Thursday, December 29, 2022

First Time Cruise Tips

I can't say I am the most experienced cruiser, and all of mine have been on Carnival, but I want to help alleviate some of the stress and unknowns many first time cruisers have. 

A few things to keep in mind: I have to fly to most cruise ports. My city is a major port city, but only a few (very expensive) cruise lines come here, and they tend to have itineraries I am not very interested in.

All that to say, I have to plan and pack as one who is flying, and since I am going into a foreign country (I usually pick cruises that leave from US ports), I have to use my passport. 

Please research your entry requirements for your citizenship and circumstances. 

With that out of the way, let's get to the fun part!

You can do it yourself

One question I see often is whether you should use a Personal Vacation Planner (PVP) or make the booking yourself. There are pros and cons to both, but I want to let you know it is not rocket science and you can do all the booking yourself, online. If you're like me and love to be in control of all aspects of planning, you'll enjoy the booking process. It is not any more complicated than booking a flight. 

That said, PVPs who are employed by Carnival see exactly the same deals you see online and they don't work on commission (they get a decent salary). So it will not cost you any more to have someone help you through the process. The drawback is that any time you need something modified in your booking, you have to work through your PVP - you will not be able to modify your booking online in your account yourself. 

This might work out for you as long as your PVP is easily reachable and responsive to your needs. My experience is once the booking is made, they tend to disappear. This is especially true of PVPs who are independent, and not directly employed by the cruise line. They may also take a commission, in this case, so your costs may be different. Or they may pressure upsell you to a higher room category. 

On a similar note, I also avoid booking through third-parties. If compensation is given (missed port/fees refund), it goes through the third-party first and you may miss out. 

Book the room you want

I see people trying to save money and then waiting and hoping for a cheap upgrade. Sometimes you get lucky, but in general, all the highly desired cabins get sold out quickly. The likelihood of getting your dream upgrade by booking an interior room is not great. 

Vacations are expensive. Your cabin is not a great place to cheap out on. If your preferred room type is not available, look at later/future sailings. People who get suites and balconies typically book further out. 

But absolutely spend the extra money to book the type of room you want, rather than hoping for an upgrade. Especially with many travel restrictions being lifted, cruising is back in high demand and cruises are booking up. 

All that said, the XL class ships are in higher demand (and more expensive) than the smaller ships, so you may be able to afford a suite on a small ship for almost the same price as an ocean view on a larger ship. Compare, compare, compare!

One side note: many cruise lines offer a discount rate for them to choose your cabin for you. For the most part, people I have spoken to about this say they have always been assigned a great cabin and had no regrets. If things like location/deck or obstructed views are not important to you, this is a smart way to save money. 

Don't bring so much stuff!

I'll never understand why people want to bring everything, including their kitchen sink on board. This happens more with those who drive to their port, as well as long time cruisers, it seems. 

But remember you are going into a tiny cabin! Cruise cabins are often much smaller than hotel rooms, plus you may be sharing a cabin with one to four other people. They can get cramped! 

For my first cruise, I watched all the YouTube videos telling me all the gadgets I would absolutely need - I went and bought them all, and didn't use even 80% of them. So useless and unnecessary!

I can tell you the items I use every time and the rest is not important (referral links I may earn income from):

  • Reef safe sunscreen (get a high SPF. I use Fenty or All Good) if you're headed to the Caribbean, Southern Europe/Mediterranean, or Asia/Australia, especially in the summer. 
  • Non-surging multi-plug outlet to charge phones/electronics
  • Lanyards for my cabin card (I have one that my phone hangs from as well)
  • Motion sickness medication, your preferred fever reducer medication, a small first aid kit, your regular daily medications or vitamins (if applicable)
  • Disinfectants (peroxide, lysol wipes etc) to clean surfaces in your cabin, as well as your phone. (I use a UV sterilizer for my masks, toothbrush and phone) 
  • Clothing, including swim suit
  • My favourite skincare/hair products, lotion, make up (some ships don't provide hair conditioner or body lotion)
  • Menstrual products, if you need them.

That's it! Anything else is extra. Many things can be bought on the ship or at a port of call (more expensive), but if you only had the above items, you can have a perfectly good cruise. 

I always pack a small travel clock with me that I keep on ship time and also tells me the room temperature, but I forgot to pack batteries last time, so we lived without it. 

Fly in the day before

It's OK to fly out the day of your cruise most of the time, as long as you are booking a flight later than 12:30pm on debarkation day. But you really should fly in at least the day before to be on the safe side. Few things more stressful than trying to run for a cruise ship! (I've done it, I don't recommend it).

Spend the money on a hotel room the night before and be there early, with peace of mind. I try to book a morning flight the day before so that if that one is delayed, there may be an evening flight I can catch. And failing that, one last very early morning flight the day of. This happened to us this summer, so if we hadn't been trying to fly out 24 hours before, we would never have made it. 

Get travel insurance

Again, for peace of mind, get travel insurance. Check if your credit card offers it, or your workplace, but if not, cancellation and baggage insurace, at the very minimum, are really worth it. Shop around - you may get better deals by buying independently, or you can just take the insurance provided by the cruise line, if it's applicable for you. 

Dealing With Sea Sickness

The motion of a ship is really simple physics. Staying low and midship will have the least amount of movement. Balance a pencil on your finger and see which parts bob up and down most. The ends do. Same as a ship.

However, a ship also rocks side to side. All modern ships have state of the art stabilizers, but the fact is, you are still just a tiny vessel in a huge ocean and you will feel it move. Nature is unpredictable as well. It's just the cost of being out in the beautiful sea. 

All that said, you can pick a cabin on a low mid-deck, but you are not likely to stay in your cabin the whole time. Entertainment and meals are often at either end of the ship and high up.

For me, I've noticed I do best when I can see outside. So I sit near windows if I'm inside. I don't stay inside the dark theatre for hours on end. Fresh air is also helpful, and making sure there is always some food in your stomach, even if it's just crackers or bread. I take one Bonine every day at dinner time and I'm fine. I've even cruised in storms and actually found it kind of fun and exciting. And I'm actually the type of person who get very sick, very quickly on small boats. 

I think a lot of it has to do with fear: I know that the captain is doing their best to steer us safely into calm waters and I trust the ship will do exactly as it's meant to do. I often find watching TV to distract myself, or just going to bed makes the anxiety pass and you usually find you wake up in calm waters the next morning. 

Let me know if you have more questions and I'll write a Part 2! 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you ! This was very informative.