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10 Things to know before your first cruise

Thinking of booking a cruise or have already booked one, and don't know what to expect? The 10 things to know before your first cruise should answer some of your questions.


I love cruising!  It has become by far my favourite way to holiday over the last few years, so much so that I have just done my 9th cruise… and I’m only 30!  It’s such an easy way to holiday, especially when it comes to holiday’s with kids.  Everything is taken care of, from the food and cleaning to the activities and child minding, and it’s amazing value for money.


I have been asked endless cruising questions by first time cruisers, so I thought it was time I put together this post on 10 things to know before your first cruise.


What’s included

This can differ between cruise lines, with the more expensive lines offering more inclusive fares, but most of the family friendly cruise lines offer much the same inclusions.  Generally speaking, all meals and most snacks will be included, with the exception of specialty restaurants which attract a surcharge.  We stick to the included restaurants, they tend to be fantastic and offer a great range of 3 course menus.


When it comes to drinks, the basics are included.  Water, tea, coffee are all freely available, and soft drinks and alcoholic drinks can be purchased from multiple bars around the ship.  Prices vary between cruise lines, but are generally much the same as what you would pay on land.


Which cruise line is the best for kids

The best cruise lines for kids sailing out of Australia would be Royal Caribbean, Carnival and P&O, and I would recommend them in the order.  Royal Caribbean are hands down our families favourite.  They have some amazing ships packed full of family friendly activities.  Who wouldn’t want to ice skate at sea?  The kids clubs are fantastic and heavily used by our family, and the food is amazing.  The only downside is that all Royal Caribbean ships use US dollars onboard, which once converted to Australian dollars can make drinks, shore tours and other purchases a little more expensive than other lines.


Carnival are another great option for families.  Their kids clubs accept kids from the age of 2 which is fantastic for families with toddlers.  Unlike Royal Caribbean, all onboard purchases on Australian sailings are in Australian dollars, which makes things that little bit easier (and cheaper).  Their ships interior decor can be a little OTT, but if you can look past that the ships are fantastic.


Finally, P&O may not be quite in the same league as the last two lines, but they do have their upsides.  All P&O ships are based in Australia year round, offering plenty of opportunities for winter sailings, and they offer some fantastic itineraries.  They also offer a great range of weekend cruises to nowhere, and offer some especially popular comedy themes cruises included a few from Adelaide.   Being an Adelaidian myself it’s amazing to be able to take a cruise without first boarding a plane, which I actually did last weekend.


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What should I pack in my carry on luggage?

On boarding day you might not receive your checked baggage until late in the afternoon, so it’s a great idea to pack everything that you will need for the day in your hand luggage.  That included bathers, sunscreen, a change of clothes for the kids and of course medication.


Do I need to dress up for dinner?

This one is completely up to you.  Cruising in Australia is fairly casual on family friendly cruise lines, and so you can dress up as much or as little as you like.  Generally a week-long cruise will have two formal nights with the remaining being casual or ‘themed’ nights.  A nice cocktail dress is more than enough on formal nights, although I have seen the occasional ball gown make an appearance.


When it comes to themed nights, how involved passengers get depends on the cruise line.  Royal caribbean don’t tell passengers about the theme nights until they are onboard, so not many passengers get involved.  P&O on the other hand do amazing theme nights!  My recent 3 night comedy cruise featured a ‘Bianco night’, followed by a ‘Gatsby night’, and both were amazing.


How big are the rooms?

Not huge, unless you book a suite, but they do have everything you need.  They all include a wardrobe to store your luggage, your own private ensuite with a toilet, shower and vanity, possible a small lounge area and of course beds.  How the beds are configured in a 4-berth room depends on the cruise line and whether you have booked an inside, outside or balcony, but generally they will feature a queen/king bed for the parents and two bunks that pull down from the ceiling for the kids.


What are the different room types?

Generally ships will have inside, outside, balcony and suite cabins, with insides being the cheapest and suites the most expensive.  If you are looking for the budget option insides are fantastic.  We have got some amazing inside bargains, and the lack of window has never bothered our family.  These cabins are identical to an outside, just without a window.


Outside are usually the second cheapest, and will either have a porthole or larger picture window.  They are perfect if you want natural light, but aren’t fussed on having a balcony.


Balconies are similar to an outside, sometime a little bigger, and include your own private balcony.  They usually have a small table with a few chairs, which makes them great for having a little privacy while sitting out in the fresh air and enjoying the view.


Finally, suites are the most expensive cabin category, and vary massively in size depending on the type of suite.  I am yet to sail in a suite (hopefully one day), but some are so large they have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining area and even balcony spas.


Do I need to book shore tours?

No, you can always do your own thing on shore, or even book tours on land, but shore tours booked through the ships have their pros and cons.  Ship shore tours are always more expensive, but being on a shore tour does generally mean the ship will wait for you if the tour is running a little late.  Organising a private tour on the other hand means you are on your own if you get back to the ship late and it has already left.


We generally prefer to do our own thing on shore, we just always make sure we aim to be back at the ship a few hours before departure time, giving is some breathing space if it takes longer than anticipated to get back.  If you do decide to book shore tours with the ship, consider doing it online before your cruise.  They are often a fair bit cheaper than booking on board, particularly with Royal Caribbean.


Will I get sick?

Unfortunately sea sickness does happen, but there are some great medications available that can prevent it.  I suffer terribly from motion sickness, but I don’t let it stop me from cruising.  I take Avomine every time I cruse, starting with a tablet before bed the night before the cruise leaves, and continuing with one tablet before bed every night of the cruise.  This works perfectly for me, but it might take a little trial and error to find the medication that is right for you.


If you do feel unwell, I find it helps to get some fresh air, keep moving and keep snacking.  Nothing makes the sea sickness feeling worse for me than sitting inside with an empty stomach.


Should I cruise with my baby/toddler?

Yes!  You do need to check the minimum age for the cruise before you book it.  Generally the minimum age is 6 months for a cruise with 2 sea days in a row, and 1 year for a cruise with 3 or more sea days in a row.  My daughter took her first cruise at 2 and my son was only 11 months on his first, but we have always found cruising to be the perfect holiday with kids.  Everything is done for us, and we can choose to do as little or as much as we want.


Will I board bored?

Only if you choose to be.  Cruise lines offer activities round the clock, so there is always something on, and that’s on top of the attractions onboard many cruise ships, like the ice skating, surfing simulator, rock climbing and mini golf on our recent Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas cruise.  It’s always great to also squeeze in a little relaxing by the pool too!

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