First time cruise tips from genuine cruise goers

13 Feb 2019

Guest blog post by Claim Score.

Is Cruise FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) a thing?

It’s one of those holidays you feel you might be missing out on; but at the same time you wonder whether it’s really what it promises to be. Having never been on a cruise, how do you go about deciding where your first one should be? We’re here to help you out.

On top of reading advice from cruise operators and travel bloggers, we have also asked people who have been on several cruises already for their insights and best tips to help you.

Let’s face it, once you’re on board, that’s that. You can’t nip back home to grab an extra pair of shoes. If you’re stuck queuing up for food, too late to think again, patience is your only option. But maybe it’s not like this at all? Do you need to pack as much or dress up to ‘The Nines’ for a cruise holiday?

Here’s a bit of advice seasoned cruise-goers want to share with you about how to plan your first cruise.

Cruise ship

What do people worry about before going on their first cruise?

The most frequent point seems to be sea sickness, although none of the people we asked said they actually experienced any.

What to wear, whether it would feel crowded on board and not having enough time at the ports were also mentioned. Keep reading however, because all the feedback we’re received from people who have now been on more than one cruise is really positive and full of interesting tips.

What’s the best cruise to pick for your first trip?

Start by narrowing down the choice of destination: if you only love sunny shores or have dreamt to see the Northern Lights for years, it’ll be a bit easier.   

You might also base your choice on times when you can travel, and of course, on your budget.

You could throw caution to the wind and book a “living like a Rock Star” cruise with Virgin Voyages (you can get a sneak peek here thanks to Cruise Addicts).

Cruise ship

How long should you go for?

When it comes to picking the duration of your first cruise, take a little time to weigh up the options. The shorter cruises are not always best, and might give you the wrong impression of this type of holiday.

Here’s a handy tip we learnt from an experience cruise goer via the Cruise Critic forum:

”Don't do one of the 3 day ones (cruises) if you can help it... Yeah, they are cheap, but so is everything about them... The 7+ day ones are much better (food, entertainment, etc.) and visit better locations.”

 Cruise ship

Should you get insurance in case you need to cancel your cruise or something happens during your trip?

Let’s get the less exciting bits out of the way now. Travel insurance for a cruise is not what you want to spend your time thinking about.

A cruise holiday is an expensive treat, so yes, taking travel insurance that’s specific for a cruise holiday is highly recommended.

Not only this, but you should purchase your insurance as soon as you book your cruise.


Often people book their cruise months, if not years, in advance. You cannot predict if and when you might need to cancel it, especially if it’s for medical reasons.

A lot of insurance policies have an initial exclusion period that prevents you from claiming for, amongst other things, cancellation. So the sooner you get your insurance the sooner you’ll be covered. And the earlier you cancel your cruise, the more money you’ll get back too.

Top insurance tips

 Check your bank account as they might cover you. “My bank account covers me (for travel insurance when I go on a cruise)” says Bradley R, who’s been on three long haul cruises.

Best deals are normally through your bank. It's important to ensure you policy includes coverage as some have limits on the number of days (cruise days) they cover up to.

Even if your bank account comes with a standard travel insurance add-on, take the time to compare travel insurance carefully. Not all travel insurance policies are the same. Cruise cover is quite specific, so it might not be included or could be poorly covered.

Compare options based on price and cover, but also check their claim reputation from feedback given by their customers. It’s important to know that you’re using an insurer who has a solid reputation for looking after customers at the point of claim, especially if you’re taking a Fly Cruise or long haul trip. You can check ratings specifically for claim handling experience on

Cruise ship


What do you need to pack for a cruise?

Top packing tip 1

Find out how many formal nights there are and the dress code

The consensus amongst our seasoned cruise goers seems to be that you can take far more luggage than for a normal holiday…Unless you are flying first to board your cruise ship (or flying back or both).

Top packing tip 2

“Take as much as you think you will need. There is no limit on the number of bags you can have. You can also take on soft drinks and (limited) alcohol.”

Check for any special events, like P&O’s “Bianco (white) nights” for which you might need specific outfits.  

Before finalising your cruise wardrobe and zipping your suit case(s), it’s good to think about:

  • Where you’re going: A Caribbean cruise calls for a different wardrobe than an active cruise to Nordic islands.
  • What kind of holiday are you expecting? Are you aiming for total relaxation or an active holiday? If you’re planning to stay on board most of the time reading by the pool, rather than going off shore and exploring at each port, you probably don’t need the same selection of shoes and clothes.
  • Are you likely to go to the beach? If so, packing a small backpack and quick dry super thin towels might be handy. You can then keep all your valuables in the backpack with you if you decide to go swimming.

