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My husband and I just went on a 7 day cruise of the Western Caribbean where we visited Costa Maya, Mexico; Belize; Roatan, Honduras; and Cozumel, Mexico. I learned a lot on this cruise and put together a list of first time cruise tips for you that I wish I had known more about in advance!
This was my first cruise as an adult; in disclosure, I was about 16 years old the last time I went on one, so I don’t remember too much about the experience. Plus I didn’t book or prepare for that cruise so I really consider myself a first timer.
I booked our cruise on Expedia–they had the same prices and rewards as booking via the cruise line itself, plus I got cash back with Ebates. Score!
I wasn’t totally sure about booking a cruise, to be honest. I usually like being on land, exploring cities on foot and pretending I’m a local. It’s sort of difficult to get that local experience in a country when you’re just dropped off for 6-8 hours before taking off again to another port.
Honestly, I was also scared about gorging myself for 7 days on buffets. I always go into a buffet all like, “I’m gonna just get a salad.” Then I see that mac n cheese, hamburgers, lasagna, ice cream, and all the tasty stuff and I’m done for! I just literally have no self control around a buffet and I need to live that truth and just recognize it. Anyone else have a hard time around buffets?
But there were a number of positives to taking a cruise vacation. Namely, the wonderful staff aboard our Royal Caribbean ship the Rhapsody of the Seas, the live music on board every night, not having to worry about a single thing on board, and the ability to see many cities in a short amount of time.
Being a first-born, INTJ, Type-A kinda chick led me to research a ton of blogs and YouTube videos with what to expect on a cruise. However, some things took me by surprise and I wish I was just slightly more prepared!
However, now I am able to share some of these tips with you so you can prepare for your own cruise, if you have one coming up.
Some of these links are affiliate links, which means I might make a small commission if you purchase something I recommend, at no cost to you.
Our cruise checked in from 10:30am-2:30pm. We decided to eat a small breakfast at the Grand Hyatt near the Tampa Cruise Port and head over to the ship around 11:30am so we could have lunch on board.
Guess what? So did EVERYONE else.
The line at the lunch buffet stretched across the pool deck area as people clamored to get food, and there was basically nowhere to sit.
Next time, I’d check in around 2pm and then hit the buffet, which was open until 3pm. That way most of the people would have cleared out, leaving shorter lines and more seating available.
We all know cruise rooms are super tiny. So you better like your travel companion, if you have one.
But another thing I didn’t realize is that there are just a few hooks in the room. When you have a bunch of wet gear, it’s so helpful to have a few extra places to hang your bathing suits, personal towels, shirts, and shorts.
A great first time cruise tip is to pick up a pack of these 10 magnetic hooks. Many of the doors of the rooms are magnet-friendly, so you shouldn’t have a problem sticking these up!
I don’t know what it was, but because I didn’t buy the soda or beverage package I wanted it SO BAD. Like every day all I wanted was a Diet Coke.
Drink packages were on sale in advance of the cruise, but they were wildly expensive once on board. Just the soda/juice/coffee package would have been over $200 for 6 days.
So next time I would definitely purchase a drink package in advance if I feel like I’m gonna need that sweet Diet Coke juice on board.
As mentioned above, I wanted Diet Coke bad. BUT! Royal Caribbean offered a 15-specialty coffee package for about $35. So I bought it, and I am so glad I did.
First time cruise tips: Do be warned that if you order a large latte, they will punch your card twice since it uses more espresso. So I always just ordered the medium sizes, which worked for me, and the card easily lasted the whole week.
We can wear a shirt twice. We can wear pants twice.
I will NOT wear underwear twice.
Sure, you’re saying, just hand wash stuff. Listen, there’s like no circulation in the cruise cabins, so your stuff probably won’t dry all the way, or it might smell musty.
Just pack extra socks and underwear and you won’t regret it.
Everyone on board is starving and hangry after long day trips in the port areas, and they all want to eat at 6pm (when our buffet opened).
If you can hold off even 30 minutes after the buffet opens, you will avoid the first wave of hungry folks and lines. You’ll sail right through the buffet.
There were a few unexpected quiet spots on our cruise, the Rhapsody of the Seas.
One amazingly chill spot we found was the Viking Club / nightclub. I know that sounds crazy. Like how is a nightclub calm? I don’t know, man, it was just a super chill place to hang and I never saw more than 10 people there. I was able to relax on one of the couches and do a few hours of work since it was fairly empty and the wifi worked well.
And we were definitely the only people taking advantage of the open dance floor!
I paid for the “fast” Surf n Stream package for three devices so we could both use our phones, and I could use my laptop. The wifi on board is billed as “the fastest internet at sea,” and I paid about $160 for a week of wifi.
Is that crazy? YES.
What’s even crazier is that the wifi was super spotty, kicked us off all the time, and didn’t work in our rooms. So don’t expect to have 100% reliable wifi if you’re planning on working remotely on board.
One of the best first time cruise tips is to make sure you know the “ship time,” because it could be different than local time. And you do NOT want to get the late toot horn or miss the ship pulling out from port.
They leave on time nearly to the minute, so make sure you set your watch to the right time before you leave for the day!
The staff on our cruise was so friendly and helpful the entire time. Every single person would go above and beyond for the passengers. Our room steward Antonio was especially friendly and helpful! We so appreciated his hard work straightening our room twice every day. From the concierge staff to the waiters to the casino staff, everyone on board will work their hardest to make sure you have an awesome vacation.
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