7 insider tips for cruise newbies

If you’re a new cruiser, you likely have question after question about making your reservation, what actually happens on cruises, meals, entertainment, tipping and many other issues.

I’ve found that new cruisers, unless they’ve spoken to some “old salts,” haven’t considered some issues they should think about, so here are seven new cruiser tips about potentially unknown concerns.

Plan to get to your port of embarkation early
Where I live, I must generally fly to my cruise’s port of embarkation. If I’m cruising from an international port, I normally plan to arrive at the port city at least two days before the cruise departs. For a domestic embarkation I usually plan to arrive at least one day before the cruise leaves. Flight delays resulting from mechanical failures can occur at any time. Plus, weather delays can cause vacation plans, including cruises, to go totally awry. In the U.S., for example, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, hurricanes, and snowstorms can cause massive delays and cancellations nationwide. If I plan to arrive at the port early, I have a better chance of getting to the port in time if my flight is canceled or delayed.

Arriving early does add real costs to a cruise, but I’d rather arrive early than have to arrange and pay to meet my ship during its voyage, plus lose one or more days from the cruise. A real plus for those who arrive early can be the chance to explore the region in which the port is located.

Plan on getting to the cruise terminal early
I know that some cruisers hate long lines and wait times, but cruise lines have been working hard to better organize ships’ embarkation to minimize passengers’ boarding delays. I prefer to arrive early to have time to explore the ship, especially if I’ve never been on the ship before. During the time others are boarding I’ve often found quiet places for relaxation during the cruise, made reservations for activities I didn’t consider prior to boarding and gotten a leisurely bite to eat.

Cabin privacy isn’t necessarily as private as you think
Some cabins have private windows or veranda sliding doors, and some don’t. Even if you’ve checked your privacy thoroughly and think you’re safe, don’t leave your curtains wide open when you need privacy. You could get the “shock of your life,” like one of my readers who walked out of his cabin’s bathroom, naked, to find one of the ship’s crewmembers staring back at him while washing his cabin’s glass veranda door.

Don’t plug your hairdryer into the shaving outlet
I know it makes no sense that the only electrical outlet in a typical stateroom bathroom can’t handle a hairdryer, but you really will blow out the breaker if it says “shaver only.” Don’t upset fellow passengers (the shaver outlet is often part of a circuit in multiple cabins, especially on older ships) or the ship’s crew by blowing out the circuit — especially more than once.

Don’t purchase a beverage package in advance
Beverage packages are typically not inexpensive, but can save those who consume sizable quantities of soda or alcohol. I urge new cruisers to see if their consumption actually justifies the cost of the beverage package.

Don’t tip when you buy a drink
When you purchase a beverage, whether it’s a beer, wine, mixed drink, etc., or soda, most cruise lines have already added a service charge to its bill, so no tip is necessary.

Consistent shipboard hygiene is a must
Cruise ships have been called “floating Petri dishes” by some physicians. Diseases such as norovirus have been known to snowball to hundreds of passengers and crew on cruise ships. You can’t control if fellow passengers get sick. You can’t control the hygiene of fellow passengers or the ship’s crew, either. You won’t know who touched door handles, elevator buttons, railings, silverware, bathroom surfaces, or light switches on your ship and you’ll never have advanced warning of fellow passengers or crew getting sick, but if there is illness on your cruise, you can greatly help yourself by good hygiene.

Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet or, if you have an infant, changing their diapers. Always wash before eating, drinking or even brushing your teeth. If you have a bowl of fresh fruit in your cabin, wash it before eating.

After you wash your hands, don’t leave the bathroom until your hands are dry. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), “Wet hands have been known to transfer pathogens much more readily than dry hands or hands not washed at all.”

In a pinch, use a personal hand sanitizer, or a hand sanitizer station, prevalent on most cruise ships today, however, the CDC states, “The use of alcohol-based hand antiseptics (hand sanitizers) does not replace the need for frequent and proper hand washing.”

For first-time cruisers, these tips address just a few of the questions you’ll have before and during your cruise, but they will give you a jump on other newbies. Of the seven issues I’ve discussed, be sure to carefully follow my tip about shipboard hygiene. It’s the most critical, as illness will quickly ruin anyone’s cruise.

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