At the time of writing this post, I have just returned home from a glorious 3 week vacation on board the MSC Orchestra for its’ maiden voyage to Australia. While I had prior preconceptions before hopping on board, as it turns out my first cruise experience was so thoroughly enjoyable that I’d jumped at the opportunity to cruise again. But after a few weeks at sea, I did uncover some truths to cruising – so here are the 10 simple steps to help you learn how to enjoy your first cruise!
A Balcony Suite is worth every penny
I’ll start with the booking process because its this simple foundation of choosing the correct room that will highly influence your cruise experience. Despite being slightly more expensive, having a balcony suite is an absolute must if you wish to enjoy your first cruise. Although there are many great outdoor public areas on the ship, you are bound to want a moment of silence or retreat (likely once a day!) and without a balcony you run the risk of feeling trapped or even claustrophobic. The rooms are small as is to be expected, so its nice to have a mini-oasis to retreat to for some fresh sea air.
Do Your Research (Cruise lines)
Throughout my first cruise experience I spoke to many avid cruisers about their favourite trips, destinations, and cruise lines. It was soon clear to me that the cruise experience differs drastically depending on which cruise line you choose. Much like hotel star ratings, cruises vary depending on their target market. My first experience with MSC Cruises was in the mid-range price point, meaning that it was an incredibly affordable option but far from the five star service some guests preferred with alternative cruise lines. So long as you do your research and know what to expect, you won’t walk away disappointed.
Do Your Research #2 (Know what’s on board)
Once you’ve chosen your preferred cruise line, cruise route and dates, its important to take the time to learn about your new home for the next few days, weeks or months on-board. There’s so much to do on cruise ships that is included in your package price, including swimming pools, tennis courts, football, basketball, ping pong, boardgames, libraries, spa, sauna… the list is truly endless. Be sure to read up about the activities before you board the ship and have some idea of how you’ll spend your time on the ship. That way you can pack accordingly and leave the heavy novels at home.
Be Prepared to Switch Off
As a full time travel blogger, I don’t really ever take a ‘day off’ to sit back and switch off. However for many this is one of the perks of cruising, so I decided to dedicate a day to ‘switch off’ and enjoy the ocean views, wander around the ship aimlessly and soak up some Arabian sun. It is of course also a possibility to stay connected should that be more your style, as the ships are well equipped with surprisingly fast wi-fi services. The connection is considered by most to be expensive, however I was quite pleasantly surprised to connect for 8 hours of log-in, log-out wifi for a mere $70. Sure, it’s not cheap!!! But when you can log-in, open up a browser and load all of your emails in a couple of minutes, log-off and read them offline…. Before you know it your 8-hour connection has lasted an entire 7-day cruise. For $10 a day to stay connected, I’d say that’s pretty reasonable.
Know Your Body (and come prepared)
As someone who doesn’t get seasick, its hard for me to provide adequate advice on preparation coming into your first cruise. But a great place to start would be to pack motion sickness tablets just in case! Its good to know that most people don’t experience nausea throughout any point of their cruise, so it shouldn’t be a problem for most.
Once on-board, Explore the Ship
One of the biggest mistakes I made in the first 2-3 days of cruising was being too content in my private little oasis that was cabin #10172. My cabin was larger than I had anticipated and because I was travelling solo, it felt even more spacious! Having a private balcony made it all too easy to want to stay in my room and relax instead of getting out to explore the ship. However once I did make it out of my cabin, it was hard to ever want to come back! There was oodles to do on-board with daily activities, an extensive spa and beauty menu, great fitness facilities (although dumbbell weights are HARD on a moving ship) and so many great entertainment shows in the evenings.
Shore Excursions are a Must
Its easy to get caught up in all the on-board fun on days at sea – there really is so much to do! But be sure to save some energy for the days at port, as there is so much to discover in each stopover. Despite being more expensive than ordinary day trips or the price of hiring a taxi driver for the day, the on-shore excursions are incredibly informative and tailored to ensure guests get a well-rounded experience of the city or country in just one day. There’s also the added peace of mind that you won’t miss the ship when it leaves port in the evening, of which I almost did when I took a day to myself in Dubai!
Embrace the Cruise-itude
There’s a certain cruise attitude that should be adopted once on-board. It’s a great opportunity to get dressed up and have fun with all the themed evenings such as carnival, white night, Arabic night or even a Gala Dinner! Be sure to pack some fancy evening wear as well as your toggs to enjoy the daily cruise life at sea.
Packing: Less is More
While it is important to remember a diverse wardrobe, packing less is still more when it comes to cruising. The on-board laundry services are quite reasonable when it comes time to refresh your wardrobe, so don’t get too wound up in overpacking. Also be sure to leave the heavy books at home as you’ll find a library on board and many free magazines to keep you occupied. They’ve really thought of everything and anything you do need can be found in the shops on board.
Once a cruiser, always a cruiser!
Before coming on my first cruise I was understandably sceptical. Would I enjoy it? Was I crazy to be cruising solo? Was I crazy to be cruising solo IN MY TWENTIES!? I had loads of preconceptions before coming on my first cruise – as you are likely to have, too, before departing on your first cruise. But I truly had such a fantastic time on board the MSC Orchestra. It was so good, in fact, that I’ll be jumping at the opportunity to cruise again! Although this is a very different way to travel than I am accustomed to, it was such a fantastic first cruise experience. There are both pros and cons to cruising, it doesn’t suit all, but it is an experience worth having at least once before coming to a conclusion without trying it out first. Who knows, you may be lured in to the cruise lifestyle for good!
What do you think of cruising? Did you try it and walk away pleasantly surprised or are you a cruise newbie too!? Join the discussion in the comments below.