You booked your 1st cruise and now you are getting ready to go. Wondering what to pack and what to expect onboard the ship for your 1st cruise? We have done a couple of cruises now, usually small ships, but one large ship cruise to Alaska, and here we share our tips for your 1st cruise, including what to pack.
Tips for Your 1st Cruise and What to Expect Onboard
Pack a Carry-on Bag
While it seems obvious in retrospect, it wasn’t to us and we have traveled a lot. It may take a while for your luggage to be delivered to your cabin. On a cruise ship, you don’t take your luggage aboard yourself. Depending on your transfer arrangements, they take your luggage from you either at the airport or at check-in for the cruise and deliver it to your cabin.
With lots of luggage to deliver, it may take a while for yours to arrive, sometimes several hours. If you would like to change from your travel clothes, perhaps go for a swim, get a bite to eat, whatever the case may be, pack what you will need in a carry-on bag.
Plan Your Port Excursions
Sort these before you arrive for the cruise to have the best selection of things to do. Research the ports the boat is visiting. You have a lot of options for excursions. Booking with the cruise line, book yourself, explore independently or arrange something when you arrive. What you won’t have is internet to do any research once you board the boat. So, do this ahead of time.
Many of your port visits are short so make the most of your time.
Internet, Messaging and Telephone
If you are traveling internationally- check with your mobile service provider, your best option may be to change your service to international calls and data for the trip. You can stay in touch with home making phone calls and using social media when you are in port. Most carriers these days have an international option you can use for travel.
Internet on the boat is slow, expensive and sometimes not available.
If you are on a large boat, check if the ship has a message app you can download to your phone- it can be very handy to message your fellow traveling companions so you can find each other.
If there is no app work out how you will find each other or where you will meet. Our ship was 19 stories- you can really lose each other quite easily.
If you are traveling international don’t forget your passport! Even on our cruise to Alaska, you need a passport to visit Canada.
Also check the electrical outlets, you may need an adapter to use the plugs in your cabin. A good universal charger is great for this and you can use it on all your travels. Get one with USB ports and you can charge your phones at the same time.
And see the point above about using your mobile phone internationally.
Time Zone Changes during your Cruise
Your cruise may change time zones on the trip- the cruise line usually does an excellent job of telling you, but don’t forget to change the time on your alarms so you don’t miss your shore excursions or activities. A good old-fashioned wake-up call might be best bet.
If you don’t want to take drugs for the entire journey, buy a pair of Sea Sick Bands. Based on acupressure these work quite well. And no pills required. You can take them off in port. Order them online or buy them in a pharmacy.
You can also check with the pharmacist; a seasick patch can be an option or Dramamine if you need it. Most ships will sell something on board as well.
I use sea sick bands and find they work quite well. I have used these for several years and they work in quite rough weather. I also use them for bus rides and honestly it has changed my travels for the better!
Check the Dress for Dinner
Each ship’s dress code varies for dinner. Some are casual, some are smart casual and some have formal dinner nights. On our cruise of Alaska’s Inside Passage, the days we were at sea all day with no stop in port were formal dress for dinner. And yes, some people go all out and wear black tie and some ae just nicely dressed. Men you will need a shirt with a collar for sure.
If you want to use the spa or salon on board the ship on days at sea book in advance as these are the busiest days.
Drinks on Board
Check the drinks policy for your cruise, some are all inclusive including alcoholic drinks. Some include nothing other than water, tea and coffee in the dining rooms.
Water, soft drinks, coffee and alcohol may be charged based on consumption. You can buy a drinks package but work out first what you are likely to drink to see if this good value for you.
Some ships will let you bring a bottle of alcohol- spirits or wine on board but check with the cruise line. (And remember you can’t take a bottle of wine in a carry-on bag on a plane!)
Cash on Board
Most cruise these days do not need cash. Either the cruise is all inclusive or you charge everything to your room and settle at the end of the cruise.
This makes it convenient while you are on board. The large cruise ships will issue you a key card and this is also your card to charge everything to your room. On large ships, you need your card to get on and off the ship as well.
What to Pack: Tips for Your 1st Cruise
Camera and Other Electronics
If you plan on taking pictures be prepared. Bring an extra memory card and don’t forget the charger for your camera.
If you plan on using your phone, clear off the existing pictures and video so you have plenty of room and bring a phone charger.
If there is a pool or hot tub bring your bathing suit and flip flops (or thongs depending on where you are from 😊)
Being from Australia, we never go anywhere without sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat. And it always amazes us how many people travel without any of the above and proceed to squint and get sunburned.
You will be on a ship and water creates glare making it easy to get sunburned. On a cloudy day, the UV is often very high! Sunglasses protect your eyes and prevent headaches. A good pair is worth it! And if you wear prescription glasses a pair of prescription sunglasses is a great investment.
For excursions bring a pair of comfortable shoes appropriate for whatever you are planning. It might be hiking boots or just a flat heeled pair of comfortable shoes.
Bring layers so you can dress for whatever the weather. Wool clothing layers well, works in cool or warm weather and does not smell making it perfect for when you may need to wear something more than once. Our favorite brand of wool clothing is Icebreaker, a brand of merino wool clothing from New Zealand. They have a huge selection and you’ll look great.
Bring a waterproof jacket in case of rain. Umbrellas don’t work well in crowded or windy places. If you are traveling somewhere it will be cold, bring a warm jacket. Remember it will be cooler on the water, especially in the evenings.
Having checked the dress code for dinner, bring appropriate dress for dinner. And if you plan on exercising don’t forget appropriate clothes and shoes. Many large ships have a laundry on board and you can do a load of washing if required.
Many ships have all in one shampoo/conditioner in the shower. If you want something else, bring your own.
So here is a quick packing checklist for your 1st Cruise:
- Extra Camera card
- Battery charger for your camera
- Charger for your cell phone
- Adapter Plug
- Comfortable shoes
- Warm coat and gloves (if applicable)
- Waterproof Jacket
- Appropriate clothing for dinner
- Layers of clothing- wool is great for travel
- Sea Sick Bands or other for motion sickness
Enjoy your 1st cruise! If you have any other tips for those on a 1st cruise (or questions) leave a comment below (no URL is required.)
If you enjoyed this post you can find other travel tips here on Compass & Fork. For more details of our cruises you might enjoy these posts: