Charlie and I love to travel. We would travel once a month if we could – Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, Asia…we want to see it all! The past 2 years we realized cruising is pretty easy to plan when it comes to vacationing. It’s definitely so much fun, especially if you took a European or Mediterranean one, but so far we’ve only cruised to the Caribbean. We plan to take a cruising break and travel to Europe or elsewhere, but we’ve been on 3 cruises within 2 years of each other, so we’ve learned a thing or two on each trip. I thought it would be helpful to create a list for you all about what we suggest when cruising!
Tip 1: Do Your Cruise Line Research
If you’re a first time cruiser, you’ll see that some cruise companies offer way cheaper rates than others. I’ve heard some bad things about each big cruise line of course, but definitely do your research. Is it family friendly? Is there a lot for your kids to do on board? Water park, arcade, multiple pools, etc… Make sure if you’re traveling with your family you choose a line that best fits who you’re cruising with. If you’re traveling with friends, as a couple, or even alone, make sure there are plenty of restaurant choices and things that seem interesting to do. On our first cruise, we went on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas for 11 days. It was amazing at first, especially since it was the first time on a ship that large. The islands were great, but once we got back on the ship at the end of the trip for 3 straight days, it got a little repetitive. Eleven days on a ship that wasn’t huge turned out to be a bit too long.
Tip 2: Book At the Last Minute…or far in advance
I mean, really you could plan ahead to book at the last minute. But you can find some awesome deals 2-3 months before the cruise. Cruise lines are trying to fill all space on board and are willing to give some good deals to do so. We had an awesome deal with NCL booking 2 months in advance last year on a balcony room. BUT if you book ahead of time, especially with a cruise consultant, they can usually get you a good deal to begin with, and then add in some extra deals the closer you get if you keep asking! Cruise lines have cancellations all the time, you may get lucky and pay a little bit more to have an amazing room you would have had to pay A LOT more for.
Tip 3: Once Booked, Make a List!
Seriously, plan what you’re going to bring. Seven day cruise? You’ll need at least 7 outfits planned, as well as formal dining wear (usually 2 nights, but you’ll be safe bringing 1 formal outfit if you don’t want to do both nights). Bathing suits of course, undergarments (am I 90?), socks, shoes, etc… You know the drill. But really, make a list for when you’re packing, it will be so helpful and you’ll be so happy you wrote down ‘phone charger’ and didn’t forget it!
Tip 4: Pre Pay Your Gratuities!
On the last cruise, it was the first time we didn’t prepay our room gratuities. No biggie, but if you’re like us, you won’t like seeing $12/person/day pop up on your room balance. We like to get this out of the way, we really just ran out of time last cruise. It was Christmas time and had a lot on our minds, jeez!
Tip 5: Study The Ship Before You Go
Like I said before, we’ve been on the Breakaway twice. That ship is once again, pretty damn BIG! Study where some places are before you go. Even the second time we were on the Breakaway we still forgot where places are. I also have a bad memory but still. Or just bring a map with you.
Tip 6: Bring Your Own Snorkel/Swim Gear
On the last cruise we went on, we booked it for December so we were sooo excited to get out of cold NY and head to the Caribbean. We dreamed of snorkeling, swimming and sun. So around October/November we realized Target had all their summer gear on SALE. My fav word. We ended up buying snorkels galore and some pool floaties to bring with us. I literally brought a carry on pretty much full of our snorkel stuff. It was a fantastic idea, but we ended up not using them (boo!) because the weather sucked and our ship had to skip the island we planned on using them on. BUT, if we had used them, it would have been the most perfect thing I have ever done. I know it.
Tip 7: Sea Sick? Try Ear Patches!
Charlie and I both get sea sick. The first cruise we went on we thought we were way too cool for sea sickness but soon realized we were wrong. So now we go prepared and I always get some sea sickness patches from my doctor called Transderm Sc?p. They work amazing (for us), but there are of course other options out there. These tend to dry the heck out of my mouth so if you do use them, drink plenty of water.
Tip 8: Be Prepared to Walk. A lot.
