I recently returned from my first cruise (on the Holland America ship the ms Oosterdam) from San Diego down to the Mexican Riviera.
Being new to the whole cruise experience I didn’t really know what to expect, but now that I have that first trip under my belt, there are a few tips I wish I’d known beforehand that I thought I’d share for the benefit of anyone else about to embark on their maiden voyage.
If you can possibly afford it, book a stateroom that has a verandah. It is so nice to have breakfast on your private deck, watching the ocean pass by or looking out at the new port you’ve just arrived at. This was one luxury that I was definitely glad we chose. Look at it this way: you’re about to fork out a shed load of money for your cruise, so what’s a few hundred extra dollars in the grand scheme of things?
You’ll most likely be spending some time in your room, and it’s always nice to have a little music for when you’re getting ready or having pre-dinner drinks. Pretty much all rooms come with a TV, and ours had a DVD player with MP3 capability.
So, if you’re bringing an iPod or other MP3 player, bring along a cable so that you can play it through the TV. Or, if your room has a DVD player and you have a DVD writer on your PC at home, burn a bunch of tracks onto a DVD so you can have your favorite music with you.
Clothing requirements will obviously vary depending on where you’re going and with which cruise line. However, don’t forget that when your ship is sailing along at 20+ knots it gets pretty cold and windy out on deck – especially at night – so it is well worth bringing a light jacket or sweater for those late night strolls with your loved one under the stars.
On Holland America it was also a lot more formal than I expected. In our one week cruise we had two formal nights (tuxedo or jacket & tie required) and one informal night (jacket but not tie required).
About half of the men (myself included) wore a tux on formal night, so I would say that the rule of thumb is that you can’t be overdressed. For the ladies, a cocktail dress seemed to be par for the course on formal night.
If you’re going to be dining in the dining room (and why wouldn’t you – it is so much nicer than the buffet restaurant), men are going to need to bring several shirts to get through the week without extensive use of the ship’s laundry facilities.
You’ll most likely want to do at least one of these as they are typically very good. However, the most popular ones book up fast. If you can, book the one(s) you most want to do before you go. Most cruise lines enable you to book your shore excursions online, so do it from home so you can relax once you’re onboard.
If you choose to wait until you’re on the ship, book your excursion as soon as possible once you’re onboard. If you wait until the next day, believe me when I say that the best ones will have been sold out.
Of course, you don’t have to take a ship-arranged excursion. On port day if you get off the ship early enough, there always seemed to be plenty of trips available from the shore (mainly of the “snorkeling”, “fishing”, “trip to xyz beach” variety).
Although I didn’t try any, I would imagine they were considerably cheaper than the “official” ones. The ones that I saw looked pretty good and reputable too.
Expect to have to pay for your soft drinks while you’re onboard, which, at $2 a pop, can get pretty expensive. To mitigate this annoyance, Cruise lines now offer soft drinks packages. Depending on your drinking habits, this can work out to be very good value.
Our package was $35 per person for unlimited soft drinks. Now, we like to have the odd gin and tonic in our room before going for dinner and so it really helped to be able to pop to the nearest bar and pick up a couple of cans of tonic, rather than having to raid the mini-bar or order them from room service (for which you have to pay).
Cruise lines also offer other packages, for wine and for spirits. Take advantage of them! Unless you’re a non-drinker, you are going to rack up a large drinks bill, and the packages offer very good value.
Also note that in the dining room, they will save your bottle of wine for the next night, so that you don’t feel compelled to finish it off each evening.