Cruises

A first-timer's guide to cruising

We traditionally send off a new cruise ship by smashing a bottle of champagne against its bow.

So why is there no similar tradition to celebrate the launch of a first-time cruise ship passenger? How great would it be if people going on their first cruises received a similar kind of ceremonial sendoff? Granted, smashing champagne bottles over the heads of paying passengers may not go over well. But why not pour a little champagne over their heads or spray a little spritz of bubbly at the cruising virgin? 

Or better yet, just give them the whole darned bottle.

Sadly, there’s no such established tradition for first-time cruisers. All they get is the excitement of being introduced to this unique form of travel — and the stress of not exactly knowing what it entails. We can’t offer you champagne but we can offer you these answers to the questions you first-time cruisers might have about your trip. Drink them in. 

  • 1. What do I pack?

    What do I pack?

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    Unless you have a sailor hat you want to wear to get that nautical look, there isn’t too much cruising-specific gear you’ll need to bring. Just be sure to pack weather-appropriate clothes for wherever your cruise ship is headed. Multiple ports of call may mean multiple weather forecasts, so check them all before you pack. Assuming it’s a warm-weather destination, you can pretty much pack as you would for any typical beach vacation: swimsuits, sunglasses, daytime wear, nighttime wear, sunscreen, toothbrush, etc. 

    But in the case of a cruise, you should also consider the kind of shore-side excursions you’ll be going on during your trip. You may not need hiking boots for the cruise itself but they might come in handy for that three-hour nature walk you’ve booked for your day in the British Virgin Islands.

    If you’re going on a longer cruise of a week or more, check to see if your cruise ship has laundry rooms. Doing laundry day at sea means you can pack less stuff, carry fewer bags (which will make embarking and disembarking that much easier) and avoid those pesky airline oversized baggage fees on your flights to and from the cruise.

  • 2. I heard cruising for old people. Is that true?

    I heard cruising for old people. Is that true?

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    Depends on your definition of  “old.” According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the average cruiser is 49, with more than half of all cruisers 50 or older. Adults under 40 account for about a third of all cruisers, but a recent MMGY Global 2014 Portrait of American Travelers study reveals 53 percent of millennials are interested in taking a cruise within the next two years, which is more than any other generation.

  • 3. What are my chances of hooking up with a fellow passenger?

    What are my chances of hooking up with a fellow passenger?

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    Hate to be a Debbie Downer, but unless we’re talking about a romantic rendezvous with your travel partner, your chances of a shipboard hookup really aren’t that good. (That has nothing to do with you; we’re sure you’re very sexy.) Cruise ships generally aren’t what you call target-rich environments. CLIA also reports a whopping 84 percent of cruise passengers are married. When you add unmarried couples and, ahem, “undesirable” people to the mix, the numbers become even more daunting for passengers searching for a vacation fling at sea.

    And forget about crew members. Despite the shenanigans you may have seen on The Love Boat (and a Yahoo Travel Real Travel story or two) crew members tend to avoid romance with passengers like the Plague. Cruise lines have serious rules that make crew-passenger hookups a hard sell. If a crew member is caught in your stateroom, he or she will likely get fired (unless it’s for an official, cruise-related matter). If you’re caught in a crew member’s quarters, he or she will likely get fired. Again, we’re sure you’re superhot, but crew members generally won’t risk their hard-earned jobs just to get freaky with you.

  • 4. Will I get seasick?

    Will I get seasick?

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    Probably not. The cruise ships of today have stabilizing technology that promotes smooth and steady sailing. On the newer and larger ships, it’s often hard to tell when it’s moving or standing still. Even if you’ve experienced motion sickness on sailboats or other small vessels in the past, chances are you’ll be just fine on a cruise ship.

    That said, seasickness does happen, especially in extremely stormy conditions. You can get motion sickness medication at the gift shop or the ship’s infirmary. But cruise ships are so steady nowadays that if you ever have a ride rough enough to require medication, chances are other passengers will need it as well, making the stuff that much harder to get. Whenever I cruise, I personally pack my own stash of Dramamine — which, by the way, I have yet to actually use.

  • 5. What cabin should I select to reduce motion?

    What cabin should I select to reduce motion?

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    Conventional wisdom says you should aim for the middle part of the ship on a middle or lower deck. “The rolling — the side-to-side movement of a ship — is amplified the higher you go,” Captain Stefano Ravera of the Star Princess tells Yahoo Travel. “So if you’re lower, you have less rolling.” If you’re worried about motion sickness on your first cruise, consider that advice when booking your stateroom, just to be safe. If all goes well, with future cruises you can start to experiment with booking staterooms in other parts of the ship.

  • 6. Should I be afraid of norovirus?

    Should I be afraid of norovirus?

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    A cruise ship doctor once told me, yes, you can drink a ship’s tap water. A restaurant manager on another ship told me, no, you shouldn’t. It all comes down to a matter of taste. If you generally eschew tap water at home, chances are you’re going to want to skip it at sea. If you tend to risk municipal tap water at home, you’ll probably opt to do so at sea. The CDC does inspect cruise ship drinking water systems. You can see the results of its inspections here.

  • 7. I’m not going to spend my cruise drinking water. Can I bring my own alcohol on board?

    I’m not going to spend my cruise drinking water. Can I bring my own alcohol on board?

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    Oh, gosh no. Other than maybe a bottle of wine or two, you can’t bring your own hooch on board, no matter if it’s booze you’re carrying in your luggage during embarkation or a bottle you picked up at a port of call’s duty-free shop (in the latter case, the cruise line will take it from you and “hold” it for you until the end of the cruise). Of course, you could try smuggling it aboard — and some people do…

    Personally, if I felt the need to plot a Mission: Impossible-type operation just to get some alcohol on board a cruise ship, I might consider going to an AA meeting — which, by the way, are often held on cruise ships.

  • 8. Can I use my cell phone on a cruise?

    Can I use my cell phone on a cruise?

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    Most major cruise lines enable you to make calls or use data while the ship’s sailing in international waters as long as your phone is set up for international calling. But roaming charges can apply (some major wireless providers offer special cruise ship packages for voice, data and messaging).

    Once you get into port, however, you’ll get socked with whatever roaming rate your carrier charges for that country.  If you don’t have an international plan, that can get real pricey real fast. If you want to avoid accidental roaming charges, be sure to disable your phone’s data roaming and cellular data options in Settings. Cruiseline.com has some other tips for ocean-bound cell usage.

    Check out must-know cruising tips for first-timers.

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