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  • Writer's pictureTrey Tracy

Tips for First Time Cruisers

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

Cruise Ship

Are you going on your first cruise soon or are you considering a cruise and just not sure where to begin? Here is some information that will help first time cruisers.


Pack light! This tip is a hard one for me as I like to overpack. I’m working hard with each trip I take to minimize what I pack as much as possible. If just you and one other person will be sharing the stateroom, then space is usually not as much of an issue. However, if you have a family, storage space can be tight.

Depending on your cruise destinations, you’ll most likely just need casual clothing…a few shorts and shirts. If you wish to participate in the formal nights on the ship, then you’ll need to take a nice cocktail or evening dress for women and a tuxedo or dark suit for men. If you don’t have a tuxedo or a black suit or you don’t want to carry one with you, you can rent a tuxedo on board.

For week long (or longer) cruises, use clothing that can be washed and hung in your stateroom bathroom.

For those who tend to get cold easily, I would suggest a light jacket or sweater to wear in the restaurants or theatre on board.

Swimsuits, flip-flops, etc. are typically not allowed in the main dining rooms.

Main dining rooms typically require business casual for non-formal nights. A nice pair of jeans and shirt will typically suffice, as well.


If your cruise is departing from a United States port, then you are not required to have a U.S. Passport. At a minimum, though, you are required to have a valid state ID (I.e. driver’s license) and an official copy of your birth certificate with the raised seal.

However, I HIGHLY recommend you travel with a passport, especially if your ports of call are not in the United States. If you have an emergency and have to get off at one of the ports, you will not be allowed to re-enter the United States without a valid passport.

For more information regarding passports, see my Passports post.

Travel Insurance

I’m a firm believer of purchasing travel insurance for expensive vacations or vacations that take me outside the United States.

Think for a moment: If you are spending a very large amount on a vacation, why not protect yourself with just a small amount in case something happens and you can no longer go on the trip. You don’t want to get caught without travel insurance and have to cancel and lose all of your money.

Another important reason to have travel insurance when on a cruise is that you will be covered even when traveling outside of the United States. Most major U.S. medical insurance companies will not cover its policyholders when traveling outside the country. If you get very ill and have to be offloaded at the nearest port, your medical expense to be transported back to the United States can be in the thousands that wouldn’t be covered by your current health insurance policy.

At Magnolia Travel Group, we will always offer you the optional travel insurance. To accept or decline is up to you.

For more information regarding travel insurance, see my Travel Insurance post.


Most cruise ships will offer you many options for dining, including anything from in-room dining, casual buffets, poolside grill to the main dining room or formal restaurants (some at an extra charge).

On all the major cruise lines, all food, with the exception of certain designated restaurants, is going to be inclusive. Each cruise line will have its speciality such as Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint on Carnival or Sabatini’s Italian on Princess Cruises.

Typically, I like to go to the casual dining (buffet) for breakfast and lunch when at sea. I always go to the main dining for supper because I like the higher end options and being waited on by the same waitstaff each night. By having the same waitstaff each night, they get to know me by the second night, calling me by name and knowing what drinks I will want. They even quickly get to know what my likes/dislikes are. While there is nothing wrong with going to the casual dining for supper, you will be waiting on yourself.

For the main dining at supper, you will be able to request your dining time (early, late or “your time”) at the time of booking. Early is typically around 6:00 and late around 8:00 p.m. “Your Time” allows you to go during a designated timeframe and wait until a table becomes available. When requesting an early or late seating, you will always have the same waitstaff each night. With “Your Time,” you will get whichever waitstaff is assigned to the table where you are seated.

A lot of the major cruises lines will provide food, such as pizza and ice cream, around the clock at no additional charge. So you are sure to never go hungry.

Another thing to note about the main dining is that, if you order one of the designated dishes for the night and don’t like it, you can tell your waitstaff, and they’ll bring you something else. This feature allows you to try new foods that you may not order at home.


Water, tea, lemonade and basic coffee are all included in your cruise pricing. Sodas and alcoholic beverages are extra. When booking your cruise, be sure to ask me about the beverage plans you can purchase.

Most major cruise lines will allow you to take one 12-pack of canned beverages per passenger. They also offer bottled water packages at a reasonable cost if you pre-purchase before your departure.


One of the things I love about cruises is that you can make it as busy or as relaxing as you want. I love visiting the different ports and taking an excursion, whether it’s a guided tour, snorkeling, ATVing, food tasting and more. Each port will have some kind of excursion for everyone. As soon as you are booked on a cruise, even if you haven’t paid in full yet, you will have a login and password with the cruise line’s website. You will log into your account and see the variety of excursion options offered at each port and can begin booking them. Typically payment for the excursions is due in full at time of reservations. As the very popular excursions fill up very fast, you will want to book your excursions as soon as possible.

