First Time Cruisers-Cruise Like a Pro!

How to cruise if you’ve never cruised before.

Download my Cruise Packing List

  • Don’t forget to pack your ID, your cruise documents, and your Passport in your carry-on luggage, and not in your checked in luggage, so that you can get to it easily at the port. Also, if this is your honeymoon, make sure that the name you booked your cruise with matches your passport name. You don’t want any problems when you try to check in.  In your carry-on luggage, pack anything important or valuable, such as medications, jewelry, and electronics.  You will have printed out your luggage tags already.  I like to fold them as instructed on the tag, and then laminate them with large size shipping tape.  Then I staple them together over the handle of the suitcase.  Use plenty of staples, and then tape over that so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle at port.  You can also buy luggage tag holders, but I’ve never used them.  Don’t lock your luggage.  Sometimes things that are not allowed on the ship have to be confiscated.  Be sure to check what is allowed and what is not allowed on your ship. Do a search on the ship’s website for prohibited items, such as irons, steamers.  alchoholic drinks, etc.  Usually you can bring a bottle of wine onboard, but be sure to check on that also, things are always changing.  You are allowed to bring hair dryers and curling irons but there’s usually a small motel-like hair dryer in the cabin drawer already.
  • If you’re driving to the Cruise Port one of your options is to book a Park, Snooze, and Cruise package through a local motel. After a good night’s sleep and breakfast, you park your car in their parking lot, then a shuttle will pick you up and drop you off at the cruise port. Depending on the hotel and port, a free or paid shuttle will then pick you up after your cruise and take you back to your car or you may have to make your own arrangements back to the hotel.  Check the fine print on the hotel website.   You can also park at the cruise port.  That usually costs more but it’s very convenient and you can get on the road faster after your cruise. There are always other lots to park in for less money that will shuttle you to the terminal.  Do a google search for “Cruise Parking” at the selected port that you are cruising out of.
  • It’s appropriate to tip your porter (the person who takes your luggage at the port) a dollar or two a bag if you would like to.
  • Once you get into the terminal, have your passport and cruise documents ready. You will stand in line until it’s your turn.  Once you are called to the desk, they will look at your passport and take your cruise documents. They will take your picture, and then give you a Sail & Sign card. You will use this card for everything on the ship, so do not lose it. It’s your room key, it’s used for anything that you buy on the ship (It’s linked to your on-board account), and it’s used to get you on and off the ship at ports. Always keep this card with you. It will also tell you which dining room you’ll be in, and which Muster Station to meet at. After that, if you’re at the terminal before embarkation, you can find a seat and relax for a while.
  • After everyone from the last cruise has disembarked the ship, the ship will start letting the new passengers embark. They will give you a number when you sign in, and call your number when it’s time for you to get in line. Once you’re on the ship, you can head straight for the buffet for lunch. You won’t be able to get into your room till around 1:30, usually, unless you have Carnival’s Faster to the Fun, bought in their excursion shopping site.  The room stewards are still cleaning up from the departing group until then.
  • Put your phone on Airplane Mode as soon as you get on the ship!  You do not want to find extra charges on your bill when you get home!  I normally put my phone in the in-room safe and leave it there.
  • Sometime in the afternoon of the first day they will have a Muster Drill. A Muster Drill is mandatory, and they will find you, so you may as well go. This is where you will learn the procedure that the ship follows if it were to be in a state of emergency. If the Muster Drill is outside on the deck, try to go a bit later, or you’ll be squashed against the wall in back of a lot of people.  Find your Muster Drill station on your Sail & Sign Card.  Also, you can watch a film playing continuously on your cabin TV that will explain the Muster Drill and how it works more.  We always search for our Muster Station ahead of time so we’ll know where it is.  You will know it’s Muster Drill time when the alarm sounds.  They will keep you informed on the PA system.  This drill lasts for maybe half an hour, and then you’re free to have fun.
