Your First Cruise: What to Expect

Part 2: The First Day Onboard

You've actually managed to find your cabin before dark, so you're beginning to feel like a cruise veteran. Probably by now your cabin steward has stopped in to introduce him/her self. The steward will instruct you to call if you need anything pertaining to your cabin. By the end of the cruise you'll swear they've been hiding under your bed throughout the voyage, waiting for you to leave the room. There's simply no other way to explain why you never see them, yet every time you leave the cabin, you return to find it spotless.

And unless you memorize their face at your first meeting, whenever you happen to spot stewards in the hallways, you'll never be sure which one is yours. I once tipped four different cabin stewards before I found the right one.

There are a few "business issues" we ought to address, before your mind becomes cruise mush. If we take care of these few details now, you'll be able to lie back and enjoy the rest of the cruise. And these are important matters: They involve eating!

By now you've received your dining assignment. It will either be noted on your "shipboard charge card" or on a simple card waiting in your cabin. I recommend that you visit your assigned dining room as the first thing on your agenda. For one thing, it's a treat seeing the dining room for the first time; more importantly, it's good to know how to get there. After all, who wants to miss a meal?

If there is any kind of a problem with your dining assignment, find out where the maitre d' or restaurant manager is located, and go see them to request a change. In most cases they will do their utmost to satisfy your request. In severe cases, their "utmost" can likely be improved by the sudden appearance of a $20 bill.

Many of the newer ships these days also have one or more alternate dining rooms or restaurants, sometimes at an additional cost. (See the CruiseMates article on alternative dining for more information.) If you've decided to sample one of these, now is a good time to make your reservation.

So now you've taken care of all these eating arrangements, but you have yet to sample the "river of food" that you've heard cruise ships offer. Well, it's time!

On embarkation day, the dining room and specialty restaurants won't be serving meals until dinner. However, there will be a full buffet set up in a casual atmosphere on the Lido deck, and in many cases, you'll be able to choose from a grill or pizzeria as well. There is no shortage of plates, cutlery or even food, so there's no need to push me over on your way by.

There's one important thing to note here. While the quality of buffets varies somewhat among the cruise lines, they are just buffets. You've probably never experienced a gourmet buffet on land, so you have no reason to expect one at sea. The food should be of good quality and freshness, but expecting a cornucopia of gourmet options will only lead to disappointment.

On your way to what I affectionately call the "food trough," bring along the ship's daily newsletter and shore excursion pamphlet, which were waiting for you in your cabin. Between bites, you'd be wise to start choosing which (if any) of the ship's scheduled shore excursions you'd like to take in your ports of call. Some of the more popular excursions do sell out, so registering early isn't a bad idea.

Perusing the ship's newsletter will also give you an idea of all the activities the cruise director and the cruise staff have cooked up for you that day. It's entirely up to you which ones to participate in.

While you're eating and reading, and your eyes are roaming around your exciting new home, there will likely be no shortage of bar servers passing your way, offering sail-away umbrella-drink specials. These are often delicious, but RARELY free (the exception is on some of the luxury lines, where spirits are included). If you take one, expect the server to ask for your shipboard charge card. On my first cruise I think I emptied four trays of drinks, handing them to everyone nearby, before the server asked for my "card."

It was a $200 lesson, but it wasn't a bad way to meet new friends.

There are normally drink stations of some sort in or around the buffet or pool area, where coffee, tea, ice tea and juices are offered free. Alcoholic beverages are certainly not your only option. The cruise lines also offer soft drinks. These are not free, although some cruise lines offer free soft drinks in the dining room.

So now that you've quenched your need for food and drink, it's time to explore the ship. I normally tear a deck plan out of a brochure and bring it along with me. Even though most ships supply miniature deck plans, when you get to be my age you need BIG print.

Walking through all the public rooms is one of my cruise rituals. I believe it's important to become familiar with my new surroundings. It also saves me from spending the rest of the cruise walking down the wrong hallways, and even putting my cabin key in the wrong doors (yes, it's happened to me more than once).

By the end of the stroll I've normally picked out one or two favorite spots where Mrs. Kuki knows to look for me--if I'm not in the casino.

Now the horn sounds for the mandatory lifeboat drill. I'll be back after the drill with Part 3: Let the Fun Begin!

Link to: Your First Cruise: What to Expect - Part 1 Link to: Your First Cruise: What to Expect - Part 3

To ask Kuki a question directly, e-mail him at: [email protected]

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