9 top tips for first-time cruisers

Photo of Joey TysonPhoto of Joey Tyson
By Joey Tyson

22 March 2018 | Updated 5 November 20218 min read

A clear sunny day showing a cruise liner just off the coast of Salerno on the Amalfi coast in Italy

Please note: this article is sponsored by our partners at Marella Cruises. The links on this page will take you directly to the Marella Cruises website.

Ahoy there! So you’ve decided to embark on an adventure at sea? Good call. Sailing the world, hopping from an exciting city one day to a pristine beach the next, world-class onboard entertainment and incredible food at your fingertips… sounds like fun doesn’t it? Well that’s what you can expect from your first cruise, and much more besides.

Like all new experiences, finding your sea legs can take a bit of time. While you don’t need to know port from starboard, it helps to know the ins and outs of cruising before you book to set sail.

We’ve spoken to the experts at Marella Cruises for their top tips to ensure your maiden voyage is a smooth one.

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Note: Remember to check your cruise line for its travel requirements as well as the FCDO website for the latest advice for your destination – both before you book a cruise and in the lead up to your trip.

1. Picking the right ship is key…

Cruise ships come in all shapes and sizes, and the one you choose really depends on the type of holiday you like.

For example, if you like to stay active, Marella Discovery and Marella Discovery 2 have a rock climbing wall, a gym and a mini golf course onboard. If spa treatments are your thing, look out for Champneys onboard the Explorer ships.

It’s more than just what’s onboard though: the food can vary from ship to ship as can the passenger mix – as some are aimed more at families while others may appeal to the more adventurous at heart.

“We know that choice is important. It gives you the freedom to tailor a holiday to suit your style. That’s why all of our ships have their own personalities,” says a representative of Marella.

“Our Discovery ships come with climbing walls, mini-golf courses and extras like escape rooms or virtual reality experiences, while the Marella Explorer has the first Champneys spa at sea. And Marella Explorer 2, our adults-only ship, has a press-for-bubbles bar and the golf-themed 19th Hole.

“The one thing that doesn’t change is our warm welcome – all our ships come with exceptional service, which clients don’t have to tip extra for – and our Covid-19 safety measures. Everything from your TUI flight to your transfer to the ship itself is fully checked and sanitised for your safety.”

To delve below the deck of each ship, you can find more information here.

2… and your itinerary is just as important

When it comes to cruising, the world is quite literally your oyster. Whether you fancy a multi-stop tour of the blissful Caribbean or taking in some of the Med’s must-see sights, where you go depends on the type of experience you’re after.

For example, winter cruising is hugely popular with those who fancy a break from the cold weather in the UK. This year, Marella Cruises has a fantastic selection of Canaries and Caribbean cruises to choose from.

Some holidaymakers also opt for a cruise as their main summer holiday, with Mediterranean sailings being popular summer options.

3. Make shore you pick your excursions carefully

Shore excursions are a huge part of what makes a cruise so special. After enjoying the high life onboard, this is your chance to stretch those sea legs and do some exploring.

Every itinerary is different, and you’ll have lots to choose from. Once you’ve booked your cruise, you should do some research online to see which excursion you fancy.

And, as the more popular excursions usually sell out early, by booking in advance you won’t be left disappointed. It also allows you to work out which ports you want to explore as a part of a tour group, and which ones you think you’ll be able to do yourself (often for less).

To maximise shore time, Marella Cruises sail through the night. With that being said, the ship won’t wait for you, so always give yourself enough time to get back onboard!

4. Packing matters: Towels and tuxedos

Concerned about stuffy dress codes? Worry not! Cruises are pretty relaxed when it comes to how you dress, with most prescribing to a general “smart casual” theme. Other than that, just pack as you would for any holiday, taking into account the weather and the types of things you’ll be doing, and you’ll be fine.

Some ships do have formal nights (on Marella Cruises, you’ll find a ‘dress to impress’ night on many of its itineraries), but how dressy you’d like to get – or whether you attend at all – is up to you.

Another point to note: leave your linen at home. All towels (even beach towels) are provided by Marella Cruises.

5. Dining on board: Know your limits

Marella Cruises is all-inclusive, always. That means most restaurants and selected beers, wine, spirits and cocktails are already included in the price. While most food and drink is indeed free, some speciality restaurants cost extra.

You can also upgrade to the premium package, which includes almost everything onboard – there are a few exceptions like Champagne but most of the high-end spirits are included. Another thing to note is that, between the many restaurants, bars, buffets and cabin service, you can pretty much find food almost any time of the day.

6. Tipping point: Gratuity on the open ocean

Usually, it’s common to tip staff (such as waiters and room attendants) during a cruise. With Marella Cruises, this is still the case, but you pay before you go – it’s all included in the price.

The same goes for service charges. The big plus point is that you don’t have to worry about hauling lots of loose cash around or worry about the amount you need to tip – it’s all done before you even set foot on the deck.

7. Cruise packages: Which is best for you?

Far from being prescribed and rigid, as it is sometimes perceived to be, cruising is a fairly flexible holiday option. The wealth of choice available allows you to shape your trip the way you want it, and there are various different types of cruises to help you do this.

A fly-cruise, for example, allows you to jet out to some far-off port and begin your voyage from there. If you just want to book a cruise, arranging the flight and transfers yourself, cruise only could be the best option for you.

Repositional cruises, traditionally where you sail between winter and summer destinations, are ideal for those who want a longer holiday and more days at sea. They are often two weeks or longer in duration and can see you sail, for example, from Jamaica to Dubrovnik (such as on the adults-only Transatlantic Sunsets itinerary) or from Barbados to Majorca.

Finally, cruise and stay, gives you the option to combine your cruise with a traditional holiday by tagging on extra days at a specific destination after your cruise.

8. Cruising needn’t cost the earth

There’s a common misconception that cruises cost thousands and thousands of pounds, but you can set sail for much less if you know what you’re looking for.

Cruise around the Mediterranean, for example, and you could be looking at prices as low as £543pp* – that’s all-inclusive for 7 nights with your flights included! Further afield, in the Caribbean, you can find 7-night sailings from £1316pp*.

And as always, it pays to keep an eye out for additional savings. Look out for special deals and promo codes and you could save hundreds.

9. Top tips for departure day

With so many people heading off on holiday, departure day can be a little bit manic. It’s a good idea, then, to get to the port early so you’ve got plenty of time to check in. Keep all your important documents in your carry-on luggage, along with a spare change of clothing, so that you have everything to hand.

“When you get there, have your cruise confirmation to hand and follow the instructions of the port staff who will direct you to the ship,” explains a Marella representative.

“Just keep in mind that there aren’t as many facilities at cruise ports as you’d expect at an airport, so make a note of the check-in time – between 1pm and 3pm. If you do arrive a little earlier than expected, it’s a great excuse to sightsee the town while you wait.”

It’s even easier if you’ve booked a fly-cruise. You'll be able to check in as soon as your transfer from the airport arrives – so you won’t have to worry about a thing.

Once you’re onboard, relax! Your holiday officially starts now. Spend the day exploring the ship, getting to know where the restaurants, entertainment venues, pools, shops and much more are located.

*Please note: All prices were correct at the time of publishing and are subject to change and availability. T&Cs apply.

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