We’ve been on NCL’s Breakaway ship twice now, and that thing is PDB (pretty damn big, yep that just happened). A lot of people think you gain weight on a cruise, but on that ship I’m pretty sure I lost weight. I don’t eat like a pig (I don’t think?), but I do like to eat! You walk to get to your food, you walk after your food to get where you want next, you walk to the stores, you walk to your room. You get the picture. You walk a lot, and the ship is long, so if you hate walking then I don’t really know what to say (Suck it up, it’s good for you?) And you’ll be happy you came home looking tan AND feeling good because you just walked 500 miles on that ship all week (not really 500 miles, but close). Bring some comfortable shoes is what I suggest.
Tip 9: Get a Balcony Room!
If you can afford it, seriously get a room with a balcony. We have every time and it’s so worth it. We can wake up and eat breakfast or have your morning coffee out there! And not to mention the views. You get the most amazing views going in and out of port every time. We’ve taken some amazing pictures while docking – my favorite being at RCCL’s Labadee in Haiti. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya. We actually upgraded to a mini suite on the last cruise we went on. It’s nothing like an actual suite, but it does have a bigger bathroom which was better to me in the end, because Charlie and I could brush our teeth/wash our face at the same time because it was big enough! Check it out:
Tip 10: Wine? Soda? Yes, Please!
You’re allowed to bring a 12 pack of soda on board AND a bottle of wine per adult. Take advantage! (Or pay huge amounts on board, the choice is yours people).
Tip 11: Things You Should Bring That You Didn’t Even Think About
Low denomination bills. Why? You’ll need bills for tipping drivers, when paying for things off the ship, etc… You can thank me later.
Water. Why? Because you’ll pay per bottle on the ship. If you have extra space in your luggage, take some water!
Waterproof camera. Why? If you want to take picture while doing certain excursions or while swimming, then bring one of these!
Laptop or tablet. Why? Charlie and I both still had to work/return emails on all cruises we have been on. The newer ships have wifi (you have to pay for it) throughout the ship, even in your rooms, so if you’re like us and have to work or contact family/friends, bring your computer or tablet.
Power strip. Why? Well, there’s only a couple electrical outlets in your cabin, and if you travel with a lot of electronics it will be worth it. Keep in mind some lines don’t allow power strips with long cords, so do some research before packing this one.
Tip 12: Be. Prepared. For. Photos.
On the ship. There will be photographers. Everywhere. Almost every night. They want photos of you and they want them now. If you don’t want your picture taken, don’t worry they aren’t pushy. The final pics will be located in the photo library on board for purchase (of course). And don’t even think about trying to snap a pic of one of the professional pictures of you and your fam with your phone. They will see you! You’ve been warned.
Tip 13: Unpack!
Once on the ship, they say it will take a few hours to get into your rooms. Keep checking if your room is ready after 30 minutes on board. Last cruise we went on, I had a carry on suitcase with me and a mini backpack. So we literally went straight to our room once on board and it was ready! We were also the 2nd group to board around 11am. Obviously not all rooms are ready super early, we really got lucky, but it was awesome. We were able to get in there and unpack ASAP. With a balcony room we had a closet and 2 big drawers under the couch. The closet also has shelves. Once your suitcases are unpacked, push those babies under the bed and say goodbye for a week (or 2? or 3?). It will clear up so much space in your room once your suitcases are out of the way.
Tip 14: Eat ALL the food.
It took me a bit to realize on our first cruise that in the main dining room and buffet (and the complimentary restaurants in general), that you can order as much as you want! See 2 apps that look amazing? Get them both! That salad in the buffet didn’t fill you? Go get a burger! Seriously. But we also realized on the Breakaway that our favorite spots to eat turned out to be where we had to pay a la carte. We LOVED going to sushi and the noodle bar. It was totally worth it, but it really wasn’t even expensive at all. At sushi, we split 3 rolls and got soup & salad for $20. At the noodle bar we split a bowl of noodles (chicken broth, noodles, chicken, mushrooms, carrots, onion, etc…), a bowl of fried rice and a spring roll for $10. You can’t beat it! And these bowls are HUGE. If you don’t split them you’re going to be the fullest you’ve ever been. But really, take advantage of the food. And like I said previously, you’ll most likely walk it off.