  • There is no smoking on most of the ship. There is some smoking in the casino, and there’s always a smoking section on one of the decks, but no smoking in the rooms or on the balcony.  If you don’t like the smell of smoke, be aware that it always smells smokey around the casino area, so you may want to avoid the area.  Most of the time the only way to do that is by going up or down a flight and then coming back to that floor once you’re past the area.
  • Once you’re in your room, your room steward should come and introduce him/herself. If they’ve put the beds together and you’d prefer two twins instead, just let them know, or vice versa. Also, they can empty out the mini fridge so you can put what you want in it. Be aware that the there are high charges for the items that are already in the mini fridge when you get there, so if you use them, your onboard account will be charged.  Ship Cabins are small, but there is always plenty of space for your things. Empty out the suitcases and put your things in the closets and drawers, then put your suitcase under the bed for storage. Bring a few extra hangers if you have a lot to hang up. There is usually only one outlet, so bring a small power strip so that you can plug in to charge your electronics. There is usually a small hairdryer in the room in a drawer. You can check your ships amenities online to see. Carnival ships sometimes have magnifying mirrors in the bathrooms, which are really handy for makeup. Showers are very small, and the toilets are vacuum toilets, very noisy.
  • If you eat at the main dining room, the buffet, and some other restaurants, depending on the ship, food is included in your fare. (Some restaurants have an extra charge, depending on the ship, but not the main dining room.  A $ will be next to the restaurants that charge extra in the ship’s daily newletter. You can order more than one entre, dessert, etc. Regular coffee, tea, water, and iced tea are usually included. Soft drinks, specialty coffees, and alcoholic drinks are not included unless you pay extra for the drink packages, or for each drink. Waiters usually get to know you by name if you dine with the same waiter at the same table the entire trip.
  • The ship may vibrate, and you may hear some creaking. This is perfectly normal and doesn’t mean that anything is wrong. Usually it’s because the captain is going “full speed ahead” to get you to your destination.  You may also feel like you’re moving side to side when you walk, but you will get used to it and stop noticing it in time.  This is also normal.  If you’re prone to seasickness, bring your favorite remedy.  Start using it before you get on the ship.
  • Read the newsletter each morning for activities to do throughout the day. Bring a highlighter to mark off things that interest you.  You get the newsletter the night before.
  • Get to the shows early for best seating. Sometimes at the welcome aboard show or the excursion show, they will give away prizes.  One time they actually threw prizes out to the first few rows, so I try to sit up front.
  • Be sure to get back to the ship on time after a shore day. There is no guarantee that they will wait for you unless you have taken a ship’s brand excursion.
  • And remember……..ALWAYS STAY ON SHIP’S TIME! Ship’s time is the same time as the port where it originally launched from.
  • There are two ways to disembark after your cruise.  There will be a meeting that you can attend where they will explain it, or else it should be playing on one of the TV channels all day.  If you want to get out early and you don’t have much luggage, and can carry it off yourself, you can self-disembark, which means that you take your own luggage off the ship with you.  The problem with that is if you have too much luggage, it’s difficult to do because there are so many people in the elevators and it’s hard to carry everything down the stairway.  Then normally you’ll have to go down a long escalator to get out of the terminal while holding your luggage.  The other way to disembark is that they will give you a tag to put on all of your luggage with a number on it.  You pack your luggage and put the number on the handle the night before and put your luggage outside your cabin.  The stewards will pick up your luggage, and then you will be called the next morning by number to disembark.  Your luggage will be waiting for you in numbered areas at the bottom of the terminal escalator.  We have found that you can always go down to the desk the last night on the ship, and if they have a lower number available, they will give you the lower numbered tags.  Otherwise, if you have a higher number, it can take a long time to get off the ship.  Also, they don’t really look at your number getting off the ship, and sometimes the luggage is down in the terminal earlier than when the number is called, so you can give it a try to get off earlier.  The worst that could happen is that you wait a while for your luggage. If you have an early airline reservation, let the customer service desk know the night before and they will get you off the ship earlier.
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