First Timer's Guide to Cruises

by - 1:54 PM

Pros and Cons to Cruising 

I wouldn't call us seasoned Cruisers but we've sailed a total of 336 hours over 3 different cruises.

  • They're the best way to visit multiple countries in one trip.
  • More reasonably priced than you think and can be very budget-friendly.
  • We've met some of the coolest people on our cruises, fellow travelers and staff alike. 
  • The service provided on the ships by the staff really make you feel like royalty, you get your own room attendant who takes care of your housekeeping, you get well-trained servers during your meals and the entertainment on the ships are always top notch. 
  • I also think it's pretty cool that you can go to sleep in your stateroom and wake up in a brand new country. Visiting different countries without having to switch rooms nightly is pretty neat.

Nassau, Bahamas - View from a cruise ship

I think it's also good for me to note that all of our experiences have been on Carnival so these tips are true to Carnival's cruises and may not apply to other cruise lines. Close friends have experienced Princess Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, and Norwegian Cruise Lines and have found them all to be wonderful experiences. If you have the budget to spare, I would recommend these based on the reviews from people we know. Carnival Cruise lines have always appealed to us as budget travelers but, as you can imagine, there are cons to that as well. 


  • Lower prices may attract the likes of younger, more rambunctious party-goers and large families who aren't always paying attention to their kids on the ship. 
  • The families who don't always pay attention to their kids on the ship. We've had kids skip lines, serve themselves in the buffet leaving messes, spill drinks while they are chasing each other around. Nothing against kids in general, but definitely everything against parents who stop parenting while on vacation and think cruise ships are one big child-sitting area.
  • There are thousands of people on the ship at once. If you are not a people-person, if you don't like waiting in lines, and if crowds of people are not your thing, this would be difficult for you. The ships are spacious and quiet spots can be found, however during peak lunch and dinner hours or when walking from one place to another on the ship, you will encounter people everywhere. 
  • Limited hours in the countries you are visiting. Most ships only dock at the ports for a day, some will overnight at a port, and some will dock for half a day. 

Are cruise ships safe? 

I think the one thing that is most misunderstood about cruising is the safety aboard the ship. The internet has seen its share of cruise ship stories but I think the one that's subconsciously ingrained in all of us all are the Boiler Room scenes from Titanic

This surfaced when my husband and I were booking our first cruise ever back in 2015. I wanted to book a room on the lowest deck, and he freaked out because, in his words, "I do NOT want to be  anywhere near the boiler rooms!" 

After much reassurance from the positive side of internet research and reviews, we compromised and booked a room on Deck #2. I wanted Deck #1 (the lowest) but we moved up a level for his peace of mind, even though technology that exists on cruise ships today provide a high level of safety features. Boiler rooms don't look like they did back when ships like Titanic were roaming the seas. Whereas the Titanic was powered by steam engines, modern day cruise ships are powered by diesel, gas, or a combination of diesel or gas and electricity. And even newer technology is allowing cruise ships to become more environmentally friendly, modified to be more hybrid like or running on alternative fuel.

All ships have an emergency generator to maintain vital electric power as well. And should the emergency generator fail, ships are required to have - and I'm not making this up - a battery backup. Many cruise ship companies have implemented strong regulations and processes to ensure safety aboard their ships, emergency or not.

Once aboard the ship, you will also have to participate in a mandatory Muster Drill, or "Mustard Drill" as we like to mistakenly call it. This is a drill that happens usually on your first day on the ship. The staff will guide you to where you need to report should an emergency occur and they will brief you on the emergency drills. There are some cruise-goers who do not take the drill seriously, but I find it helpful if you pay attention and it gives the staff on the ship practice on the procedures. Some of this information could possibly end up saving your life.

What is food like on a cruise ship?

We've experience some of the best meals on a cruise ship. The staff are always wonderful, they're there to give you a world class experience. Many ships offer a classy dinner experience every night and we always looked forward to our dinners after a long day exploring. Most of the menus will have something for everyone ranging from poultry, to steak, to seafood as well as pastas, salads, and soups.

On our Carnival cruises, they would always have a featured entree that was created around our port country. When we were in Jamaica, they had Jamaican-inspired dishes and so on with other countries that we were docked in. It's a cool way to explore the country you are visiting, especially if you've never tried foods beyond what you are comfortable with, a dinner on the cruise ship is a great way to try new things. If you don't like it, you can always let your server know and order something else. While I don't recommend wasting food, it's still an option!

Outside of these dinners, there is always a buffet available for lunch and dinner if you are feeling more casual. Ships now also offer smaller, quick service food options like pizza, tacos, burgers, sushi or pasta. We always breakfast at the buffet and then for lunch we would grab tacos and burgers from the deck where the pool was located and enjoy our food in the open air. 

What happens if bad weather occurs during your cruise? 

We've actually experience some rough weather on two of our cruises. See, there is this thing called hurricane season. The first time we cruised, we booked the cheapest rate - not realizing that it was cheap because the sailing was during hurricane season. So be wary if you are booking in the months of June through November. If you choose to book through these dates..

