scorecardI've worked on cruise ships for over 7 years. Here are 10 things first-time passengers should know.
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I've worked on cruise ships for over 7 years. Here are 10 things first-time passengers should know.

Erica DePascale   

I've worked on cruise ships for over 7 years. Here are 10 things first-time passengers should know.
LifeThelife4 min read
  • I've worked on eight ships and have answered my fair share of questions from first-time cruisers.
  • Do your research ahead of time to see what amenities are actually included with your base fare.

After working on cruise ships for over seven years, I've gathered plenty of tips and tricks to help guests make the most of their travels.

Cruising may be especially intimidating for new passengers, so here's what first-timers should know ahead of their vacation.

Look up what is and isn't included in your base fare

There is a common misconception that cruises are all-inclusive, but make sure you research what dining, beverage, and entertainment options are free on your ship.

On the other hand, I've also found that many passengers assume a lot of things are an extra cost when they're actually included, like eating in the main dining room.

Your room key is actually your lifeline

If you ask experienced cruisers what they have on them at all times, most will likely say their sailing card.

This multipurpose card acts as your ID, room key, credit card, and ticket on and off the ship. It's best to buy a lanyard or some sort of pouch to make it easier to keep track of.

Expect to participate in a safety drill on the first day

It's maritime law to participate in a muster drill, similar to how airlines conduct safety briefings before takeoff.

Before they depart the port, ships must require passengers to visit their muster station (the place to go in the event of an emergency) and watch a safety demonstration.

The COVID-19 pandemic has actually changed how many of these drills are done to be more digital and efficient, as well as less crowded.

There may be a charge for not returning your pool towels

On most lines, you scan your sailing card to check out pool towels. But if they aren't returned by the end of the cruise, you typically have to pay a fee.

A lot of guests like to leave their used towels on a pool chair and forget about them. So to avoid this charge, drop them off or swap them out for new, dry ones at the towel stations around the ship.

Tips are automatically charged to your onboard account

Automatic gratuities are added to your passenger account on most lines to be divvied up between your food, beverage, and housekeeping crew.

However, most people don't realize you can adjust this by visiting the guest-services desk. You can change the amount or remove the gratuity charge altogether if you'd prefer to tip your crew individually.

Just remember the staff works hard to make your time on board enjoyable and that this is their livelihood.

There are more entertainment options than you may think

I've found that many first-time cruisers have no clue there's an entire entertainment program that runs day and night, organized by the cruise director and their staff.

There's always something for everyone —theme nights, trivia, karaoke, game shows, dancing, art classes, and much more.

The daily cruise planner is a helpful resource

Every evening, you'll receive a printed cruise planner with the itinerary for the following day, as well as other useful information like deals, menus, port times, and the weather.

This is an amazing tool to help navigate day-to-day activities. Plus many cruise lines even have a digital version on their apps, too.

Plan what you're going to wear ahead of time

One of the most common questions first-time cruisers ask is what they should pack.

There are so many things to consider, like the weather where you're traveling, dinner dress codes, and themed nights. But most of this information can be found on the cruise line's website.

Also, many guests assume that the stated dress codes are mandatory but they're typically optional.

Shore excursions can help first-timers get to know the ports

If it's your first time cruising to new ports, one of the best ways to get to know the city is through the ship's sponsored shore excursions. They're great for getting a lay of the land, having fun, and gaining knowledge about the destination.

There are a lot of benefits to booking through the cruise, but the most important is the guarantee that the ship won't leave you behind if your tour runs late. The same cannot be promised for excursions you book independent of the cruise line.

There's food everywhere — and, in the main dining room, you can typically order as much as you want

From the buffets to the main dining room, there are plenty of spots to grab grub on board.

Many first-time cruisers are shocked that, in the main dining room, they can typically order as much food as they want for no extra fee. You can get four appetizers, three main courses, and as many desserts as you want. I once watched a guest eat 10 lobster tails.

Don't be afraid to try everything that looks great.

Click to read more of my advice on cruising and stories from on board the ship.