Top 10 Tips for First-Time British Cruisers (2023)

Top 10 Tips for First-Time British Cruisers (1)

Oasis of the Seas (Image: Royal Caribbean)

Top 10 Tips for First-Time British Cruisers (2)

Oasis of the Seas (Image: Royal Caribbean)

Top 10 Tips for First-Time British Cruisers (3)Top 10 Tips for First-Time British Cruisers (4)

Sue Bryant


(Video) 10 Things Experiences Cruisers Do - First Time Cruise Tips

Congratulations on booking your first cruise. No comes the fun part: Figuring out everything you want to see, do, taste and experience on and off of your ship during your cruise vacation.

Cruising has many advantages over land-based travel, but with so much choice and information out there, booking (and embarking on) your first cruise can be perplexing.

The planning stage will likely pose several questions, relating to shore excursions, drinks packages, tipping and more. There are also many tips and tricks to learn once you’ve booked to help ensure you maximise your first cruise experience.

Here are our 18 vital first-time cruise tips to help you navigate your first holiday at sea and set you on your way to becoming a savvy cruiser.

1. Book Through a Specialist Agent If You’re a First Time Cruiser

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If this is your first voyage, it will really pay off to consult a specialist travel agent and ensure you end up on the right ship for you. A list of agents affiliated to the Cruise Lines Industry Association (CLIA) is available on Cruise Experts. Large chain travel agencies may push certain cruise lines with which they have commission agreements; always ask for a range of recommendations.

Travel agencies that only sell cruises are, by nature, likely to have the greatest knowledge. A good agent will question you extensively about your tastes, age range and the kind of holidays you have taken in the past. Of course, you can do your research online first; read the member reviews on Cruise Critic and don't be shy about posting questions on the message boards; there's even a special section for first-time cruisers.

Related: Choosing Your UK Cruise Travel Agent

2. Look Into Who Your Fellow Passengers Are

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To a first-time cruiser, all cruise lines can look the same. They're not, of course, and different lines (and ships) attract completely different people. For example, on Ponant's ships, more than half will be French, although cruises dubbed 'international' always cater fully to English speakers.

Italians flock to Costa and MSC Cruises, especially in the Mediterranean. P&O Cruises, Saga Cruises, Ambassador, Marella Cruises and Fred. Olsen are almost exclusively British. On cruises in Alaska, you're likely to be a tiny minority among a mainly American crowd. River cruises with Scenic Tours, Emerald Waterways and APT attract a lot of Australians (these are all Australian-owned companies).

Think about the age group you want to travel with, too. A long voyage in winter with Fred. Olsen is likely to attract much older passengers, while Saga caters just for the over-50s and a Royal Caribbean ship sailing out of Southampton in August will be crammed with young families. If you want to avoid children, don't cruise in school holidays, or choose an adults-only ship. If you're in your 20's, 30's or 40's and like to party, there's usually a mixed-age crowd on Princess, Celebrity Cruises, Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean ships, while Virgin Voyages is aimed at millennials and hipsters.

Related: The Cruise Lines List: A Roundup of Different Cruise Lines

3. Pick a Cabin That Works for Your Cruise Needs

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The best cabin onboard is the one that fits your budget and your holiday needs. Don’t pick an inside cabin with no window just because it's the cheapest; consider where you’re headed and the length of your cruise, and let that be your guide. If you’re headed for a warm-weather destination, a balcony cabin is great for sun-worshippers -- and probably useless for those who prefer to stay away from the heat of the day or prefer to be by the pool. If you haven't booked your cruise yet, it's worth checking out our complete guide to choosing a cruise ship room.

4. Try a Mini Cruise Before Committing to a Longer Voyage

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(Video) The ultimate guide for first time cruisers

P&O Cruises, Cunard, Royal Caribbean and Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines are among the lines offering mini cruises from Southampton. You can expect two to five nights onboard -- and a short hop across the Channel or the North Sea to ports like Zeebrugge (for Bruges) and Le Havre (for Paris). Fred. Olsen also has mini cruises from Dover, Newcastle and Liverpool to France, Belgium, Norway, Ireland and The Netherlands.

