A. If you are worried at all about sea sickness, I would consider asking your doctor for a prescription for the patch. Although I have never needed it, I’ve heard from some who are very susceptible to motion sickness that the patches seem to work the best.
B. Familiarize yourself with your ship. Check out the cruise website and look at the deck plans. When you arrive at your stateroom, you can drop off items you don’t want to carry with you, then go on a self-guided ship tour.
C. Make sure you complete your on-line check in and print your cruise documents and luggage tags before you leave for your cruise. Most require you to complete your on-line check in at least 2 days before your cruise.
D. If you are traveling in a group, and unless you have accessible (and affordable) cellphone/texting set up for your cruise (roaming charges will likely apply at sea), you'll have to resort to old-fashioned plan-making -- with set meeting places and times -- to ensure that you rendezvous with your sailing mate(s). If traveling with kids or for sailing with a group, you may want to think about bringing a supply of walkie-talkies, enough for each family member. It's a great way, particularly on the bigger ships, to keep in contact with your group. There is also, for smartphone-equipped families or groups, some of the cruise line's newer apps offer instant messaging services between passengers for a nominal fee. If you purchase an internet package, you can download app’s like WhatsApp or GroupMe to keep in touch with each other.
E. If possible, try to arrive to your port city a day before your cruise. If your flight is delayed or you have car problems and are delayed getting to the cruise terminal, your ship will not wait for you.
F. Make sure to pack a carry-on with your cruise documents, government issued ID, medications, and a bathing suit and sunscreen. When you arrive at the port, there will be porters that will take your luggage. Your luggage will be delivered to your stateroom later that day. If you have your bathing suit with you, you will be able to change and get poolside without waiting for your luggage to be delivered to your stateroom.
G. When you check in at the terminal, you will be given your cruise card (seapass card). This card is used as your door key, and for purchases made while on the ship. The casino is the only place on board ship where cash is used.
H. Cruise fares typically cover your stateroom, meals, onboard activities and entertainment. The majority of cruises now operate on a cashless system. This means that your room key is a form of currency and everything not included in your package is charged back to that – and can either be pre-paid prior to departure, or settled up before you disembark at the end of your cruise. Things that may cost extra include alcoholic drinks, specialty coffees, meals in alternative restaurants, spa treatments, access to the internet, shop purchases, shore excursions, some fitness classes, limited-access sun decks, baby-sitting services, arcade games, casino, and some adventure activities and entertainment experiences, and gratuities. Gratuities are pooled and distributed among the housekeeping and dining crew, as well as to staff providing behind-the-scenes support. Bar and spa staff members rarely share in the automatic gratuities, so tips are added when you’re served. Whether you’re ordering a martini or enjoying a massage, expect an automatic 15 to 18 percent gratuity.
I. When you get to your stateroom, familiarize yourself with your muster station. All ships are required to perform a mandatory muster drill before your ship leaves port. Each passenger will be required to attend the muster drill. Some cruise lines will have you go to your muster station for the muster drill, others will have you meet in a certain area (theater, lounge, etc). Your muster station information can be found on the back of your stateroom door.
J. You will want to make sure your phone is in airplane mode to avoid costly international charges. You may want to check with your carrier before you leave to see what plans are available.
K. Make sure you pay attention to the time. Some ports are in different time zones than the ship’s clock, so make sure the times match. Passengers are usually required to be back on board 30 minutes before the ship’s departure. And the ship won’t wait if you’re late!
L. It is always better if possible to book your excursions ahead of time, especially if there is a particular excursion you would like to go on. Popular excursions can be sold out by the time you get on board and try to book them. Also, if you book your excursion through the cruise line and something happens to delay you getting back to the ship, the ship will wait for you. If you book it on your own, the ship will not wait if you’re late!
M. When you leave the ship at a port of call, make sure you take your room key as you will need it to exit the ship and also when you return to the ship.
N. On the last evening of the sailing, you’ll receive an itemized bill of your charges. Be sure to look it over and contact the cruise line’s purser or hotel desk to dispute any charges if necessary. If all looks good, just keep the bill as your receipt, the balance will be charged to the credit card you provided at check-in. Some lines will also allow you to settle your account in cash. It’s a good idea to check your onboard statement (either at the purser’s desk, through an in-cabin interactive TV system, or in some cases, via the cruise lines app) prior to the last night. Queues at the purser’s desk can be long on debarkation day.
O. Many cruise lines require you to pack your bags the night before you disembark and place them outside your stateroom to be collected. This procedure expedites the disembarkation process. Make sure you use your carry-on again for toiletries and any remaining in-cabin items on the last morning of your stay. Don’t forget to leave out a change of clothes for the following morning so you don’t have to leave the ship in your pj’s. Also make sure you don’t pack your passport or room key. You will need both to exit the ship.
I hope these tips from experienced cruises will help you prepare for your first cruise. You can find additional information via the websites listed below. I hope you let me know some tips that you find helpful that are not listed here. I will be happy to add them for other first time cruisers.
a. Stateroom – your cabin – or if you have upgraded, your suite
b. Berth – the name of the in-built bed or bunk in your stateroom
c. Bow – the front of the ship
d. Aft – Toward the back of the ship
e. Stern – the back of the ship
f. Forward – Toward the bow or front of the ship
g. Port – left side of the ship when facing the Bow (front)
h. Starboard – right side of the ship when facing the Bow (front)
i. Embarkation – Board the ship
j. Disembark – Leave the ship
k. Muster Drill* – a mandatory safety exercise which all guests MUST participate, even if you have sailed previously.
l. Muster Station – location where guests assemble in the unlikely event of an emergency.
m. Bridge – The room or platform where the Captain/Officer has navigational control of the ship and is usually off-limits to passengers
n. Galley – the ship’s kitchen
o. Deck Plan – the map of the cruise ship (and will be integral to finding your way around and identifying your cabin location!)
p. Port of Call – a designated stop – or port cities – on your itinerary
q. Gangway – the ramp you will use to embark/disembark the ship
r. Tender – When a ship is anchored/stationery and passengers use smaller boats to visit a port
s. Docked - Ship is in port and tied to the dock
t. Sea Day – When the ship does not dock or visit a port of call and remains on the water all day
u. Port Expenses – each port of call will levy a charge based on local taxes and fees which are charged to the ship and in turn passed on to customers. These fees are not usually included in the cruise price but are usually included in your final payment for your cruise.
v. Shorex – abbreviation of ‘shore excursions’ – these can be booked though the ship or independently.
w. Roll – in rough seas you may feel a little side to side motion which is known as the ‘roll’
x. Cruise Director – “the face of the cruise” and who is in charge of hosting/emceeing events
y. Purser – the man or woman that overseas all financial transactions on board
z. Cabin Steward – the man or woman that takes care of your stateroom
*A muster drill is a mandatory safety exercise with the objective to familiarize all guests and crew with the location (muster station) where they are to assemble in the unlikely event of an emergency. During this drill, additional safety information (i.e., how to don a life jacket) is presented. The pre-departure assembly muster drill is a coast guard regulatory requirement and all guests must attend even if they have sailed previously.