05/01/2015 01:15 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2015

The Invaluable Lessons You Learn on Your First Cruise

first time cruise tips
Photo by Royal Caribbean

There’s nothing like a fresh set of eyes to give you a new perspective on something you take for granted. We receive thousands of reviews from first-time cruisers every year, so we gathered some of their best tips for others getting ready to take their first voyages.

Planning and Booking

1. Budget properly.

“Be prepared to spend at least 200 on the ship before you get off, not counting gratuity.” — Mrharvey on Carnival Conquest

There are some exceptions, but the vast majority of cruises are not all-inclusive. When planning your trip, be sure to budget for extra expenses like alcohol, specialty restaurants, spa treatments, and gratuities.


2. Timing is everything.

“If you are not a college student don't book over Spring Break, ask who will be cruising with you.” — pattiskar on Carnival Imagination

The number of young children and college students onboard increases dramatically at certain times of the year, such as school breaks and holidays. If you don’t want to deal with either age group, choose another date.


Kids can be loud and rambunxious, and that goes for colllege kids as well. - Photo by Royal Caribbean


3. Keep the needs of your companions in mind.

“We were first time cruisers, and my husband is in an electric wheelchair, so we had some huge reservations. However, were blown away with the ease of accessibility, the amount of help and consideration we received from the staff & crew. Our room was ready early, and our power chair (we rented one from an accessibility company) was there when we arrived.” — revyates5 on Carnival Breeze

Some lines are better at handling certain requests than others. Whether someone in your group has mobility limitations or food allergies, be sure to research the lines beforehand to see which are best prepared to accommodate your needs.


4. Research your ship, not just the line.

“Carnival Fascination seemed like an older boat and didn't have as many fun amenities as [we were] hoping for. There was one small pool and water slides. It would've been better with another larger pool since there were so many people around one area. There was no rock climbing wall, shuffle board, etc.” — sydneyblanch on Carnival Fascination

Like all companies, cruise lines always advertise their newest products. Even though most ships get some kind of refurbishment every five years or so, you simply won’t find towering rock-climbing walls or huge water slides on older ships. If you want the best in onboard entertainment, spring for a newer, larger vessel.

rock wall

Book a newer ship if you want an endless array of onboard activities. - Photo by Royal Caribbean

5. Time flies.

“Five nights was not enough next time at least seven night stay.” — melvinyork on Carnival Ecstasy

Shorter sailings (3-5 nights) are great for a quick getaway, but if you’ve never set foot on a ship before, trust us when we say you need a full week to enjoy everything a cruise has to offer.


6. Spring for a balcony if you have the cash.

“If you want privacy, but still want the ocean air and some sun, spend the extra money for a balcony!! We wish we had!!!!” — UnFascinated on Carinval Fascination

You can get great deals on inside staterooms — we’ve seen some as low as $30 per night — but unless you’re certain you won’t spend much time  there, start with a balcony cabin. Plus, nothing beats watching the sunrise from the comfort of a private balcony while the ship pulls into port.


Couples cruising for the first time owe it to themselves to book a balcony cabin. - Photo by Celebrity Cruises


7. Cabin location is key.

“Try to avoid cabins towards the front of the ship on deck 8. It's directly under lido deck. You hear the chairs being moved at all hours.” — Cruise122 on Carnival Freedom

“You would want to book your room on a high floor (like 9 and up) because then you will have easy access to everything on the boat.” — NAC on Norwegian Gem

“Travelers that get sea sick do not book anything at the front of the boat!” — pinporo4 on Navigator of the Seas

Picking the right stateroom isn’t just about deciding whether you can live without a balcony. Cabin location is equally important, since you don’t want to get stuck underneath a dance floor or too close to the elevators. At the same time, booking a room closer to the lido deck will cut down on the time you spend going back and forth to your room. And if you’re prone to seasickness, booking a cabin midship is your best bet, since the rocking caused by rough seas will be felt the least.


8. Know what to pack. 

““Bring a power strip if you plan to use more than one outlet. Take your allotted 2 bottles of wine, soft drinks and water. You will need them.” — KaraHershey on Carnival Paradise

Always pack for your sailing destination, but you should bring some small things on virtually every cruise. Also, every line has different restrictions as to what you can bring onboard — particularly regarding alcohol — so be sure to ask beforehand.


On the Ship

1. Start exploring your ship before you board. 

“Get a lay out of the ship ahead of time so as to minimize your hunting for the places you need to go.” — Triumph on Carnival Triumph

Although not all cruise ships are as large as the new floating resorts being commissioned by Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Lines, and now MSC Cruises, even a medium ship takes some time to figure out. Check out our deck plans or user photos to get a sense of where venues are in relation to your cabin.

ship page

Our ship page has all the info you need for your upcoming cruise. - Photo by