Tip 15: Speaking of food, room service anyone?
Also take advantage of room service! Different ships/lines have different menus, but I’m sure they’re all delish. Last cruise, at night after we got back into our room from the bar or wherever we were at, we would order up some soup, sandwiches and salad (don’t forget the fruit tray too). So good! Most cruise lines offer free room service, and it’s amazing. You can also leave a card on your door the night before if you’d like breakfast delivered in the morning. Select what you’d like and what time you’d like it at. Although, each cruise we’ve been on, after midnight they charge a fee for room service. Is it bad we ordered at 11:45pm?
Tip 16: Enjoy your ENTIRE first day!
I’d recommend getting to the pier as early as you can. You may have to wait a little, but it’s like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders once you see that ship in front of you and you’re all checked in. Once you’re on board, try to get to your room whenever it’s ready to unpack and have the whole day to explore or go to the pool! If your room isn’t available until later, be prepared and wear your bathing suit under your clothes. This depends on where you’re sailing from and what time of year it is, but if it’s warm and sunny, enjoy your first day and get to the pool/sun deck early. You’ll find a good spot and get some sun (and get a nice drink too to sail away with!)
Tip 17: Research ports ahead of time
Find out a little about where you’ll be going. Book excursions if that’s your thing. Figure out the best places to shop if that’s what you love. You may even find you can book some excursions cheaper when not booking through the ship. But keep in mind, when booking through the ship, you’re guaranteed back on the ship even if arriving late. The ship will wait for you. If you book outside the ship, it will leave without you. When we went to Cocoa Beach, Florida in December I looked up restaurants close to Ron Jon’s because we wanted to go there to do some Christmas shopping. We ended up finding this awesome place called Sandbar Sports Grill online before we went. I wrote down the address and sure enough, it was so close to Ron Jon’s (and where the cab picked us up to bring us back to the ship). It was an amazing find, the food was delish (fajita wrap AND shrimp tacos – doesn’t get any better). While we waited for our food we went down to the beach which was right behind the bar itself and took some pictures.
Tip 18: Find a hangout
On our December cruise, we found places on the Breakaway we hadn’t been the first time. We found this spot in a bar called O’Sheehan’s that had Charlie’s favorite game (galaga) and a table right next to it for me. We went there every night, and the bar overlooked the atrium, which had music every night. I ordered food, Charlie played his game, and I read magazines and had some beers. Might sound boring, but even when we went to the nightclubs and such, we always ended up at our favorite spot afterwards.
Tip 19: Carry your own luggage off the ship
Unless you physically cannot because it’s too heavy or something, I recommend this. The first cruise we went on, we didn’t do this. We left it out overnight and they took them, and the next morning we had to wait for our section to be called (for hours), get off the ship, and find our luggage in a sea of bags. The next 2 cruises, we carried our own luggage off, and somehow on the last one managed to be one of the first people off the ship at 7am. It was amazing because we were able to get our cab ASAP and get home. If you don’t want to carry your own luggage then it’s totally fine.
Tip 20: Make sure you bring your own sun screen!
We got screwed on our second cruise in Florida when we realized we forgot to bring enough sun screen for the Bahamas. We paid over $15 for a bottle of sun screen at a convenience store – boo! The next time around, I got plenty at Target for less than $10 a bottle. On a ship, they might even charge upwards of $20 for sun screen. No thanks.
Tip 21: Bring extra snacks
I noticed in one of the stores on the ships that they charge crazy amounts for small snacks such as chips, candy, etc… We stayed at a hotel the night before and bought some snacks, but ended up not eating them and brought them on board. We had Pringles, Reese’s and some other snacks to munch on during the week.
