9 Tips for First-Time Cruisers from Our Experts

by Kayla Becker

9 Tips for First-Time Cruisers from Our Experts

by Kayla Becker

The more you do anything — including cruising — the more you learn about the "right" and "wrong" ways. We've spent a lot of time on ships this year, and have seen a lot of good and bad behavior from veterans and newbies alike. Here, our best tips from a life at sea on how to make sure you're not "that guy" on your first cruise.

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Carnival Imagination's Serenity Lounge / Carnival / Andy Newman
Don't hog the pool deck chairs.
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1. Don't be a deck chair hog.

If there’s one thing that really gets under our skin, it’s cruisers who wake up early to reserve a row of seats by the pool with a towel or piece of clothing and leave them unattended — for hours. Don't set aside chairs for yourself and then go to breakfast, and the gym, and the spa, without expecting to get a variety of dirty looks when you finally turn up to claim your prize.

How to deal: Not only should you not be the person who "saves" chairs for later in the day, you also don't have to put up with that behavior from other cruisers. If you see lounge chairs that have been reserved with a couple of token items for long periods of time, ask the pool staff if the cruise line has a policy on the issue. Carnival Cruise Line, for example, has a written rule that if a chair with a towel or personal belongings is unoccupied for more than 40 minutes, the staff can remove the items and let you stake your claim. 

If there’s one thing that really gets under our skin, it’s cruisers who wake up early to reserve a row of seats by the pool with a towel or piece of clothing and leave them unattended — for hours. Don't set aside chairs for yourself and then go to breakfast, and the gym, and the spa, without expecting to get a variety of dirty looks when you finally turn up to claim your prize.

How to deal: Not only should you not be the person who "saves" chairs for later in the day, you also don't have to put up with that behavior from other cruisers. If you see lounge chairs that have been reserved with a couple of token items for long periods of time, ask the pool staff if the cruise line has a policy on the issue. Carnival Cruise Line, for example, has a written rule that if a chair with a towel or personal belongings is unoccupied for more than 40 minutes, the staff can remove the items and let you stake your claim. 

A popular pool
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2. Don't leave your children unattended.

Is it just us, or is a day by the pool instantly ruined by unsupervised kids chasing each other around the deck or crowding into the hot tub? And, if there are no parents in sight — or ones who seem to be more focused on their piña colada than their child — you might just see steam coming from our ears.

How to deal: If you want time alone without your children, be sure to check them into the kids club. And, if it's actually other people's kids who are harshing your sea day buzz, look to see if your ship has an adults-only area on deck. Some lines, including Princess, Carnival, and Disney, set aside just such a space for grown-ups who want to relax. 

Is it just us, or is a day by the pool instantly ruined by unsupervised kids chasing each other around the deck or crowding into the hot tub? And, if there are no parents in sight — or ones who seem to be more focused on their piña colada than their child — you might just see steam coming from our ears.

How to deal: If you want time alone without your children, be sure to check them into the kids club. And, if it's actually other people's kids who are harshing your sea day buzz, look to see if your ship has an adults-only area on deck. Some lines, including Princess, Carnival, and Disney, set aside just such a space for grown-ups who want to relax. 

Formal night on Queen Mary 2
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3. Don't be a dress-code offender.

To some cruisers, there’s nothing worse than dressing to the nines on formal night (we bought new evening wear, for goodness sake!) only to spot a fellow passenger breaking the rules and dressing down. 

How to deal: Make sure you read up on the cruise line dress codes before you book. Cunard, for example, is known as one of the dressiest lines with several formal nights requiring evening gowns and tuxes, while Carnival on the other hand, is totally casual. Do your research and then pack accordingly. Want to skip out on a formal night? Just stay in your cabin and order room service. That's what we do.

To some cruisers, there’s nothing worse than dressing to the nines on formal night (we bought new evening wear, for goodness sake!) only to spot a fellow passenger breaking the rules and dressing down. 

How to deal: Make sure you read up on the cruise line dress codes before you book. Cunard, for example, is known as one of the dressiest lines with several formal nights requiring evening gowns and tuxes, while Carnival on the other hand, is totally casual. Do your research and then pack accordingly. Want to skip out on a formal night? Just stay in your cabin and order room service. That's what we do.

Carnival's "do not disturb" sign
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4. Don't forget to put up your "do not disturb" sign.

Unlike at some hotels, cruise ships always offer morning and evening turn-down service, so if you want to take a nap or ensure privacy when dressing, be sure to put up your "do not disturb sign." On some Royal Caribbean ships, these are super cool magnets that stick to the outside of your door. 

How to deal: Since their orders are to tidy your room twice daily, cabin stewards often take your exit as a sign to move in. But if you want privacy or would prefer not to lock up your valuables, communicate your expectations clearly. Fortunately, it's rare — though still so annoying — when our "do not disturb" sign is ignored by over-eager cabin stewards.

Unlike at some hotels, cruise ships always offer morning and evening turn-down service, so if you want to take a nap or ensure privacy when dressing, be sure to put up your "do not disturb sign." On some Royal Caribbean ships, these are super cool magnets that stick to the outside of your door. 

