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A girl tries out some moves on the FlowRider surfing simulator on Harmony of the Seas.

Rob Kalmbach

A girl tries out some moves on the FlowRider surfing simulator on Harmony of the Seas.

How to prepare for your first cruise

A guide to help you get matched up with the right cruise

Embarking on your first cruise is a truly exciting experience, but there is a lot to consider and plan. With so many cruise lines, ships, features and facilities and itineraries to choose from, it can be quite a daunting task.

Tips & tricks on cruise basics

That's why I put together this easy-to-follow How to Prepare for Your First Cruise guide to help get you sailing in the right direction.

Pick the right cruise line & ship

Spend time researching. It could mean the difference between an awesome vacation and one that was just OK. If you want to cruise with your family, then research the family-friendly cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Disney and Norwegian Cruise Line. If you're looking for something from the luxury (and mostly child-free) end of the spectrum, then consider Oceania, Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea and Seabourn. Fan of laid-back river cruising? There's a lot to choose from here, too: Viking, Uniworld, Avalon, AmaWaterways, Tauck and American Cruise Lines.

How to begin? Your best bet is to use Cruiseable's Bliss Filters tool at the right (and at the top right of every page on the site), which will narrow down your search effortlessly!

Do some port planning

Cool off with a brew, dig into some comfort food and meet new people at O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill, an Irish-inspired pub. (This shot was taken on Norwegian Epic.)
Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise LineA scene at O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill aboard Norwegian Epic. Consider buying a drink package before you board your ship.

You don’t have to plan every second of every day, but you should definitely have some kind of plan for each of your ports, unless your plan is taking advantage of an empty ship! Cruiseable has put together hundreds of port guides and travel guides to help you out. You may want to print small maps at home before you leave; this is a much easier way of navigating and beats having to keep folding and unfolding a tourist map the size of a small town. Ladies, it can fit in your handbag, too! 

Know what's included in the price

The majority of cruise lines include food, accommodation and onboard entertainment in the cost of the cruise fare. However,  some cruise lines offer wine and beer with onboard meals or all-inclusive packages that include all drinks consumed during the cruise. It’s better to know what extra costs you may incur before you join your chosen ship. Remember, on board there are charges for spa treatments, speciality dining, drinks and shore excursions, and if you want to treat yourself or a loved one to something nice in the onboard shops, then you will need to pony up for that, too.

The fashion scene at the Rising Tide aboard Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas.
Courtesy of Royal Caribbean InternationalThe fashion scene at the Rising Tide aboard Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas. But feel free to dress down whenever you'd like! 

Know the dress codes

Some cruise lines don’t have any dress codes, which means you are free to dress as you please every evening, while others do have suggested dress codes, which are usually smart casual, semi-formal and formal. Find out what, if any, dress codes and theme evenings there are for your cruise and pack to suit. Remember, though, it’s your vacation, you don’t have to dress up if you don’t want to!

Your take

The above is a simple list of the basics, but get it right and you'll have a great vacation! What other tips do you have for first-time cruisers?

Updated from an earlier version. See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!

In our New to Cruising series

Danielle Fear
Travel writer and social media professional based in Newcastle, UK. I've been cruising since since 2007. Follow me on Twitter at @CruiseMiss.

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