10 First Time Cruise Tips I Wish I Knew Before My First Cruise

Top 10 First time cruise tips

First Time Cruise Tips To Help You Create Your BEST 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 for first time cruise tips and 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 first time cruise tips I WISH I knew before that cruise, and 4 bonus tips from my husband (who has a different perspective than I do). You can listen to our take on these first time cruise tips on our podcast too.

*DISCLOSURE: This article contains affiliate links, which we may earn from.

Don’t Overplan.

Ooh, this one stings. The over-planner in me doesn’t want to admit this, but I now firmly believe that over-planning 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.

planning first time cruise tips

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.) Or worse, over-scheduled.

Sure…you can and should plan and research, but leave a little room for mystery, spontaneous fun, and down time. 

Ditch The New Shoes.

If you listen to just ONE of our first time cruise tips today, make this this one. A cruise is not the best place to try out those new fancy shoes. If you do, pack band-aids and ice packs.

first time cruise tips shoes

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.

first time cruise tips spa

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. It’s not uncommon for the spa to offer port day deals, when everyone else is on shore. You an save BIG money here!

You’re Not Stuck.

One thing that I REALLY wish I knew on my first cruise is that you can often have your table assignment changed in the main dining room. This is one of my favorite first time cruise tips. Let me explain.

first time cruise tips dinner

Most mass market cruise lines offer two ways of dining (except Norwegian Cruise Line, 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 accommodate 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. When you’re thinking of first time cruise tips, this may not be the first thing to come to mind. But, over the years, I’ve learned that a good travel agent is worth their weight in gold (and time, time mostly).

first time cruise tips travel agent

Here’s what I mean by TIME. Our friend Matt at RoyalCaribbeanBlog 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, and has been on a LOT of cruises, so if you don’t listen to me, listen to him.

Here are more reasons a travel agent is a good idea. #1: It generally 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.

Why? 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, flights, and excursions. AND they sometimes know how to save you money on those extras. 

Now remember, we said a GOOD agent is what you need. We suggest you ask a close friend who has used a travel agent to book a cruise, or contact our travel agency partner. Wendy and her team will take great care of you, as they do our family’s travel arrangements.

You Can Handle Your Own Shore Excursions.

We can’t leave shore excursions out when considering first time cruise tips. 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 our shore excursions tips video to learn what you MUST know if you book your own shore day activities.

Now, for Mr. CruiseTipsTV’s list of first time cruise tips he wish he knew before our first cruise:

Magnetic Walls, Say What?

Here’s one of Mr. CTTV’s favorite first time cruise tips that often surprises new cruisers.  Most cruise ships have metal walls. So what, right? What does that mean?

Well, it means they are magnetic and you can hang stuff on them to keep your stateroom tidy, and your counter tops free of clutter. So you can take all kinds of fun little magnets, like these. They make great 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 magnets for organization in these cabin organization videos. Yep, we have a whole playlist of videos that walk you through how we store things while on a cruise.

Compress to Impress!

When I was thinking of this list, I tried to think of things that really make a cruise better, and for me nothing beats a good night’s 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 bukly clothes for cooler weather destinations can be compressed down to almost nothing making them very packable.  I’ll be honest, I DO NOT always pack my pillow on a cruise, but for longer voyages, it’s certainly a luxury that can be a reality. Here’s how:

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.  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 how we used these little beauties while we unpack our suitcases.

Less Is More.

Another thing 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 baggage fees and the dreadful wait at the baggage carousel makes it worth it for us. Here’s a playlist of videos to show you how we pack carry on only for a cruise, and why we love it.

Want some quick tips on how to make carry-on only a reality? In short, limit your shoes, plan to do laundry on the cruise ship, and maximize your allowable personal item for your flight to make this work. You can do 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.

Thanks so much for reading along! We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and will share these first time cruise tips with a friend. Please feel free to direct message us on Instagram or Facebook with your thoughts, and until next time, we’ll see you on the high seas!

Listen To This Topic On Our Podcast.

Did you know we have a podcast? Yep, we’re coming to your earbuds every Wednesday at 6am Pacific Time, wherever you listen to podcasts. If you’d like to hear us talk more about first time cruise tips, catch our podcast on the subject.

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