Many first-time cruisers experience some anxiety! I remember that feeling very well! I remember asking myself: "What should I expect? What is expected of me? Where do I go? How do I keep all of this paperwork straight?"
Well, trust me, you can relax! It looks so much more difficult than it really is! I am going to take you through the steps of your first full day on the ship! There really is a routine that is followed on every cruise, and if you are aware of the routine, you are going to look like a pro!
Once your cruise is booked, all of your documents will arrive in a rather thick packet in the mail. Don't panic. It looks much worse than it is! Please do read everything thoroughly, but a once over on most documents will be all that is necessary. There is a lot of detail in those documents concerning legal obligations of both yourself and the cruise line regarding issues like lost luggage, illness while on the ship, cruise cancellation-all things that are very unlikely to happen. But, "just in case" all t's must be crossed and i's must be dotted.
As you approach the cruise terminal on the day of the cruise, you can expect to see throngs of very excited people handing their luggage to porters. You will receive your luggage tags in the packet of documents before you arrive at the cruise terminal. Go ahead and have those filled out completely and attached to your bags, so you can just hand your luggage to the porters and be done with it.
Just as you did at the airport, these porters will take your baggage, place it into bins, and the bins will then be loaded onto the ship. Your baggage will be delivered by the porters safely to your room later on that afternoon. More than likely, it will be waiting outside your door by the time you get there.
The next step is to enter the terminal building and get in line to go through the embarkation process. You'll walk through an x-ray machine and metal detector, just as you did at the airport. Once you've cleared the metal detector, you're ready to proceed to the check-in desk to process your documentation.
Remember, you received the documents ahead of time, so have them completely filled out, and all you will need to do is hand them to the staff person, along with your passport and credit card. The credit card number is taken to create your "shipboard charge card". This card will also serve as your ID, your mechanism for onboard purchases, and on many cruise lines, it will serve as the key to your cabin.
If you have arrived early, which I highly advise, they may not yet be boarding the ship. In that case, you will be given a number or letter, and asked to wait in the Embarkation Lounge until your number or letter is called. If you arrive after boarding has begun, you will just follow the signs to the gangway.
Once onboard you will be greeted by cruise line personnel. Some cruise lines provide you with a map of the ship and provide verbal directions to your room. Others will have attendants available to escort you to your room.
Unless you have booked a suite with a full balcony, most cabins will remind you of very small hotel rooms. Even though they are small, you will more than likely find that these accommodations are quite comfortable, and quite complete.
If your luggage has arrived, and you choose to unpack just a bit, your steward will probably stop by and introduce him/her self. The stewards are there to help you at any time with anything you need related to your cabin. Get to know him/her.
Now, time for the fun! This is a ritual for me, and something I always look forward to! It's time to take the tour!
Unless you were running behind, you will still have some time before the ship leaves port. Grab the ship's newsletter, which can be generally located on your bed. If not, elsewhere in your cabin. You will receive one of these each day. It is packed with all of the events and activities for that particular day, so you can make educated decisions on how to spend your time!
There will also now be a dining assignment. Locate that either on your "shipboard charge card" or on a simple card in your room. Take the newsletter, note your dining assignment, grab your "shipboard charge card" and start scoping out the many decks, dining rooms, casinos, pools, etc. to which the newsletter makes reference! You are in for a treat!
The dining rooms will not be open until dinner, so if you would like to grab a snack and a drink while you tour, check out the buffet on the Lido Deck or there will certainly be a pizzeria providing a late lunch. Drinks will need to be purchased using your "shipboard charge card".
Now that you are riding high with excitement, the horn will sound for the mandatory lifeboat drill! Oh well, I'm all for safety! Listen to the announcement closely. They will indicate where you need to be for the drill, and then will proceed to instruct you on the proper use of your life vest. Simple and quite fun as you watch everyone standing around in vests nearly covering their entire heads!
You will take the life vest back to your cabin for safekeeping. Don't panic if your luggage still has not arrived. There have been several occasions in which my luggage was not placed outside my door until after dinner. It will eventually get there!
Now it's time for the sail away! I can still remember my first sail away as if it were just yesterday. Although there are no streamers and confetti as I had pictured from my days of watching "The Love Boat", there is still a very special atmosphere as the ship pulls away from the pier! Enjoy-you have just created a very nice memory!
Now it is time for your first full dinner on the ship. You will always have numerous options for dinner, but I generally choose the dining room. They have fabulous selections of food, and remember that if you don't like what you have, send it back and order something else. Don't hesitate. The Chefs will not be offended. They would rather remedy your dissatisfaction on the spot.
Many of today's cruise lines including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Princess are now offering alternatives to having dinner in the dining room. For example, Norwegian Cruise Lines now has the Bistro on all of their ships. This is a separate a la carte restaurant open between 6:30 and 11:00 pm where you can go to dinner anytime you would like.
Following dinner, you will find a number of activities from which to choose! Showrooms with grand entertainment, lounges with cabaret acts, piano bars, discos, and casinos, just to name a few. If relaxation is why you are on this cruise to begin with, then just take a stroll on the promenade deck. The combination of waves crashing, stars glistening, and the moon shining, are sure to send you into a state of utter bliss in no time!
After your evening of fun, no matter how you have chosen to spend it, there's always another opportunity to eat AGAIN! There are usually numerous options, but I can tell you from personal experience, the midnight buffet is always a winner!
When it comes to tipping onboard the ship, it is generally suggested that you tip $2.50-$3.00 per day to your cabin steward and waiter, and $1.50-$2.00 per day to your busboy. If you use the services of the wine steward or ask the maitre'd to assist in planning a special event while onboard, it is appropriate to tip them whatever amount you deem appropriate.
With the exception of the very upscale ships, the attire while onboard will be quite casual. Feel free to bring that tux or new gown for the "formal" nights, but a dark suit and tie for the men and a "dressy" Sunday dress or pant suit are entirely appropriate for the Captain's Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party and Farewell Dinner. On other evenings, I would suggest, a sport shirt and casual dress or pants outfit, but no shorts.
Years ago, before my first cruise, I heard stories from friends of unpleasant evenings spent in the cabin with motion sickness. I can gladly say that of all the times I have cruised, I have never experienced motion sickness, and I doubt that you will either! Ships today are so well stabilized that most of the time you won't even notice that you are moving!
If you are concerned, take along some Dramamine or Bonine. But, as with any medication, familiarize yourself with the side effects listed on the back label. Another simple and effective remedy is to use "sea bands". These are little bracelets that feature a "nub" that is positioned to strike a pressure point on the underside of your wrist. There are no side effects, as they are drug free. They are inexpensive and can be found in most pharmacies. And, if you do have a problem onboard, all ships have a doctor and a nurse aboard to assist.
In case of an emergency at home, leave the name of the ship you sailing on with your family. You can be reached through the High Seas Operator while the ship is at sea. You will also be able to make emergency calls through the radio room for a charge, you can call directly from your room for a hefty charge, and you can call direct from the ports.
Lastly, if you decide to utilize the cruise line's airfare program, be sure to check your cruise documents for your transportation voucher. When you disembark the plane, look for a representative from the cruise line you are sailing on near the gate or at the end of the concourse. They will direct you to the bus or van. If you don't see them right away, just ask a rep from one of the other cruise lines to point out the way to your transportation.
I have tried to outline the concerns and myths faced by most first-time cruisers. I hope you find this information helpful, and I wish you a fabulous cruise! Bon Voyage!