So you booked a cruise! YAY!! Now what? Whether it’s your first cruise or you’re twentieth, I’m sharing a few tips that I’ve learned through the years of cruising everywhere from Alaska to the Caribbean & Bahamas to the British Isles & Mediterranean. I’ve sailed on Carnival, Norwegian, and Princess many many many times and continually do so twice a year. While each cruise line might differ slightly from one another, these 10 universal tips are good for all (including Disney, MSC, Royal Caribbean, and so on).
1. Plan (and book) excursions in advance
Plan your activities in advance so you can avoid disappointment and waiting in those long lines on the ship. A lot of cruise excursions (such as private beach villas, dog sledding, and tours through Pompeii) tend to fill up fast, so book excursions as soon as possible. Be the early bird!
2. Pack a power strip or multi-plug outlet
Staterooms typically don’t have a lot of plugs available, and more than two people in a room will certainly fight over the right to charge all those phones, tablets, GoPros, bolt chargers, cameras, and who knows what else. Depending on your need to have a device near and dear to you while sleeping, I suggest a power strip by the bed or a multi-plug outlet on the desk. I prefer the multi-plug myself, as it takes up precious little packing space.
3. Pack a nightlight
Even if you have a balcony with natural light coming in at night, do your delicate toes a favor and pack a night light. It gets DARK on the open water, especially if the moon is new or on the other side of the ship. Your middle-of-the-night potty breaks will be much more safe if you can see where you’re going.
4. Pack a few laundry supplies
What if a monkey poops on your favorite maxi dress in Honduras? What if you’re a runner/gym rat and want to pack light? You can do laundry midway through the cruise if you need to. I pack a collapsible shopping bag (with shoulder strap, not draw string) for laundry and Tide Pods just in case. Of course you can buy detergent on the ship…but at a premium rate. I highly recommend packing pods in their own ziplock baggies inside a hard glasses case. Those little buggers are water soluble and delicate.
5. Be prepared to carry your cruise card on your person at all times
This card will be your room key, your credit card, and your identification needed to get on and off the ship. Some people prefer lanyards, but I prefer a more fashionable and stealthy bracelet (instructions for my DIY cruise bracelets here). Whatever you decide, wear it at all times.
6. Bring something for motion sickness (yes, even you)
Unless you’re a fighter pilot or a cylon, you’re probably going to get nauseous on the ship, the little tender boats that take people to shore, a tour bus, or that gorgeous winding road along the coast. And there always seems to be that one night on cruises when there’s an inevitable storm and you’re stomach and balance are doomed. Don’t let nausea ruin your vacation. Dramamine is ok, but Bonine (chewable meclizine 25mg) is better. One a day and you’re golden.
7. Bring a bottle of your favorite wine
Because you can! And that’s four less glasses of wine that you would purchase on the ship. Check your cruise line restrictions, but typically you can bring one 750ml (standard size) bottle of wine per person 21 years of age and above (no, your five year old cannot bring one on for you). Carry on the bottle so it can be inspected at security, but don’t pack it in your checked bags (trust me, any packed booze will be confiscated). Some cruise lines allow you to bring more, but you’ll have to pay a fee per bottle. So why bother? Do you want to pay $190 for a bottle of Veuve Cliquot on a special formal evening, or bring your $45 bottle from home? Most cruise lines will charge a cork fee if you bring it to the dining room, but there is no charge to open it and drink it in your room. You can also pour it into the wine glasses in your stateroom and bring that to dinner without penalty. So do it to save money, and do it because I bet you have a bottle of wine at home that you purchased at some gorgeous winery. You can take that wine and those memories with you on the ship. Don’t forget a corkscrew (read about my TSA-compliant Carry-On Corkscrew here)!
8. Bring small bills for onshore tipping
Most cruise destinations are to countries where tipping is customary. Tour guides, bus drivers, helicopter pilots, and entertainers make a portion of their living from tips. Check the customs in the countries you are visiting in advance. Speaking of cash…do you gamble? Bring cash for that, it’s cheaper than using your card.
9. Pack light
There are few size and weight restrictions for cruise ships, but that doesn’t mean you should pack like you’re moving in. We see it all the time: the people who over-pack are miserable when they have to drag their bags down stairs, up ramps, cram into elevators, and through customs upon returning. I usually only take an airline approved carry-on four-wheeled spinner. I don’t have to use a porter (the guys who take your bags when you arrive), and I don’t have to wait hours to get off the ship at the end of the cruise. My advice is to pack lightweight, rollable, matching, interchangeable items that go with one pair of nice shoes, and one pair of walking flats. Shampoo and body wash will be in all showers, so there’s two less items there (bring conditioner). Wear nice outfits that can be worn while out touring AND acceptable at the dinner table that night. Formal night does not equal prom dress either (sequins are heavy). Think little black dress or tea length dress (something appropriate for a cocktail party).
10. Print all cruise documents in advance
Don’t be that guy. You know that guy who showed up unprepared and holding up the line. Boarding passes, luggage tags, excursion details, maps, etc. should be printed out in advance and kept with you through the boarding process. Neatly. Two to three thousand people are trying to board the ship, so it helps if you’re ready. I go the extra mile and prepare a spiral-bound booklet for my cruises with all the documents I may (or may not) need arranged chronologically (an example of the one I prepared for a British Isles cruise can be found here). It’s very handy for boarding and throughout the cruise.
I hope these tips help you plan your unforgettable getaway. Bon voyage (and have a lovely time)!
Also, read about my First 24 Hours on a Cruise Ship: Do’s and Don’ts here.