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Pointers for First Time Cruise Vacationers

Updated on May 21, 2014


Let me start off by introducing myself. I am a seasoned cruiser. I have been on thirteen cruises with several cruise lines since the 1980s namely Celebrity Line, Carnival Line, and Disney Cruise Line just to name a few. Back then there were only a few cruise lines to choose from compare to the large number of cruise lines that are currently available. Fortunately, my first cruise through an Atlantic ocean storm to Bermuda did not stop me from cruising, it actually made me wanted to go on another one the following year, in fact I went on many more cruises over the years. Most of those cruises took me to the exotic caribbean islands. After all those years of cruising, I thought it would be a good time to start sharing some of my experiences about cruising.

Deciding on the Length of the Cruise

For starters, the first mistake most people make when it come to planning a cruise is that they go for the long cruises, the ones that last from 7 to 10 days. This is the most common mistake beginners make. I strongly suggest to you not to book a cruise this long until you have earned your "sea legs" and once you are on that ship you will not be able to get off until it pulls into port which can be at least two days away. Start with the short cruises first to earn those legs or you are going to regret it later and If you really don't have those sea legs yet, I recommend that you start with a cruise to nowhere. This is a cruise where the ship goes out to sea about 50 miles, generally far enough out where it is legal to start gambling activities aboard the ship. These cruises are overnight trips. Sometime I call these cruises "teaser cruises" because by the time you finally get comfortable on the ship it time to get off and at this point you are already thinking about going on another cruise. You have pretty much experience everything about going on a cruise except the excursions on these cruises. However, there is also a 4-day/3 night cruise you can try if you want your fun to last a little longer. These cruises will have one or two port of calls included in the trip where you can experience an excursion or two. My final words for those who do not earn their sea legs after these short cruises, cruising probably is not a good vacation for you. Now lets move on to booking your cruise.

Castaway Cay in the Bahamas
Castaway Cay in the Bahamas | Source
Key West, Florida
Key West, Florida | Source
Castaway Cay in the Bahamas
Castaway Cay in the Bahamas | Source

Top Ten Cruise Lines

1. Holland America Line

2. Princess Cruses

3. Royal Caribbean International

4. Norwegian Cruise Lines

5. Disney Cruise Line

6. Celebrity Cruise Lines

7. Cunard

8. Carnival Cruise Lines

9. American Flagship Project

10. Seabourn Cruise Line

Booking a Cruise

Booking in my opinion is the most critical step in planning any vacation whether it is a simple or complicated one. Many people do not look at the whole picture of the vacation when they are booking it, especially cruises. If you are comfortable working with computers, I recommend booking your cruise on your own computer in the comfort of your home. All cruise lines now have an official, dedicated and secured website to go to now. I personally prefer going to these sites because they look more professional and are more organized to navigate when you are booking your cruise. Beware, there are lots of third party websites out there advertising low prices and discounts but these prices may not be guaranteed. Also they may not have all the information such as illustrated deck plans you may need to make inform decision during your cruise vacation planning.

I recommend booking your cruise at least 6-12 months before the cruise date. When you book early this give you plenty of time to pay off the trip and paying it will not be as stressful. The cruise industry does a very good job of tracking your balance and you can keep track of it yourself online. It is very rare they make mistakes. Also booking early gives you plenty of time to pack and get everything ready for the trip such as passports, birth certificates, etc., especially if you are going on a long cruise, 7 days or more. My wife and I start packing about one to two items at a time for 6 months before the cruise because we have forgotten an item or two and ended up buying it on the ship. Do not wait until one week before cruise date to start packing, especially if you have several children going with you. Finally, booking early gives you plenty of time to really plan your cruise to get the maximum fun out of it. You can take your time to pick and arrange your excursions, dining time and other cruising activities, including the post cruise activities.

Disney Magic at Port Carneval
Disney Magic at Port Carneval | Source

Which Ship Should You Chose To Cruise On

Generally, most people choose their destination first before they choose which ship to cruise on. The schedule will also determine which ship you will cruise on. There are many ships to choose from in the various cruise lines. Many of the ships in each cruise line have similar design, configurations, and sizes; only the name make the ships different. For example if you decide to cruise on one of the Royal Caribbean ships you will hear such names as: Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Independence of the Seas, just to name few. The largest ships out there, Oasis of The Seas and Allure of The Seas are sister ships, only their décor will be different. Another example Carnival ships comes in different sizes and configurations and here you will see names like Fascination, Ecstasy, Imagination, and Fantasy. Again these ships will look pretty similar, but their décor will be different.

Most Popular Cruise Destinations

3/4 Day Cruises:

  • Bahamas:
  • Baja Mexico:

4/5 Day Cruises:

  • Western Caribbean
  • Bahamas

7/8 Day Cruises:

  • Eastern Caribbean
  • Western Caribbean
  • Southern Caribbean
  • Bermuda
  • Mexico
  • Alaska

10 Day + Cruises:

  • Northern Europe
  • Southern Europe/Mediterranean
  • Hawaii
  • Panama Canal
  • South Pacific
  • Orient & Far East
  • Southeast Asia
  • Alaska
  • Africa
  • Trans-atlantic
  • World cruise


The first big word you will add to your vocabulary related to cruising is" EMBARKATION". This word means "go onboard the ship". This is where the fun begin. Before boarding the ship you must show proof of citizenship by showing a birth certificate or passport. It is easier with a passport since all the pertinent information is already in that blue book with a photo.

