A cruise is a unique type of holiday and for first timers it can take a little bit of getting used to, just like say, yoga or sushi.
There’s a definite thought process that will shape your days at sea and if we could look into the head of every cruiser we’re sure we’d find the following popping up in cartoon thought bubbles shipwide:
1 – Is it time to get up yet?
The excitement to start every day of your holiday is likely to be so overwhelming that your alarm clock becomes redundant and you become like a kid at Christmas.
Afterall, there’s so much to do on the ship and so few hours to do it all in – the brochure says so!
Resist the urge to wake your companion at the crack of dawn if they’re not an early riser though – no one wants to start a holiday with a row or have their companion falling asleep over a romantic dinner later!
2 – Time to get up? Already?
The eagerness to leap out of bed at first light is likely to have worn off by about day three, when the amazing evening entertainment and choice of bars are keeping you up later than usual.
Add the fact that the beds on cruise ships are typically amazing – P&O and Cunard have British Sealy mattresses – and you might have to be persuaded to leave yours behind and start your day. Did someone say pancake stack?
3 – Where did I put my….?
It’s a fact that cruise ship cabins aren’t well known for their spaciousness and unending storage opportunities. Unless you’ve booked yourself a suite then storage is going to be at a premium, with many guests using the space under the bed to stash suitcases and items they can’t find a home for.
Stay super tidy and organised to avoid the frantic search for your sunglasses/suncream/swimsuit.
And whatever you do, don’t mess with someone else’s ‘storage’ system, even if it does look suspiciously like a pile of discarded clothes in the corner!
4 – What’s for breakfast/lunch/dinner?
With seemingly endless dining options on your average cruise liner, what to eat at meal times and where is likely to take some thinking about over the course of your holiday.
When you consider that Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas has twenty three different dining options, you’ll see why ‘what shall we have for dinner tonight?’ suddenly becomes a much bigger decision than choosing between fish and chips or curry on a Friday night at home!
Whether you prefer to stick to your favourites or try a different dining spot at each meal, one thing’s for sure – you won’t go hungry!
5 – Do I feel sick?
Cruise newbies often expect to suffer with seasickness and may find themselves questioning every little gripe.
However, due to the size of the average cruise ship – the aforementioned Oasis of the Seas is over 1,000 ft long and weighs over 225,000 tonnes – plus the fact that they have stabilisers to minimise movement, seasickness is rare onboard.
Any tummy upsets are far more likely to be a result of that second go on the dessert trolley or the ‘one too many’ cocktails from the previous night.
6 – Wow!
The first exploration of a cruise ship can be pretty mind-blowing. With everything from waterparks to helipads to climbing walls to shopping malls onboard, your average megaship is pretty impressive, as is the attention to detail on some of the smaller, luxury liners.
And then there’s the views!
Fancy working out or enjoying lunch with an uninterrupted view of the ocean?
Incredible views come as standard on cruise ships large and small.
7 – Where do I start?
Choose a megaship and you’ll have far more on your doorstep than even the best and busiest hotel holiday resorts can offer.
The difficulty will be deciding what to do first.
Catch a movie in the pool, perhaps?
Or relax in the solarium?
Maybe you’ll test your balance on the surf simulator or do you fancy indulging in a traditional afternoon tea?
The seemingly limitless options onboard can result in hoards of cruisers wandering wide-eyed, trying to decide what to do first.
8 – What’s on the activities programme?
Large or small, most cruise liners have an activities programme, with everything from cooking masterclasses to computer courses to stargazing sessions available to sign up to.
If your cruise has an app – like Cruise Planner and Royal iQ for Royal Caribbean – you can use it to see what’s on and where or for a more low tech way to stay in the know, the ship’s newspaper will have a schedule for each day.
9 – How do I get out of the activities programme?
It’s easy to get carried away when planning your cruise, packing out an itinerary with wall to wall activities – afterall, there’s just so much to do!
Hint – you don’t have to sign up for everything that’s on offer.
A holiday should include time to relax, unwind and just do absolutely nothing too, so book out some time on that sunlounger to prevent your holiday becoming one long adult education course.
10 – Do I stay or do I go?
The point of a cruise is that you get to visit several different holiday destinations in one break – isn’t it?
The problem is that, whilst you were really looking forward to doing the tour of the historic centre of Bruges, now that you’ve seen just how much there is to do on the ship, you might have changed your mind.
Plus, when the ship is in port you might just have chance of getting to the front of the climbing wall queue or have the steam room in the spa all to yourself.
Whether you explore dry land or stay on ship is up to you but make sure you don’t miss any port highlights that you’ll regret when the thrill of the deserted fitness centre wears off.
11 – That drink is how much??
Drinks onboard some cruise ships can be expensive – we won’t try to deny it.
They might not be ‘trendy London bar’ expensive but they certainly won’t be ‘local working man’s club cheap’ either. If you’re a big drinker, compare the drinks packages with how much you’re likely to spend to see if you can make a saving and always check the ship’s policy as to what booze you can bring onboard.
Most will allow you to bring a bottle of wine per person (although you may be charged corkage), which can come in handy if you have port stops near the vineyards of the French and Italian Rivieras.
If you’re still concerned they check out our handy comparison guides on:
12 – What can I eat right now?
With so much food onboard, the temptation to supplement breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks can be quite frightening – especially for those used to getting by on a slice of toast and their evening meal at home!
On a cruise you’ll be tempted by 24 hour pizza places, donut shops, sushi bars, ice-cream machines and much more – most of it free – making sticking to three square meals a day a tough ask.
Amongst the best-loved free snacks onboard Royal Caribbean ships are the free donuts in the Boardwalk Donut Shop and the ham and cheese croissant-wiches in the Café Promenade.
