My long-held dream of taking a cruise came true in July 2004 when my husband and 12 year old daughter agreed to come with me on a Celebrity Alaska cruise from Seward to Vancouver. Photos of our Alaskan trip can be found on: http://maree.smugmug.com/gallery/1899885. Now, the price I had to pay for getting my cruise was to do three days hiking in the Talkeetna Mountains which was a physical challenge I could have done without, but what a way to earn seven days of cruise recovery!
As a first time cruiser, and someone with a just a slightly obsessive personality, I spent some time planning this trip, so I'm hoping my tips might help other first timers.
Here Are My Top 10 Tips.
- Work out why you want to cruise. This will help you pick your cruise line which, given the number of cruise lines, is your first challenge. We wanted comfort, good service, and good food and so chose Celebrity. Oh, and a verandah was critical for me too - I couldn't imagine cruising without being able to step out of the cabin onto my verandah into the fresh air. You can do this on deck, but I had this image of me on my own, sitting on the verandah watching the world go by - and the image did become a reality.
- Check out local/regional specials which cruise lines offers on a regular basis. We managed to get a great fare only available to Australians as a result of ringing the Celebrity offices here in Australia.
- Do your research. This will be easy for an obsessive person, less so for someone more spontaneous, but it pays off on the cruise itself. This research helps you understand the logistics of your cruise - getting to the port, embarkation, luggage tags and the like. There are lots and lots of online sites and even more books to help you with your research - taking the time to plan your cruise is well worth to ensure you have no bad surprises on the cruise itself (good surprises are always welcome!).
- Join online cruise sites and discussion boards, and talk to others about their experiences. Ask questions because the people on these boards are experienced cruisers and like to help. I met some folks on these online boards before the cruise, and we met up on the ship which was fun.
- Get to know your ship. I spent a bit of time looking at the ship layouts on the website so I would have some idea about what was available on board. Yes, you can find all this out when you get on board, but I wanted to spend my time on board enjoying myself, not working out where the buffet or where the gym were.
- Explore your options for shore excursions since organising them yourself might be cheaper, and sometimes less crowded than the cruise line options. The internet helps with this self-organisation, and because the ports of call are set up for cruise visitors, finding your way around isn't hard. We organised most of our own excursions, expect where we had to travel to get to the excursion - it was easier then to use the cruise arrangements.
- Pack light - okay, everyone says this, but you don't need that much gear on a ship, unless you want to really dress up for the formal dinner nights. And take a carry-on with essential gear in case your suitcases don't turn up in your cabin quickly. One of our bags turned up almost immediately, the other one arrived a few hours later. But, we were checking out activities and eating lunch, so the timing of our bag arrival didn't really matter to us.
- Don't stress about getting sea-sick as the ride is incredibly smooth - although I did take medication with me just in case (remember I have an obsessive personality!). We had one night where the ship was moving along really fast overnight and there was a bit of rocking, but even that was soothing in a strange way. We discovered later that the speed was to get us into port before another ship on the same route, so that we could dock and not have to tender. So competition among cruise captains is certainly alive and well. By the way, we won!
- Relax and enjoy! As we walked onto the ship and had our photo taken, I felt like our cruise experience had really begun. The photo was almost the signal to leave the real world behind and relax. As part of my pre-cruise research, I read many, many reviews where people were very critical of different aspects of their cruise experience - which were useful in an odd sort of way. But, I think that many of these criticisms stemmed from unrealistic expectations of what a cruise is all about. Do that research, understand your cruise and what it is and is not, and you will have a great time.
- Post-cruise, be prepared for overwhelming symptoms of addiction. Once a cruiser, always a cruiser I think, so you have to work out how to control that urge to cruise again and again!