Celebrity Solstice CaribbeanI have a client that is just leaving for his first cruise and on my recent cruise, we were seated with a couple of their first cruise. There was a handful of questions that they asked that I take for granted that people know; as such, I felt it was important to draft this article for new and less experienced cruisers.

First tip- a cruise vessel is a “SHIP” not a “boat”.

What’s included in your cruise fare? This varies by cruise line, but for most of the lines:  your accommodations, twice daily room cleaning, meals, including all day dining options & room service (most cruise lines now offer specialty dining at an additional charge), coffee/tea, and daily & nightly entertainment. Additional charges exist on most cruises for gratuties, alcohol, soda pop, specialty coffee, gambling/bingo, and shore excursions.  As for the meals. The meals in the main dining room (MDR) are included in your fare. The meal in the MDR will include, if you chose, an appetizer, soup/salad course, entrée, and dessert. You can order as many appetizers and entrées as your heart desires, all included. Sometimes I will ask for an entrée to be an appetizer. This rule applies at lunch as well. Most lines offer breakfast and lunch in the MDR when the ship is not in port. It is a nice way to enjoy a leisurely meal without the crowds of the buffet. You can check the time for dining in each venue by looking at your ship’s daily activity guide.

* Tip: If you plan to get room service, bring a pile of dollar bills. You will want to give a small tip to the attendent that brings your room service to your cabin. We save up a pile of $1 bills before the cruise, pack them in a zip lock in our carry-on to have for the whole cruise.

The ship’s daily activity guide is published each day of your cruise. While you are at dinner each evening your cabin steward will leave the guide on your bed.During that evening visit, the cabin steward will swap out dirty towels, and do a turn down service on your cabin (close blinds, adjust the bedding for bedtime, etc.) But, back to ship’s guide. Each line calls it something different, but it has a listing of all the activities being offered the next day, information about what times places are open (the stores, restaurants, etc.), the show times in the evening, etc. It is essentially a detailed guide of what is happening on the ship the next day. If you are out and about on the ship and leave yours in the cabin, you can also pick them up at the guest services desk.

All mass market cruise lines (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity, Disney, Norwegian) have a kids club. They will vary by ship. But all will have something to offer your kids, including private and group babysitting options from around 9 am until late at night. They also provide age-specific, organized programs run by trained professionals. Although there are slight variations by cruise line, age categories for organized programs are generally geared to 3-6, 7-9, 10-12, and 13-17 year olds. There is no charge for most of the group kid’s club activities.

Cruise lines work on a cashless system- meaning your key card is used for any additional purchases on board.  This excludes the casino however. Most lines charge a fee for using your key card to advance cash for gambling. Bring cash to gamble, or be prepared to pay a small fee.

Some other questions we usually get:

Attire?  There will be 2 formal nights on most 7 night cruises- cocktail dresses, and suits. Some men where tuxes. The other nights you can wear a dress shirt or polo shirt depending on the dress code of the night- the line will tell you that.

Do they kick you out at 7 am at the end of the cruise? Yes, they kick you out pretty early. You typically have to be out of the room by 8 or 8:30 am. I’ve found that you can usually tip your cabin steward extra to stay in the room longer. The reason for the early departure is they turn the rooms over to get the cabin ready for the next passengers. Most ships will allow reboarding around 11 or 11:30 a.m.

What does it mean to tender? If your ship cannot “dock” in port, you will have to tender. This means you will take a little boat from your ship to the port. The tender trip is usually between 10 minutes to 30 minutes, depending on the port. It does not mean you should avoid a tender port- sometimes the port is either full to docked ships, or is on a reef, so it’s too shallow, or harmful to the reef to dock.

What tips do readers have for first time cruisers?  First timers- what other questions do you have?

Happy Travels!

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