Guide to cruising - what to do when you first get on board

Sarah Bolton on 03 May 2019
You’ve booked your cruise, and are all excited when you get on board. So, what should you do first? Here’s my top tips for things to do in the first couple of hours:

Personally I try to get to the port in good time so that I can be one of the first on board. Please note however that some cruise lines, especially those with large ships, stagger the boarding process and you are given a check-in time so that they don’t have 6,000 guests all trying to check-in and board the ship at the same time – nothing worse than a very long queue.

Depending on when you board, your cabin may not be available just yet while the crew work hard to turn the ship around and clean/prepare all the cabins. Some cruise lines will have an area where you can leave any large pieces of hand luggage that you may have with you and don’t wish to carry around. You will be notified over the PA system when the cabins are available.

Once you’re on board, here are my top 10 things to do (not necessarily in this order – it depends on what’s most important to you!)

1. Firstly, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be pretty hungry and ready for some lunch. The buffet restaurant will always be open straight away, and is a great place to get something to eat and drink, relax and work out your plan for the day.

2. Drinks packages – if you’re not on an all inclusive cruise, you may wish to consider buying a drinks package. Not all ships offer them, but it’s worth checking. Do work out though if they’re going to be good value for you – sometimes it’s worth it just for peace of mind!

3. While I’m still on the subject of food and drink – most ships have speciality dining restaurants. Apart from the luxury cruise lines, these will have a small supplement, and should be pre-booked as soon as possible in order to get the days/times you like. When you’re deciding when to go take into consideration what else you are planning on doing that day i.e. any shore excursions, going to the theatre in the evening etc

4. If you have children, go along to the kids’ club to check out the facilities, meet the team and register your kids.

5. Almost all cruises will have a spa intro party – which can be quite fun and there are prizes to be had! If you wish to book spa treatments, do this asap, especially if you’re having something for a special occasion e.g. birthday celebration. Many ships have a spa/thermal relaxation area, which you can purchase a pass for the day or the cruise duration – these do sell quickly due to the space limitations! Note that on port days there are quite often special promotions, so if you’re not going ashore and you’re flexible on what treatment you’d like you could get yourself a bargain by waiting!

6. On some of the larger cruise ships, there are various entertainment areas and shows, some of which need to be pre-booked e.g. Cirque du Soleil on MSC and the ice shows on Royal Caribbean

7. If you haven’t pre-booked your shore excursions, the shore excursion desk will be open for any queries and bookings. If you wish to do any trips that will be space limited e.g. helicopter trips, then I strongly recommend you prebook these, if nothing else!

8. On the larger ships there will be plenty of activities that may require booking, so pop your name down once you get on board (you can always change them if necessary subject to the T&Cs) e.g. North Star & iFly on Royal Caribbean

9. Once you’re allowed in your cabin, go and check it out. Ensure your beds are made up how you’d like, and everything is up to scratch. If you need anything, get in touch with your cabin steward – they’re wonderful and will bend over backwards to look after you. Note that you may not get your luggage for a few hours, so if you’d like to change or freshen up then make sure you put your washbag/clean clothes in your hand luggage.

10. And finally – go and explore! This is half the fun of a new ship – and of course there’s lots of places to stop along the way… cheeky Strawberry Daiquiri anyone?

Don’t forget that there will be a mandatory safety drill before you set sail, which you must attend for your own safety!