Top packing tip 3

Use Pinterest to help you create an interchangeable capsule wardrobe

Laying your outfits out on your bed before packing helps to check how well they can be mixed and matched, dressed up or dressed down. You don’t need to pack as much as you might have thought, especially if you’re going on a Fly Cruise where you’ll need to check your baggage allowance for the flights.

Top packing tip 4

Pack light layers, mix and match separates and nice classic accessories that go with everything

Top packing tip 5

Don't worry too much about lots of jumpers etc, cruise ships are always warm.

Cruise ship

Something you might not have thought of…

Washing powder might just come in handy to hand wash an item or two during your trip, if there’s no clean and press service on board or if the option is there but is too costly.


How to choose the right cabin on a cruise ship

Clare F works for Virgin Atlantic, loves her holidays abroad and has been on several cruises with various cruise operators. Clare’s top tip is to pick a cabin mid ship to avoid feeling the worse of potential rocky seas.

For example, when you sail through the Bay of Biscay, which is known for being a bit wavy!

According to Danielle who writes about her travels on her blog, you might experience anything from “Force 12 gales, flat calm seas, blistering hot sunshine, thunder and lightning, snow, hail stones and torrential rain.”

This next tip comes directly from Danielle, who’s crossed the Bay of Biscay 30 times on a cruise ship:

You must always remember that if the Captain thought for one second that conditions were unsafe, he would not sail his ship, passengers and crew through it.


Having dinner on a cruise ship

Food and drink are a big part of a cruise. But how do you make the most of it? Which restaurants are best? Do you have to eat at the same place every night?

Here are their top tips about how to best enjoy the food on a cruise holiday:

Top dining tip 1

Go for freedom dining (or similar) so you’re not tied of eating at the same time each night. 

Opting for freedom dining was the overwhelming tip everyone talks about. It means you do not need to eat at set times. Instead, you eat when you want. And if you don’t want to be seated with people you don’t know you can ask for a smaller table. If none are free when you request it, you’ll be given a pager to let you know when your table is ready. Until then, you can go and enjoy a drink at the bar or the ships entertainment.

Top dining tip 2

Pre book special restaurants on board in advance

It seems that most people prefer the flexibility of the buffet at lunch time, and restaurant service in the evening. This is because if you still feel hungry after your dinner, you can always pop back to the buffet!

Ultimately, you’re going on a cruise to enjoy yourself. This is very much the opinion of the cruise goers too. Here’s what they told us:

Top dining tip 3

Try a little bit of everything and enjoy all dining options available. Don't always go for the buffet. You will put on weight, don't worry about it!

Cruise ship

How do you make the most of your first cruise?

Here’s some great advice:

General tip 1

Look at the itinerary well in advance. Pre book anything you really want to do, excursions, spa, special restaurants on-board, as they are often sold out by the time you go

General tip 2

Do your homework on the ports before you go and don’t feel that you need to book an overpriced excursion through the cruise company. In most ports you can go it alone on foot, bus, train (which can be much more personal). Use the excursion itineraries and travel books to decide where to go.

General tip 3

Pack travel sickness tablets just in case!

Biggest rookie mistake to make on your first cruise?

Nothing replaces experience. You can’t know what you don’t know, but these days, you can find out a lot more through all the blogs and forums available online (more on that further down with a handy list of some of the most popular ones for you).

Packing too much seems to be a bit of a theme (and arguably it’s to be expected). But then, if you’re not limited, it’s better to take too much and only wear half, than feeling like you don’t have enough outfits for the duration of your cruise.

Happily, people also responded “nothing” to this question. They went to have a good time, had a great experience and that was that. Sure there might always be something you forget but it’s ok, and shouldn’t prevent you from having an amazing holiday.

Here are a couple more of the top first time cruise goer mistakes our survey respondents told us about:

General tip 4

We under estimated how posh it would be! We went on the Queen Victoria with Cunard and there was no such thing as overdressed!

General tip 5

Try everything and you won’t be disappointed.


And there you have it!

In summary: Pack what you think you’ll need, get on board and just make the most of everything.


Bon voyage!


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