How to deal: Since their orders are to tidy your room twice daily, cabin stewards often take your exit as a sign to move in. But if you want privacy or would prefer not to lock up your valuables, communicate your expectations clearly. Fortunately, it's rare — though still so annoying — when our "do not disturb" sign is ignored by over-eager cabin stewards.

Seven Seas Navigator's Connoisseur Cigar Lounge
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5. Don't smoke on your cabin's balcony.

There’s a reason smoking isn’t usually allowed on balconies — your neighbors, who may not be smokers, get the brunt of those fumes you’re blowing their way.

How to deal: If you’re a smoker, read up on where you can light up on board. Some of the newer Royal Caribbean ships even have deck-side smoking lounges with aerodynamic ventilation that pulls the smoke away from the ship, and some Costa ships have elegant cigar bars. If you're not a smoker and a fellow cruiser is polluting your air, skip the confrontation and let your cabin steward know you’re having an issue. They’ll give the smokers the hint to go to the ship’s designated smoking areas, and you can remain anonymous. 

There’s a reason smoking isn’t usually allowed on balconies — your neighbors, who may not be smokers, get the brunt of those fumes you’re blowing their way.

How to deal: If you’re a smoker, read up on where you can light up on board. Some of the newer Royal Caribbean ships even have deck-side smoking lounges with aerodynamic ventilation that pulls the smoke away from the ship, and some Costa ships have elegant cigar bars. If you're not a smoker and a fellow cruiser is polluting your air, skip the confrontation and let your cabin steward know you’re having an issue. They’ll give the smokers the hint to go to the ship’s designated smoking areas, and you can remain anonymous. 

Embarkation on MS Spitsbergen
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6. Don't hold up the line.

Embarking, disembarking, and re-boarding after a day at port all end in long lines on big ships. Nothing is more frustrating than watching as some people get to the front — and then have to fish through their bags to find their cards while the rest of the passengers wait. 

How to deal: Make sure you have your documents out and ready before you get to the front of the line. Often, the crew will offer up a friendly, “Everybody have their cards ready?” and, if you don't, that means it's time to get them out. 

Embarking, disembarking, and re-boarding after a day at port all end in long lines on big ships. Nothing is more frustrating than watching as some people get to the front — and then have to fish through their bags to find their cards while the rest of the passengers wait. 

How to deal: Make sure you have your documents out and ready before you get to the front of the line. Often, the crew will offer up a friendly, “Everybody have their cards ready?” and, if you don't, that means it's time to get them out. 

Carnival Breeze's buffet
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7. Don't contribute to chaos at the buffet.

This isn’t elementary school: Cutting in line is not cool, people. And all of the zigging and zagging that sometimes goes on in buffet lines on large ships makes us wish there were traffic lanes.

How to deal: Well, don't be a jerk and butt ahead of those who are patiently waiting. Beyond that, if you too hate lines, avoid them by skipping peak meal times in the buffet restaurant and going to the main dining room instead. 

This isn’t elementary school: Cutting in line is not cool, people. And all of the zigging and zagging that sometimes goes on in buffet lines on large ships makes us wish there were traffic lanes.

How to deal: Well, don't be a jerk and butt ahead of those who are patiently waiting. Beyond that, if you too hate lines, avoid them by skipping peak meal times in the buffet restaurant and going to the main dining room instead. 

Radiance of the Seas' Elevator
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8. Don't crowd the elevator.

Just getting out of a show? Good luck trying to get on the nearest elevator, where some cruisers seem to forget that people need to exit the elevator before they rush in. And don’t get us started on passengers trying to squeeze in to an overcrowded car. Another one will come, we promise.

How to deal: If you’re facing a serious elevator crowding situation (again, this is usually right after a show), walk to a different elevator bank on the same floor or take the stairs if you're up for the exercise.

Just getting out of a show? Good luck trying to get on the nearest elevator, where some cruisers seem to forget that people need to exit the elevator before they rush in. And don’t get us started on passengers trying to squeeze in to an overcrowded car. Another one will come, we promise.

How to deal: If you’re facing a serious elevator crowding situation (again, this is usually right after a show), walk to a different elevator bank on the same floor or take the stairs if you're up for the exercise.

Carnival Breeze's Cucina del Capitano
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9. Avoid controversial subjects at dinner.

Can't stand the folks who bring up politics with strangers or complain about literally anything and everything? We feel your pain. Just like on land, the goal is not to be those folks at sea either. 

How to deal: Avoid any subject that could lead to disagreements. And if you see tablemates start to head into unchartered conversation territory, do your best to change the subject. For example, if someone starts flaunting their diamond status or bringing up a heated debate about guns, coolly change the subject to something the whole table can relate to, such as the day’s port visit. After all, everyone is on the same trip so there are plenty of subjects you'll all have in common if you stick to discussing the vacation. 

Can't stand the folks who bring up politics with strangers or complain about literally anything and everything? We feel your pain. Just like on land, the goal is not to be those folks at sea either. 

How to deal: Avoid any subject that could lead to disagreements. And if you see tablemates start to head into unchartered conversation territory, do your best to change the subject. For example, if someone starts flaunting their diamond status or bringing up a heated debate about guns, coolly change the subject to something the whole table can relate to, such as the day’s port visit. After all, everyone is on the same trip so there are plenty of subjects you'll all have in common if you stick to discussing the vacation. 

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