First Time Cruiser? Start Here!

I’ve posted a lot about cruising because my husband loves to cruise and we’ve been on an embarrassing number of them at this point.  My first ever cruise was with a friend when I turned eighteen and I had no clue about cruising let alone tipping, excursions, how to pack properly etc. I was so young and inexperienced back then!

My second cruise was to Bermuda when my son was fifteen months old and my husband fell in love with the idea of cruises. He loved getting away to different places, packing and unpacking once, eating the mood strikes, having a delicious multi-course dinner, not having to drive anywhere and getting away from everything.

As the years have passed, I have learned more about photography and now all of my excursions are based on where I can take the best photos! Plus I appreciate not having to cook or clean for an entire week.


Since our first trip, we have visited many, many places usually on Royal Caribbean and occasionally Celebrity. I’m curious about other lines but since we’ve always had good luck on these, we haven’t strayed.

Here are a few of my tips and thoughts on cruising, especially for first-time cruisers.

1.We always fly in one day early to give us a cushion in case flights are delayed or canceled or for unforeseen things happening like the time there was a wildfire in Southern California and the cruise left port leaving guests stranded. Also, consider travel insurance!

2. The first step is getting your suitcases on board, there will be porters to help you and you will get your luggage to your room by midnight. My advice is to pack a travel bag with your necessities or anything you don’t want to part with like electronics, cameras, money, jewelry, a change of clothes or bathing suit.

3. Once you get on board, you can explore or grab some food since the buffet will be open and food will be out. It never ceases to amaze me how everyone grabs a cocktail and heads to the pool area where you can expect a steel drum band to be playing (unless you go to Alaska).

4. If you are a first-time cruiser, I highly recommend researching your ports of call before leaving home and determining what excursions are available.

5. Take into consideration the length of time it takes to get from where the cruise docks to where you want to go. For example, I was not prepared for a long bus ride to get to the famously beautiful Butchart Gardens and was bus sick from the long ride.

Other times I decided not to do an excursion because the transportation to get to where we wanted to go was so long. On the other hand, how many times will you get to visit places like Costa Rica, Belize, Jamaica? A forty minute bus ride might not be so bad if there’s something you really want to see. I cannot stress it enough to do your research and look at the details!

6. We almost always book excursions through the cruise ship, this way we are guaranteed to be back on the ship in time. Once we were on a cruise and a few people were so late back to the ship that they were running down the gangway yelling and screaming for the ship to wait!


7. Other things to consider before leaving home are drink packages, wifi, wine/bar packages. The cost of drinks at the bar is very high! Cocktails are quite expensive so count on spending a lot if you plan on being a frequent visitor to the bar. Research the various packages available online before you get on board. I buy a bottle or two of wine at the beginning of the trip and have a glass each night with my dinner (Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc!).

8. Don’t forget to pack: an umbrella or rain poncho for inclement weather; most excursions happen whether it’s sunny or pouring. We got caught in a downpour in Alaska during an excursion to a forest and I was freezing and drenched! I always bring hats and an umbrella especially to Alaska!

9. Bring non-drowsy Dramamine and take one tablet daily to keep motion sickness away.

10. Have a plastic ziplock bag with ibuprofen, activated charcoal tablets (good for stomach aches and indigestion), prescriptions, band aids, anything else health/medicine related.

11. If you like taking photos like I do (find my travel, book, beauty, nature photos on Instagram at CINDYBOKMA), consider bringing extra batteries and chargers.



12. Bring your own pillow and blanket if you are sensitive to pillows! It’s rare that my pillow is fluffy enough for me and I always get cold at night and need a light blanket to stay warm. Bringing these comforts from home is much easier if you don’t have to fly and pack extra bags.

13. You need fewer clothes than you think you will. I am a chronic over packer so I speak from experience! There’s a lot of downtime on a cruise, especially during sea days.
If you want to utilize the fitness center, you will need workout clothes and sneakers which can be ideal for hanging around during a sea day. Comfort is key! If you are anything like me and like to be alone in your cabin, reading, and napping, sweatpants or yoga pants are perfect. Don’t forget a sweatshirt because nights on board can be chilly.

14. I like sticking with a neutral clothing palette (black and gray), light dresses for the Caribbean, layers for colder climates. Jeans, black jeans, or pants along with a few different tops are ideal along with dresses for evening dinners where people tend to dress up in the dining room. TOMS shoes and flip flops are light and pack easily. My favorite travel shoes are Birkenstocks since they offer A+ support. Also, bring socks and sneakers for hiking/working out/walking on board.

15. I have a good backpack (and yes I look like a typical tourist!) and/or tote bag so I can bring my camera, wallet, snacks, and sunscreen with me everywhere.

16. I bring my own blow dryer though there is typically one in the cabin- I just prefer my own.

17. We bring additional power strips and chargers for our phones.  Speaking of technology, check your international data plan so you don’t accumulate cell phone costs!

18. Have a gluten or food allergy? See the head waiter in the dining room on the first night so they can make a note of your allergy.


I have found it very difficult to eat at the buffet where not much is gluten free and cross contamination is happening. Often you don’t know what ingredients are in the foods available which can get tricky. This is a constant source of frustration for me and I try to flag down a manager to figure out what’s in sauces and gravies but by the time I get answers, my family is done eating. Most of the time I stick to a salad with olive oil.

Desserts very hard to find, most of what is available are pudding, jello, and ice cream. I hope the cruise lines make note of this issue because I have heard others express their disappointment over the lack of gluten-free desserts.

Brown rice flour, tapioca, gluten-free flour blends and coconut flour can all be used in gluten-free baking.
I hope cruise lines can figure something out because aside from the dining room which isn’t open all of the time, it’s tricky to eat. There have been many times when I can’t find anything aside from salad.  I pack my own snacks and I advise that you do the same.

And last, don’t forget the standard travel items such as sunscreen, power strips, chargers, empty water bottles to refill so you don’t have to pay $5 for a small bottle during an excursion. Bring wet wipes, makeup remover, Clorox wipes (to wipe down phone, remote control, blow dryer etc), safety pins, bobby pins, band-aids, motion sickness pills, an umbrella, empty plastic bags for dirty laundry, hand sanitizer, snacks, gum, and use a pill counter for small items like earrings.

I load lots of books onto my Kindle/ipad so I’m not lugging hardcover books with me. Because I love to read, I always check out the ship’s library as soon as I can! You are welcome to check out books during your stay.

On Pinterest, I have a board dedicated to packing and travel, you can find that here. What have I forgotten? Do you have any tips to add? Let me know!



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