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Tips for the Perfect Cruise Vacation

Updated on September 18, 2014
Independence of the Seas H2O Zone
Independence of the Seas H2O Zone | Source

Let's go on a Cruise!

Have you ever cruised before? If not, you need to know everything that seasoned cruisers know before you board your ship. I have compiled a list of helpful tips to make your cruise the best vacation ever!

Top Questions and Advice

Independence of the Seas Inside stateroom
Independence of the Seas Inside stateroom | Source

Carry-on bags versus checked luggage:

Cruise passengers check in as a large group on embarkation day therefore thousands of pieces of luggage are delivered in a short time frame. It takes time to separate and deliver so many pieces of luggage so you may not see your bags again until after dinner. This is why it's important to properly pack your carry-on bag. A change of clothing, medications, bathing suits, and toiletries should be enough to get you through the day.

What should I wear?

Depending on the cruise line, dress codes can differ. Most comtemporary lines have similar dress codes while luxury liners can be much more elegant. Here we will discuss contemporary lines.

Your daily newsletter will list the evening dinner attire for each day. Most of the days will be cruise casual which recently means anything goes. Shorts and jeans are now allowed in the dining room for most contemporary lines. Bathing suits and basketball shorts are not allowed in the dining rooms.

Elegant night or formal night has recently changed as well. In the past passengers looked forward to the chance to wear evening gowns and tuxedos but that no longer seems to be the trend. Today more ladies are seen in pants suits and Sunday type dresses and men are wearing slacks and dress shirts. Some cruisers still enjoy dressing up so you will see a few in cocktail dresses and suits. It's a great opportunity to dress up and have a nice formal portrait taken of your family as well.

What about Alcohol?

Each cruise line has different policies about bringing alcohol, water or sodas on board. Most allow 1 to 2 bottles of wine in carry-on bag but will charge a corkage fee if used in the dining room. Beer and liquor are not allowed on board and will be confiscated. Non alcholic beverages are allowed with a maximum of 12 - 20 ounce cans or bottles in your carry-on luggage only. Some cruise lines allow small coolers as well. Any alcohol bought in port will be held for you until disembarkation day. is a common way for passengers to sneak alcohol on board.

What about Laundry?

Most cruise lines offer laundry and dry cleaning for a fee or by coin operated machines. Laundry detergent is sold through vending machines. Irons and ironing boards are available as well on a self-service basis. Passengers are not allowed to bring personal irons or steamers on board.

What about my Stateroom?

Most staterooms include one standard 110-volt AC electrical outlets and one 220-volt plug. It's a good idea to bring an extension cord or outlet strip if you have multiple electronics.

Hairdryers are in most staterooms on most lines but vary by type. Carnival is still currently using an old fashion style wall unit in the bathroom that in my opinion does not have much power. Other lines have handheld dryers in the desk drawer in the main cabin.

Most staterooms have small vaults for valuables that are locked with your credit card.

Things you may not think of:

Closets are small and have a limited amount of hangers so bring a few with you. Curtains in staterooms sometimes do not close together tightly so bring a clothespin or something similar to hold them closed. Hot/Cold mugs and cups can be useful as well as a highlighter pen to mark the daily newsletter for fun things to do. Plastic bags are helpful when it comes to wet bathing suits. Inside staterooms are very dark when lights are off so bring a night lite. Bathrooms are compact with little counter space so a cheap over the door shoe holder comes in handy for toiletries, just hang over the bathroom door.

Embarkation Day

Monkey Head Coconut drink on Carnival Paradise
Monkey Head Coconut drink on Carnival Paradise | Source

What do I do on arrival day?

Make sure you have all documents in order when you arrive at the cruise terminal. Online check in and e-docs is the norm for most cruise lines today. Check all baggage has your name and cabin number attached with a luggage tag. These are usually printed out online at home. If you do not have your luggage tags they are available at the port, just fill in the blanks.

The check in process is very similar for most cruise lines. You just follow signs for check-in, hand over your documents and credit card and you will receive your keycard that serves as your stateroom key and charge card for any purchases on board. Some cruise lines are trying out electronic bracelets at this time instead of keycards.

Porters are available to take your luggage which will be delivered to your stateroom later in the day. Tips are usually in the $2 range per bag. Carry-on luggage will need to fit through airline style security units. You will need to keep carry-on bags with you at all times once onboard until your stateroom is available for use. Staterooms usually open up between 1pm - 3pm.

What is a Muster Drill?

Muster drills are mandatory and only take about 30 minutes or so out of your day. These drills are important! The ship's crew will show you where to meet in case of an emergency and which life boat to board in the event of an evacuation. In the past, passengers had to wear life vests to Muster drills but now some cruise lines do not require this.

Who can visit me on board?

Visitors are not allowed on board ship. Pre-planned weddings or other events are the exception.

How do I know what's going on?

Room stewards will leave a daily newsletter in your cabin each night for the next day's activities. Use these newsletters to plan your day and don't miss out on any of the fun.

What are the Shore Excursions?

Shore Excursions can be found online at the cruise line website. They have photos and descriptions along with the price per person. Some even state the difficulty of the excursion as well. These can be booked online or you can book once on board. If there is a particular tour you really want to do book it right away because popular ones fill up fast.

