On our 25th anniversary cruise, Rob and I met many first time cruisers — engaging in the “how many times have you cruised” conversation. When they found out we have cruised before, they asked questions — often related to cruise mistakes many first time cruisers make.
But first — a cautionary tale about one of the worst possible cruise mistakes — forgetting your documents and ID.
1. Bring cruise documents and identification
Last year, we participated in a cruise travel group on Facebook, and “met” several of our fellow passengers months before the cruise vacation. Two days before sailing, a family sent a mayday to our group, explaining they’d left their documents and passports at home in South Carolina. Since we had to drive through South Carolina anyway, we were able to meet a family member to get their cruise documents. We delivered them the morning of the cruise and gained lifelong friends.
Another incident on our most recent cruise didn’t have such a happy ending. The couple had their marriage license, which is not an acceptable form of cruise identification. They were pulled from line and the last I heard, the officer was explaining to this tearful couple that they could not board. With stricter security measures in all areas of travel, there’s little (or no) room for exceptions.
TIP: Passports are best. If unsure what you need, check with your cruise line or travel agent.
2. Dress for formal night
Most cruises three nights or longer have a semi-formal or formal night. Some people go all-out, dressed in evening gowns and tuxedos. Others don’t dress up at all, choosing shorts, t-shirts and dinner at the buffet.
We met three first time cruisers — three! — who did not bring dress clothes. One lady looked particularly sad, explaining she didn’t have dressy clothes at home and couldn’t afford a fancy dress so they didn’t bring any.
Some cruise tips for formal night:
- Borrow from a friend,
- Shop at a thrift store in a ritzy neighborhood. A friend of mine got a full sequin gown for $30 from a thrift store. She looked — and felt — stunning!
- AND, remember, you don’t have to dress in gown and tux for formal night. A dress for ladies and dress pants, shirt and tie for men is all you need.
Need a packing list? Click here!
3. Try something new
When we were first time cruisers, we didn’t take dance class, because we didn’t want to embarrass ourselves. We didn’t do a lot — all for the same reason! Silly us — free entertainment and opportunities that we let slip away.
This cruise, we participated in a “selfie” race that sent us all over the ship, something we’ve never done before. Every other group was in their 20s, but guess who won! Yep! I may be pushing 50 (in less than 2 months), but I can rock a selfie, y’all!
We also took a dance class, motivated in part by our son’s upcoming wedding. And because we wanted to try something new. You know what? Everyone in that dance class, young, old and in between, was new to dancing. We all messed up. We all had fun. That’s what cruising is all about!
Oh yeah…. when you eat in the dining room, if you can’t decide, order both! Like I did with dessert one night. 🙂
4. Tip your server and cabin steward
One of the worst cruise mistakes you can make is to not tip the crew. Most cruise lines are not US based, so they don’t have to pay staff the US minimum wage. When you skip the tip, the people serving you don’t get paid.
For first time cruisers (and others who might not know), the cabin steward hauls luggage and maintains public areas around the cabins. Even those who hang the “do not disturb” sign all week, still receive housekeeping services in the areas nearby. Servers work the buffet stations for breakfast and lunch, serving all guests at some point — even those who never eat in the main dining room. They do so much behind the scenes that not tipping just doesn’t make sense.
5. First time cruisers, please stick to your budget
Whether your budget is $2,000 or $20,000, stick to it! Every single cruise I’ve been on, the last night almost brings me to tears. People line up at customer service (LONG LINES, TOO) to dispute charges. I’ve heard, “I know I didn’t spend that much <on drinks, the casino, etc>.” Every cruise. It breaks my heart! All charges are electronic these days, so rarely does the cruise line make a billing error. Of the cruise mistakes people make, this is most devastating (except for not getting to board at all.)
On our last cruise, many on our flight home had been on the same cruise ship. Partway through the flight, the lady across the aisle solemnly pulled her cruise charges printout from her purse. She unfolded it and dragged her finger down the list of charges — page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5. She sat, frozen, as she stared at the last page. Then she folded it up, smaller and smaller and smaller and shoved it deep in her purse. I watched (wanting to cry myself) as a tear rolled off her chin and dripped on her hand.
I don’t know how much she spent — and really, it’s not the amount that matters. She clearly spent more than she planned or maybe could afford. You can track your spending on your cabin TV through the cruise to stay on budget.
Cruise Tip: Talk with your travel companions before travel (on your bill) and decide:
- daily spending on soda or alcohol,
- how much to spend souvenir shopping (we avoid the ship stores entirely, except for pre-planned purchases — a toy or t-shirt for the kids and a Christmas ornament for us. We set a budget for each stop along the way),
- what the casino budget is for the entire cruise (and walk away when you’ve lost that much),
- how much to spend on last minute shore excursions for the entire trip (when it’s spent, no more shore excursions)
- what type of budget cushion to add to each day.
- and remember that tips are added to your bill at the end of the cruise (usually about $15/day per person, even kids).
Bonus cruise planning tip: Our budget averages about $50/day per adult. We budget about $20/day for the kids — enough to cover tips and buy a souvenir.
Experienced cruisers, what do you know now that you wish you knew then? Share your tips to help first time cruisers avoid frustrating mistakes.