Next, you are require to open a ship board account to track your expenses on board. Essentially the receptionist is linking the ship board account to your credit card or debit card. You can also place an amount in the ship board account by paying cash.

Finally, a photo is linked to the ship board account and you are issued a card that you will use throughout the cruise to make purchases on the ship. This card will also will be used as a boarding pass when you return to the ship from your excursions. Do not lose this card during your excursion or it going to become a little difficult getting back on the ship. Security on the ship is very tight when it come to determining where the passenger is with respect to the ship. The ship's security knows who is on or off the ship at any given moment.

Now that everything is squared away it is now time to walk aboard and be greeted by the ship's photographer who will take the first of many pictures during your cruise. Bon Voyage!!


Dining is one of the most popular activity on cruises. This is the time where you really eat some fine, delicious, food prepared by world renowned chefs and on some nights eat in a formal atmosphere. Guys don't forget your suit and if you do forget it you can always rent one on the ship. If you're lucky you may even dine with the captain on formal night.

There are generally two dining times to choose from, first seating which usually occurs around 6 PM and a second seating at 8 PM. I recommend the first seating in most cases because most activities such as stage shows, bingo, etc., starts around 8 PM or later. Also if you have young children they are usually too tired and worn out after a long day of activities to eat at the late seating. Finally and most importantly, take your health in consideration. If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, do not pick a late seating during the booking process you would want to eat earlier after a long day of activities in tropical weather.

Food art on cruise ships
Food art on cruise ships | Source

Eating Myths

One of the questions my friends always ask me about cruises is " Do you get tired of eating a lot of food and do you worry about putting on few extra pounds?"

My answer to that question is "no". I do not worry about putting on extra weight. Believe me when you are on a cruise ship you are constantly moving. You will burn any extra calories that you have consumed. Besides, you need to add about 3600 calories over the calories you need to maintain your body weight to gain one pound. You will have to eat a few cheeseburgers to reach that number.


Excursions on cruise ships are one of the reasons many vacationers take cruises. It is one of the best way to see parts of the world that would otherwise be more difficult to see any other way. Cruise lines have already made the arrangements to go on shore to interact with the locals in their homeland. All you have to do is sign up during booking in some cases and pay for the services. Also cruise lines generally will give you accurate and descriptive information about the time, length, location and how much the excursion will cost per person. There is no group rate here. One thing you must be aware of is that you better pay close attention to the level of activities in an excursion. When they said an excursion is very high in activity level make sure you are up to the challenge i.e. 5 mile hike in tropical weather to your destination. I once got on an excursion on the Atlantis submarine and I noticed some people were probably mildly claustrophobic, especially when the submarine is under 150 feet of water in total darkness for one hour. By the way that excursion will set you back more than $100 per person. Have your wallet ready and remember only go on excursions recommended by the cruise ship because they have already done the research for you and are generally safer to go on than to venture out on your own in a foreign country.


Be careful here, this is where you can get in trouble financially. The shops on the cruise ships lean favorably to women. The shops are loaded with jewelry, handbags, watches, and perfume galore. Men just make sure you have enough cash to cover this shopping frenzy.

However, there are some things men will spend their hard earned dollars on and that is duty-free liquor and cigarettes. When liquor and cigarettes are purchased this way they are cheaper.

One final thing to be careful about is shopping on shore. Again follow the recommendations of the ship on where to shop. Do not shop in other places, you can get ripped off or end up with shabby merchandise that you cannot return or get a refund for. Also, some parts of town may not be friendly or safe for vacationers.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Puerto Rico Port of CallSt. Thomas Port of CallCarnival Ship Glory Cozumel, Mexico
Puerto Rico Port of Call
Puerto Rico Port of Call | Source
St. Thomas Port of Call
St. Thomas Port of Call | Source
Carnival Ship Glory Cozumel, Mexico
Carnival Ship Glory Cozumel, Mexico | Source

The Final Night

This is It. The final night is the night all cruisers dread. It is the night you will hear that awful phrase "It time to pack up" and this you must do. If you do not do this, you will be hauling all your luggage off the ship yourself. Also during this time the ship stewards will start collecting all your luggage you have placed outside your door and transfer them to the bottom of the ship for disembarkation the next day.

The other activity at this time is seeing all the ship personnel for the last time to give them their well deserved gratuity; the steward who kept your cabinet clean, the waiter, the assistant waiter and the maitre 'd. Some cruise lines such as Carnival Cruise Line will take this out of your ship board account as soon as you step on deck. They make sure these guys get their fair share before you leave the ship and also you will not have to worry about it later.


The second big word you will add to your vocabulary related to cruising is DISEMBARKATION. This word literally means " leave the ship". It is over. Of course it is not that simple. While the passengers are waiting to get off the ship, the ship's security department is checking all the luggage on board for any illicit activity. Also the ship's purser is checking all accounts to make sure that they are all paid up and if they are not an announcement will be made to call that person to the desk to correct that deficit. Once everything is straight everyone is free to leave and to continue on with their post cruise activities: returning home, continuing with their vacation, or planning their next cruise vacation. Hope to see you on a future cruise if my hub was of some help to you.

© 2009 Melvin Porter


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