First time cruisers

Posted on: 28 November 2015 by Gareth Hargreaves

Quick tips for first time cruise customers that will save you money, stress and help you to enjoy a trip of a lifetime

first time cruise

For the first time cruiser, the adventure begins when you stop by your travel agent's office and book your cruise. Unfortunately, many "newbies" find that the adventure turns into a nightmare, because they don't go in armed with the proper knowledge to make the best deal. With this in mind, here are 10 ways you can make your cruise experience truly a "Cruise of a Lifetime".

Know what you enjoy and look for a cruise that gives it to you

Many first timers let the travel agent tell them what they'll enjoy, instead of planning ahead and looking for a cruise that meets their desires. For example, a popular spot for first cruises is the Bahamas, especially Nassau. I But, if you are the outdoor type who enjoys mountains, waterfalls, and scenic vistas, it isn't the place for you. The highest point in the islands, or so I'm told, is the water tower in Nassau.

Plan your spending 

Some cruise lines give the passenger a charge card when they board. This card is the only way you can pay for items aboard ship. The charges on this "cruise card" are then either billed to your personal credit card or may be paid in cash at the end of the cruise. Many people don't keep track of their daily spending and find they've spent too much money during the cruise. The other expense that you must plan for is tips. It is customary to tip staff for service, cruise lines provide some guidelines for how much to tip so it si worth factoring into your overall costs. Some cruise companies have the facility for pre-paying tips as part of your booking, which goes against the grain for me, as you should be tipping for excellence not by default.

Make sure you have your birth certificate or passport early 

Cruise lines REQUIRE you to have a birth certificate or passport in order to board. Don't make the mistake that one of my friends did and think you can go without it. You can't !! She was stuck in the Port of Southampton, alone, while her family cruised off into the sunset. Many states have fees for getting a copy of your birth certificate, and there are often delays of 6-8 weeks. Passports take about the same amount of time. Don't wait until the last minute, or you may be stuck on the dock as your ship sails.

Let the cruise line book your airfare 

Most of the cruise lines have discounted airfares that can be included within the price of your cruise. While these fares are often higher than the fare you would pay if you booked your flight yourself, they end up costing less. Here's why: Often cruise lines will pay for you to stay in a hotel the night before your cruise. In addition, the hotel will often let you park free in their lot. These are great benefits since flights often leave very early in the morning, and airport parking is expensive. Also, when you get to your destination airport, the cruise line will provide transportation to the ship, if you bought your ticket through them. If you book your own airfare, you have to get to the ship. Taxis are expensive, and often inconvenient. The savings you thought you had will disappear quickly once you add in the additional cost.

Book your cruise early

Most cruise lines give big discounts if you book your cruise 9 – 12 months in advance of sailing. As the time for the cruise draws nearer, the discounts go down and in the last few weeks before the cruise, they are almost non-existent. It used to be that some people could get really good rates by booking at the last minute, but with the popularity of cruises today, this is almost impossible to do unless you're willing to sit at the dock and hope someone doesn't show up. Myself, I always try to book 12 months in advance. That way I get the best prices and the best cabin, since there are so few booked at that time.

Outside cabins v inside cabins. Is there a difference?

On many ships, the only difference between inside and outside cabins is the porthole. The inside ones have a curtain on the wall, but when you pull it back, there's nothing there. Outside cabins, on the other hand, have a porthole. The portholes are located high up on the wall, so if you're sitting down, you have trouble seeing out of them. Most of the time, to look out, you must kneel on the bed. If you don't care about the view, go for the inside cabin. By the way, most people don't spend enough time in their cabin to warrant the extra expense. Check into this to see if there is a difference and if the extra cost is worth it to you.

Choose the lowest priced cabin, then wait for an upgrade 

Many people don't realise it, but the cruise lines usually upgrade passengers a few weeks before the cruise. People who booked in the more expensive cabins don't get these upgrades, because there's no place to upgrade them to. Decide if you want an inside or outside cabin, then book the lowest priced one you can find. Once the upgrade happens, you'll have a much better location for much less money. Oh, in case you're wondering, there is really little difference in the actual cabins on a ship, except for the really high dollar ones like suites. An inside cabin on the lowest deck (cheap) looks just like an inside cabin on an upper deck. The same is true for outside cabins. Also, the service on modern cruise ships is the same, no matter where your cabin is located or how much you paid for it.

Make sure you take medication and sundry items with you 

If you take prescription medications, make sure you bring enough with you to cover the time you're cruising. You can get medications from the Ship's Doctor, but he doesn't carry a whole pharmacy. Additionally, your insurance probably won't cover the cost of medications bought on board ship. Make sure that you keep your medications, especially those that you might need immediately, on your person or close by in a carry-on bag. Pack items like toothpaste, shaving cream, shampoo, make-up, etc. You can buy these on board, but they'll really cost you. The bottom line is, PLAN AHEAD.

Make sure you leave something out to wear the last morning of the cruise

This may sound simple, but believe me, it isn't. This may be the most important advice I've given you. On the final night of the cruise, you are required to put your luggage in the hallway before 2:00 a.m. Some people, in the rush to pack, forget that they need something to wear the next morning. REALLY, IT HAPPENS. I know of two passengers who found this out the hard way. After an evening at Carlos and Charlies (Cozumel's real HOT SPOT), they staggered back to the ship, packed everything and went to bed. The next morning, they awoke to find they had nothing to wear but their birthday suits. They'd packed everything. They ended up leaving the ship in a crew member's coveralls that their cabin steward borrowed.

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