Checking in at the cruise terminal
I am a huge advocate of arriving in the port of departure at least a day early. It not only gives me a chance to enjoy the local sights (and you can find many articles on Cruisemates to tell you about them), and I don't have to worry about my luggage not arriving in time for the cruise. But perhaps the biggest bonus is being able to arrive at the terminal rested, relaxed, and wearing clean clothes instead of being rumpled and tired from an early-morning flight. If you just can't make it a day early, pack a quick change of clothes in your carry-on bag. In restrooms available at terminals and airports, you can also freshen up with toothbrush and disposable washcloths. Guys can have a quick shave, and gals can re-do their makeup. After all, I know of several couples who connected while standing in line at check-in.
Your cabin mate
If you are sharing a cabin with a stranger, let's hope you packed a lot of tolerance in your suitcase, as this can be a trying situation. Get off on the right foot by asking him/her what space they want for their things, which bed, etc., to show that you want to get along. Then politely request to set some ground rules as to bathroom schedules and consideration as to early/late rising or bedtimes. You might also want to have some understanding as to bringing in an opposite sex guest. The old towel-hanging-on-the-door-knob signal to go sleep in a deck chair is so 1980s.
The first night
Even if you came in a day early and your luggage arrived with you, it still has to be checked at the terminal and might take a while being delivered to your cabin—like after dinner. So try to make a little more room in your carry-on for a "smart casual" outfit. Most organized singles cruises host a welcome aboard party, either at poolside or a bar, and since first impressions always mean a lot, you naturally want to look your best.
Everybody loves tee shirts, especially on a cruise, but they are really appropriate only at poolside, the outdoor buffets, daytime activities, or in ports -- not for dinner. And please leave the cutesy/suggestive logos at home. A guy wearing a tee shirt emblazoned "Drink Till You Want Me" is an instant turn-off to many women. The same applies to women wearing the bold declaration, "These are real" (even if they are).
Visit your local bookstore before you leave home and check out the bestseller list. I've had many guys come up to me this summer and ask if I really believed in The DaVinci Code and how I'm liking John Grisham's latest. Believe me, it gets things going.
Themes and special occasions
Almost all organized singles cruises have coordinators onboard. The good ones will be in touch with participants via e-mail several weeks before the cruise. They should send you a list of planned activities or any special occasions so you can pack accordingly. If you do not hear from your coordinator, call the agency and ask for contact information.
On holiday cruises, such as Halloween or Mardi Gras, there will be costume parties, but some people are more reserved than others and don't feel comfortable dressed like Count Dracula or Madonna. I'm not much of a joiner at these kinds of parties, so I get by with a satin and feather eye mask like the ones worn at the Venice Film Festival or grand New Orleans balls. I've seen some guys get by with a hat and sunglasses, claiming to be one of the "Blues Brothers." So there are a few simple things you can do to fit right in without feeling foolish. And if you want to join in and forgot a costume, I've seen people wrap themselves in a bed sheet, twine artificial vines from onboard arrangements around their head and declare it a "toga" party.
One of the wilder singles agencies is having a pajama party onboard each of its cruises. This is where you will find anything and everything, including risqué outfits, so give this party some thought beforehand.
Count on at least one formal night on a three- or four-day cruise, and possibly two on a seven-day. I am seeing fewer and fewer tuxedos and cocktail dresses. Guys can feel comfortable in a sport coat and dress shirt, with or without tie, and, for the women, as CruiseMates' Editor Anne Campbell has wisely advised, a black skirt will take you around the world. Top it with a dressy blouse, and you're as formal as you need to be.
How you dress in port depends on whether you are going on an excursion (hiking shoes, jeans for horseback riding, or beachwear) or just going shopping. But if you have met someone special and plan a day together at a posh resort, smart casual is the rule of the day—nice shorts or slacks and neat tops and shirts with a swimsuit in your beach bag.
From sunglasses and suntan oil to cameras and funky caps, be sure to pack on the very top a positive attitude and the determination that your cruise is going to be the best ever! And, as always, if you have a specific question, I'm glad to try and help.