Tip 22: Empty out your fridge
Once inside your room on the first day, if you brought water, wine or soda, ask your room steward to empty out your mini fridge. They will do it for you and you’ll love that you asked because you now have a ton of space. Every night one board I asked for extra chocolate milks in the dining room and would stock up. I love chocolate milk and for some reason it’s hard to come by on all the cruises we’ve been on, so I asked whenever I couldn’t find any. Someone usually would come back with 2 or 3, and I’d stick them in our fridge. And yes, they all thought I was weird when I asked for choco milks.
Tip 23: Bring books/magazines
I always end up reading whatever I bring on a cruise. Last time it was a Cosmopolitan and Real Simple magazine. Trust me, you’ll want some reading material while laying in the sun or having a snack.
Tip 24: Pack for the weather/season
I can tell you from experience, when we cruised in December I brought a bunch of cute dresses, tanks and sandals. I wore 1 sundress. No shorts. It was 30 degrees the day we sailed, and maybe 40 degrees the second day. The third day we were in Florida, it was about 70. Not amazing, but better than 30. But I still wore jeans and a sweater, especially after the sun set it got chilly. The 4th day was a sail day because we had to skip going to Stirrup Cay, NCL’s private island. The waves were too rough, and it was about 65 degrees out. Boo. The 5th day we were in Nassau, Bahamas and this was the best day (weather-wise) for the whole cruise. It was 75-80 degrees and sunny. This is when I wore a bathing suit and a sundress. 6th day was a sail day and 50 degrees and super windy. Last sail day was about 40 and windy. So, all in all it was pretty chilly the whole time, but it was also December. I should have packed more sweaters. So just be prepared. Unless you’re traveling in the Summer or out of a warmer climate, be prepared for chilly days.
Tip 25: Be prepared to get annoyed.
If you’re like me, you get annoyed easily when it comes to people being everywhere. I know, I know, you’re on a cruise ship with thousands of people, but for real the buffets and dining rooms get crowded. If you want a relaxing breakfast when you first wake up and don’t want to be annoyed because people shove you and don’t apologize, then I highly suggest room service or waiting a bit until the rush is over for the morning. And trust me, I’ve been shoved a few times, people literally have straight up walked into me and cut in front of me in line like I wasn’t even there. Just take a deep breath, you’re on vacation, it’s all good lol. Oh, and when you’re docked for the day on an island or wherever your destination is, that’s an awesome time to hit the dining rooms or buffet. On our last cruise we docked in Nassau, Bahamas and went to get breakfast while most of the people on board were getting off. The buffet was the emptiest I ever saw it and we had an amazing view of Atlantis. Win!
Tip 26: Did I already mention food?
Really. The food. I can’t talk about it enough. I wanted to mention that I know the complimentary dining options are awesome and sound great, but definitely make sure you try out the paid restaurants. You most likely wont be disappointed and I guarantee they’ll become your favorites! (I am daydreaming about Wasabi sushi on the NCL Breakaway right now)
Tip 27: Take pictures!
I love looking back on our cruise photos, some of my favorite pictures ever have been taken on cruises. I’m sure I don’t even need to make this a tip because everyone knows to take pictures on vacation, but just remember to take pictures when you’re having fun, when you see something beautiful (like the sunsets), and when you’re at the beach or somewhere else. You may never be back at that same spot again, and if you’re like me, you’ll frequently look back and remember what an amazing time you had. Also – on our first cruise I brought my big camera. Mistake. It was too annoying to bring off the ship, so I ended up mostly leaving it in our room and using my phone. I’ve taken some amazing pictures on my iPhone, so it works great for me, but obviously if you have a camera you love and don’t mind carrying along, bring it and use it!
Tip 28: Have fun!
You’re on vacation. I know it’s easy to find things to complain about, but really, enjoy your time because it’s always over way too soon and you want to have great memories. Relax, take a breath and move on whenever something bothers you. And if it’s a big deal, guest services will help out I’m sure. Just make sure you enjoy yourself!
(Note – these are just suggestions based on our experiences. You definitely don’t have to follow these tips! Do what you’re most comfortable doing.)
Thanks so much for reading our cruising tips! If you have any suggestions or additional tips, leave them in the comments and I can add them in!