Everyone is a first-time cruiser at some point. I've been on more than two dozen cruises now and just returned from a seven-day Caribbean cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas.
I thought I would weigh in on some of the tips and tricks I use when cruising, ranging from clothing to bring along to early boarding to what kind of equipment to bring on board.
Board as early as possible
I try to always be on the ship as early as they will let us on board. If you are flying into the port, I recommend flying in a day early and staying in a hotel close to the port. Not only will you be sure you get on the ship on time but you will be more relaxed and rested. This is also a great time to do things like find out where you'll be seated in the dining room and have it changed if it's not what you want. I usually spend the first hour or two aboard exploring the ship (and taking pictures) when it is not as crowded. Remember, you typically won't be be able to get into your cabin until some time later after you board.
Bring comfy shoes
There is usually a lot of walking aboard a cruise ship and then more when you are in port. Comfortable shoes are a must. That doesn't mean you need to bring a closet full. I usually being a pair of sneakers, a pair of black dress shoes, and a pair of flip flops. My wife does something similar.
I bring two chargers where you can interchange the cable. I then bring two USB cables (for Kindles, some tablets and cell phones) and two lightning cables for iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads. Nothing worse than having a charger fail or breaking a cable.
The other important tip here is to also make sure to put your phone in airplane mode once aboard. No one likes to get a surprise letter when their cell phone bill arrives. Roaming charges can add up. (See How to keep in touch during a cruise.)
Keep track of everyone in your party
When my children were small, we had a pair of two-way radios. (I still have them but we don't use them anymore.) Lately we have been using the old tried-and-true method of having a small pad of paper and pen and if someone is going out they can leave a note as to where they're going. On our last cruise, we saw a family that placed a small white board on the front of their cabin door. When anyone left they left a message as to where they were going. Seemed to work great for them.
First-day cruise deals
It seems that most of the large, contemporary cruise lines offer reduced prices at most of their specialty restaurants for the first night. In addition, the spa often has discounted treatments on the days the ship is in port.
Neither my wife or I seem to suffer from motion sickness. Modern cruise ships are much more stable and do not rock as much due to stabilizer technology. If you are prone to motion sickness, try to book a cabin in the middle of the ship and on one of the lower decks. I cannot give much advice on the medications and patches available, although I do know most require you use them before you are sick.
Pack for cool weather
Yes, it can get cool on a cruise ship even in the Caribbean. A light sweater or sweatshirt should be packed just in case. A few years ago when I was on an Alaska cruise, I forgot to bring a hat and had to purchase one at the first port of call. Living in Florida, there's not that much call for a knit hat, but I do have a nice souvenir to remember the trip.
I do not like to shower with the small bar of soap provided and have recently been bringing a full size bar. At the end of the cruise I dispose of the bar.
Travel size toiletries are great. my wife and I like to bring our own shampoo and conditioner. Cant find your brand in travel size? Buy a different brand and empty it out and replace it with what you use.
Store all toiletries in zip lock bags. Keeps things organized and can help incase something opens and spills its contents.
Bring an umbrella
My wife always packs a small umbrella and swears that helps insure we won't get rained out. Either way, bring a cheap dollar store ponchos in case it rains.
I like to bring zip lock bags in quart and gallon sizes. Great to place you phone in when going to the beach to keep the sand out and the larger size is great to place wet bathing suits for the trip home. We also bring a large trash bag and use it to store dirty laundry in the bottom of the closet.
A final tip: On Oasis of the Seas, we didn't need a nightlight as the bathroom had one built in. I do bring a small flashlight just in case I need to move about the cabin when my wife is sleeping.