Cruising For Beginners
Cruising For Beginners
Choose the right cruise
Think it and it can happen – on a cruise. From golf to dancing with the stars, knitting to cycling, reciting Shakespeare to stargazing, there’s a cruise for every interest, age and stage. Or maybe you want to just flop and do nothing, have a multigenerational holiday or meet new people. The key to finding a cruise that suits you.
Cruise companies are all different and ships come in all shapes and sizes, so do your research beforehand. Do you want warm or cool climate? You’ll find a cruise in every corner of the world. Are you worried about seasickness? If so maybe try a river cruise with APT, Viking or Scenic or pick an itinerary that has fewer days at sea. Are you looking for an active based holiday? Try an adventure cruise with Aurora Expeditions, One Ocean Expeditions or UnCruise Adventures. How important is the on board entertainment? Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival and Royal Caribbean are renowned for their lavish live entertainment. If you’re after sheer luxury Regent Seven Seas, Cunard, Silversea, Seabourn and Crystal lead the way. Disney, Carnival and P&O cater perfectly for young families and Azamara is a perfect mid sized ship that discourages children under 12.
Not all cabins are created equal
Choosing a cabin can be as overwhelming as choosing your first cruise. It’s easy to go for the cheapest option thinking it doesn’t matter because you’re only going to sleep there. This can be a huge mistake. Cabins (often called ‘staterooms’ but don’t let the fancy word confuse you), tend to fall into four main categories and graduate accordingly in price. Inside - the smallest with no window facing outside; Outside – a room with a window or porthole (not necessarily one that opens) with a view to outside; Balcony – where you can step outside and usually sit at a small table; Suite – varying configurations and sizes that usually have a lounge as well as bedroom and a series of extra perks. Even the side (port or starboard) of the ship can make a huge difference to your experience. On some routes like sailing northbound in Alaska, the more scenic starboard side will book out months before the port side.
Once you’ve worked out the category of cabin to suit your budget, do your homework on the exact location within the vessel. The most stable cabins are towards the centre of the ship on the mid decks, be aware of words like ‘obstructed view’, and think about noise levels like being too close to elevators, service areas, engines, pool, dining rooms etc.
What to know before you go
Black tie or polar fleece, stilettos or flippers. The dress code is one of the major causes of potential stress (and that’s the last thing you want on a holiday), so check out the expectations before you leave home and pack accordingly. Every cruise line varies, some might have restrictions like no jeans, bathing suits, bare feet in certain areas of the ship. Check if there are any formal nights, themed fancy dress parties or particular gear required for an activity. One of the most important things to pack has nothing to do with clothing – a humble multi plug power strip is worth it’s weight in gold.
Check out exactly what’s included in your fare. Cruises tend to advertise ‘all inclusive’, however there are usually ‘extra’ costs. Many ships have special dining rooms that attract a supplement and look carefully at the various options for a drinks package. Other ‘supplements’ that can easily slip under the radar are on small things like tap water versus bottled water, specialty coffee, ice-creams, juices or smoothies.
Be aware of the tipping policy. The trend is more for a percentage to already be included in the fare and remember anything extra is always at your discretion.
If staying in touch with the outside world via your devices is important, you’ll need to look carefully at the cost and efficiency of connectivity. Unless it’s essential, it might be a good excuse to unplug from the world.
Give yourself the heads up on the itinerary before you leave and plan a few activities / shore excursions. Popular activities usually book out early so be prepared. And remember to take all your cruise documents and confirmation details with you.
Explore the ship
Before you leave, study the deck plans and once on board, wander around to get the grip on where things are and places you might like to hang out in. Find your bearings from your cabin to the dining facilities, entertainment areas and rendezvous points for shore excursions. You’ll stumble across places you didn’t know existed (even though you thought you’d memorised the deck plans) – an art studio, coffee shop, skating rink.
Often there’s a ‘getting to know the ship’ tour on offer which is a great way to get the lowdown. Take every opportunity to chat to the crew as they’ll give you insider tips on the best places to take in the sunset, have a quiet drink, avoid queues etc.
Don’t take the life boat drill lightly.
Step out of your comfort zone
Although it’s a holiday, with so much on offer a cruise is the perfect opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted to do or try something completely different. Challenge yourself. Climb that wall, dance the tango, sea kayak, play a round of golf, take up yoga, meditate, take an art class.
Shore excursions are a major part of any cruise itinerary but here’s where you need to be super savvy. Excursions cover a range of fitness levels, interests and duration. Do you want an active or sightseeing tour? Do you want a totally guided tour or free range? A quick highlights tour or more time in one place? One big decision is whether to take the ship’s shore excursion, go it alone or organise an independent tour with a local provider. There’s pros and cons for each, but the main thing to consider is that if you’re not on a ship sponsored tour it will sail without you if don’t arrive back on time.
And remember you don’t have to go ashore every time. Just think, if everyone else is on an excursion you can kick back by the pool and pretend you’re on your own private liner.
How to not stack on the kilos
You’ve heard the horror stories. With food as one of the highlights of cruising, it is difficult to not over indulge, but it’s not impossible.
If you can, take the stairs every time. The elevators are likely to be crowded anyway. Stick to the stairs and you’ll clock up thousands of ‘steps’ without even realising it.
Avoid buffets and go for dining room experiences where you can control the number of courses you have (say no to the bread basket). Limit yourself to one meal a day that you ‘splurge’ and balance out the rest with simple salads (without creamy dressings), steamed Asian style meals and smaller portions. And remember, fish is your friend.
Take advantage of every bit of space on board – walk or jog (if permitted) the decks, use the pool to swim, tread water, hang onto the side and kick. Head to the gym, do sit ups in your cabin, choose shore excursions that involve some form of activity.
Get ready to be hooked on cruising
Once you’ve been on your first cruise, you’ll wonder what you waited for. Many people book (or at least plan) their next cruise while on board. You’ll probably meet other cruisers who are clocking up their 20th or even 50th cruise anniversary. Just think – that could you be you one day.