I recently had my first time on a cruise and noticed a lot of things about the experience that I wasn’t quite aware of (or prepared for in any way). I also got a lot of first-time cruise questions landing in my DMs on Instagram, and so I thought I should share some first-time cruise tips and tricks now that I have returned from the experience. If you are looking for cruise advice for first-timers, this is the post for you!
If you are curious about the specific cruise I went on (7 nights, 8 days in the Mediterranean with Costa Cruise Lines), you can read a full review of my Western Mediterranean Cruise here.
Disclosure: my first cruise was sponsored by Costa Cruise Lines.
As mentioned, you probably have a lot of questions about going on a cruise for the first time. I know I did. Below I have therefore written down everything I noticed during the cruise that I wish I had known in advance, and the answers to questions I had leading up to the cruise. I brought my phone with me everywhere and typed happily away on my notepad whenever I thought of something to add to this list of cruise advice for first-timers.
Going on a cruise yourself anytime soon? Here is my packing list of absolute cruise essentials!
Cruise Advice for First-timers (12 first cruise tips)
If you are going on a cruise for the first time, I can only imagine how excited you are (I know I was). Regardless of your cruise length and destination, you are going to have an amazing time, but it’s still good to be prepared by reading my list of cruise advice for first-timers below.
#1 Be prepared to have your photo taken
They take your picture on the first day of the cruise, as you embark (or, at least, they did for my Costa cruise). With no warning. This is for safety reasons so that whenever you scan your card (your room key also works as your spending and identification card onboard), the staff can see that it is really yours. It’s super neat and makes everything very efficient. However, I wish someone had given me a heads up before going on a cruise for the first time, as I definitely wasn’t camera ready.
This definitely lead to some fun exchanges, One evening I had a server look at me in disbelief when I told him it was my card he was holding (and trying to deliver back to me). He told me I looked nothing like my picture and showed me what it looked like. Indeed, my early morning, fresh-of-a-flight, no makeup, pigtail wearing photo looked nothing like my red dress, red lipstick, well-rested evening self as I was trying to order a martini! So if you are clever, make sure to at least comb your hair for boarding.
#2 Pack some nice clothes for the evening
I was quite surprised (and excited) to see that people really get dressed up for dinner onboard. I saw women wearing pearls, men wearing fancy suits, and the working officers on certain evenings wearing their full officer uniform (hello!). It was so nice to actually go back to my cabin and get a little done up for dinner, and I could tell that people had put some effort into their looks. So, if you have a dress that you never wear because it feels too nice, your first cruise is the time to wear it.
#3 There are themed nights
There are themed nights onboard the cruise ship throughout the week, so if you have a variety of outfits, you’re good to go. Don’t stress it, however, as you won’t know the themes before you embark. So, my cruise advice for first-timers is; if you have something according to the theme, that’s great. If not, don’t worry.
The themes during my cruise with Costa were gala night (you are bound to encounter this theme, so do pack your nicest outfit), Italian night (having to dress in white, red and/or green; such a fun theme and some people went all out!), and gold, for example. I wasn’t able to wear anything gold, but I did manage to dress in red and white for Italian night. It’s all fun and games, and nothing you need to be nervous about for your first time on a cruise.
#4 Do some research before going on a cruise for the first time
Prepare yourself for your first time cruise by reading all the info you get from the cruise company, in addition to a few blogs (like this post, and reviews you find online). It took me about a day to get into the routine of the ship, and on the first day, I found myself strolling around the beautiful Costa Magica a little aimless, as I wasn’t quite sure where to go or where to start. I wish I had read up on a few first-time cruise tips before my trip, so that I knew the amenities of the ship in advance, for example. As mentioned in my Costa review, my first day was a little overwhelming (not for the lack of structure from the cruise company, but because I simply didn’t know where to start once I had boarded and got settled – all due to lack of research).
My solution was a great one, though; I brought the information I found in my cabin to the nearest bar, and had a nice glass of wine whilst reading everything I needed to know!
Read more: can you bring drinks on a cruise?
#5 Prepare to get personal with your steward
I wasn’t aware of this, but on a cruise, the steward in charge of your cabin will be the same person for the duration of your trip. Your steward introduces him- or herself personally and may come into your cabin to help you with anything you may need. I had so many questions when I met mine (heyy Vincent!) considering it was my first cruise, and so he spent around 10-15 minutes in my cabin on the first day explaining everything I didn’t understand at first.
