This Summer I made my maiden voyage on a cruise liner. Having never really fancied cruising we were welcomed onboard the Norwegian Pearl for a 4-day rock festival for the Jon Bon Jovi Runaway to Paradise Tour. Sailing from Barcelona to Palma and back we enjoyed our first cruise and picked up some tips that you should know before your first cruise.
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1. Arrive At Your Departure City A Day Or More Before The Cruise
Irrespective of your ship is due to leave late in the afternoon you will certainly want to arrive in the city of departure at least a day before. Be prepared for your flight to be delayed or in case there is heavy traffic or another obstacle for you to contend with. If you arrive in the city a day before departure chances are you’re not going to miss embarkation.
2. First Cruise – Take A Carry-On With You
From reading from many different sources prior to travelling we were advised to pack a carry-on. The FAQs section of Norwegian’s website states that although you may be able to get into your stateroom or cabin before 3 pm bags may not be delivered to your room until between 3 pm and 5 pm. With our embarkation time at 12:30, we thought it would be wise to pack makeup, suncream, swimwear, camera and a change of clothes and a couple of other essentials.
Top tip: Make sure that you pack a reusable water bottle in your carry on and fill up at the hydration stations. This eliminates unnecessary single plastic cup usage and also saves you buying bottles of water. Which on this cruise were priced around $3 (plus 10% tax) per bottle.
3. No Cash Required – Cashless Onboard System
Norwegian, like the majority of cruises, operate a cashless system. This is both a blessing and a curse all at once. If you’re like my daughter and hate carrying cash, then you’ll think it’s great. You simply hand over your keycard and charge it to your pre-authorised card. On the other hand, you can get overzealous and your spending may run away with you when you’re just charging to a plastic room key. You can check your spend on the system in your room if you are cautious.
Items that may incur a cost include alcoholic drinks, speciality coffees or smoothies, meals in non-complimentary restaurants, spa treatments, WiFi, shop purchases, cruise shore excursions, additional fitness classes, some adventure activities and entertainment experiences.
Pay In The Currency Of The Cruise Liner
It’s also worth noting that you’ll be charged in the currency of the cruise liner. For example Norwegian, an American cruise line charges all accounts in USD ($). Which when the pound is strong, spending onboard is attractive, with a current weak pound it’s not so attractive.
Sometimes (not always) you’ll have the option to have your onboard account converted into your local currency. As a frequent traveller, I always recommend paying in the currency charged in and not converting it, regardless of where I am. This way you’re likely to obtain a greater exchange rate.
4. Pace Yourself
Initially, I felt the whole first cruise experience overwhelming, especially if you the ship is larger in size than you had first anticipated. For us, and if you’re on a festival-style cruise, you’ll definitely want to take heed of this tip. Pace yourself! You absolutely don’t have to complete everything on the first day!
Take your time and plan when you can fit in everything. Prior to cruising, we received an itinerary with all of the band’s timings and other events happening. We sat down and created our own itinerary from this so we knew who we’d go and watch perform and when. Keeping in mind we wanted to make the most of our 4-day cruise without burning ourselves out. We paced ourselves and it’s a good idea for you too!
5. Know The Food Options
Food on cruise ships is available 24 hours a day with a multitude of different dining options. It is said that you put on 1lb for every day you’re on a cruise! HA! Dining on the ship can include a formal dining room or speciality restaurants, buffets and snack bars. Check with your specific cruise as to which restaurants are included in the price and which have an additional charge. Sometimes the cruise liner offers an additional speciality dining package to encourage you to eat in more of the restaurants that are at an additional charge.
The buffets have a wide array of counters with international cuisines cooking up a feast. Sometimes they do theme nights, or they are themed to suit your destination.
Catering For Dietary Requirements
On our cruise, at the buffet, there was an expansive salad bar with a mix of burgers, pizzas, curries, soups, specials of the day and more there was something for everybody. Norwegian even offered a special Vegan section too and the food labelling was great for anybody with intolerances.
The desserts cabinet is always worth a look as there were some incredible small desserts for you to enjoy. Also, be aware that many cruise lines offer an option to take food ‘to-go’. Simply grab a disposable box fill it up and either take it to your room for later or enjoy it on the go.
Do make sure that you know which food places are open at which times so that you’re never wandering around searching for a bite to eat.
I also highly recommend that you take a blind leap and sampling dishes on your first cruise you wouldn’t usually choose as the food is delicious and it’s a great way to try something new.
Order as much as you wish
If you’re in the dining room, you are able to order as many dishes as you like, so feel free to order a couple of starters, mains and desserts to try if you wish. As I’m not an advocate of food waste, only order it if you think you can eat it. Dinner in the main dining rooms is one of the few amenities included in your cruise fare, so you can take advantage by ordering however many dishes you wish without the cost spiralling.
If you’re not very adventurous or enjoyed last night’s dinner, you could order it again. A lot of people don’t realise that cruise lines will bend over backwards to make you happy. You are often able to order items from the dining room, even if they aren’t listed on the menu that night. So if you enjoyed something a few nights earlier, ask your server if there’s any chance of having it again.
Free Room Service
Another thing you might not know on your first cruise is that for the most part, room service is free. Usually, in hotels, this is an (overpriced) luxury, however, on a cruise, it’s a free perk. You are able to order breakfast the next morning by hanging a completed menu on your stateroom’s cabin door, or you can order lunch or dinner if you don’t feel like going to the buffet. It is typically free (probably tip your server a few $). Some cruise lines do charge for certain items on the menu, however, these will be clearly marked. You may also see a charge if your order very late at night too.
6. Leave Your Luggage Out Before 12 am
On debarkation day, some people like to get off early (7 am was early enough for me, without choice). Cruises offer early debarkation for passengers who carry off their luggage. The majority of passengers opt for this route (not us). This often results in a long wait to get off, instead if you leave your luggage outside your room before 12 am on the day of departure it will be collected and taken off the ship for you and will be waiting for you in the port terminal.
This gives you time to enjoy your final breakfast and depart at your cabin’s normal debarkation time which is an all-round better experience than standing in a queue at silly o’clock in the morning on any cruise let alone your first cruise.
Have you got any other tips for first-time cruisers? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.