While some of the excursions can be costly, especially if you are traveling with multiple people in your family, don’t feel like you have to do an excursion at each port. Sometimes just getting out and visiting the city/village near the dock is fun. Some choose to go to the nearest beach and just hang out and relax.

Take your cruise card with you when you go off the ship, in case there is an emergency while in town. You will not be allowed back on the ship without your cruise card.

Be alert in the towns you are visiting. The cruise lines take safety very seriously. However, they cannot keep you safe while you are off ship and in the town. So don’t get away from touristy areas, as in some countries the less visited areas are where there can be safety issues. If a port of call starts becoming an issue with regards to the cruise passengers’ safety, then the cruise lines will just stop going there until the government can get the crime under control. I saw this situation on my own honeymoon cruise many years ago. We were supposed to have a port of call at St. Croix. However, about a month before our cruise, we got notice that we would be going to another Virgin Island instead because of a crime issue on St. Croix. So, the cruise ships stopped going there until the government got the crime under control, and now they go back.

Very Important: Know what time your ships is scheduled to set sail from that port. The cruise ship does NOT wait for you. So if you are late back to the dock, you’re going to be pretty sad when you see the ship sailing off without you.

Sea Sickness

Fortunately, I’ve never experienced sea sickness on a cruise ship. For those prone to it, take some Dramamine or Sea Bands. You can also check with your cruise ship’s onboard medical staff and see if they offer a special shot (for a fee) that will help control motion sickness for the duration of your cruise.

Typically, the larger the ship, the less likely you will feel any movement. If you are prone to motion sickness, you will want a stateroom lower and towards the middle of the ship so you feel less rolling. So, at the time of your booking, be sure to let me know if you experience motion sickness, so we can plan your stateroom location accordingly.

Kids clubs

Traveling with children? Check out your ship’s kids club. Most major cruise lines offer areas for kids only. They typically are divided up by age groups. For example, there will be a teen area for those 13 to 17, a children’s area for those 7 to 12, and another area for those under age 7.

These clubs are all staffed by well-trained personnel that have passed extensive background checks, are certified in CPR, and will love working with your children. Security is also taken very seriously in the kids clubs. So take advantage of this feature and enjoy some alone time without the children.

Ask me more about what’s offered when booking your cruise.

Book spa early

If you are interested in spa services while on your cruise, be sure to make reservations as soon as possible. Time slots fill up quickly, especially on days at sea. The cost for most spa services are comparable to what you would find back at home at a nice spa.

Adults-only area

Need a little time away from your children or the other children onboard the ship? Don’t worry–cruise lines understand and provide adult-only sections on most ships. Usually, there will be a designated pool area for those 18 years of age and older. Some cruise lines, such as Disney Cruise Lines, also offer adult-only restaurants. (So if you think Disney Cruises are just for those with kids…think again.)

Special celebrations

Celebrating a birthday, anniversary, honeymoon or some other special occasion while on your cruise? Be sure to let me know when booking your cruise. The cruise staff loves to help its passengers celebrate special occasions with a special treat.


When you are in the middle of the sea or in foreign ports, you will not have cell phone service. That means you won’t be able to get your email, check social media, etc. However, don’t worry. You can purchase internet plans on board the ship. Access is usually pretty costly. So make sure you truly need it before purchasing.

Embarking and disembarking

Embarking/disembarking can be the tiresome part for many. Unless you have priority as a repeat cruiser with the cruise line, then chances are you will be in general boarding. Please allow time for boarding. Make sure you have your passports, boarding passes and any other documentation that is required by the cruise line.

If you are flying to your port of departure, I highly recommend you fly in the day before, which allows you plenty of time in case your flight is late. Plus, you get a good night’s rest so you will be fresh and ready to get on the ship. You do not want to be late for embarcation. Barring extreme circumstances (such as delayed arrivals by multiple airlines), the ship leaves promptly at its sailing time.

The last night of your cruise, you must put your luggage outside your stateroom. During the night, your luggage is collected and will be unloaded when the ship arrives back to port. Customs will scan luggage before allowing passengers to disembark. So make sure you have any medication, toiletries, etc. that you will need the morning of disembarkation, since you will not be allowed access to your luggage until you get off the ship.

Disembarking is done by zones. Doing so allows U.S. Customs to clear each passenger and their luggage. Those with earlier flights are typically given priority disembarkation. Those not needing to fly home or who have later flights will typically be allowed to disembark later in the process. So get comfy.

Ready to book a cruise?

I love cruises, and I would love to help you plan yours. Contact me, and let’s begin.


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