You’ve booked your first cruise and you want to make sure you get it right. But it’s hard to know what to expect if you’ve never sailed before. If you are looking for cruise tips for beginners, you have come to the right place.

We reveal the top 25 tips for your first cruise, so you can have a memorable vacation like a pro!

1. Put swimwear in your hand luggage.

When you arrive at the cruise port, baggage handlers will take your luggage so you don’t have to drag it through the terminal and onto the gangway. That’s very convenient, but it does mean you have to wait a few hours before you can see your stuff again. So don’t forget to pack swimwear and anything else you might need for the first few hours on board. So once you’re on board, you can jump in the pool, sunbathe or take a ride on the water slides – and waste no time with your first cruise entertainment.

2. The cruise card does not have to be a credit card.

Cruises are cashless societies. Most passengers link their cruise card to a credit card and receive an invoice for all purchases on board. But you don’t have to take that route. You can load up your cruise card with cash, so no one can surrender at the casino without going to the counter to deposit more money. And if you’re worried your kids will spend a lot of money at arcades and cocktail bars, you can disable spending privileges for their cards altogether – or set a limit even if you have them linked to your credit card.

3. Make a reservation for the first evening at a special restaurant.

On the first night of the cruise, everyone wants to try the main dining room. Expect crowds waiting to get to your table and slower than average service. Follow the pros and book a specialty restaurant for the evening. Not only will you start your vacation with an intimate dinner, but you can also make reservations more easily if you prefer to eat out. In addition, some cruise lines, such as Carnival, offer discounts or free reservations for the first night at their restaurants with additional meals.

La Cucina on the Norwegian Pearl (Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)

4. Use magnetic booth walls.

You want to hear a secret? On most cruise ships, the walls of the cabins are magnetic (because they are metal). Bring a few strong magnets or a magnetic whiteboard and you can use the walls to leave messages or attach important documents like cocktail party invitations or shore excursion tickets.

5. Sign up for dinners, spa treatments and activities as soon as possible.

It’s hard to secure short-term reservations when you and your 4,000 fellow travelers have only a week to see, do and eat everything on board. In addition, suite guests and loyal former passengers have priority over newcomers in regular cabins. The early bird gets the worm, so if you can, book shore excursions and dinners online before your cruise.

Once on board, run to the spa to book a massage, or to the kids’ club to book lessons for the kids or a group pass for the late night. Also, go to event registration as early as possible to reserve time for special events (go-karting, laser game) or shows with limited seating.

READ MORE: Five tips for saving money on a cruise.

6. Turn off the mobile phone.

We are so used to being dependent on our phones that we forget that once you go out to sea (literally), you are no longer communicating with the cell towers on land. Satellite roaming costs are astronomical, and you don’t want to come home with a sky-high phone bill. Once your cruise ship has departed, put your phone in airplane mode. You can only turn on Wi-Fi when you want to access the ship’s Internet.

7. Find alternative ways of arranging lunch on the first day.

It is a cruise tradition to go to the buffet as soon as you board the ship to get a taste of the gluttony you can eat. Since the booths don’t open right away, the buffet turns into a scene of crowds and jockeys carrying luggage for tables and chairs.

Professional advice: Find another option for lunch. No one will think you’re a novice if you stand in line at another restaurant on board – look around the pool or waterfront – and enjoy your first meal on board in (relative) peace.

Asian lunch at Gigi’s on Carnival Sun (Photo courtesy of Andy Newman/Carnival).

8. Book spa treatments on port days to save money.

A relaxing massage or facial is a decadent addition to your vacation. But the prices of spas on cruise ships are not cheap. If you want to treat yourself and save money for excursions and souvenirs, book your treatment for the day in port, when prices are usually lower. Discounts are also available for first day treatments and multiple treatment packages. You can also search for mini-processing services advertised in your ship’s journal.

9. Pre-purchased drinks and packed lunches.

Newcomers to cruising may be surprised to learn that drinks are not included in the cruise price on most cruise lines, and that alcohol prices can be high. Cruise lines offer attractive beverage packages, so you don’t have to worry about how much you spend every time you go to the bar. But do the math before you sign up. For some these packages will save money, for others you just won’t drink enough to make it worthwhile. The same goes for packed lunches, which often have more restrictions than you’d like. Don’t be tempted by the crew on the day of embarkation – and don’t make a buying decision after the first rum punch!

10. Stow luggage under the bed.

Cabins on cruise ships don’t take up much room and the closets are shallow. Where do you put your suitcase? Don’t be a novice and ask your room steward. Slide your luggage confidently under the bed where it belongs.

Suite with floor to ceiling windows on Carnival Sun

READ MORE: 12 things you need to know before taking a cruise on a Norwegian ship.

11. You are not required to take guided tours of the ship.

Some newcomers think their only option is to buy a cruise ship tour or walk around the port. Not like that. You can save money or tailor a tour to your preferences by booking with an independent tour operator or hiring your own guide. Ask for references to make sure your outfitter is reputable, and plan your schedule so you don’t risk getting back to port late…. and missing the boat!

