First time on a cruise? These 25 tips are for you

Top advice for cruise newbies, from how to choose the right ship and what to pack to dining choices and spa time

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Big cruise ship in the sea at sunset. Beautiful seascape


Are you a nautical novice? Check our 25 top tips for getting it right when you walk up the gangway for the first time...

PLANNING AHEAD

1: There is a cruise for everyone, but it's important to choose sensibly. There's no point booking a holiday on a 24-hour party ship if you prefer to be tucked up in bed by 10.30pm ready for a busy day exploring museums and art galleries. If you're hoping to dance until dawn, it's unlikely you'll be happy on a ship where the entertainment consists of academic lectures and a string quartet.

See also: 17 excellent cruise holiday ideas for 2017

See also: Cruise holidays: Ten top tips for beginners

2: Choose your destination carefully. Don't plan on travelling to the Caribbean if you're looking for history and archaeology, and don't book a cruise to Norway if your idea of a strenuous day is lying on the beach.

3: Don't try to cut corners on travel insurance. Ships have hospitals, doctors and nurses, but medical bills can soon add up in case of illness or accident.



The Caribbean (above) or Norwegian Fjords (below)? They are very different cruise holidays

Credits: Getty

4: Check with your travel agent or the small print in the brochure to see what's included. Gratuities for housekeeping staff and waiters can add a substantial amount to the total cost of your holiday. Even the cost of bottled water can become burdensome.

5: If tips are not included in the fare, they still form a substantial part of the crew's income. It's not fair to withhold payment over some imagined slight, or because the weather wasn't what you expected.

6: Pack a change of clothes – or at least fresh underwear – in your carry-on bag just in case the airline loses your main suitcase. Medications should also be kept in your carry-on.

7: Flying long-haul? Then travel at least a day early to ensure potential delays won't make you miss the boat. Or combine your cruise with a few days at a resort ashore.


Flying long-haul to a cruise? It's smart to travel at least a day early in case of delays

ON BOARD

8: An outside cabin, especially with a balcony, is the preferred option for scenic cruising in a region such as Alaska or Norway. But inside cabins are cheaper and might be just the ticket if you are planning to go on more than one cruise a year.

9: Get your bearings by exploring the ship while you wait for your luggage to be delivered to the cabin. Save energy by taking a lift to the top deck and then work your way down.

10: Once you've unpacked all your stuff, don't leave the suitcases cluttering up the cabin – there's room to stow them under the bed.

Credits: Getty
Choose your cruise ship cabin carefully

11: Especially on a lengthy voyage, save on calories by not eating the pillow chocolates. Tuck them in a bedside drawer and if you ever lose track of how many days you've been on the ship you can count them up.

12: On your last night aboard, if suitcases have to be left outside the cabin before you go to bed, don't forget to leave an outfit for the morning!

13: Be prepared to have to leave your cabin by 8 o'clock on the morning of departure, even if your transfer is hours later. Your cabin steward has to prepare it for the next guests who could be arriving by lunchtime.

EATING AND DRINKING

14: The first night on board – when many people are happy to settle for a buffet supper – can be a good time to eat in a speciality restaurant. There might even be a cut-price deal or a free bottle of wine to entice you in.

15: The buffet restaurants tempt you with more choices than you will ever need. Don't follow the example of some of your fellow guests who will greedily pile spaghetti bolognese on top of chicken curry and rice, with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, garlic shrimp and pizza, all on one plate. Chances are they'll leave half of it anyway. Choose one, just like you would at home. You can always go back for more, preferably on another day.

Credits: Getty
A cruise ship buffet can be very, very tempting

16: Try something different – biscuits and gravy taste better than you might expect. A bit like savoury scones. Grits, on the other hand, are best avoided. If you don't want to pay extra for fizzy drinks, get used to drinking iced tea – it's even better half-and-half with lemonade and they're both free.

17: Lavish midnight buffets are pretty much a thing of the past. But for those who find a four-course dinner is inadequate (even if it's the fourth meal of the day), late-night snacks are usually available from about 10.30pm. Many ships now have pizza available 24 hours a day.

18: The description "all-inclusive fare" does not usually include bar bills, except on high-end luxury ships. Look out for attractive deals on included drinks packages, often offered to encourage bookings. At full price, some packages would inflict severe liver damage before becoming financially viable – and they may well have limits on what is included.

GOING ASHORE

19: First thing when you get up each morning, take a photograph of the ship's daily programme. Months later, when the memories have begun to fade, it will be a handy reminder of where and when each of your pictures was taken.

20: Take advice offered by some port advisers with a pinch of salt. Many are interested only in earning commission from recommendations
for shopping.

21: Take a ship's excursion and the captain will wait if your tour bus is delayed. Use a reliable excursion provider and they should guarantee to get you to the next port if you arrive back late. But spend all day knocking back margaritas in Senor Frog's or Guinness in Paddy's Irish bar, only to emerge and find a big empty quayside... you're on your own.


The ship won't wait if you're late back to port unless you're on official excursions


TREAT YOURSELF

22:Spas and beauty parlours are at their busiest on sea days. Look out for discount deals on port days.

23: The hairdressing salon is likely to book up quickly for formal nights and the captain's gala dinners. Make reservations early if you want to look your best.

24: Don't turn your nose up at additional cover charges for the steakhouses and speciality restaurants – they'll be a lot less expensive than anything ashore and you'll be getting better food and service.

NEXT TIME

25: Chances are you'll have enjoyed your first cruise so much you can't wait to return. Book your next cruise while still on board to receive discount fares or perks such as on-board credit. The cruise line will hand over the booking to your local travel agent.

Your guide to cruise ship etiquette

Your guide to cruise ship etiquette