In the Mediterranean, Celestyal Cruises also offers a wide range of short itineraries; in a four-night break from Piraeus, you'll call at Mykonos, Kusadasi, Patmos, Rhodes, Heraklion and Santorini.

Related: 14 Best Cruises for First Time Cruisers

5. Never Pick A Cruise Just For One Port of Call

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While cruise ships have set itineraries at the time you book, those are not entirely set in stone. Hurricanes, other storms and an array of other factors can mean that one or more ports on your cruise could change. With that in mind, don’t pick a cruise just for one port of call. Instead, find a cruise that travels across a region that you find appealing. Trust us: We’ve spent three separate voyages bobbing around Santorini when weather conditions have been too ugly to tender ashore.

6. It Pays To Study Your Itinerary's Cruise Ports In Advance

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Have a rough idea of what you want to do on your cruise. If it's a port-intensive week in the Med, don't exhaust yourself by booking one tour after another. A lot of ports are easy to explore independently, at your own pace -- Venice, for example, or Portofino, or St Tropez. Throw in the occasional beach day; cruise lines often provide shuttle buses (for a fee) to nearby beaches, or do your own research and take a taxi or local transport, which typically works out cheaper.

Most cruise lines allow shore excursions (and spa treatments for that matter) to be booked online before departure but keep your options open for part of the cruise, at least. If you already know a port well and it's unbearably hot, don't feel guilty if you choose to stay onboard while everybody goes off on tour. The pools and decks will be quieter and you can pretend that you're on a private yacht.

Related: Pros and Cons of Taking a Mediterranean Winter Cruise

7. Research Drinks Packages, Read the Small Print And Buy Before You Embark

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Some lines include drinks within the cost of the cruise fare (though this mostly applies to luxury lines, with some mainstream lines also moving to a more all-inclusive offering). However, if drinks aren’t included and you plan on really getting into the holiday mode, it may pay to buy a drinks package before setting foot on the ship. You’ll likely save money, as cruise lines often discount drinks packages ahead of time. Look out for special offers when you're shopping around for your cruise; often, a travel agent or cruise line will throw in a free drinks package as an incentive to book.

Do your research when purchasing a cruise line drinks package, though. There are often several options, some just including soft drinks, others for kids and others include everything from speciality tea and coffee to wines, beers and spirits. Some are more restrictive, too, only including certain drinks, so if you’re loyal to a certain brand of gin or a variety of expensive French wine, they may not be included.

Many of the American-owned ships, which charge 15-20 percent service or more for every drink, also add this charge to the cost of the drinks package.

You can't have one person in your party sign up for a package and provide drinks for the rest-- the cruise lines have got wise to that. If there are two adults sharing a cabin, you’ll both need to purchase the same package.

Related: Bottoms up! A guide to cruise line all-you-can-drink packages

8. Your Daily Cruise Planner is Your Best Friend

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Cruise lines put out a calendar each day -- either a paper that's left in your cabin in the evening or electronically via their app (or both). This is your all-important guide on how to spend your day. Daily planners are loaded with things to keep you busy, from dance classes to trivia and theatre shows. Many apps allow you to save items to your calendar and will even push a reminder to your phone. If you have a paper planner, a good old-fashioned highlighter will help you keep it straight. Also note: Evening shows are often offered twice each day, so you can fit the one that fits your schedule best without FOMO.

9. Find Out Your Desired Cruise Line's Onboard Currency

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All cruise lines operate a cashless system onboard; you register a card when you check in and then charge everything to your cruise account. On any cruise that isn't all-inclusive (and some that are), you're likely to spend a fair bit of money during your holiday -- extras might include your bar bill, spa treatments, any excursions booked onboard, anything you buy in the shops, speciality restaurant fees and money changed for casino chips.

