You are planning your first cruise holiday but you want some cruise tips for first timers to ensure you don't mess up. I can certainly help you as I worked on cruise ships for two years. I have sailed around the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal and up the west coast of USA. And spent one season in Alaska too.
In fact, the above photo is me and friend working on our first cruise ship. I was totally clueless in what to expect but gained alot of experience over the years. Therefore, I have a lot of handy cruise tips and tricks to pass onto you. Below are the main ones I get asked about.
Sea sickness control
If you are prone to sea sickness, the on-board shops do sell over the counter medication, for example Kwells. For a drug free alternative, they also offer the wristbands - where a button sits on a pressure point above your wrist. However, I found that the wristbands worked on half the passengers that purchased them.
Sometimes you may encounter rough seas due to bad weather. This can still make you feel queasy even if you have your ‘sea legs’. So always bring with you some form of sea sickness remedy – whether it be medication or natural remedies like wrist bands or ginger tablets.
If you prefer the least amount of rocking motion while sleeping, then select a cabin mid ship. You will feel the most amount of rocking at the front of the ship. The most amount of engine noise is at the rear end of the ship (aft), on the lower level decks.
On-board payment system
Majority of ships work on a cashless system. When you check-in, the pursers create a cruise account for you and register your credit card against it.
P&O Cruises go one step further by asking you to register your credit card of choice online when you make a booking.
So all purchases you make on the ship will go directly onto your account – duty free shopping, salon, spa centre, specialty restaurants, casino chips, bar service, day tours and currency exchange purchases.
At the end of the cruise, you’ll be given itemised account with one total amount that will be charged to your credit card.
For on-board payment, the currency used on the ship is usually determined by either the country of departure or the cruise ships country of ownership. For example, some cruises departing from Australia will use Australian dollars but other cruises like Carnival Cruises, which are US owned, will still use US dollars on-board even though the cruise leaves from an Australian port.
You can also purchase currencies on-board, enabling you to have local cash for each of your ports. However, you won’t get the best exchange rates. So if you have time before you leave home, buy some currency cash as your local bank or money changer. You can usually check the rates online.
You will never go hungry on a cruise ship. Every day they serve breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and midnight buffet. If you eat to your hearts content, expect to come home with a few extra kilo’s/pounds - and I don't mean in your suitcase!
For traditional dining, the main meals (breakfast/lunch/dinner) are served in the main dining room. There are usually two sittings – early dinner (approx. 6pm) and late (approx. 8pm). You will need to select your preferred sitting time at the time of booking.
Some cruise lines offer 'Anytime Dining', so you choose when and where you want to eat between set times.
However, cruise ships dining trends today also like to offer variety. Therefore, some ships will have from 1 to 4 specialty restaurants on-board too. Each will offer their own special cuisine – seafood, Asian, Italian etc. However, bear in mind that food in these restaurants are not included in your cruise package. You will need to pay for them separately.
TG Tip: As these specialty restaurants have limited seating, you will need to make reservations in advance.
Drinks and Packages
Drinking alcohol on board is quite pricey. So if your cruise is offering a drinks package, do consider it. Check out the details as sometimes they offer up to 50% discount – well worth it!
Each cruise line has their own strict rules on how much alcohol you can bring on board with your luggage. Their luggage scanning machines are real good at detecting it. So check out the ships alcohol allowance policy.
However, you can buy 1 litre bottles from the on-board duty free shops. Prices are reasonable, especially on US/Caribbean cruises.
You could buy alcohol in any of the ports too. But quite often the bottles will be held by the ships security and returned to you when you disembark at the end of the cruise. This is because you are taking business away from their on-board bars.
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With all the ports you visit, you have 4 options on what to do:
- Purchase from the selection of tours sold on board. Buses will be organised exclusively for your ship. That means you’ll enjoy the day with your fellow passengers.
Some specialty tours are really expensive but that’s because they have limited seats. For example, I highly recommend doing the helicopter tours to a glacier in Alaska - only 6 passengers per helicopter.
- The tours sold on the ship are a bit pricey but it doesn’t mean you have to miss out. There are taxi’s and private tour guides waiting outside each port and are ready for your service. Negotiate where you want to go and the price and you’re set for the day.
Or you can simply get a taxi to the city centre to explore yourself. Note – some ports are not located downtown and therefore at times you could be a 30-60 minute’s drive away.
Be sure to return to the cruise ship in plenty of time for departure. Once, my friends and I just made it back to the ship as they were withdrawing the gangway from the pier. Thankfully, they placed it back for use to quickly run onto the ship. Once a ship departs, you are responsible to make your own way to the next port.
- You can book tours online. My friend Denise has just booked all her port tours through Trip Advisor. You’ll probably find other cruise passengers on the same tour anyway!
- The last option is to simply stay on board. Just because you’re in port, they don’t force you off the ship. Food and drinks are still served all day. You’ll actually find a deck chair by the pool – the pool deck is at its quietest during port days.
If you need to touch land, you can always walk around the pier and browse the souvenir shops.
What to pack
- Firstly check the weather for your destination and bring appropriate clothing.
- Always bring a light jacket (air conditioning can be cool indoors) and a rain jacket (as weather is always unpredictable at sea).
- Formal wear. Every cruise has a ‘formal night’ where passengers dress up, meet the captain and watch a cabaret show after dinner. And when I say ‘dress up’, I mean the ladies wear lovely gowns and the men in suits. However, anything smart will do - you don't need to have diamond's on your dress!
- Some cruises have theme nights eg. Hawaiian night. So be sure to check if your trip notes/itinerary mention any special nights
- Bring your own plug adaptors. The ships do carry some adaptors, but not enough for everyone. Check with the cruise line as to the ships electrical details – the power plugs they offer (US, European, Asian, Australia) and voltage (110v or 220v).
- Your toiletries. If you do forget anything, there is a small selection of basic products in the on-board gift shops. You don’t want to be spending valuable port time shopping for toiletries.
- Ensure you have all your recharging cables for your phone/tablet/laptop/cameras.
- Comfortable walking shoes – to keep you steady strolling around the ship and for any walking tours you may do.
The tipping process
It is customary to tip your waiter and cabin steward at the end of the cruise. You usually have the same staff looking after you for the entire cruise.
You will get a lot of attention from them as your tips is the main way they earn a living. Not many people know that their average monthly salary from the cruise line is approx. USD500 per month.
These days, cruise lines make it easier for you to tip. They automatically add a set daily rate or percentage to your cruise account. If you want to give more for receiving over and above exceptional service, you can give cash directly to your waiter/cabin steward.
Any other cruise tips questions?
The above points cover the main questions I’m asked about cruising. It’s a great way to holiday and lots of fun to be in a floating hotel.
However, if you need any other cruise tips, please post your questions in the comments below.