous about cruising, worried about getting sea sick (I’ve never experienced this and isn’t common on cruises) or if this is an entirely new type of holiday for you you may want to do more of a tester cruise. Now my first cruise was 7 days long and this was perfect. However if you are nervous maybe you will want to consider a tester cruise i.e. a three or four day cruise such as 

  • 3 night Bahamas Cruise
  • Bilbao cruise from UK etc

This are a great way to sample cruises and work out if this is the right holiday for you.

Cruise tips for first timers: Research your ports!  

Now while I do not say there is one best destination for your first time cruise I would advise researching your ports of call before you book. 

Cruise tips for first timers - research your ports (pic of Barcelona)

One of the things that surprises people on cruises is that the ports are not always in the cities that they say they are. For instance, to visit Florence you dock in Livorno which can be two hours away by bus.

It is worth researching where the ports are so you know if you will have to arrange a private tour, shore excursion or whether you can simply walk of the ship and into attractions.

Also think about what type of cruise do you want – do you want to have an active city break or are you thinking about a relaxing babymoon cruise where all you want to do is relax on the beach? This will greatly affect what types of ports you will want in your itinerary. 

Another of my cruise tips for first timers is to check the arrival and departure times of your cruise ship as this vary port to port. If you want a full day in one destination it will be no good arriving at 1pm and if experiencing the nightlife somewhere is on your bucket list then it is no good being on a ship that leaves in the afternoon. 

For more information on how to research cruise ports check this guide. 

Cruise advice for first timers – how to choose cruise cabin?

Much of the cruise advice for first timers I’m asked about is how to choose the correct cruise cabin (stateroom). Usually there are a number of cruise cabins available which include:

  • Inside Cabin – No windows. Great for those that love the dark and won’t be spending time in the room. It is also the cheapest option. 
  • Oceanview – Cabin on the outside of the ship with a porthole. 
  • Balcony – Cabin with balcony space. 
  • Suite – largest type of cabins on offer on any cruise but there may be different levels i.e junior suite vs penthouse suite. 

For me the right cruise cabin for first time cruisers really boils down to how much time you plan to spend in your stateroom. When we were just a couple and on a port full itinerary we would choose to to cruise in a inside cabin. This was a great way to save money on a cruise and we were rarely using it. 

However now since we have cruise with a baby  and now we are  cruising with a toddler we find that we spend more time in our stateroom and we require a bit more space than we have in indoor cabin so will more often choose a port view or balcony cabin.

First Time Cruise Tips - Which Stateroom to Book

First Time Cruise Tips – Which Stateroom to Book

It also is worth looking if you have any scenic cruises like we had in Alaska, New Zealand and Japan. If you are going to be cruising around a beauty spot you may want to have the luxury of doing it on your own balcony rather than having to go up onto deck to get a good view of the landscape. 

Scenic Cruising from Balcony - Cruise advice for first timers - how to choose cruise cabin?

Scenic Cruising from Balcony – Cruise advice for first timers – how to choose cruise cabin?

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

What is the best cruise line for first timers? 

Now you know where you are going you might be wondering what is the best cruise line for first timers?!

We have now cruised many lines including Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Holland America and Princess and really there is no right answers to what is the best cruise line for first timers.

Each cruise line has it’s own style and benefits so it really depends what you are looking for. For instance Holland America and Princess are more well known for being more upmarket cruise ships and having some more adventurous itineraries for instance two weeks round Japan, cruising the South Pacific or cruising Patagonia. However these lines also have a reputation for having an older demographic so this might not be the right lines for you if you are looking for a more young and part vibe. 

Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Carnival on the other hand have a more relaxed vibe and are perhaps considered more family friendly.

If you are cruising with a baby an unpotty trained toddler then you may want to check out if your ship has a splash pool as only potty trained children may use the pools. 

Therefore when looking at what is the best cruise line for first timers is really depends on what type of cruise you are looking for.

For first time cruise tips for specific cruise lines click on the below links: 

  • Carnival cruise tips for first timers
  • first time cruise tips Royal Caribbean
  • first time cruise tips Norwegian
  • Disney cruise tips for first timers

Also it is worth noting that not all cruise ships have heated pools.