You can book excursions with other vendors outside the cruise line for a less expensive price. The drawback is the vendor may not honor cancellations for weather or delays. Also, the cruise line will not wait for you if your excursion runs long or you are delayed in returning to the ship.

Keeping in touch

Cruise lines offer phones in the staterooms but they come with a high price. Cellular services are available on board but check with your mobile service for prices because these can be pricey as well. Make sure you put your mobile device on Airplane mode so you don't return home to a large cellular bill.

What about internet?

Ships have internet cafes on board where you can use desk top computers and pay per minute. Prices will vary per line. Internet packages can be purchased as well. There are internet hot spots throughout the ships for wireless devices and some lines offer wifi in the staterooms.

How do I find my children on board?

Walkie-talkies are useful for keeping in touch with older children or other members of your party while aboard ship.


How to make purchases on board.

Cruise lines work under a cashless system. When you checked in you submitted a credit or debit card to be used for charges. This card is now connected to your room keycard for purchases. The only place cash is used is in the casino. Cash can be left at Guest Services instead of a card to cover daily on board purchases.

ATM's can be found in multiple areas but may run out of cash on long cruises.

Medical Information

What if I get sick on board?

Cruise lines will have a doctor and nurse to treat illnesses and accidents for a fee. These fees will need to be taken care of before debarkation and insurance can reimburse you later. Medication and physician fees are higher priced than normal ones in port.

What if I get seasick?

We recommend you purchase seasickness bands or patches before embarking. These may sell out onboard and will be more expensive.

Can I cruise if I'm pregnant?

Most cruise lines will not allow pregnant women who will be past 24 weeks at the end of travel.


Independence of the Seas dining room
Independence of the Seas dining room | Source

Where do I sit for dinner?

When you book your cruise you are given the option of dinner seating times. Early seating is typically 6-6:30pm, late seating is typically 7-8pm and open seating is anytime within these time ranges. When choosing open seating you may sit at a different table each night and with different people. Early or late seating will see you at the same table with the same dinner mates each night.

What if I don't want to eat in the dining room?

There are multiple choices for dining on cruise ships. Choices range from the buffet to pizza, burgers and deli stations. Some ships have casual restaurants like Royal Caribbean's Johnny Rockets and Carnival's Guy's Burger Joints. Steakhouses are also available for a small fee but require reservations and a dress code.

Disney Cruise Line restaurants:

Disney does dining a little differently. Your party will eat at several restaurants on a rotational basis. You will have the same servers who travel to each restaurant with you.

Religious Services and Special Occasions

Cruise lines have chapels on board but usually do not have clergy unless it is a special time of year, examples, Christmas, Easter and so forth.

It's my Birthday!

You can purchase birthday, honeymoon, graduation and other decorations for your stateroom online and your cabin will be decorated when you arrive. When filling out your guest registration there is an area that asks for special occasions and the day you would like to celebrate. Most will offer a small free cake at dinner for the celebration.

I'm getting Married?

Weddings can be performed on board but only in port. Please coordinate and plan with the wedding department at least 6 weeks in advance. All guests not sailing will have to disembark an hour before sailing.

Special Note for Parents

I have an infant on board.

While several cruise lines offer in-cabin baby-sitting, many do not. Most have group babysitting in the children's center. Don't forget to bring diapers because you probably won't find any onboard.

What will my children do on board?

All contemporary cruise lines offer children's programs up to 17 years old. They will be separated into appropriate age groups and have different facilities for each group. These programs are outstanding and are included in the price of your cruise. Late night group babysitting comes at an extra charge.

Disembarkation Day

What about tips?

Gratuities vary by cruise line. Typically the cruise line will automatically bill your account by the second evening of your cruise. Some will deliver envelopes for cash so you can hand them out to each person yourself. The required amount runs from about $11:50 per person per day depending on the cruise line. You may increase or decrease the gratuity amount at guest services if you feel the need.

Where's my receipt?

Cruise lines will leave an itemized bill in your stateroom the last morning of your cruise. This will automatically charge to the credit card on file. Some cruise lines have your on board account available for view through your stateroom television.

How do I prepare for disembarkation?

The last evening of your cruise you will be required to pack your luggage and leave it outside your stateroom for pick-up by porters. Your luggage will be available for you to pick up in the baggage area of the port after debarking the next day. Make sure you leave out clothes and toiletries along with your passport for the morning.

You will be assigned a disembarkation time. You will be asked to wait in a designated area until your group is called.

Most cruise lines offer self disembarkation where you can debark early and take your luggage yourself. Keep in mind hallways will be crowded and elevators will be very busy so make sure your party can handle all heavy bags.

Contemporary Cruise Lines

Carnival Legend
Carnival Legend | Source

Which contemporary cruise line is your favorite?

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Let us know your tips.

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    • Taranwanderer profile image

      Taranwanderer 3 years ago

      Such an informative hub on cruise ship cabins. It could use more pictures to highlight your great writing - thanks for taking the time.

    • savateuse profile image

      savateuse 5 years ago

      Nice lens! Just featured on my first 'lensography' :

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      glad to be the first to give you a 'thumbs up' on this lens, good start to one, wouldn't mind some poll questions for your readers to participate and enjoy in.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      glad to be the first to give you a 'thumbs up' on this lens, good start to one, wouldn't mind some poll questions for your readers to participate and enjoy in.