Cruises can be overwhelming for first timers and long-timer cruisers. There’s so much to see, do, buy, eat, drink…so how do you decide what to do first and how long until you feel like you’re on vacation? For me, I get my sea legs within about four hours of embarkation. From years of cruising everywhere from Alaska to the Caribbean & Bahamas to the British Isles & Mediterranean, I’m sharing a few do’s and don’ts that have become a routine for my first 24 hours on a ship. Whether I’m cruising Carnival, Norwegian, Princess, Disney, MSC, Royal Caribbean, and so on, the routine is the same.
DO download the cruise line’s app
Download this app before leaving port (or before leaving home if the departure port is in another country). Some cruise lines/ships have chat capabilities on their smart phone apps in addition to daily schedules.
DO turn your phone to “airplane mode”
About 15 minutes from leaving port, you’ll lose cell signal. If you make the mistake of trying to use data or make calls from your phone, you will pay premium roaming fees. To avoid these charges, keep your phone on “airplane mode” and turn on wifi so you can still use the ship’s app.
DON’T take the elevators
You and several hundred other passengers are trying to get to your staterooms when you get onboard, head to dinner, and arrive at port. Waiting for the elevators can be maddening. If you’re physically able (and pack light like I keep telling you), take the stairs and save the elevators for the older folks that truly need it. Besides, this is a great habit throughout the duration of the cruise. The calorie burn will help counter the chocolate lava cake you’re going to eat at dinner (not cancel out, just help).
See that mat on your bed when you check into your room? That’s for unpacking. The sooner you unpack and get settled into your room, the sooner your brain can switch to vacation mode. I like to unpack the moment I check into my room. And then it’s wine time…
DO watch the ship leave port
If you’re cruising for the first time, you’ll want to see the ship leave port (and aren’t you glad you’ve unpacked already?). You can watch from your balcony or one of the top decks. This is a great photo opportunity. And if you’re cruising from a city port like Seattle or Miami, the view of the city will be gorgeous from the ship.
DON’T skip muster
Muster drill usually occurs about a half hour or so from leaving port. No matter how many times you’ve cruised, muster is a requirement. And on some cruise lines, they don’t just do a general head count, they will scan your cards and require you to attend muster the following day if you try to get clever and skip. Trust me, remedial muster is like detention in school. Besides, in the event of an actual emergency, you’ll want to know the evacuation procedures. Don’t worry, it doesn’t take long, and everyone looks great in orange.
DO check for first day deals
After muster I like to walk around the atrium decks and see what deals are going on the first day. This is good opportunity to make reservations for wine tastings, special dinners, and spa packages at a discount rate. Good hunting!
DO attend dinner in the main dining room
The only deadline I care about on a cruise ship is dinner. You’ll never find me at the buffet because I love the service and quality found in the main dining room. On the first night at dinner, you’ll find your assigned table and meet your cheery wait staff. If you have dietary restrictions, this is the best time to speak with your wait staff about your needs (most cruise lines are happy to oblige). Your waiters will greet you by name throughout the cruise and take excellent care of you.
I used to gain about a pound a day on cruises. Damn you, chocolate lava cake! But I quit gaining weight on cruises when I started taking the stairs (always), hit the gym/track on sea days, and made good choices at dinner. If you’re not so health conscious, I do suggest at least walking the decks the first morning of the first sea day (typically the first full day of cruises). We like to start on deck 1, walk a lap, take the stairs up to deck 2, walk a lap, go up to deck 3, walk a lap, etc. This is the best way to get oriented with the layout of the ship, and you might find some hot spots you’d like to revisit later in the cruise (hey, wine tastings!). And fun fact: about 4 full decks walked is about a mile. And a mile walked is about a half a glass of wine worth of calories. Damn you, math!
And finally…DO have a lovely time!
Some past cruise adventures:
Don’t forget a corkscrew (read about my TSA-compliant Carry-On Corkscrew here)!