How to book a cruise for the first time

Now that you have chosen your destination, itinerary, cruise line and cabin you will be turning your attention on how to book a cruise for the first time. My advice for how to book a cruise for the first time is shop around. I have used both online travel agents such as Vacations to Go to book my cruise while also having booked directly with the cruise company before. 

I will make my decision on where to book my cruise based on offers. Sometimes by going direct I can find deals such as a free cabin upgrade or free drinks package however at other times particularly if I am booking late I can sometimes find better rates by using an OTA. So my best advice on how to book a cruise for the first time is shop around to make sure you get the best deal out there! 

Now we have looked at everything in relation to booking your first cruise we will turn our attention to helping first time cruisers on the ship starting with Embarkation Day. 

Packing tips for cruisers

What to Pack for a Cruise 

If this is your first time cruise you may be wondering about what to pack for a cruise. My biggest packing tips for cruisers is DO NOT over pack. Cruise cabins are small so I would advise packing light for your first cruise. 

For a complete cruise packing list CLICK HERE! And if you are cruising with a baby do be sure to check out our dedicated baby cruise packing list!

Best Luggage for cruises

Now I am always surprised that most of the online guides for best luggage for cruises recommend hard sided cases. I get that these are robust but I personally prefer soft sided. There is not much space in staterooms. I prefer to have a soft sided luggage as it can be packed down and hidden away. 

For our guide to best luggage for cruises click here!

Cruise Embarkation Tips for First Time Cruisers

Embarkation day is perhaps something that first time cruisers worry about. But really there is no reason to worry! You will arrive at the embarkation day port and your bags will be taken away. You will then need to fill in a health questionnaire and complete registration with the ship which includes getting your cruise card which will be your room key, cash and id for your whole trip! Below are our cruise embarkation tips to help your embarkation day go a bit more smoothly and answer all the questions you may have. 

Cruise tips for first time cruisers – check your documents

If this is your first cruise I would advise checking all the documentation you require. There are very few cruises that don’t require you to have a passport so be sure to take that with you. 

There are also other documentation especially if you are pregnant or have a chronic illness that you will be required to take with you. 

Have your luggage tags printed off before you arrive

A couple of weeks before your cruise the line will email you your luggage tags. This are colour coded tags that can be attached to your luggage. This will often be colour coded and tells the port team where to send the luggage. 

Once you have got off your flight (if you are taking one) be sure to staple these tags to your luggage (through the handle). It isn’t the end of the world if you don’t however it will hold you up on embarkation day. 

What happens with stuff on cruise embarkation?

Your luggage will be taken away port side and will be delivered to your room later in the day. Depending on the port, business of ship and cruise line depends on what time on the first day that you receive your luggage. It is therefore important to get your hand luggage right

What you need to take on board on embarkation day?

Because your luggage may not get back until late you need to make sure you pack essentials such as any medications and supplies you will need on your first time. On top of that consider if you are going to use the swimming pool and if you want to get changed for dinner. Another great cruise embarkation tip is to consider what the weather is going to be for your cruise ship drill. If you are traveling int he Baltic or Alaska and have an outdoor muster point be sure to dress for cooler weather while if you are in a hot destination be sure to be wearing sun screen or have a hat with you. 

First time cruise advice – Where to eat on embarkation day?

My number one first time cruise advice is to use the main dining room rather than the buffet on lido deck on embarkation day. The buffet gets very busy while the main dining room tends to be filled with experienced diners. By eating on in the Main Dining Room on embarkation day you can start you cruise in a relaxed environment.

Top Tip: If you are planning to eat at any of the speciality restaurants or are on a ship with any time dining then be sure to make your reservation as soon as you get on the ship to make sure you get the time slots and days you want. /

For more cruise embarkation tips click here!

Download the Cruise App

Wifi at sea is notoriously patchy and expensive however these days some cruise lines have great cruise ship apps. If you ship and line have an app be sure to download this prior to embarkation. 

For more cruise embarkation day tips click here. 

Cruising tips for first timers – Shore Excursions

Another area that concerns first time cruisers is regarding shore excursions. Whether they are necessary, whether you should go through the ship or independent so in this section we will provide everything you need to know about shore excursions. 

Cruise ship excursions should you go private or with the ship?

The truth is that doing cruise ship excursions can be expensive especially compared to private excursions or doing them on your own. But there are benefits to both. If you are a nervous traveller you may want the security of going through the ship or with a company that guarantees that they will get you back to the ship on time.

First Time Cruisers Tips

First Time Cruisers Tips

We usually only book cruise ship excursions through the ship if we are in a difficult location, or somewhere that requires it for visa constraints or for visa requirements i.e. In Russia to get off the ship you were required to be booked on a ship organised shore excursion. 

First Time Cruisers Guide – Everything Else you Need to know 

First Time Cruisers Guide to Drinks and Alcohol Packages 

This is a big one for some people as alcohol can be expensive onboard. We always try to book with a free package if we can but if not we never opt for the package. Whether an alcohol package will be worth it for you really depends on how much you plan to drink. Decide on how much you drink and compare to drinks menus that can be found online to work out if you need one.

First Time Cruise Guide - Guide to Drinks Packages

First Time Cruise Guide – Guide to Drinks Packages

Top Tip: Drinks packages are not just for alcohol. There are also soft drink packages so if you are a big soda drinker but tea total there may be a great package for you. On board generally speaking the only free drinks you get included in your price are tea, coffee (non speciality), ice tea, lemonade and water. 

Another top tip is to check if the cruise line you are cruising with allows you to take any on board with you as many lines will now allow you to take one bottle of wine aboard per person.

Also when buying a drink on board the gratuity is included so don’t double tip unless the service is exceptional.

First time cruising tips about tips!

Gratuities are perhaps the biggest question mark people have about cruises but they needn’t worry. Basically all you need to know is that at the end of your cruise you will be charged a service charge per day per person which is calculated based on your room type. If you worry about budget then there are usually options to prepay your gratuities.

Gratuities make up a large part of many of the service staffs wage so be sure to remember to include your gratuities.

Food advice for first time cruisers

If food is one of your big cruise ship drivers then you want to investigate which has the best reputation. Some people I know love sharing tables so they prefer a more traditional cruise setting. Personally I hate group tables and like to have the luxury of joining people for dinner if we get on. For that reason we like Norwegian’s anytime dining and other more casual lines.

Cruise tips for first time cruisers – be sure to get correct travel insurance

No matter what vacation you go on I always advise getting travel insurance. Be sure to get travel insurance that covers cruises as not all travel insurance covers cruises and be sure it covers all destinations you cover. Do not be caught out by not having had all cruise ports covered under your policy. 

Hygiene tips for cruises first time 

The biggest concern for any cruise is getting a Norovirus outbreak. At the entrance to every restaurant on the ship there will be hand washing stations. Do not ignore these and be sure to always use before eating. 

Disembarkation Day Cruise tips

The night before disembarkation day you will be given the option of whether or not you want to carry your own bags off the ship. If you do not want to have to carry your own bags off the night before your leave you will be required to leave your bags packed outside of the stateroom for your cabin steward to take away ready for disembarkation. Colour coded labels will be attached to your cases which show your disembarkation time. If you require an earlier or later disembarkation time then be sure to go to guest services to arrange a new time and get new luggage tags. 

Ultimate First Time Cruise Tips


Tuesday 3rd of December 2019

Wow! I really like the tips and advice on this blog post! We recently took our first family cruise and wish I had read some of these before hand haha! Will be taking them into account for any future trips :)

Lisa (Travel Loving Family)

Thursday 19th of April 2018

I'm cruising with RCI for the first time in two weeks cannot wait!! I have some planning to do first though, your article has just reminded me! #MondayEscapes


Wednesday 11th of April 2018

Definitely saving this one for later as I've never been on a cruise and these are all great things to know! Thanks for sharing! :) #mondayescapes

Fiona Cambouropoulos

Monday 9th of April 2018

I don't think I'd like being on the boat but I would like all the lovely port stops in different countries with so much to explore #MondayEscapes

Claire at Tin Box Traveller

Monday 9th of April 2018

I’m off on my second cruise with my kids next month and this is such a handy reminder of everything we need to organise and do when we get onboard. Great read for first timers and old hands! #MondayEscapes