8 things seasoned cruisers say you should know before setting foot on your first cruise

  • With so many things to do and see on board, taking a cruise for the first time can be overwhelming.

  • To help you prepare, seasoned cruisers on Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas shared their tips.

  • Snag pool chairs early and don't fly in on the day your ship departs, they told Business Insider.

First-time cruisers may feel overwhelmed by the vacation style. It's a new form of transportation for some, and when you're traveling on a large ship with so many places to eat and so many activities and excursions, it can be hard to figure out how to spend your time.

It can be helpful to hear how to make the most of your cruise from those who have done it before. While on Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas in April 2022, Business Insider talked to people who had been on multiple cruises. They shared their best tips to help plan an incredible cruise vacation.

While packing for a cruise, try to keep it light, but make sure you have all the essentials.

suitcases outside staterooms on the world's largest cruise ship
Seasoned cruisers say to pack only what you need.Joey Hadden/Insider

Sharon Taylor, who has been on five cruises, told Business Insider that first-timers should be careful not to overpack.

"New cruisers think cruising is a fashion show and pack way too many clothes and shoes, but you wind up just wanting to be comfortable," she said.

For a seven-night cruise, Taylor said she brought two bathing suits, four pairs of shorts, two pairs of shoes, one formal outfit, eight pairs of underwear, and six tops. She planned to buy two more tops on the trip.

Paul Gallifrey, who has been on 30 cruises on various lines, said to pack what you need for the length of the cruise but add a few extra options just in case.

"Maybe you decide to change clothes between pool time and the buffet," Gallifrey said. "An extra shirt and pair of shorts will come in handy."

Gallifrey added that some activities on ships and excursions required specific clothing, such as lace-up shoes for zip lining. Check the cruise line's website for these requirements and pack accordingly.

Don't forget to pack a magnet to make finding your stateroom easier.

magnet the author used to identify her room door
You can use a magnet to help a stateroom door stand out.Joey Hadden/Insider

Large cruise ships typically have seemingly endless hallways of staterooms with identical doors.

Taylor said to pack magnets to attach to the outside of your door to help you spot it.

"You will be glad you did when you are looking for your room down those long hallways," Taylor added.

If you have to fly into the port your ship is leaving from, book a flight at least one day before departure to avoid missing the boat.

Royal Caribbean cruise port in Fort Lauderdale viewed from s cruise ship on a cloudy day
A view of the port in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from the cruise ship.Joey Hadden/Insider

Unless you book a flight through a cruise-line package, the ship will leave without you even if your delayed or canceled flight is what makes you late, Stephanie Franks, who has been on more than 15 cruises, said.

With Royal Caribbean, if you book a flight through the cruise line and it's delayed or canceled, their emergency-travel team will get you on an earlier flight or fly you to the next port to join the cruise, according to the company's website. If you don't book through the cruise line, you'll have to figure it out yourself.

Franks said her friend's flight to Miami got canceled the day before her cruise because of the weather in Florida.

"They hopped in a car and drove 19 hours straight to get here on time. You just never know," she said. "But best to be prepared and early than late."

She recommended flying in at least one day before the ship's departure to leave extra time for delays and cancellations. She said to stay near the port, adding that there were plenty of hotels in Florida with shuttles to the port.

Experienced cruisers recommend booking anything with additional costs before boarding the ship.

Shore excursions on deck five of wonder of the seas
Excursions are available to book on board the ship or before you arrive.Joey Hadden/Insider

On cruise ships, there are often restaurants and activities included in the ticket price and some specialty restaurants that cost extra. When stopping at ports, you can also book excursions for an additional cost.

Once your trip is booked, you can often prepay for dining on the ship and excursions at the ports. Reservations generally fill up quickly, so it's smart to get this done as soon as possible to ensure you get the experiences you want. Plus, you'll probably pay less than if you wait until your trip.

"Do everything you can before getting on board to save money," Tekeshia Browne, who has been on over 100 cruises, told BI, adding that there were discounts for restaurants and excursions ahead of the cruise.

If you are a new cruiser, it's easiest to book excursions with the cruise line.

People line up for a ferry with blue skies
People stand in line to board a ferry at a port.Joey Hadden/Insider

At each cruise port, passengers may disembark to spend their time as they wish. They might sightsee independently, take a taxi to a beach, link up with a local tour guide, or join an official cruise-line excursion.

Gallifrey said first-time cruisers would likely have the easiest time if they chose the last option.

Navigating ports can be confusing, especially if you're taking transportation to your excursion, but if you book through the cruise line, you'll be directed to exactly where you need to go. Some cruise-line excursions even include meals.

"If you are new to cruising and have not had experience arranging excursions, it is sometimes easier to go with the ones from the cruise line," he said, adding that these excursions guaranteed the ship would wait for you if an outing took longer than planned.

"Self-booked excursions are totally outside of this guarantee," he said.

Some say there's enough to eat, see, and do without spending any more money outside booking your cruise.

Buffet selections on Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas
Lunch and dessert options at a buffet on the ship.Joey Hadden/Insider

Some cruisers say that everything included in the ticket price is enough for a great vacation. You can eat at multiple restaurants on the ship, participate in games and activities, attend shows, and explore the ports at no extra cost.

"You don't really need to spend another penny after you have paid for your cruise. There are plenty of awesome free shows, foods — including the main dining room — and things to do at every port," Taylor said. "At ports, I roam around the shops and look at the artisan stuff made by locals."

No matter how you spend your days off or on your ship, you should always read the daily cruise planner.

A Cruise Compass issue next to a remote on a stateroom bed on the world's largest cruise ship
A daily cruise schedule in a stateroom on the ship.Joey Hadden/Insider

On Royal Caribbean cruises, attendants deliver the daily planner, Cruise Compass, to staterooms each night.

From escape rooms and sports games to dance classes and karaoke, the ship is full of scheduled activities that you'll know about only if you read the Cruise Compass or check the Royal Caribbean app.

Vickie Carmody, who has spent 280 nights on cruise ships, said first-timers should read this planner, adding that she skipped it during her first cruise and missed out.

"My first cruise, I was so bored because I didn't know any better," she said. "I missed the welcome-aboard show, the quest, the poolside games like the belly-flop contest and sexiest-man contest, and a lot of the entertainment around the ship."

If you want to just relax by the pool, get a chair early in the day before people or towels have taken them all.

Side-by-side photos of packed pool chairs on the top deck of Wonder of the Seas cruise ship
People fill up pool chairs on the ship.Joey Hadden/Insider

Franks said that by midday on most ships, people took up chairs on pool decks by saving them with towels. So she recommended getting up early to grab a spot at about 6 a.m.

There are rules against saving chairs on cruise ships, but Franks said she has rarely seen them enforced.

"It tends to be a bigger issue on larger ships, ironically," she said. "The smaller ships go to smaller ports, so I guess people focus more on island excursions than the pool deck."

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