I recently went on a cruise with my three children, niece and parents to the Bahamas. It was so memorable and the views were nothing short of breathtaking! No one in the group had been on a cruise before and I learned so much in the process that I wanted to help others who might be first time cruisers as well and write A First Timers Guide to Taking a Cruise.
A First Timers Guide to Taking a Cruise
My parents had always wanted to go on one, but they aren’t very well-traveled, since I am, I was extended an invite! Happily accepting, my mom and I began the planning process. We did end up booking the cruise via AAA Travel agent, locally, however it was still up to us to figure out when/where/how long, etc. Here’s the steps that helped us narrow things down:
- Choosing the time of year to go: My Dad is a farmer, so that narrowed us down to cruising right after planting season. Spring, early summer or winter wouldn’t have worked for him to take vacation(a little insight about Farmers-THEY DON’T EVER TAKE VACATION)!!! So the fact that he had agreed to go, was a miracle! If your job works around weather or only allows you to take vacation at a certain time of year, you can narrow this down fairly easy. If you’re not limited, then decide, do you want to go somewhere where its warm or cold(such as Alaska)?
- Narrow down what your vacation budget is– Throughout the year, prices change on the cruise lines. Most of the time there are discounts offered in one way or another. Driving can sometimes be cheaper than flying if you don’t live close to a port where the ship leaves from. In our case, Missouri is nowhere near any port and I was able to find airlines tickets via Southwest Airlines cheaper than what it would have taken to drive a Suburban(taking in effect 7 people) to Port Canaveral, via Orlando International Airport. Taking in consideration the cost of hotel, gas, food and car seats for my 3 children and what to do with those car seats once we are on the cruise, re-renting a suburban for the trip home, etc. If you’re having trouble figuring out what time of year to go, this step can help you. Having a budget in mind will further HELP YOU DETERMINE THE LENGTH OF CRUISE you want to take. Same thing as I mentioned before, you can save a lot on an inside state room vs. an ocean view with a balcony!
- What destination do you want to go to- this is one of the hardest decisions! If you’re wanting to take a 2 week or more cruise, then you have plenty of options besides Alaska, Caribbean or Mexico. I personally would love to cruise the Mediterranean since I’ve been to the Caribbean and Mexico a few times. That’s also something else that can help you narrow things down- if you’ve been to a certain area already, maybe you want to see something new!
- What Cruise line to go on- If you know the above info, this further helps you to figure this out. Certain cruise lines only leave from certain ports, only have certain length of cruises available at certain times of year. For us, we had a few options for cruising to the Bahamas(Celebrity, Princess, Carnival, Royal Caribbean or Disney) Disney and Celebrity were significantly more expensive, and I had done a lot of research comparing Carnival to Royal Caribbean, and RC seemed to have a better track record, reviews, etc. I have had tons of friends go on a Disney cruise and there’s not been one person disappointed, however. They are supposed to be amazing!! Expensive, but amazing!!! Same thing with Celebrity Cruise lines, great reviews, great cabins, food, entertainment, etc. but significantly more expensive than RC.
- What are you looking for in a cruise– Is it the nicest/largest room, the best entertainment, or specific activities when the ship docks at a destination, or it might be certain activities on the boat! It really is a lot of research and it became another job for me when researching and comparing everything! Are you looking for a girls only trip, couples trip, or specific theme? Say you’re a family with young children, but you can’t afford a Disney cruise- what cruise ships are best to take with children? Also decide if you would like a ocean view with balcony or if you dont care about that, you can save a ton of money with an inside facing room!
- If all of these fail you and you are still struggling, visit a Travel Agent. They don’t charge anything on your end to book through them and most likely they have been on a cruise, themselves and can help you narrow things down. I swear, we sent numerous emails and tons of phone calls to ours at AAA with so many questions!!! One key thing that was nice to have, was Insurance for the trip-if for some reason we couldn’t go on the trip, we could cancel and wouldn’t be out all of our money. So consider taking the insurance! Especially if its winter and a flight is cancelled due to bad weather!
What to expect when you get ready for your cruise
I was shocked at how much time and effort went into the planning once we figured out where/when/which Cruise line to go on! We finally decided on a 4 night cruise via Royal Caribbean, leaving through Port Canaveral and cruising through the Bahamas with 2 stops. 1 day at Nassau, and 1 day at Royal Caribbean private island; CocoCay. Since there were 7 of us travelling, we did 2 balcony rooms and 1 inside room(you can save a significant amount of money by choosing an inside room). You arent in your room much, other than sleeping or cleaning up!
