First time cruise tips

Hilton Grand Vacations shares first-time cruise tips, hacks, and lingo to help prepare you to set sail.

If this is your first time taking a cruise, it’s hard to know what to expect. Of course, there are similar things to prepare for, like any vacation, but a cruise also has its differences. Hilton Grand Vacations created a list of first-time cruise tips and advice to help you prepare to set sail.

Before You Book 

Decide Which Type of Cruise is Right for You 

Our first piece of cruise advice is to narrow down the type of cruise that fits your style. Are you looking for a large ocean liner cruise with multiple pools, several restaurant options, and a range of onboard entertainment? Or would you prefer something more intimate, like a river cruise? There are so many options to choose from, so here are types of cruises to consider: 

  • Large ocean liner (the Mega ships) 
  • River cruise 
  • Luxury cruise 
  • Adventure cruise 
  • Repositioning cruise 


Depending on your destination or number of people in your cruise party, the price will dramatically increase at certain times of the year. One of our favorite first-time cruise tips is to be sure to keep holiday and popular vacation dates in mind. If you have flexibility, choose dates that are less frequently traveled.

Research the Assigned Ship, Not Just the Cruise Line 

When you are researching which cruise to book, make sure you read the details about the actual ship you will be on. Even though it’s one cruise line, all their ships vary in size, entertainment, dining, and activities.

first time cruise tips before you book

Picking Your Stateroom 

Deciding which cabin is right for you can be tricky.  Our best first-time cruise tip is to start with a cabin that has a balcony. Nothing beats watching the sunrise from the comfort of a private balcony while the ship pulls into port. 

Other tips to consider when picking your stateroom: 

  • Avoid rooms too close to the elevators.
  • You can typically save money by booking an inside stateroom. 
  • Booking a room closer to the lido deck will cut down on the time you spend going back and forth to your room. 
  • If you are prone to seasickness, book a cabin midship. You will not feel the rocking caused by rough seas as much in this area.
first time cruise tips for booking your room

Get to Know the Details 

Money On-Board 

The majority of cruises operate on a cashless system, which means that your room key acts as a form of currency. Anything not included in your cruise package is charged directly to your room, and you will pay before you disembark at the end of your cruise. 

Things that may cost extra include: 

  • Alcoholic drinks 
  • Specialty coffee 
  • Meals in alternative restaurants 
  • Spa treatments 
  • Access to the Internet 
  • Shore excursions 
  • Fitness classes 
  • Childcare services 
  • Arcade games 

Understanding Shore Excursions and Activity Options

Your ship’s itinerary will be very detailed regarding your ports of call.  Booking your excursions through the cruise line can ensure you will be back on board in time. We recommend booking all of your cruise activities before leaving home, as many tours and excursions sell out quickly.

first time cruise tips when booking excursions

Read the Facts Page About Your Cruise 

Whatever cruise line you decide to sail with, their website will have a frequently asked questions section. This FAQ page will have tips and tricks to help you get the most for your stay, including:

  • Information on dress code 
  • Dining times and options 
  • Shore excursions 
  • Special events on board 
  • Tipping policies 
  • Duty-free you can take aboard 

Arrive at Your Departure City Early 

It’s no fun at all to rush when traveling. Plan to arrive at your port city at least a day or two before departure.

first time cruise tips to arrive early at your departure city

Check the Ship’s Power Outlets 

Depending on where you are sailing, ships can run on different power outputs. Check your specific ship’s, and pack an adapter if necessary as these will be quite expensive to buy on board. 

Pack a Carry-On 

Boarding the Ship 

When you check into the ship, it could be a few hours before your bags arrive at your stateroom. Make sure to pack a carry on bag with:

  • Your bathing suit 
  • Change of clothes 
  • ID and other travel documents 
  • Medications 
  • Sunscreen

This way, you’ll be ready to start your vacation right away.

first time cruise tips on what to pack in your carry on

Take Inventory 

When you first walk into your stateroom, check all the lights, appliances, and outlets. If anything isn’t working, you can let a staff member know so it can get addressed right away. 

Switch Your Cell Phone to Airplane Mode 

To avoid international fees and other overage charges, switch your phone to airplane mode when onboard the ship. We also recommend calling your cell phone provider and talking with them about international plans during your vacation. A cruise can be the perfect time to unplug altogether. 

Other Cruise Advice We Love 

Pace Yourself 

With an abundance of activities, dining, and entertainment, you’ll want to see and try everything on your first cruise. We know the food options all look fantastic, but take your time. Your stomach will thank you later

first time cruise tips to pace yourself

Don’t Assume Your Cruise in All-Inclusive 

While some boats might be all-inclusive, others might not be. And inclusive doesn’t always mean the same thing. Some cruises might include alcohol, while others do not. As we mentioned earlier, check the FAQ section of your ship’s website for all information.

Talk to the Crew 

Being social with the staff members and crew is a great way to make new friends on board and learn more about the many different people who are making your cruise extraordinary. 

first time cruise tips to talk to the crew

Skip the Elevators 

Not only will taking the stairs to save time, but it’s a great way to burn off your four-course dinner from the night before. 

Take a Port Day Off, and Enjoy the Ship 

On your days at sea, crowds will be high for popular onboard activities. If you want to avoid the crowds for these events, like trying to surf a wave simulator in the pool, skip a day in port and spend it onboard the ship. If you don’t want to skip a full port day, try cutting your itinerary in half.

first time cruise tips to skip a full port day

When It’s Time to Disembark 

You certainly don’t want to end your vacation in a panic. When arriving back into port, be sure to sit down and enjoy a leisurely breakfast and allow the lines to die down before attempting to disembark yourself. What’s the rush? 

Cruise Lingo

Here is a list of cruise lingo to become familiar with. 

  • Cruise Director – the face of the cruise. Hosts many events 
  • Purser – one who oversees all the financial transactions on board 
  • Stateroom – your cabin or suite 
  • Berth – the built-in bed or bunk in your stateroom 
  • Bow – front of the ship 
  • Stern – back of the ship 
  • Port – left side of the ship (when facing the front) 
  • Starboard – right side of the ship (when facing the front) 
  • Muster Drill/Station – every passenger is assigned a ‘muster station’ where you gather in the event of an emergency. You will locate your muster station at the beginning of the cruise so the staff can go through emergency procedures with you. 
  • Galley – the ship’s kitchen 
  • Lido Deck – where the pool is 
  • Port of Call – a designated stop ono your itinerary 
  • Gangway – the ramp you will use to embark/disembark the ship 
  • Dock vs. Tender – Dock is when the ship will dock next to land, and you will walk straight off into port. Tender is when the boat will anchor in the water close to land, and you will transfer to the port on a smaller vessel. 
  • Port Expenses – these fees are based on local taxes, and may not be included in the cruise’s advertised price. 

We hope our list of first-time cruise tips help you prepare for a new way to travel. Read on to discover what to pack for your first cruise, with our favorite cruise packing tips, hacks, and secrets

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