10 Cruise Tips I Wish I Knew Before My First Cruise

10 Cruise tips to know before you cruise

Cruise Tips Can Dramatically Improve Your Cruise

Ah, my first cruise. I remember it in such vivid detail. I bought BRAND new luggage, researched every detail of the ship and port, and spent HOURS each weekend lurking around on cruise message boards to learn everything I could to prep for the big voyage. Spoiler alert, it was a GREAT trip, and there’s NOTHING like your first cruise! But, here are 6 cruise tips I WISH I knew before that cruise, and 4 from my husband. You can listen to his take on this on our podcast on this topic here.

Don’t over plan

Ooh, this one stings. The overplanner in me doesn’t want to admit this, but I now firmly believe that overplanning can have a negative impact on your cruise. This may seem contradictory to what we teach here at CruiseTipsTV (hello, we’re all about telling you how to PLAN), but hear me out. Remember when your Mom, Dad or High School Teacher told you “those short shorts leave nothing to the imagination!”. It’s kind of the same thing. If you plan, prepare, and choreograph EVERY element of your cruise, nothing will be left to chance or spontaneity, and that can leave you feeling a number of ways. Exhausted. Not surprised at ANYTHING (yah, I printed off the dining room menus before my first cruise. Sigh). Sure…you can and should plan and research, but leave a little room for mystery and down time. 

Ditch those new pumps

A cruise is not the best place to try out those new fancy shoes. If you do, pack bandaids and ice packs. Fun fact, Symphony of the Seas is 1,184.42 ft long. A football field is 300 feet long. That means, to get from one end of the ship to the other, you’re walking across MORE than three football fields. Personally, I don’t like to suffer on my vacations, so I learned quickly to WEAR in my shoes before a cruise, especially those sparkly formal night beauties i just HAD to have went they went on sale at TJ Maxx. 

There are secret deals onboard

Remember how I overplanned EVERY element of my first cruise. Well, turns out, there are some pretty sweet deals on cruise ships, if you can just WAIT for them. You see, port day spa specials, first night dining promos and shopping sales aren’t usually pre-advertised, so watch your cruise newsletter carefully for those bargains. 

You’re not stuck

One thing that I REALLY wish I knew on my first cruise is that you can have your table assignment changed in the main dining room. Let me explain. Most mass market cruise lines offer two ways of dining (except NCL, who’s freestyle dining bucks these norms). First, there’s “assigned” seating, where you show up at the same time every night and sit at the same table. The second type of dining, which is becoming more and more popular is a more flexible style of dining, called “anytime”, “flexible”, or some other term that denotes you can show up when you want, and dine with whom you want. If you end up with the first type of dining we mentioned (assigned), it’s important to know that if you don’t care for your table assignment, you can probably have it changed. Simply speak with the head waiter or Maître d’hôtel (the important looking guy or gal who stations themselves at the front of the dining room) and ask them to be reassigned. They may not be able to accomodate you immediately, but they will do their best to offer you another solution. You can also check your table assignment on some cruise lines on the first day of your cruise, in the early afternoon hours. Simply check your cruise news letter for these “dining room open hours” to see if you can scope it out. 

A good travel agent makes all the difference

The truth is, I booked my first cruise on the cruise line website. It wasn’t a bad experience by any means, and I liked the feeling of being in control of my booking. But, over the years, I’ve learned that a good travel agent is worth their weight in gold (and time, time mostly). Here’s what I mean by TIME. Our friend Matt at RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com sums this up nicely by saying something along the lines of “a good travel agent doesn’t cost you anything extra and you have nothing to LOSE by using a travel agent.

Why sit on the phone for hours with the cruise line when you want to change your cabin, or monitor a price drop when your agent can do it for you”. Matt is smart, he has been on a LOT of cruises, and has terrific cruise tips of his own. So if you don’t listen to me, listen to him. Here’s more reasons a travel agent is a good idea. 1) it costs you nothing more to book with them. They are paid by the cruise line, and often have better deals than the cruise line can offer directly, because their host travel agency has arrangements with many off the mass market cruise lines that allow them to secure perks, onboard credit, and other good things. 2) They can help you book other stuff. Like travel insurance. AND they know how to save you money on those extras. 

Now remember, we said a GOOD agent is what you need. Ask a friend who has used an agent to book a cruise, or contact our travel agency partner by calling the number here.

You can handle your own excursions

Booking your own excursions can be a GREAT way to save money for new and seasoned cruisers alike, but there are some mistakes you don’t want to make. Watch this video to learn what you MUST know if you book your own shore day activities.

So there is my list of cruise tips. Now, for Mr. CruiseTipsTV’s list of cruise tips he wish he knew before our first cruise:

Magnetic walls, say what?

I’ll start of with a little fun one, that may surprise new cruisers.  Most cruise ships have metal walls. So what right? What does that mean? Well, it means they are magnetic.  So you can take all kinds of fun little magnets, like these super strong magnetic hooks (this is an affiliate link).  Hooks for hats and scarfs, or maybe just little magnets for trip maps, notes or other fun things.  Here’s a fun idea, take an instamatic camera and use magnets to hold photos on the wall. You can see how we use them in these cabin organization videos.

Compress to impress

When I was thinking of this list, I tried to think of cruise tips that really make a cruise better, and for me nothing beats a good nights sleep.  My pillow is critical for good sleep, but who wants to pack a giant pillow? Well, something I learned later in our cruising adventures is feather pillows and bulky clothes for cooler weather destinations can be compressed down to almost nothing making them very packable.  All it takes is a very inexpensive compression bag. You can grab them at stores like Amazon, Target or Walmart. Here’s a set we like 8 Travel Space Saver Bags.  Watch some of our older packing videos from our trip to Alaska if you want to see just how much pillows can be compressed. Around minute 9, we’ll show you!

Less is more

One of the other cruise tips I wish I knew before our first cruise is … packing carry on only is SO liberating – especially when flying.  It’s something that initially sounds daunting, but it can be done quite easily, and once you get the hang of it you’ll probably never go back. Just eliminating the wait at the baggage carousel makes it worth it for me. Here’s a playlist of videos to show you how we pack carry on only for a cruise, and why we love it.

Read all about it

In our early days of cruising, after a cruise I would often lament the fact that we missed out on ship board events. You know, like we didn’t take advantage of all the fun things happening on the ship (there’s literally dozens of things to do every day on a ship). It’s kind of silly, but there is a simple solution … the ship’s newsletter.  Most, if not all, ships have newsletters detailing things happening on the ship. These days we’ll often sit down with the newsletter the night before, and highlight all the fun things we want to do. So yeah, I wish I’d known how valuable the newsletters are before our first cruise. What’s great is that many cruise lines now offer electronic versions of the news letters too, in the form of an app, which makes it easy to carry the schedule around with you, on your smartphone.

If you’d like to hear us talk more cruise tips on this topic, catch our podcast on the subject here. New cruisers may also want to check out our Cruise Personality Quiz.