Tipping policies can vary widely between cruise lines. Many will add a service charge to your shipboard account, payable at the end of your cruise, while others leave it to your discretion. On US-owned ships, tipping is expected and you'll be given envelopes with suggested gratuities to be paid at the end of your cruise. Other lines such as P&O have 'fixed-rate tipping' which you're free to vary according to how much you appreciate the service.
On cruises where drinks aren't included, when you sign for them you'll be required to add a service charge – it's a good idea to hold on to those receipts so you can keep track of how much you're spending. Always find out if tipping is included in the price, or whether it will be added on so you know what to budget, and if necessary, make sure you have some cash ready to put in an envelope at the end of your cruise to hand directly to your cabin steward and waiters. The crew work incredibly hard to make your cruise enjoyable and the tips they receive are crucial: so show them how much you appreciate what they've done for you.
It goes without saying that sometimes things go wrong. For example, our toilet system stopped working for a few hours when I was on a cruise in South East Asia recently. These things happen. It's helpful to inform the crew, but rest assured they'll be trying to fix it. Remember also that sometimes your ship may not be able to dock in a particular port because of adverse weather conditions. This is no one's fault, and they have your best interest at heart – so try not to get too worked up about it.
It can be easy to lose track of time if you're off exploring when you're in port – but remember that if you're not back on your ship in time there's a real possibility it will depart without you (I've been on a cruise where this actually happened to a couple of passengers. I honestly have no idea how they got home).
If you're not sure whether a show is for you, sit at the back. That way, you won't disturb anyone – including the performers - if you decide to leave and head for the bar.
On some cruise lines you may have to share your table with strangers. Find out what the score is beforehand, and request the right-sized table – the best size is six or eight, so you can have a decent conversation but also you're not stuck with people you have nothing in common with.
If you're on an all-inclusive trip where alcohol is part of the deal it can be tempting to keep indulging – but remember that it's very easy to reach your limit, which can be embarrassing at the least and downright irritating for everyone else! Take it easy. And if there's an all you can eat buffet, try not to eat everything in sight. Your waistline and the other passengers will thank you, I promise.
Don't hog the seats by the pool! If you're going to get up and go for lunch, it is the height of bad manners to leave your towel to 'reserve' your space. Be considerate. I once went on a cruise where the pool deck was occupied by the same towels and bags pretty much all day. In the end I asked the staff to remove them.
Dress code can vary widely, but even the most relaxed ships have at least one formal night where you are expected to dress up, so be prepared. A smart dress for women and a tie and jacket for men is pretty much essential. Oh, and if you're travelling on a ship with a 'themed night', the very popular 'pirates', you may want to take along an eye patch and fake parrot. Trust me, some passengers make a huge effort....
Yes, of course it's your holiday and you should be able to do whatever you want. But guys, unless you have the body of a Greek God, please put a shirt on when you go for lunch – and ladies, a sarong will be your new best friend.
Be respectful of other passengers. Unless you're in the penthouse suite, the chances are you will have neighbours. Making loads of noise late at night or smoking on the balcony (this is usually forbidden on ships) will not endear you to your fellow passengers, and could result in complaints. If you're travelling with children, encourage them to be quiet when they're outside other cabins.
By nature, cruises are international affairs, and you're very likely to be sharing your holiday with people from other countries. This means that you may find announcements are repeated in several languages. And, of course, not everyone queues like the British. There's no point in getting annoyed or frustrated – you're on holiday! Just let it go and start enjoying yourself.