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Bow of cruise ship sailing towards sunset
21 July, 20223 minute read

Top tips for first time cruisers

So, you’ve taken the leap and decided you’ll give cruising a try. There are so many reasons why river cruising and ocean cruising are a fantastic way to see the world – not least the remarkable destinations that can be explored in such a short space of time.

From the palm-fringed waters of the Caribbean, and the frozen wilderness of Antarctica to the picture-perfect medieval towns and romantic castles along Europe’s most charming waterways – cruising is undoubtedly one of the best ways to travel. The added bonus is you only have to unpack the once.

But if it’s your first time cruising, you may be wondering what to expect on a river cruise or ocean cruise. Are there protocols to follow? Do you have to pack particular items? Are there dress codes? Do you need to leave tips?

It’s understandable to be slightly anxious if this is your first time cruising. So we've compiled a handy guide for first time cruisers to take the worry out of your first cruising experience.

Familiarise yourself with the ship

Before you cross the gangplank, you may want to familiarise yourself with the layout of the ship you’ll be staying on. It’ll be reassuring to have some idea of deck plans and where communal areas, and your cabin will be situated. This way, nothing will come as a huge surprise to you when you finally embark on your cruise.

You can find all our deck plans for our river cruise ships here and for our ocean cruise partners here.

Young lady looks out towards Caribbean island from the deck of a cruise ship sailing away

What to pack for a cruise?

It can be overwhelming to know what to pack for a cruise when you’re travelling to so many different destinations, especially when there might be varying weather conditions – think exploring South America then cruising Antarctica.

The best advice we can give is to pack as light as possible. No one will notice if you wear the same outfit more than once. Bring comfortable shoes for exploring, and a smarter pair for dining. A jumper or cardigan and a rain jacket will also come in handy. Large ocean ships can get chilly even in warm weather.

River cruises and ocean cruises don’t expect formal attire these days. Even for gala dinners and glitzier evenings, cocktail dresses and black tie aren’t expected. Smart casual is the way forward.

Pack a carry-on rucksack or bag too, as you may find your luggage takes a while to reach your cabin. It will be handy to have a book, phone charger, some sun cream and swimming gear with you so you can head to the pool or sundeck straight away after boarding.

Old suitcase surrounded by holiday items to pack

What to expect on a cruise

The first thing to remember is that this is your holiday. And you should spend it doing what makes you happy. Whether that’s going onshore and enjoying the excursions or finding a quiet corner to read a book, you can do as little or as much as you please.

Even on our larger, mid-sized cruise ships, it's possible to find quiet places to relax. And when you receive your daily newsletter that outlines scheduled excursions and events, you may feel overwhelmed with all the choices. So mark up the ones that really take your fancy and don't feel obliged to do it all. This way, you can then spend the rest of your holiday enjoying the on board facilities.

Book excursions in advance

While some excursions on our river cruises are included, shore excursions on our ocean cruises are extra and need to be booked with the cruise line. Some can be pre-booked in advance, and we recommend you do so if you don’t want to miss out on some wonderful experiences. You can contact our reservations team who can help arrange any excursions, reservations at speciality restaurants or spa treatments.

How about gratuities?

Most cruise lines have a system where gratuities are automatically added – this is then distributed among the staff and crew. However, for drinks – expect around a 15-18% gratuity to be added on to your drinks bill. On our river cruises, gratuities are at your own discretion. A guideline of €7-10 per person per day to cover the staff, is recommended.

Couple holding drinks at the bar of a river cruise ship

Keep an eye on the time

If you’re enjoying yourself and exploring off the ship independently, do keep an eye on the clock. Passengers are required to be back on board at least 30 minutes before the ship’s departure. And the ship will not wait if you’re running late.

Find out more about our wonderful river and ocean cruises here. If you still need advice before you travel, please contact our reservations team, who’ll be happy to help.


Ting has a serious case of wanderlust. Having travelled to over 40 countries, it’s her mission in life to make her way through her ever-growing list. Her two young sons have also caught the travel bug, and recent trips have seen them making snow angels in Iceland while watching the Northern Lights, as well as walking alongside elephants in South Africa.

Ting | About the author

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