#6 Simplicity is key (and the key is simplicity)
One thing you need to know before your first cruise, is that you will have just one card for everything. It works as your room key, your onboard credit card, your spa entrance, your restaurant and seating check-in, as well as proof of your identity (seriously, during the emergency drill they scan it to confirm that you are safe and sound where you are supposed to be). This makes everything incredibly easy and efficient. The only thing you may need in addition to your Costa Card is your ID, in case you have just turned 18 (or 21 for US cruises) and need to show it to buy alcohol. It really is like being on a floating resort!
Did you catch my cruise video?
#7 The dinner structure
For first time cruisers, the dining structure for dinner may be a bit of a surprise. Basically, you have the same table at the same restaurant with the same waiter and the same people every evening. You’ll have a set time to arrive (usually a window of 15 minutes), which will be the same for everyone in the restaurant who have chosen that seating. Then, the same waiter will serve you every evening, which is great, as you don’t need to remind them what your preferred drink is. If your cruise is rotating, such as on a Disney cruise, you will still have the same table, waiter and people, but the restaurant changes every evening.
There is a different menu every evening, with a different theme, which ensures you are never bored. I absolutely loved the food onboard, and was blown away every night with the dishes they managed to create for us.
#8 All you need is your cabin number
When you have embarked on your first cruise (as in; when you have gone onboard the ship for the first time), all you need to know is your cabin number. Seriously. All information needed is found in your cabin, including your cabin key! So, just head straight to your cabin and expect to find whatever you need there. This also includes information about any excursions, the restaurants on board, and the ship itinerary.
#9 You’ve got mail!
Outside your cabin, there’s a mailbox, and every evening, you’ll have the daily itinerary delivered to your door. There, you’ll find everything you need to know about the next day, whether that’s a day at sea, a port day or even your disembarkment day. All the info about the cruise, events and schedules will be there. You’ll also get excursion tickets delivered to your mailbox if you have booked any for the next day. It is such a great way to make your first cruise the easiest, most comfortable experience ever. I’ll be honest and say that I checked my mailbox excitedly every evening, as I loved seeing what show was planned for the next day (or what theme to dress as for dinner).
#10 Check your data plan
Roaming and data use can get very expensive at sea (as it is not considered mainland when you have left the country borders, and you aren’t covered by the data in the country you are in). So, make sure to check prices with your mobile service provider before you get on the ship and put your phone in flight mode while at sea if you are unsure. You can still connect to the ship wifi, of course, and use that. But you don’t want to come home to an insane bill because you’ve been roaming in international waters.
#11 First time cruise tip: join the program
Here’s a top tip for anyone going on a cruise for the first time, that I was really glad I thought about before my first time on a cruise. Join the cruise line loyalty program/club before boarding. This will help you get some extra discounts and perks during the cruise, such as discounts on drinks packages (if you choose to upgrade), discounts in the merchandise stores, or even discounts on your next cruise! Every cruise line has a different program, and I strongly advise you to join before boarding.
For my Costa cruise, I joined the MyCosta Rewards program, and this was reflected on my Costa card throughout the cruise, so the crew on board could see that I was a member whenever serving me. If I went shopping in the merchandise store, they would automatically apply my discount when I handed over my card. So easy!
#13 Another tip: consider the language onboard
This is a bonus tip for anyone going on their first cruise with Costa (like me). Learn some key Italian phrases before your cruise. As an Italian cruise line, Italian is heavily used onboard (all though all information is available in English), and it can especially help when communicating with other guests. Learn a few phrases such as “excuse me” (for when you inevitably bump into someone) and “thank you”, for example. There were several occasions when I wish I could speak to the guests seated next to me, for example, but as I don’t speak Italian (and they didn’t speak English), we were left with smiling and nodding.
If you want to take it a step further, I recommend starting with my friend Michele’s super easy eBook Learn Italian in 8 Hours!
Any more first-time cruise questions?
I hope you have found this list of cruise advice for first-timers helpful, and that most of your first-time cruise questions have been answered. In short, I would advise you to do some research before your cruise, be prepared by checking up the data costs in international waters with your phone service provider, and joining the cruise loyalty program before you go, and of course; read some blogs and cruise reviews to take your preparation to the next level! If you have any more questions about what it’s like to be going on a cruise for the first time, leave them in the comments!