Cruise 101: Everything You Need To Know Before Setting Sail

Whether you’re a rookie or a seasoned sailor, everyone can use a little CRUISE 101 prior to setting sail.

My first piece of advice for anyone considering a cruise: enlist the help of a travel agent!

Unlike a typical vacation, cruises offer a long list of amenities and options within standard booking. There are dinners to schedule, on-shore excursion, and a variety of special “extras.” Often these must be scheduled within a specific window of your travel date.

Additionally, because travel agents work closely with the various cruise lines, in many cases they are able to offer the best rates or upgrades. If nothing else, they’re able to help you secure the best cabin location because of their knowledge of the ships.

Keep in mind, using a travel agent will not cost you any more money. In fact, in our experience it’s always helped us SAVE MONEY.

**If you would like to be connected to a Mom With A Map preferred travel agent, please leave a comment below or drop an email to [email protected]

After you have your trip booked, you’ll really want to dive into Cruise 101!

One of my first steps after booking is to check specific guidelines of the individual cruise line. This gives me an idea of what I need to prepare, purchase and pack.

Here are a couple common questions I ask:

  1. What is the dress code for the dining rooms? (Ex. some cruise lines require a semi-formal dress code for dinner, while others allow more casual dress.)
  2. Will we need passports or are birth certificates acceptable? (I ALWAYS recommend using a passport…but in some cases it’s not mandatory.)
  3. Does my cruise line allow me to carry any alcohol or food on board?
  4. What reservations or options need to made prior to boarding the ship? (Ex. some cruise lines offer beverage packages.)

When it comes to packing for your cruise, it’s virtually impossible to overpack. Although the temptation might be to try to limit your luggage, I think its far worse to not have something you need. Most rooms offer tremendous storage for your suitcases under the bed, ample closet space for your clothes, and several drawers/cabinets.

If you take a few minutes to unpack, your room will not feel crowded- even if you do bring double the amount of stuff that you’ll end up needing!

Aside from your typical packing list, here are some items you may want to consider:

  1. 1. Sunscreen: One of our biggest packing fails to date was forgetting sunscreen during a winter cruise. Of course, we were able to purchase it on board…but we paid a pretty penny for it!
  • 2. Refillable Canteen Bottle AND Water Bottle: Some cruise ships offer drink stations on a top deck and VERY small cups. Its nice to be able to fill a larger container with soda or coffee to bring back to your room.
  • 3. Addresses: It’s fun to send post cards from your various ports! 
  • 4. Bungee Cords: Space to hang wet bathing suits is minimal. By traveling with a bungee cord, you’re able to create a fabulous clothes line anywhere in your room.
  • 5. Door Magnets For Decoration: If allowed, it’s a really fun way to personalize your cabin door. The hallways all look alike, so especially if you have children on board- putting some decorative magnets on your door is a must!
  1. 6. Small Change: Although many things on a cruise are considered “all inclusive,” tips aren’t one of them. You will likely do your big tips (for waiter, stateroom attendant , etc.) at the end. However, it’s necessary to have some smaller bills if you order room service or have extra towels delivered.
  2. 7. Assorted Size Ziplock Bags: Helpful for pretty much every scenario! Save a half-eaten snack, keep your cell phone dry, collect shells from a port beach, or use them for packing wet bathing suits on your final morning.
  • 8. Lanyard: These are great ways to keep your room key safe- especially if you’d prefer not to carry any type of bag.
  1. 9. Small bag or backpack: I prefer a bag to a lanyard in most cases because I use it to haul sunscreen, water bottles, sunglasses, and other miscellaneous items everywhere we go.
  2. 10. Medicine: Take anything and everything you need. Or may need. Although they sell various kinds of medicine on the boats, you will pay double. I especially recommend bringing something to combat motion sickness, just in case.
  3. 11. Babyganics Hand Sanitizer: I’m a huge fan of soap and water, but in extreme circumstances (ie a cruise) I keep hand sanitizer on the ready for when we can’t run to wash our hands.
  • 12. Stain Remover Pen: If your kids (I really mean husband) are anything like mine, you will have spills. With no access to laundry, you’ll want to treat stains while on the boat before they set in.
  1. 13. Lightweight Jacket: It doesn’t matter what time of year you travel or where you’re going- some places on the ship will be cool. You will regret not having a sweater or jacket.
  2. 14. Themed clothing: Some cruises offer special evening themes. Double check with your specific cruise line.
  3. 15. Travel Journal/Book/Small Entertainment: We have never lacked fun things to do on any of our cruises. However, there is sometimes a little downtime while family members shower or early in the morning before everyone wakes up. I recommend bringing a Travel Journal for each of your kids as well as a few things they could do if you find yourself in the room for an hour.

The last Cruise 101 step is to HAVE FUN!

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You might also enjoy reading:

13 Things To Expect On Your First Day of A Disney Cruise

Saving Money, Traveling More

Strange Things We Take On Family Vacations

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