So, you’re about to set off on your first proper adventure at sea? Exciting! Cruising can seem like a strange and foreign world, and many first-time cruisers will be wondering all sorts of things: how they’ll spend all that time on board/whether they’ll get bored/lost//fat/feel sick/spend loads of money/whatever. Rest assured that cruise ships today are better equipped than ever before, with exciting activities, delicious food and top notch tipples right at your fingertips. In order to give you more of an insight into what you can expect from your time at sea, here’s my slightly tongue in cheek rundown of what to expect on your first cruise, particularly your first 48 hours at sea.
So you’ve just stepped on board. I’ll bet you anything you’re really impressed by the stylish decor and design – I always am. Pleased with your surroundings? Good. It’s time to get settled in.
Grab a cocktail
Let’s get the important stuff done, shall we? As a family (what? we’re all adults!) our first port of call – see what I did there? – is one of the bars. Chances are you’ll meet a couple of fellow cruisers there and there’s no better way to start relaxing than with a chat and a cocktail.
Find your bearings
Remember: port has four letters, the same as left and, well starboard is the other one, so it’s right. And aft is short for after, as in it’s after the rest of the ship, so it’s at the back (I know, tenuous, but it’s the only way I can remember).
Finding your way around comes naturally after a while at sea, but it’s much better to get lost early on when you’ve not got a spa appointment to get to or dinner reservations to keep. Take note of something that’s near the lifts or stairway that go up nearest your room, and work out if you’re roughly at the front (forward), midship or the back (aft).
So after your cocktail, have a wander: take note of where the pool is, poke your nose into the restaurants that you fancy trying, check out the kids clubs (and register, if you have children) and look out for the spa and the gym.
A bite to eat
The restaurants get crowded early on embarkation day so ask a friendly member of staff if there are any quieter restaurants open (everyone tends to head to the buffet restaurant). If you have your room key, you might even want to head there and crack open a glass of vino with your loved ones on the balcony. Check the cruise line’s policy on what you can bring on board first to ensure smooth sailing from day one (for example Disney Cruise Line allow guests ages 21 and over to bring a maximum of two bottles or wine or champagne, or 6 beers on board at each port of call (must be packed in carry on luggage and not in checked bags).
Sort the financial stuff
Once you’re suitably wined and dined, it’s time for some tactical moves to make the rest of your journey run as smoothly as possible. You should already have registered a credit card so you can add expenses to your account. If you haven’t already got a free or discounted drinks package, then check out what’s available on board – there will be staff posted at various places on board, or check with the customer service desk or a member of bar staff. Get one early to ensure that you save as much as possible. Even if you don’t get a drinks package for yourselves, check out the soft drinks packages for the kids as they tend to guzzle quite a lot and it can be an expensive business (although lots of ships have free soft drink stations on deck, you’ve still got to buy drinks in the bars and with dinner).
Some lines also have fee-extra sun decks, with loungers and parasols that can be reserved by cruisers. Check the weather and book on the day with the most sun, that way you’re the one who’s laughing while enjoying the unspoiled luxury of a warm summer’s day.
Wherever you are on the ship, make sure you head up on deck to experience sailing away. It always gives me goosebumps (especially if you spot people waving on the shore!). Lots of cruise lines, like Carnival and Disney Cruise Line have amazing sailing away parties with music and dancing too.
So you’ve got over your initial disorientation, settled in and unpacked your things, and woken up for the first time in your stateroom, either at sea or – lucky you – at your first beautiful destination. It’s time to get this holiday started!
If you stayed up late celebrating your first night on board, it’s probably a good idea to indulge in a hearty breakfast after the night before. Head up to the buffet for the easy way to a full English (or, y’know, pastries, yogurt, coffee, whatever) or if you fancy table service, check the cruise information in your cabin for details of other restaurants serving breakfast.
Time for a dip
Remember the swimming pool you took note of yesterday? Now’s your chance to show off and lead your party there! If you’re lucky, not too many people will have had the same idea. Now you’re properly on holiday, your only decisions will be whether you should swim a few lengths or have some chill out time in the whirlpool.
I know everyone does it, but I think it’s really bad form to bag a bunch of sunbeds by covering them in books and bags, and then disappear (many cruise lines get staff to remove and store items if sunbeds aren’t used within, say, half an hour). So find your sunbeds (or cabana, if you’re lucky) when you actually want to use them and then… chillax.
Visit the spa
If you’re near the spa at any time, pop in and ask for any special deals available. You’ll find that there are often really good deals on sea days when lots of people are on shore, or towards the end of the cruise. If you have a morning excursion, an afternoon spa visit on a sea day can save you quite a lot of money (or just take the opportunity to enjoy the peace and quiet by the pool or visit the more popular activities on deck while it’s quiet).
Talking of excursions, if you’re not fussy, it sometimes pays to wait until you’re on board as there’ll be special deals available on trips that aren’t fully booked – or if you fancy going it alone, you’ll find loads of port, tourist and shopping information on board (some cruise lines even have port seminars the day before), so you can plan your time on shore.
Catch a show
To draw these first heavenly 48 hours to a close, it’s time for some good old-fashioned entertainment. Cruises always put together an extravagant programme of shows, live music and theatre for their guests, many of which, like Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line are really high quality Broadway-like extravaganzas. And, OMG, a case in point being that for the first time in forever (sorry), Frozen will be gracing the stage on the Disney Wonder on cruises starting from 10th November 2016. ‘Frozen, A Musical Spectacular’ will be an absolute must-see, with Disney’s classical tale telling mixed with state of the art technology. I can’t wait. These shows usually don’t start until night two, so choose your favourites, find out if you have to book (if not, get into the theatre with your drink nice and early to get a good seat), sit back and prepare to be entertained.
And now you’re a seasoned cruiser…
You’ve found your way around, planned your shore visits, and checked out the entertainment. Now it’s time to immerse yourself in your holiday. Enjoy!