13 – Where are the kids?
Choose the right cruise ship and you won’t see your children for pretty much the duration – fact!
With all family-friendly liners offering brilliant facilities for young cruisers, including age-appropriate kids clubs, activities, evening entertainment, swimming areas, sports equipment and much more, the only reason for your kids to come back to you is to ask for change for the video games arcade.
Some cruise ships, including Carnival and Disney, offer shore excursions for teens so you can see the crumbly old historic areas (or hit the local beach bars) whilst they’re off enjoying the fun attractions with friends and if you choose a cruise where kids can dine with the kids’ club hosts, your meals will be peaceful and chicken-nugget-free too!
14 – How are things back home?
However much of a good time you’re having on your cruise, there’ll be moments between mojitos when you’re wondering if all is well back home or (whisper it) at work.
You can put your mind at rest because most cruise ships have access to the internet nowadays – even if you can’t get your smartphone to work there’ll be internet cafes like those on Norwegian Cruise Line ships.
Choose to cruise on a new RCI Quantum class ship however and private satellite orbs will ensure that your Wi-Fi connection is strong enough to stream movies, skype and much more besides.
Work emails? What work emails?
15 – Can you just be quiet?
If you want a super quiet and relaxing cruise then skip the megaships and go for a small liner or even a luxury yacht cruise (even better if it’s adult’s only!).
However, even sociable types will crave quiet sometimes and it can be hard to find on a megaship.
From shrieks and splashes on the flumes to that annoying couple that just won’t stop talking to you at the bar there will be times when you want to escape the chatter and noise of a busy ship.
16 – Can he read my mind?
You can expect excellence when it comes to service on a cruise ship, with staff and crew members highly trained on how to make your holiday the best that it can be – Cunard even sends its staff on an intensive academy training programme in order to achieve ‘white glove’ service standards.
The service is so slick and unobtrusive that you may be left wondering if your server or steward can read your mind – for example, when you’re served soft baked cookies and ice cold milk poolside on Princess cruises, or when your Seabourn cabin steward runs you a bubble bath.
Now that’s service that you don’t get at home – or if you do, you’re one lucky cruiser!
17 – How much should I tip?
Tipping on a cruise ship is a concept that can seem complicated.
Do you opt out of the added daily gratuity in order to tip personally?
Do you tip personally on top of the added daily gratuity?
Does your cruise ship even encourage tipping (some of the luxury liners insist that tipping is not required nor expected).
Deciding when, how and how much to tip can feel like you’re navigating choppy waters indeed. One tip for those who prefer to opt out of mass-tipping and reward individuals personally is to offer half the cash at the start or the cruise and half at the end – this prevents any awkwardness on your part and any will they/won’t they on the part of your server or steward.
No one wants to be known as the ‘tight one’ in cabin 204, afterall.
18 – Him, again?
The contained nature of a cruise ship means that you are likely to bump into the same faces again and again, especially if you have a favourite spot on the ship where you like to take root.
If you find yourself with a NBFF (New.Best.Friend.Forever) that you’d like to shake, try varying your day and heading somewhere different – or book yourself onto an excursion and ‘forget’ to mention it until the last minute.
Alternatively, insist that you can’t join your new bestie for dinner because your wife/husband is insisting on some one on one time.
If you can add an eye roll then you’ll be all the more convincing for it.
19 – What shall I wear to dinner?
If you’re an organised type then you’ll have checked out the dress codes for each restaurant and each night of your cruise in advance and if you’re like the rest of us you’ll go through a nightly ritual of emptying the entire contents of your suitcase out over the bed and having a huge tantrum that you have nothing to wear, instead.
The trick is to pack a versatile wardrobe that you can dress up or down, and have at least one smart suit or cocktail dress hanging in your closet.
Remember that, even on the most formal gala evening, Cinderella ball gowns and full penguin suits aren’t required – so don’t worry too much.
Just don’t try to order dinner in shorts or a bikini and – if all else fails and you really feel like you don’t have anything suitable to wear – remember that you can always hit the onboard boutiques!
20 – Where am I?
Unless you’ve got an inbuilt SATNAV system then there’s a strong possibility that you will get lost onboard a cruise ship, especially if it’s a 5,000 passenger beast!
Most ships will offer you a pocket-sized deck plan but this isn’t much use if you’re in your swim shorts heading for the pool.
On some Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line ships digital touchscreen displays will help you get from stateroom to swimming pool. Get yourself a WOWband on RCI’s Quantum of the Seas and RFID technology will tell you where you are the smart way.
Plus they’re waterproof, unlike those pocket maps! And don’t forget that you can always ask the helpful staff to set you back on the right track – although it will be useful to brush up on your ship’s terminology and know your port from your starboard first!
21 – When can I come back?
This thought typically hits around midway through your cruise, when you realise that, sooner or later, you’re going to have to leave your floating pleasure palace behind and return to real life where you don’t have whirlpools and climbing walls in your back garden or top chefs in your kitchen (unless you’re Jools Oliver or Tana Ramsey). If you’re sure that you want to cruise again with the same line then booking your return visit while still onboard will score you some added benefits. These could include onboard credit, discounted deposits, free airfare and discounts for family and friends. Most lines will also allow you to place a ‘floating deposit’ to secure these benefits without deciding on a particular cruise there and then. Just drop by the sales desk and ask what the best deal they can offer is.
So you see, there’s more going through the head of the typical cruiser than just ‘what cocktail shall I have next?’ The over-riding thought for a newbie however is likely to be ‘why didn’t I do this sooner?’ – and for a regular cruiser, ‘when can I do this again?’ What cartoon thought bubble sums up your cruising experience, cruise fans?