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Cruise tips: What to know for your first time

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    The tickets are booked, the trip is planned and you're getting ready to hit the open water. If this is your first cruise, it's important to know that preparing for one is a bit different than preparing for other kinds of trips. You're only going to have to fully unpack once, and there are certain comfort items you may want to pack as you prepare for an extended trip in a singular location. However, remembering these first-time cruise tips can help make your trip go smoothly.

    Why go on a cruise?

    While ocean travel was once treacherous, these days you can sail the open seas in luxury on what is essentially a floating city. Cruise ships often have multiple restaurants, concert halls, movie theaters, spas, clubs, bars, pools and more — all with an ocean view. 

    Aside from the unique nature of cruises, there are many other reasons people may choose to take them. Cruises provide a way to see larger areas of the world in a short amount of time. For instance, you may take a Mediterranean cruise, which may allow you to visit Italy, Greece and Croatia all in a week. Or you may choose a Caribbean cruise, where you can hit multiple islands over a few days. 

    Cruising also offers the advantage of only having to book a single room, rather than finding a new hotel in every city they want to visit. It also takes care of the transportation, as you don't have to worry about planes, trains or buses to get from one city or country to another. 

    If you've decided to book a cruise for the first time for any of the above reasons or more, there are a few cruise tips and tricks you may want to know before you board.

    Packing tips

    Here are some cruise packing tips that you may want to know ahead of saying bon voyage. 

    • Pack all your essentials in your carry-on. A porter will likely take your luggage from you when you board, and it will be delivered to your room later that day. If you plan on hitting the pool once you get on board, you may want to pack your bathing suit and flip flops in your carry-on bag, as well as other essentials like sunscreen, a book, medication, a phone charger and a pair of clean clothes. 
    • BYOB. Alcohol can be expensive on a cruise ship, so if you think you'll want to enjoy a beverage by the pool, consider packing your own. This is allowed on many cruise lines, but be sure to check the rules beforehand, as there may be limits on what you can bring. 
    • Bring extra toiletries. Things like pain relievers, motion sickness medicine and bandages are available on many cruise ships, but it may be more cost-effective for you to pack your own. 
    • Don't overpack. Pack just what you need plus an extra outfit so you're not stuck with an overflowing suitcase. However, do keep in mind any off-ship activities, known as excursions, you want to do. Be sure to pack appropriate clothing and footwear for those, too. 
    • Pack a magnet. It may sound silly, but many cruisers swear by packing a magnet to put on the outside of their cabin door. It makes finding your room among the seemingly endless row of identical doors much easier. 
    • Check the dress code. While cruises are generally quite casual, do check the dress codes online before packing. Some restaurants on board may require more formal wear, or there may be a theme night you want to dress for.

    Making the most of your cruise

    An important cruise ship tip to keep in mind is that a cruise is more than just a boat ride — it's an entire experience. Following these cruise tips for first timers may help you make the most of that experience. 

    • Book excursions early. Don't wait until you're on the ship to try and book your excursions. You'll likely be given the opportunity to do this when you book your cruise, so take advantage of booking ahead of time. Alternatively, you may wish to explore private tour options for destinations for more intimate or personalized excursion experiences. 
    • Skip the buffet. Well, on day one at least. The buffet may be most crowded on embarkation day, so consider one of the other dining options for the first day and hit up the buffet on day two. 
    • Research your ports. Your time at ports will often be limited, so it's an important tip for first-time cruise-goers to research what they want to do at each port well ahead of time. You don't want to waste the time you have at ports wandering around looking for something to do. You'll likely get more out of each port if you have a game plan before you disembark. 
    • Check social media. Many cruise lines have online cruise communities, which can be especially helpful for giving cruise tips for first timers. The seasoned vets of these groups may help give insight to itineraries, excursions, restaurants and more, and they may be able to answer any questions you have beforehand. 
    • Make reservations. Cruise lines may let you book tickets for shows, tours, activities and meals at specialty restaurants ahead of time. You may want to take advantage of this, otherwise you could find the spots filled up before you even get on board.

    Additional tips

    These other cruise tips and tricks can help make your experience even more seamless. 

    • Carry your cruise information with you. When you leave the ship, be sure to bring contact information for your cruise ship with you. If you need to contact the cruise line for any reason while you're away from the boat, you'll have the info handy. 
    • Keep your phone in airplane mode. If you want to help avoid being hit with massive roaming charges, you may want to keep your phone on airplane mode while on your cruise. You'll still have access to most features through Wi-Fi, but it helps protect you from any unexpected costs. Wi-Fi packages usually come at an extra cost on a cruise ship, so you may want to compare prices for that versus adding an international plan to your phone plan for a month. 
    • Board ASAP. Schedule your boarding time for as early as you can. You paid for that day on the ship and it's fully up and running, so take advantage. You likely won't have access to your room immediately, but you can change into your swimsuit in a bathroom and grab lunch by the pool, or you can take yourself on a tour of the ship you'll be calling home. 
    • Arrive at port a day early. If you don't live in the city in which you're embarking, be sure to arrive the day before. You don't want to leave anything to chance (or traffic!) when it comes to getting to the ship on time.

    What's more

    Cruising can be a great way to explore parts of the world or just enjoy a vacation. Be sure to read up on cruise tips beforehand if it's your first time to make sure all goes smoothly. Once you're aboard there's only one thing left to do — enjoy it!

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