12. Children can eat in special restaurants for less.

You’re dying to try a fancy restaurant on the boat, but you don’t want to pay more than $30 to have your kids declare that fancy food is foo-foo. Don’t worry about it. Many onboard restaurants offer discounts for children 12 and under, and one special facility serves free meals to children from the main dining room menu. Perhaps choose a time off-season (with kids, consider eating early) to avoid crowds and disapproving looks from childless couples.

13. Wash hands and use disinfectant.

Here’s a good tip for beginners – and for everyone, in fact. Wash your hands regularly and use a commercially available hand disinfectant on board. If you are a little afraid of contracting norovirus or other diseases, the best way to protect yourself is through good hygiene.

Hand washing station at Lido market with Carnival Sun.

14. Dry wet clothes in the shower, not on the balcony.

You don’t win a cruise vacation if you don’t go through several swimsuits a day. Beginners tend to let their bikinis and bathing suits dry on the balcony, but they risk diving into the ocean or exploding from salt spray. Instead, find a small ledge on the shower wall. Pull it and it becomes a clothesline, perfect for drying bathing suits and washing hands.

(Another professional tip for cruises: bring multiple bathing suits per person for hot weather cruises. No one likes to wear a wet bathing suit).

15. Use the application.

On a cruise, you don’t have to be completely without your phone – not now that all the major cruise lines have developed their own apps. Some offer additional onboard text messaging services, and almost all offer free access to daily schedules or port information. Some even allow you to order food and drinks from wherever you are on board.

16. Climbing stairs

If you are physically able, take the stairs as much as possible during your cruise. Not only will you avoid long waits in elevators, but you’ll also eliminate all the desserts you eat throughout the day.

Grand staircase leading to the MSC Divina casino.

17. This may sound weird, but make a snack.

Here’s a handy tip for your first cruise: Bring your own snacks. But cruises are all-day food festivals, I hear you say. You, uh… But they don’t offer many, if any, packaged snacks, and many ports prohibit taking food off the ship. Especially if you have kids or plan long shore excursions without lunch, stocking up on Goldfish bars or crackers will prevent you from moping around on the bus when hunger strikes.

18. Stay on board during the day in port to enjoy the attractions on board without the crowds.

Beginners want to try every port, but no one says you have to. If you’re more worried about missing the wait on the water slide or enjoying a spa suite by yourself, skip the tours and stay on board during your port day. The hustle and bustle on board decreases significantly when everyone goes on tour. If you don’t want to miss your destination, consider taking a morning on board and an afternoon off.

READ MORE: 9 Private islands on the cruise line and where they are located

19. You don’t have to get dressed.

Most cruise lines offer special formal parties and dress codes in the dining room. If you’re not wearing a tuxedo, don’t worry. Most ships offer an informal dinner each evening, either buffet style or in a modern snack bar. And there’s always room service if you can’t pull off your evening clothes after a day at the beach.

20. Practice while your shipmates dine.

It’s a good idea to have your exercise program on board, given the amount of food you’re likely to consume. But the gyms on cruise ships are small and in the morning they can be crowded with people who want to get some exercise before their trip. If you opt for cardio, plan for a later dinner and hit the gym in the late afternoon or early evening when most other passengers are getting ready for dinner.

Fitness centre on MSC Meravilla

21. Go to the pool early to get better loungers, but don’t confiscate the chairs.

First-time travelers will quickly discover that cruise ship pool decks can never have enough lounge chairs in ideal poolside locations, whether you’re looking for sun or shade. The best way to get a VIP seat is to sit early on the Lido Deck or by the pool. But don’t think you can put a towel and a book on your chair to claim it and then leave it for a few hours. That, my little newbie, is called taking the seat, and it is the height of rude behavior on a cruise ship. If you’re looking for a place to dress up, this is the place to be.

22. Read the newsletter.

No one wants to do homework while on vacation, but every cruise professional knows that the right information is in the daily cruise ship newsletter. Whether you use the printed version before you go to bed or open the plan in your app, you’ll find information on discounted on-board entertainment, drink offers, weather, time changes, spa discounts and any other important information you need to know.

23. Ask the steward in your room.

Is your bed made up as two twins when you ask for the queen size bed? Ask the steward in your room, he can move the furniture. Do you need ice? The steward in your room can keep the ice bucket full. Escape the formal dress code? The steward in your room can give you more. I hate your kisses? Your room manager can find an alternative.

Stewardesses can’t do everything, but if you have a question about your cabin or have a request, ask your steward. They will do everything they can to make your cabin a comfortable home.

24. More than one main course may be ordered at dinner.

Do you see rib eye and lobster on the menu? You don’t have to choose! You can order more than one main course, appetizer or dessert. Even if it seems gluttonous, don’t be ashamed of it. The waiters on the cruise ships are used to this situation and are happy to help. You can usually order a second serving of a dish you really like, and if you want an appetizer, you can order a full serving.

25. Drinks are not free in the casino.

If you’re a regular in Las Vegas or most other casino destinations, you’re probably used to enjoying a free cocktail – or three – while you play. This is not usually the case on a cruise ship. Unless you are a high roller or a frequent guest of the casino, you will have to pay for drinks even if you are sitting at the slot or table. Keep this in mind when deciding if beverage containers are a good investment for you.

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