When Anne Crowley took her first cruise in July, she didn’t realize there was a dress code. She and her husband, John, along with her three children, took a Mediterranean cruise from Barcelona, and only when they boarded the ship did they learn that the Royal Caribbean International ship had different dress themes on some nights. .
“So one night it’s really formal, one night you’re all in white, one night it was a Hawaiian night,” Crowley, 49, told USA TODAY.
While the preschool teacher, who lives in Duxbury, Massachusetts, said they “got lucky” to bring clothes that could fit into each category, that was one of several things Crowley wishes he knew before boarding a ship for the first time.
First-time travelers may not be aware of those kinds of details, and taking your first trip can present new considerations, from how to plan to what to pack. This summer may be a particularly good time to give it a try: With travel costs rising due to inflation and high demand, cruises are a more affordable option.
USA TODAY spoke with travelers and travel experts to get their advice.
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1. Find out what kind of cruise you want and when to book it
First, consider where you want to go. Once he chooses, Linda Speer, a travel agent affiliated with Virtuoso member Brownell Travel, recommended working with a travel consultant who can help you choose the best time to go. Crowley worked with a consultant on My Path Unwinding Travel.
For Alaska cruises, for example, the season runs from mid-May to mid-September, but for “reliable good weather, you’ll really want to go, I’d consider it Memorial Day through Labor Day.” . Speer said.
The itinerary can also affect other aspects of the trip. Speer said some first-timers opt to get their feet wet by taking a three-day cruise, but warned that it’s a “terrible idea.”
“Cruise lines generally put their older ships on their shorter routes, so to travel on the best ships, you have to cruise seven days or longer first,” Speer said. Longer trips also give first-time passengers more time to get their bearings.
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Cruise lines are also different.
“If you’re just looking for cheap, then we know to look at Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, without worrying about the more expensive ones like Holland America, Princess, Celebrity,” said Geoffrey Millstone, owner of Clarksburg Travel Service.
But even if a cruise is affordable, air travel can add significantly to the total price of a trip. Driving to a closer port may present a less expensive alternative, Speer said.
And even with cruise lines that offer fares with drinks and other amenities included, he said his office frequently “sets the price bare,” eliminating everything but the fare, taxes and fees. He then he can choose the packages or offers that make sense for each client. “If you’re not going to use something, you really don’t want to pay for it,” she said.
As you plan, choose your cabin carefully. “First-time travelers usually say, ‘I don’t really care what my room is like, I just want to go,'” Speer said. “Then I’m going to tell them to take their smartphone or their book and go and sit in their dressing room and see how comfortable they are.”
If you get claustrophobic, he said, you should avoid inside the cabins, which have no windows.
2. Prepare and pack accordingly
Before you take your first cruise, doing your own research can help. Denise Langner and her husband went on a Carnival cruise to the Bahamas for their honeymoon and to celebrate her birthday. While the 29-year-old’s husband, Keefer, had cruised before, she hadn’t, so she sought wisdom online ahead of her March trip.
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“I think really the most helpful thing was browsing Reddit, just trying to figure out the process of things,” said Langner, who lives in Costa Mesa, California. “There are posts for first-time travelers, like tips and stuff, and I think I got a lot out of that.”
However, when it comes to your suitcase, consider packing less than you think. Speer said many people pack too much when they take their first cruise, typically bringing at least twice as much clothing as they’ll wear. All of your bags “will have to be stored in your stateroom, and most of the time you can do it under your bed,” he said.
3. Give yourself time to adjust on board
Once on board, you may need to adjust to the ship. If you’re worried about motion sickness, Speer recommended lowering the cabin temperature to keep it cool and standing in a “wide-open outdoor area” as the ship pulls away from shore, so you can watch the horizon disappear.
She said to do it for at least 30 to 45 minutes “because that will allow your brain to realize that you’re on something that’s moving.” Millstone said the Sea-Bands also work well.
Speer also recommended going to the top level of the ship and walking through each level that has public areas to familiarize yourself.
If you have a watch, set it on the ship’s clock before you set sail in ports, Millstone said, to make sure you’re back when you need it. A good rule of thumb, she said, is to always be on the ship an hour early, unless you’re on a cruise.
Despite the surprise of the outfit, Crowley said she and her family had a great first cruise. “I’m ready to book another one,” she said.