If you've never taken a cruise before, don't feel overwhelmed by the process of discovering, planning and booking your cruise. Hey, we've all been there! Every passenger was a first-timer at some point.
All in all, it's really not that hard. To help smooth the way and take some of the guesswork out of the planning process, we've put together this tip sheet of 10 things every first-timer should know. That way you can focus on the fun part — like bragging to your friend.
Understand your options. Most people don't understand that you have a ton of flexibility in reserving a cruise. In most cases, you have to put down only a small deposit, and if you decide to cancel — typically up to 90 days before the cruise — you get it entirely back!
Keep those key dates in mind. If you have not paid for your cruise in full, be aware that it's your responsibility to understand when your final payment is due. Failure to make the final payment by the due date could result in a canceled booking.
Book your flight early. If flights are required to reach your embarkation port, make sure to book them well in advance to make sure that you have a seat.
Research drink packages in advance to see if the cruise line offers a beverage package. The best deals might be pre-purchased online and they might not be available on the ship. (If you're starting out with a luxury cruise, beverages are included in your fare.)
Make restaurant reservations before you board. Many first-timers don’t realize that some of the better restaurants aboard a large cruise ship completely book up before you even set sail. They're usually specialty restaurants.
Plan your port activities. Don't wait until you get on the ship to decide what to do in port. Figure it out before you go, and research the ports of call to decide what you might want to do. The most popular attractions will sell out if you plan to use the cruise line's shore excursion program.
Print out your pre-boarding documents. Although you can do this at the pier, it will save time if you register in advance. Plan ahead, and register on the cruise line's site at least a week before your sailing date.
Pack a carry-on. This way you can carry everything you would want to use onto the ship while you wait for your bags. At the pier, you will give your bags to a porter who will load your suitcases onto the ship where the ship's crew will deliver them to your cabin. The larger the ship, the longer the wait.
Scope out the dining room. When you get on the ship, make it a priority to check out your main dining room to see where your table is, if your ship has dining with fixed seating. Your chances of changing dining rooms, tables and dining times are better at the beginning of the cruise. The maitre d’ or head waiter usually holds court at embarkation, so read your daily program for a meeting place and time.
Get a copy of your shipboard account (or bill) two days before the last night of the cruise. Make sure that you settle any disputed charges ahead of time.
Some final tips
Over the years, every cruise line I’ve come across really is concerned about you having a good time on your cruise. So if you’re not satisfied with any aspect of your cruise, make sure to let the manager know. Don’t be shy, speak up! The cruise line will try everything possible to help you get your vacation back on track.
After your trip is over, if you decide to take another cruise with the same cruise line, make a future cruise deposit to get perks like onboard credit offers, reduced deposits or possibly a lower fare. Make sure to find out if the deposit is refundable and know that you can transfer the booking to a travel agent of your choice to help you with the booking.
Finally, share your experience with others! It could be just a Facebook update, or writing an article about the most memorable person you met, or writing a review of the ship or uploading photos to Cruiseable. People are interested in others’ experiences, so go ahead and share!
How about you? What lessons or tips can you pass along to first-time cruisers?
Updated from an earlier version. See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!
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