Since flying into Orlando was going to be cheaper than flying into Miami or Charleston, we would fly into MCO(Orlando International Airport), and need to get to Port Canaveral to board the cruise. This is where doing your research comes in handy. Even if you do book your cruise via a travel agent, booking your airfare, shuttles and excursions aren’t necessarily the cheapest through them! I booked our own flights via www.southwest.com, since they were the cheapest. A round trip shuttle from Orlando airport to Port Canaveral and back would have been $70 per person. I was able to find a reliable shuttle service for less than half of that, round trip(Cocoa Beach Shuttle). I called them a few days before we were leaving, just to verify everything, printed off necessarily documents, phone numbers and confirmation number. They were at the airport right on time, ready to pick us up and take us to Port Canaveral. They also were waiting for us at the Port on our return trip to drop us off at Disney Springs in Orlando, since our flight wasnt leaving until several hours later, we needed to kill some time. Side Note: Disney Springs Guest Services can store your luggage for you FOR FREE, while you walk around and shop(this was AWESOME)
***All cruises don’t come equal, meaning our drinks, spa treatments, specialty restaurants, meet with a trainer in the workout facility and off shore excursions were not included. If we wanted any alcohol, even a glass of wine with our dinner, it was extra. Any soda, or specialty coffee(such as Starbucks) was extra! This was quite a shock to find out. Once we docked at Nassau, it was up to us what we wanted to do for the day. Of course you have the option to stay on the ship while you are docked(but who really wants to do that)? Also, don’t forget to RETURN YOUR BEACH TOWEL to the towel kiosk on the ship or you’ll be charged per town that isn’t returned!!! One other thing that shocked us was you are charged a set gratuity per meal, per person, per day. Yes, you read that right! And before you ask, no, kids are not discounted for their gratuity. There’s no way around it!
Off Shore Excursions
Typically, all of your off shore excursions are not included in the price of your cruise, this was a shock to us!!! Again, since I had done my research ahead of time, I found that it was cheaper to book an excursion outside of Royal Caribbean. We decided to visit Atlantis Resort while we were there, since we had kids and we were there all day. I noticed the price of Atlantis went up a week before we left via the Royal Caribbean app(on my phone) Most cruiselines have their own app that you can book activities, view a map of the ship, itinerary each day, etc. and not need WIFI for. It will work once you board the ship to scroll through the app, all you need to do is login with your confirmation # and go through the needed steps. I booked our tickets to Atlantis Resort and Aquaventure at Atlantis via www.resortforaday.com If you book via this site, make sure and print off your confirmation sheet and bring this with you(having a picture of the email on your phone is not enough) Be prepared for the long line and wait once at the ticket window(I read horror stories of this ahead of time and so it was no surprise).
So wherever you are cruising to, you can save some money by researching online ahead of time and quite possibly can find your excursions at a cheaper cost(just be sure they’re legit and come with good reviews). P.S. I recommend always using your credit card when you travel, so you have fraud protection of any kind as well. Another tip is to check with your credit card to see if there is a foreign transaction fee when you are travelling abroad(this may make you want to look into another card co.). ***Also-its best to alert your credit card company and personal bank(if you’ll be using your debit card) when you are travelling, so they don’t freeze your account and think its suspicious activity on your card(s).
To get on and off the ship, as well as through the airport, take your passport. My niece, however made sure(since it was a closed loop cruise) that she could use her driver’s license and Birth Certificate(not a black and white copy, an authentic notarized one). A closed loop cruise means you get on and off at the beginning and end, at the same port. We got on at Port Canaveral and the cruise ended at Port Canaveral. Each day that we docked (which was 2 days) we needed our SeaPass card(aka room key) and our Passport. The SeaPass card can act as a charge card to your room when you’re on the ship(its handy to wear it on a lanyard like this one). Once off the cruise, take a credit card for food purchases, souvenirs, etc. There were lockers available to rent while at Nassau, however one of my parents were with our beach bag at all times. My Dad is Type 1 Diabetic and put his insulin, blood meter in a sealed baggies, inside a belt bag(since it was the utmost importance to keep near him at all times). It’s always best to have a printed copy of any online tickets or reservations, & passport, to travel with you just in case someone can’t find you in their system or your purchase!
Wifi and Using our Phone
It was important for at least one of us to have wifi to communicate with family, back home, while we were cruising. Many cruise lines will have their own wifi packages per day or the week that you can purchase. I believe mine was around $19 per day. We were able to face time or use any app via wifi to video call if we needed. I was also able to post to my social media while cruising.
The big concern since none of us had been on a cruise before was WHETHER OR NOT WE WOULD GET MOTION SICK. So we stocked up on a ton of “non drowsy” motion sick pills before the cruise, and much to my surprise, I only needed it minimally. I recommend it 30 minutes before you board your first day, and possibly the next day. I only noticed it the first day, and mostly on the upper 2 decks. I did see several people with the patch behind their ear(but had heard that can cause vision problems while it’s on). My 3 young children felt completely fine the entire time and didn’t need anything, so that was a BONUS!!
My 3 children were staying in the room with me(which, I think the capacity was only supposed to fit up to 3 people in the stateroom) but we made it work. My biggest advice is to pack wisely and only pack things you’ll be using, because there is MINIMAL SPACE for luggage. For a 5 day cruise, I packed a large checked back, a medium size checked bag, and a backpack for all of us. When travelling with our children, I purchased these packing cubes, which are a complete game changer for trips. I can’t recommend them enough!!! Each child’s clothing pieces, hair accessories, and bathroom toiletries stay organized and there’s no rummaging through 1 bag to find an item! I am linking some items that I found very helpful on the cruise to bring, as well as( Extension cord(I almost always pack one when traveling), Disinfectant wipes(for the plane and Room/toilet, etc), Hand Sanitizer, Beach tote, PLENTY OF SUNSCREEN(linked some great ones), Swim Cover up, sunglasses cord(you wont want to lose your expensive glasses on a water slide, etc. and another thing I always like to bring when I travel is a Tide Pen & a sealed plastic small container or laundry detergent(in case you need to wash something). Below are some things I used on the cruise and recommend:
-Things to bring on a cruise-
Download my Packing Checklist!!!
Pin this Checklist