Although the onboard currency probably won't be the deciding factor for your cruise, check what it is. On P&O Cruises, Marella Cruises, Saga and Fred. Olsen, it's sterling. But on lines like Royal Caribbean, Cunard, Celebrity and Princess, it's the U.S. dollar. When the pound is strong, spending dollars on holiday suddenly becomes very attractive -- but right now, with an exceptionally weak pound, you'll spend more onboard unless you opt for a line operating in British pounds. You may be asked when you check in whether you'd like your onboard account converted to sterling when you settle up but you almost always lose out on the exchange rate if you opt for this.

(Video) Too Many First-Time Cruisers Still Get This Wrong

10. Take Yourself on a Ship Tour on Embarkation Day

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Some cruise lines offer special ship tours on the first day. It's a good idea to join one of these; you'll get to know the ship and a bit about how it functions, thus allowing you to navigate from pool to cabin to restaurant to theatre, via kids clubs, shopping arcades and other venues with ease during your cruise holiday.A ship tour also presents the perfect opportunity to ask your guide any questions you may have about the ship as you’re touring it.

Related: Cruise Critic's ultimate packing guide

11. Do Your Planning When It Comes to the Weather

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If you've never sailed before, you may have concerns about seasickness (for which there is excellent over-the-counter medication, by the way). Nervous sailors might want to minimise 'sea days' (when the ship sails all day and doesn't stop in port) by flying straight to the sun, so for a Mediterranean cruise, starting in Barcelona, Venice, Athens or Rome, or in the Baltic, picking a voyage that begins in Copenhagen. Or choose a cruise that really hugs the coast, like a voyage through the Norwegian fjords or along the coast of Croatia. Destinations like the Arabian Gulf involve very little sailing, too, as the distances between ports are short.

Worst case, head straight for the ship's medical centre, where an injection of Phenergan (for a fee) can instantly put you out of your misery.

Related: 7 Best Summer Cruises

12. If You’re Not a Fan of Airports, Pick a No-Fly Cruise From a British Port

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Sailing from a British port, including Southampton, London Tilbury (pictured), Dover, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Belfast, has big advantages, not least no flying and an almost unlimited luggage allowance. Cunard, P&O Cruises, Fred. Olsen, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises and Disney Cruise Line are among the lines offering no-fly cruises, ensuring there’s a line for every type of cruiser sailing from British shores.

Popular UK round-trips include the Norwegian fjords, Arctic, Canary Islands, Mediterranean, Baltic Sea and transatlantic voyages. Reverting to our point above, however, consider avoiding no-fly cruises heading south from the UK that will likely involve the notoriously choppy Bay of Biscay.

13. Don’t Be Afraid To Speak to a Member of Crew if You’re Not Entirely Happy About Something

If you get onboard and you're not happy with something, for example, your cabin's location or your table arrangement at dinner (if you are on fixed seating dining), don't suffer in silence. Most things can be fixed. For dining room problems, have a quiet word with the maitre d'. It happens all the time and they're used to dealing with tricky situations, including people who don't get on with their dining companions. For anything else, the crew behind the reception desk are there to help. If there's something missing in your cabin, ask your cabin steward.

Related: Solving Problems on a Cruise Holiday: What to Expect

14. Don’t Forget To Pack Your Preferred Teabags

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Cruise lines have a tendency to stock Lipton's Yellow Label tea bags, which are a long way from strong builder's tea or classy Twinings. There is no shame in taking your own, if you have strong feelings about tea. Either way, don't automatically expect a decent cuppa on a cruise ship; the hot water dispensed at the buffet is never boiling.

Some lines have a kettle in the cabin, Fred. Olsen Cruises, Cunard and P&O Cruises included. Worth knowing about is the afternoon tea served on some ships (Cunard, Marella Cruises and P&O Cruises, for example); often, the quality tea is brought out for this and served in proper teapots.

15. Understand the Minefield of Cruise Line Tipping Policies

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No two cruise lines have the same tipping policy. First, there are cruise lines that do not ask for or expect tips; it's built into the price. These include Marella Cruises, P&O Cruises, Saga Cruises, Azamara, Hapag-Lloyd, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club and Silversea Cruises. Some of these (Azamara for example) allow you to tip extra in cash if you want to. Some of them charge a gratuity, or service charge, or whatever you want to call it, on extra facilities like spa treatments. This is automatically added to your bill but can be removed if you are unhappy with the service. If you use the services of a private butler or get someone to organise, say, a private cocktail party in your suite, it is appropriate to tip.

Related: Tipping on Cruises: Cruise Line Policies Revealed.

(Video) Tips for First Time Cruisers | Planet Cruise Weekly

Other cruise lines add an amount per passenger per day to your account for tips, or 'service', as some of them now call it. This is a fixed amount and will either appear daily on your onboard account (which can usually be checked on the interactive TV in your cabin) or will be added towards the end of the cruise. Others even offer the chance to pre-pay the tips before you sail, which essentially means you're tipping for a service you have not yet received.

If you don't want to pay the service charge, or want to pay less (or more), see the purser. They should adjust the amount (sometimes rather grudgingly) but might put you on the spot by asking what it is you're unhappy with. It's not a good idea to do this on the final day of the voyage when the purser's office is at its busiest.

16. Avoid the Cruise Ship Buffet on Embarkation Day

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Embarkation day can be long. Often, this means that when passengers do get onboard, they hotfoot it straight to the buffet to quell rumbling tummies. On many ships you'll find the main dining room or other dining venue open during the day on embarkation day. You may even find deals available on dining at speciality restaurants on embarkation day. Check your app for opening hours or head to guest services to find out your options for embarkation day dining if you're seeking a little peace and quiet.

17. Cruise Ship Internet Can Be Slow and Expensive, Look for Deals with a Free Wi-Fi Package or Use it in Port

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If you’ve purchased cruise ship Internet, don’t be surprised if your surfing is slow, especially on older ships. While some cruise lines have invested heavily in giving you a land-fast Internet experience, others have not. If you find yourself experiencing slow Internet, look for routers strategically placed throughout your ship, then sit near them. These will usually be on the ceiling, often in hallways or near entrances of big public spaces. You’ll often get a better signal when you are closer to the routers.

If acces to Wi-Fi is important to you, look for a cruise line that’s offering it as part of the cruise fare. Alternatively, wait until you’re in port and pick up free local Wi-Fi somewhere. In Barcelona, for example, a stretch of the city’s golden shoreline offers free Internet while many cafes, bars and restaurants now offer it as long you’re purchasing food and drinks.

18. Join a Roll Call on Cruise Critic

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Cruise Critic's forums are the perfect place for cruisers to meet ahead of their cruise. Sign up for your specific cruise in Cruise Critic Roll Calls and we guarantee you'll make friends with your fellow travellers and learn tips from seasoned cruisers -- and then get to meet them onboard at the Meet & Mingle. We hear stories all the time about lifelong friendships that started on our Roll Call pages.

Updated October 10, 2022

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What are the top 10 cruise questions first time cruisers are shy to ask? ›

Top 10 cruise questions first time cruisers are too shy to ask
  • How much food can I order at the main dining room? ...
  • Can I change tables if I don't like the people sitting with us at dinner? ...
  • Should I pack beach towels for the cruise? ...
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Aug 4, 2020

What is the best length for a first time cruise? ›

What's the ideal cruise length for a first-timer? A week or so is the sweet spot for most first-time cruisers, which will offer three to six ports. Three-day sampler itineraries won't allow you to explore more than one or two destinations, and you can't decompress as thoroughly, either.

How do you plan a cruise for the first time? ›

7 Tips For Planning Your First Cruise
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  5. Don't Be Late for Boarding. ...
  6. Make Special Dining Reservations. ...
  7. Plan Shore Excursions.
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What is the average age of cruisers? ›

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How much extra money should I take on a cruise? ›

As a general rule, plan to have $50 to $100 each day in the local currency. Also, you may want to bring an extra $20 a day for tipping crew members. Make sure to include smaller bills for tips. Fifty to a hundred dollars a day should be enough to cover small purchases, tips and snacks at each port.


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