Your first cruise can be a hectic, exciting, and even stressful event, depending on your personality and the amount of advance preparation you put into it. There are numerous things you can do to get ready for the day that you board your dream cruise. By making sure you have all required items needed for your vacation, planning how you will get to the port before leaving home, and arriving the day before embarkation, you give yourself time to relax before boarding.
Here are some additional strategies that experienced cruisers use to make their cruises more relaxing:
- Always make sure that you have all required cruise documentation needed. This includes cruise line boarding documents, passport or other approved identification (check the cruise line website for a list), and the credit card you plan to use for your on-board account. If you have arranged transfers to the cruise port and/or parking in advance, ensure you have the documents for those activities. Depending on your port of embarkation and ports of call you may also need medical documentation related to your prescriptions and vaccinations. The cruise line, Department of State (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/before-you-go/your-health-abroad.html), and Center for Disease Control (https://www.cdc.gov/features/travel-medicine/index.html) websites are useful resources for this information. If you have questions, ask your cruise adviser or a cruise line representative when you book your vacation.
- Before leaving home, go to a store that sells document storage products to find something in which you can organize all your travel documentation. Get whatever suits you. I have seen people using three-ring binders with section dividers, plastic sheet protectors, folders with pockets inside, and other similar systems. Your goal is to have all the documentation you need handy and in one place when you get to the embarkation terminal. A storage system can also help prevent dropping items. That happens to more than one traveler as they fumble with carry-on luggage, manage children, and try to navigate the embarkation process.
- Make sure that you pack items you will need on your first day in carry-on bags. In addition to all your travel documents, include prescription medications, valuables (e.g. jewelry, electronic devices, or camera equipment), swimwear, sunscreen, items to entertain small children, snacks, and a magazine or other reading material to occupy time after lunch. Depending on when you checked in there may be a gap while you wait for your cabin to be made available. Also bring anything else you will need. This might include a change of clothing, depending on the weather at the port of debarkation.
- On the morning of embarkation, get up and have a relaxed breakfast, then head for the port a bit ahead of your designated check-in time. This will help you beat the crowd, get onboard, take care of any business (e.g. making specialty restaurant or reservations or book shore excursions), have a leisurely lunch, and explore the ship before everyone else boards and things get chaotic.
- Instead of going to the buffet restaurant, where most other passengers head with all their carry-on luggage, ask a crew member which alternate dining venues are available. Go to one of those instead, since other cruisers are not aware of this option. There might be fewer food selections available, but you do not have to fight the crowd to get something to eat and find a place to sit.
- As you board the ship, ask a crew member if there are maps of the ship. These are often small foldable pocket-size documents that you can carry around for the first couple days so that you can find places you want to go. Also, pick up a copy of the ship’s newsletter that shows important times for various events for the day (e.g. emergency muster drill before you sail). In addition to maps, larger ships also have large acrylic cutouts outside central elevators. These show all decks and locations of key venues. Many ships also have interactive wall-mounted screens that allow passengers to search for directions, learn about key activities, and view restaurant menus. These are generally located in the atrium areas near central ladder wells (stairways).
- After lunch, take some time to casually explore the ship to familiarize yourself with the layout and venues. This is a great opportunity to snap some photos around the ship without having hordes of other passengers in the shots. This will be one of your best opportunities during the cruise to do this
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Cruiser At Heart was created and is managed by Robert (Bob) W. Lucas, who is passionate about cruising, world travel, meeting people, and sharing information with others. He has visited, lived, and worked in over 50 countries on four continents. He and his wife, MJ, took their first cruise in 1994 and have not stopped since. He shares his travel experiences about the wonderful people and cultures he has experienced, along with tips for maximizing a cruise vacation.