7 Do's and Don'ts of Cruises From An Expert

With cruising becoming more mainstream over the last decade, one would think that tourists would have the process of sailing down by now. If air travel has taught us anything, however, it's that no matter how mainstream it becomes, the traveling public will always be a little scatterbrained, including yours truly. According to the New York Times, roughly 20% of Americans have been on a cruise, which means we have a long way to go before all the first-time cruiser kinks are out of our system. So I decided to consult an expert on the do's and don'ts of cruises to help you better prepare for your first adventure on the high seas.

Does this look like an "expert" to you?

OK, so I just consulted myself; "expert" might be an exaggeration. The only thing I'll truly claim "expert" status on is the variety of Entenmann's donuts available in the grocery store. But as I confessed once before, I do love cruises - I'd like to think that 11 sailings has taught me a thing or two. For example...

Do familiarize yourself with the ship once onboard.

Don't stop and read a map while in everyone's - read: my - way.

Let me state the obvious: cruise ships are huge and somewhat confusing. Before you get onboard take a look at the ship's deck plans online to at least get yourself acquainted with the important stuff. And by "important stuff" I mean your room and food. Everything else is just details. If you get lost, don't fight amongst yourselves about which way you should go. You're killing my buzz and chances are you're both wrong. Just ask for directions from a member of the crew; you can't walk 10 feet without seeing one. 

Don't try and sneak in the Diamond Lounge if you're only Gold.
They take that stuff seriously.

Don't use the elevators.

Do use the stairs.

Elevators are the biggest time wasters on a cruise ship. There aren't very many of them, and since we American's are programmed to avoid stairs like the plague, the lines are usually quite long. Then once the elevator does arrive, chances are it's already full and there's no room for you anyway. Unless you're going from Deck 3 to Deck 15, take the stairs. You'll get there faster and burn off one of the three desserts you had a dinner last night. Call it a win-win.

Don't ignore the "Deck Closed Due To High Winds" sign.

Do research and book shore excursions ahead of time.

Don't jump in a car with a guy that promises "A good time, mahn."

For the most part, the ports of call on cruises are 100% safe. Still, you're in an unknown land and have "tourist" tattooed on your forehead. Translation: you're an easy target. Booking an official shore excursion through the cruiselines is really the best way to ensure both your safety and that you won't be left behind should anything go wrong. As an example, MSC's Caribbean cruises boast over 700 shore excursions to pick from, so there is surely something for everyone. Yes, they will cost more than the random guys with old laminated signs that say "Beach Tour," but the savings is no where near the risk involved. Besides, you wouldn't get in a car with this guy in New York, why on earth would you consider it on a random Caribbean island?

Don't go to Senor Frogs.

Don't feel bad about ordering four appetizers at dinner.

Do order four appetizers at dinner.

You know that feeling when you open a menu and see two or three things that all sound really good? On land, throwing caution to the wind and ordering all three would bring a few odd looks from the waiter, plus make for a hefty check. At sea, however, neither of these conditions exist. If you feel like starting with the shrimp cocktail, crab cake, and lobster bisque, you go right ahead. I think my personal record is four appetizers and two entrees which I set aboard the Norwegian Sky earlier this year. The only person that will judge these actions is yourself. And maybe your wife...

Take out $5 and light it on fire. You'll feel the same after.

Do try and carry-on your bags.

Don't get mad when your checked bags take a while to show up.

The process of boarding and disembarking a cruise ship is chaotic, at best. Thousands of guests, crew, and pieces of luggage are all scattered about outside the terminal, and how any of it finds where it's supposed to go is beyond me. We carried on our bags during our recent Oasis of the Seas cruise, and doubt we will ever go back to the old way. It might be a challenge packing for a weeks vacation in one bag, but if you can pull it off you'll manage to cut a lot of stress from the process. Plus, you won't be stuck waiting for bags to be delivered the first night, and you'll be among the first off the ship when you return home. 

Don't do bad things onboard. Or else you'll be carrying your bags home
from Jamaica when they kick you off the ship.

Don't get drunk and crazy on the first day

Do get drunk and crazy on the last day.

I get it. Your vacation has finally begun and you want to celebrate. Trust me, I understand the urge to suck down a few of those frozen drinks the waiters continuously wave in your face. But while doing so would no doubt make for a fun start to the trip, laying on the beach in Nassau is a lot more fun if you're not hungover. My suggestion: save the crazy party day for the last of the cruise. Better to spend a day sleeping on a plane or in a car as opposed to your cabin on a cruise ship. Not to mention, while everyone else is feeling sorry for themselves about going back home tomorrow, you're living it up like the trip just started. Try it, and thank me later. 

Don't smuggle booze onboard, unless you like it with a slight soapy taste.
Trust me.

Do remember that you're on a ship with 3000 people.

Don't board with sky-high expectations. 

There's two pieces of advice I would usually give a first time cruiser. The first is to remember that you're on a ship with 3000 other people. It's their vacation too, and chances are they've waited just as long for it as you have. As cruising has become more popular, the mutual respect for fellow passengers seems to have proportionally declined - just like it has in the air. No one likes Mr. Sense of Entitlement, so try to avoid booking him a ticket.

Don't let your wife play bingo.

The other piece of advice I'd give a new cruiser is to come aboard with the appropriate expectations. Cruising is not always what it's made out to be in the commercials. Taking a cruise won't change your life - unless you propose on one like I did - and chances are the islands you visit will look nothing like they did in the brochure. But, if you follow these do's and don'ts and board the ship with an open mind, chances are you'll have a fun, relaxing, and calorie-packed week.

Enjoy Your Stay