First Time Cruiser Tips
More often than not, first time cruisers question whether they will actually enjoy cruising or not, and so those guests tend to want to “sample the waters” as inexpensively as possible and do everything they can to “trim the fat” so to speak. The temptation to try and do everything as cheaply as possible often leads to headaches or system shocks that can be avoided with a little extra planning and preparation. Your travel consultant can certainly help with that part of your vacation.
If you aren’t sure you’ll enjoy a cruise and don’t want to break the bank on your accommodations, you can always book a lower category stateroom, such as an inside cabin (no windows or verandah). Depending on the itinerary, these staterooms usually sell for as little as $45/day per person and include food, entertainment and stops in the various ports of call. If you don't like the cruise you haven't lost much; if you do like it, then next time you might upgrade to a more expensive balcony stateroom.
You’ve arranged for the cruise, now you have to figure out how you’re going to get to the port. If you don’t live within reasonable driving distance, chances are you’re going to be flying to the port city. Be very careful about flight times. Do not book a flight that has you arriving in Miami at 3:00 pm the day the ship sails. Passengers must be onboard ship at least an hour before sailing time, and you have to account for everything in your timing calculations – luggage retrieval, walking between sections of the airport, transfers from the airport to the port terminal, check-in at the port, etc, etc. Everything adds up, and you cannot control how quickly something that is outside of your control moves, such as baggage handlers, lines, traffic between airport and port terminal and so on. If you miss the ship it's your fault, even if the airline had a delay, and even if you purchased travel insurance, you will not get your money back simply for missing the ship’s departure due to poor planning. Many people who live on the West Coast fly into Miami a day early and stay at a hotel - remember that the East Coast is three hours later than the West Coast - so if you have a five hour flight leaving California at 7:00 a.m. you still won't hit Miami until 3:00 p.m. Consider a "redeye" flight departing California at midnight instead. Even if the flight has a two-hour layover somewhere in the middle, that flight will put you in to Miami at just about the right time to go to the port and board the ship. The main difference between getting to an airport really early and getting to a cruise ship really early is that you’re just going to sit around and wait to board your plane typically 20-30 minutes prior to departure; with a cruise, you can start boarding 3, sometimes 4 hours prior to departure and start enjoying the fun! Throw on your swimsuit and enjoy the pool or other amenities onboard. Remember this adage when it comes to planning for your cruise – if you’re on time you’re late, if you’re late you’re out of luck, get there early!
Ports of Call and the shore excursions into those parts are all part of the cruise experience. No one has to disembark the ship while in port, and many first time cruisers don’t because shore excursions cost extra. Not everyone utilizes actual excursions offered by the ship or other excursion providers opting instead to “do it themselves.” But if you do, consider the options carefully and pay attention to the details – most especially the time! Whatever the stated return time to the ship is, again, make sure you are back early, with time to spare. Naturally, it makes sense that if you paid to cruise in Europe you should see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. You paid to get to Italy, after all. But if you have to walk to a train that makes local stops it could take all day. Instead, you can get a tour from the ship that visits Pisa and Florence with a tour guide. Make the most of your limited time in port by planning your time carefully and keeping value and margins of error in mind. You don’t want to get left behind in that beautiful port only to have to figure out how you’ll catch up to the ship at the next port so you can ultimately find your way home again.
Another quick tip regarding shore excursions, especially when you are paying for tours and the like – if you imbibe, don’t drink too much. Yes, it might be fun and enjoyable dancing the night away, but you don't want to miss the next port of call due to a wicked hangover. Of course how much you drink is up to you, but keep in mind that on most ships alcohol is an added cost, and it can really add to your cruise costs. If you plan to drink a lot you can do that at home.