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9 Things first-time cruisers ALWAYS miss!

Updated: Jun 6

Unless I'm your travel advisor, of course!

🎧 Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get our podcasts! Diving into the cruise world for the first time can be super exciting, but sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know! If you’re thinking about cruising for the first time, or have your first ocean cruise scheduled (river cruises are a little different story), I’ve got some great tips for you, so you know what to expect right from the beginning.


 Download the app: Each cruise line has an app which you should download WAY before your cruise starts. You’ll need to check in via the app, and choose your boarding time, make sure you’ve got your travel documents loaded, etc.

Travel Documents: Ensure all passports, visas, and identification are valid and packed safely.

Packing Essentials for boarding day: pack a carry-on with essentials like toiletries, medications, a change of clothes, and any travel documents, since checked luggage may arrive at your cabin later.

Onboard Etiquette:

Find out before you leave, whether there are any formal nights onboard, or any other dress codes that may be expected onboard. Sometimes specialty restaurants require a certain dress code.

Tipping: Gratuities are customary for cruises, and it’s normal to have them be separate from the base cost. Most cruise lines have a set amount charged per person, which you can either pre-pay, or wait to pay until you disembark at the end of your cruise. They usually go toward the dining room and wait staffs, room stewards, and other staff members.

You are welcome to tip in addition to these amounts, and you’re welcome to hand the money directly to your favorite staff members!

Port Days:

When you’re in port, you have three options: do an excursion that you’ve booked through the cruise line, do an excursion you’ve booked through a third-party vendor, or don’t do an excursion, but just get off the ship on your own. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, depending on what you’re looking for. If you want to do something that’s popular, be sure to book in advance before the cruise, because many of them sell out.

If you’re booking through a third-party vendor, you may have more variety and better pricing. (Note: Ask me about those options, if you’re interested in booking outside of the cruise line—I have lots of experience with booking non-cruise ship excursions.)

If you’re going off on your own, make sure you know what time to board the ship. And sometimes when I haven’t booked an excursion, I end up feeling like I’ve missed out on the destination a little bit, because I didn’t get to hear about it through one of the excellent local tour guides.

Dining Options:

It used to be that when you cruised, everything you ate was included in your cruise price. But then the ships realized that they could install specialty restaurants onboard that they could charge extra for. You don’t have to eat at a specialty restaurant during your cruise at all—the main dining room and buffet are always included with your cruise rate. But if you do want to reserve a spot at a specialty restaurant, you should ideally do that before you even board your cruise, to make sure you get the date and time you want. Spots can fill up quickly.

Another note about meals: familiarize yourself with where the dining options are and the hours they are open. Also, check on your main dining room experience. You may have an assigned time and table. If you need to work something out regarding the main dining room, you can talk to the maître d’ at the restaurant after boarding the ship.

Beverage packages:

Most cruise lines don’t include anything besides tap water, lemonade, iced tea, coffee from the buffet, and hot chocolate with your meals—and nothing between meals. So you’ll find yourself paying for any drinks you want between meals, or any additional sodas, specialty coffees, and of course, alcoholic drinks.

So, the cruise lines offer beverage packages. Some packages just include sodas, and others include alcoholic drinks. Look into adding the beverage package pre-cruise, because they become more expensive once you board the ship.

Bonus: Some cruise lines let you bring a 12-pack or soda or water onboard, or a bottle of wine. If you’re willing to carry these onboard with you, you might be able to save a little money on buying a beverage package.

Activities and Entertainment:

Each night onboard, the cruise offers entertainment. You have a chance to pre-book those shows. You’ll want to book tickets for shows and events early to secure the best seats, especially if you’re traveling with more than just one other person—seating can be limited and sell out.

Also, read the daily newsletter delivered to your cabin each evening for activity schedules and special offers, so you don’t miss anything.


Throughout your cruise, there will be lots of professional photographers onboard. As you’re boarding, you’ll have a chance for your first photo And after that, they set up backdrops every afternoon, and roam the ship and the dining rooms to snap photos everywhere. Plan to pose for as many photos as you want throughout the cruise; you’re not obligated to buy any of them.

By the end of the cruise, you’ll have a chance to look through all of them and select which ones you want to buy. Pro tip: Once you disembark, those photos will be gone, so buy them onboard if you want any!

Health and Wellness:

If you’re new to cruising, you don’t know how the motion of the ship will affect you. The ship is like a floating hotel—but it IS in the ocean, so it doesn’t feel completely still. If you’re pretty sure you’re going to suffer from motion sickness, you can get a prescription from a doctor for some anti-nausea medication.

Even if you think you’ll be fine, you should pack remedies for motion sickness. There are some over-the-counter ones which are effective. (I know about medications, because I suffer from motion sickness on ships every time I cruise.)

More health advice: drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially in tropical climates.

Tech Tips:

Wi-Fi isn’t typically included with your cruise price. Obviously, that might be the point of going—you want a digital detox! But if you want to be able to stay connected throughout the cruise, you should buy a Wi-Fi package. Many cruise lines have different tiers of connectivity, so you only pay for what you need. Again, it’s a good idea to pre-pay for the Wi-Fi, because it may cost more to add it while cruising.

Apps and Communication: Download the cruise line’s app to track the daily activities. Often, even without Wi-Fi, you can stay in touch with fellow travelers this way.


These tips will help you fully enjoy your first cruise without missing a beat! If you need more detailed info, or have any other cruise-related questions, feel free to ask.


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