If you are here it probably means you are thinking of booking your first cruise or have even booked it! The idea might be scaring you, you have no idea what to expect, but don’t worry, if there is one thing I know about cruises it’s that they have you covered!

Packing for your first cruise:

No matter how long your cruise is 3, 9, 14 or 100 nights you always start off on embarkation day with no idea of what is to come! You pack and plan and then finally the day arrives and it’s time to get on the ship! Excitement aside there are one or two things you should know about arriving at the terminal.

First when packing make sure you pack a day bag with anything you might want as soon as you get on the ship as you will be dropping off your main luggage at the terminal and won’t see it until you are back at your cabin! Your day bag should definitely include any important documents e.g. Passport or Photo ID (for domestic cruises only) and also any prescription medication, you may want to pack your bathers for a swim and your camera to mark this momentous occasion.

Don’t worry too much though; it won’t be long before your luggage is available at your cabin! After dropping off your bags there is usually a wait to check in (bring something to entertain the kids and maybe some snacks as sometimes this can take a while!).
When you check in they will take your photo and give you your cruise card! This card acts as a few different things: your cabin key, your id for getting on and off the ship in port and also as your charge card. On Cruises you can spend as much or as little as you want and you use your cruise card to make payments for those things you do buy!

You are finally onboard, now what?

Each cruise line produces a daily newsletter and sends them to your cabin, this way you know exactly what is on throughout the day, and this could be anything from spa seminars to trivia to the nightly shows onboard. The newsletter will usually also have a note from the captain and daily specials in the onboard shops, it will also provide you any important information about attire for the night (themed nights and formal nights) and what time you need to be back onboard when in port! Not ready to fill your holiday with scheduled activities? Then explore! There is so much to see on these ships, so many places to make your “local” so many wonderful people to meet and make friends with including crew and passengers. Or if none of this tickles your fancy then the best bet is to find a spot near the pool order a drink and kick back and relax!

Port days vs. Sea days.

You have settled in and got into the swing of life onboard, your sea days are filled with relaxing and testing your knowledge at trivia – on things you almost never need at home and tomorrow is your first day in port!

On sea days your only worry is waking up before the buffet stops serving breakfast but on your port days there will be a few extra things to think about. The day before your cabin steward will place some extra information in your cabin about the port you will be stopping at next, this will include all sorts of things such as local customs and what to do while you are there. First time cruising and everything you need to know about it.

Your ship will either be docking or you will tender depending on the port and they will usually tell you all the information you need to know about getting off and on the ship. You will need to bring with you most importantly your cruise card and some form of ID (it’s not advisable to get off the ship without your passport in foreign countries) also bring with you anything you might need for the day.

Most people don’t like getting off and on the ship more than once in a port but that is entirely up to you! In port days it doesn’t matter what you do, for example you could book an excursion through the cruise line themselves or just get off and wonder around the local area for a shop. The only thing that does matter is making sure you are back onboard by the time the ship states (this is usually around the 4.30-5pm mark but is different for every itinerary and every port).

Cruise organised shore tours can be a great way to discover a port you have never visited before. For a fee you can book in one or two tours in a day (depending on the length) and there is almost always something for everyone.

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Elizabeth and Hannah

For example on my last cruise we went snorkelling on a remote island one day and on a bus tour to the World War Two relics of the area the next. The tours can sometimes leave you slightly out of pocket though so if you prefer you can wait until you arrive in port and there will usually be plenty of people offering tours right from the dock.

The benefit of booking direct through your cruise line is the tours will always be scheduled to get you back on time for the ship leaving, and if they are running late the ship will wait! If you do go off on your own you have to be mindful the ship won’t wait for you if you are not back on time.

The end of your Cruise:

Unfortunately as with all holidays it must come to an end sometime. The ship’s crew won’t like reminding you of this but have to at some point. You will receive forms towards the middle to end of your cruise that ask about the day of disembarkation.
If you have an early flight you will need to be off the ship with enough time to get through customs and to the airport. Filling out these forms is important to make sure you make your post cruise transportation or just to make sure you get an extra sleep in! Once these forms are filled out you will be given luggage tags and information that tells you what time you will be getting off the ship.

Packing up your cabin is sadly done on the last night and your bags need to be placed outside your cabin door to be collected, the luggage tags correspond with the time you will be disembarking so they will be available in port when you get off.

Depending on what time your ship gets back to port you could be in for a particularly early morning. If you have purchased any duty free alcohol you will have to pick this up from a centralised point on the ship, and then you will have to be out of your cabin. Don’t worry, they still serve breakfast so you won’t get kicked onshore with your stomach rumbling!

Onshore operations are quick as they have to get ready for the next cruise, you will be scanned off the ship one last time as you say goodbye and then you will go through the cues to get to your suitcases, then through customs (on international cruises) and then finally you are free.

With all of the good (fun times and new friends) and the bad (getting up and saying goodbye on the last day) of cruising you will never regret the time you spent onboard. I can vouch for the effort of the crew in giving you the best holiday possible, you will make lifelong friends and memories on a cruise, and as you step off board you will be wishing you were stepping back on!

Thank you for reading!

Elizabeth Wittwer

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