Cruise ships loom large in the water, and in our imaginations. But if you’ve never gone on a cruise and are worried it might be more Death on the Nile than The Love Boat, take heart: It is easy to plan ahead, and get the most out of your first cruising experience. Check out these seven tips that will help you turn the trip into all smooth sailing! (No guarantees that Capt. Stubing will be on board, though.)
- Prepare yourself, body and soul. Body first.
Seasickness is a legitimate concern for many first-time cruisers. Fortunately, cruise ships are often so large most passengers hardly feel any sea movement. But if you’re concerned about potential nausea, bring medication (prescription patches to wear behind the ear are now available), and self-medicate even before you start feeling a little off. If you’re caught unaware, look out a porthole or window and watch the horizon to steady yourself. Eventually, your body will adjust and you’ll get your “sea legs.”
- Then, soul: You won’t have wi-fi or internet while on board
This may panic some, but it’s also a great chance (and great excuse) to simply not be available to the outside world. You may learn the lost art of punctuality, since you can’t text your friends that you might be running late. Being unplugged can be incredibly relaxing, and you’ll quickly learn that you actually can get around in the world without tapping on a device. (If you really can’t break the habit, free wi-fi can often be found on shore.)
- Yes, you want that balcony.
By the time you get to the ship your stateroom will already have been booked, but in case you’re reading this before you’ve sealed the deal, here’s your answer: the balcony is absolutely worth the extra cost. Staterooms are small – think smaller than a hotel room – and being able to step outside and get a fresh breath can be a lifesaver, particularly for the slightly-claustrophobic among us. Plus, the views and ability to watch the waves can be enormously soothing. (And settling to the stomach; see No. 1 above.)
- Roam if you want to!
The biggest cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas, has 2,706 staterooms and can carry nearly 6,300 passengers. It’s 1,187 feet long. Many cruise ships are simply enormous, so go exploring! Early on, just take off wandering and ignore the maps; see what you might discover that will suit your fancy – a rock climbing wall, a hidden pool, a putting range or a chocolate fountain. (Bring comfy shoes or sneakers.) Plus, all that walking will help make you hungry for the enormous amounts of food you’re about to encounter.
- Food, glorious food
Speaking of eats, have no fear: You will not go hungry. Food is available 24 hours a day, and you’ve already paid for access to virtually all of it. That said, pace yourself. It may be hard to say no to the lobster and after-dinner snacks, but you have several days to taste and enjoy. Even if you’re someone who is willing to completely let it go for a week, bear in mind that if you overindulge you’ll likely end up spending a lot of your trip sleeping it off. And good news for those who want to taste without gaining 10 pounds: Many cruise ships now have healthier options.
- Dress for success
There are some cruise lines that have a dress code, but they’re not going to throw you overboard if you left your tux and tails or ball gown. Come prepared to dress for a variety of activities – from daywear to casual eveningwear, exercise, swimming and shopping. It’s also a great idea to bring one nice outfit for one evening on board where you really do the town.
- Nighttime is the right time
One real treat of being out in the middle of nowhere (on the ocean) is the lack of light disturbance. Go up to the top deck in the dark (bring a wrap in case it’s breezy) and enjoy the sensation of floating on the water with all the stars in the sky twinkling above. Most people never get a chance to see this kind of array any more, thanks to urban and even suburban sky pollution and lights. And many cruise ships provide nighttime entertainment – so you can head up top to watch a movie … but end up catching a glimpse of a shooting star.