...sometimes you get lucky:

...and sometimes you aren't so lucky:

The choppy weather caused by rain or storms can also be felt on the ship. If you are prone to motion sickness, I would recommend booking outside of these months or bringing extra strength Bonine or Dramamine to help counter the sea sickness.

The ship's crew are pros at navigating away from bad weather and if things get really bad, sometimes they will change the itinerary altogether and dock at different ports. However, this could change your excursion plans if you are booking those in advance also.

What is there to do on a cruise ship?

We've never run out of things to do. In fact, sometimes there is so much to do that we have to remind ourselves we should sit down and relax. There are ships with casinos, arcades, retail stores for shopping, restaurants, movie theaters, ice rinks, bars, clubs, water parks, spas, libraries, the list goes on and on. And then there are events like Trivia hosted in a common area, sporting tournaments, Martini tastings, hosted game shows, special dinners, comedy shows, poker tournaments. There is literally something for everyone. 

Lobby and Promenade Levels of the Carnival Breeze
Pool Deck on the Carnival Breeze

Things To Know Before Your Cruise

It's best to fly in a day before your cruise is scheduled to embark.
We loved doing this because it was almost like two trips in one. We've sailed two cruises that left from Miami and another cruise that left from New Orleans. We would fly in the day before and spend a whole day, night, and part of the next morning sightseeing and hanging out in the port city before embarking on our cruise.

The benefit of this is that it gives you a buffer in case any of your flights are cancelled or delayed on the way in and you also have a buffer the morning of your embarkation day to safely make your way to the port.

You will need a passport!
If you don't have a passport, you should definitely apply for one months ahead of your cruise. There is the option for a Passport Card, which allows you to visit the Caribbean (also Mexico, Canada, and Bermuda) via border crossing or sea port, however it doesn't work for much beyond that. My advice is to just go ahead and get a real passport!

Pre-Paid Gratuities 
Most cruise ship lines will allow you to pre-pay your gratuities in advance of your cruise. This allows you to truly be carefree when it comes to keeping cash on hand or tipping at every bar, restaurant, or service. You can adjust your tips on the last day of the cruise to increase it if you received amazing service or decrease if you thought certain services fell short.

Space for Duty-Free Items
One of the many benefits of cruising are duty-free purchases. This means, you can purchase things free of import taxes and fees. Read more about what you can buy here. However, whatever you purchase will need room to come back with you. Bring an empty suitcase or duffel bag with you to use for your purchases made on the ship or at the ports.

Choose Your Room Wisely
Your stateroom type and its location on the ship could benefit you based on what you like. Interior rooms are the cheapest but have no windows, they're very dark when you turn off all the lights which could be a good or bad thing depending on your preference. Balcony rooms will have lots of natural light and the best views. You can enjoy your coffee on the balcony in the mornings. There are also Spa rooms located near the ship's spa that provide extra benefits like comfy robes, priority spa bookings, and an emphasis on relaxation. These are also usually located in the front of the ship.

Rooms in the back, or the aft of the ship, are usually closer to the dining rooms and directly beneath the pools and sports areas. This provides easy and quick access to food and drink options. However, you are more prone to feeling the vibration from the propellers and the wake (if the waters are choppy).

Rooms in the middle of the ship are less prone to vibrations and rocking, but they are also the most congested areas of the ship. When staying in the middle of the ship, we usually have to take the stairs up to the higher decks due to the elevators being full.

Higher decks are also closer to the action, like the events, restaurants, shops, and things to do. Lower decks are further away if you prefer peace and quiet or easier access to disembarking the ship when visiting the ports.

We've always stayed on Deck #2, mid-ship. The stairs are killer if you have to go up to Deck 10, the elevators take a little longer to get to the lower decks but we also like being the first ones in line to get off the ship and onto the port so being two flights of stairs away from the unloading area is our major benefit. Mid-ship is nice because we are prone to motion sickness.

Are cruises good if you're new to international travel?

If you've never been out of the country, cruising is a safe and awesome way to ease into international travel. If you visit a country and dislike it, you can always walk back onto the ship and then spend your day doing the many activities on the ship. 

Before our first cruise, we had never traveled to another country. Our first stop was Jamaica, when we stepped foot off the ship and into Jamaica - culture shock was a real thing and we were very much intimidated. We spent the whole day in Jamaica with a local guide, who took us deep into the jungles and explained Jamaican culture, history, and politics to us in great detail. It was an eye-opening and nerve-wracking experience. For our first time out of the country, we were definitely relieved to make it back onto the cruise ship after our first day. BUT not because we didn't like it or because we didn't have an amazing time - we absolutely loved it! It was just very overwhelming experience as a first timer. I would definitely go back to Jamaica.

We have been to multiple countries since then and are even traveling all the way to Bali for our next trip. Years later, we consider ourselves seasoned travelers, unintimidated by new places, new foods, new sounds or sketchy situations. We have our cruises to thank for allowing us to acclimate into international travel. 

Blue Hole, Ochos Rios, Jamaica

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