Cruise Lifestyle

Six things you won’t expect on your first cruise

First time cruise passengers have many expectations of their first cruise experience, but often find that because of the way in which cruises are sold, that their expectations may not be met.


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There are six key things about a cruise that you should be prepared for when you book, because they are the six things the cruise lines won’t want to mention when selling you the holiday. That’s not to say that a cruise holiday is bad, it just isn’t perfect, nothing in life ever can be.

Like anything, it has its down-sides, but the good, which the rest of this blog focuses on, far outweighs the bad. Travel agents use clever language to sell cruises, though, so its best to go in with your eyes wide open.

The below are issues associated with cruising that you should keep in mind, so that you don’t become frustrated when faced with a situation on your cruise that might feel quite different to what you expected.

It is cramped

It’s often said that a cruise ship is just like a hotel, except it moves from one place to another so that everyday there is a new destination to explore. This is true. A cruise ship is like a hotel, but at the same time it isn’t, because space is a premium and so everything from the public rooms to the cabins is designed in such a way that every corner of the ship is efficiently utilized.

Cruise ship cabins are smaller than the cheapest rooms in most budget hotels on land, they’re a place for sleeping and changing, not spending long periods of time. Even if you splurge on a balcony cabin, it is going to be smaller than the average hotel room and the balcony will be only just big enough for two people to stand on comfortably. So pack well and plan ahead!

Of course, all cruise lines have different average cabin sizes in a particular category and this changes from one ship to another, but by-and-large only the true ‘suites’ and owner’s cabins have the same proportions in terms of floorspace as their counterparts on land.

Similarly, the ceilings are low, just seven or so feet on average, 7.5 on the newer, larger cruise ships such as the Oasis-class. This can make the cabins, especially the inside cabins and ‘ocean view’ cabins, and the corridors, seem a little claustrophobic.

It is constantly moving

The beauty of a cruise ship, its main selling point even, is that the scenery is constantly changing, everyday on some itineraries, and certainly every other day on most, there is a different destination at the end of the gangway. This is a cruise ship’s main strength, you unpack just once, and have a floating hotel, spa and resort as your base from which to explore the world.

This is true, but it comes with a caveat. The movement is everywhere. A ship at sea will roll and pitch and creak and anything that can slide to the floor will in bad weather. Most cruise ships of course avoid bad weather, and most modern cruise liners are so big that the movement from normal sea conditions is so slight as to be non-existent, but it is there, and passengers who are easily motion sick will feel it at odd moments with slight feelings of dizziness or inexplicable vertigo.

Only really rough weather will make you feel sick, and though you may feel queasy during the first few hours out of port, it almost always passes within the space of the first night at sea.

It is busy almost all the time


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Not the entire ship, but certainly all aspects of the cruise that are included in the booking fare, especially the main restaurant and the breakfast buffet. Because the ship is designed to make maximum use of space, public areas are also designed to accommodate a certain percentage of the ship’s passengers. In the case of the main dining room, it is just over half the full passenger compliment, so that dinner can be efficiently served in two sittings. During dinner, it is therefore very busy, with every table taken and almost every seat occupied.

Similarly, in the buffet restaurant, especially during lunch and dinner (when most passengers skip the dining room’s more formal atmosphere), you will find that getting between the food stations takes a little time and planning and there is often a bit of a wait at the food stations where omelets or pasta are prepared on spec.

On luxury cruise ships, where the staff to crew ratio is lower, the staterooms larger and the public spaces more expansive, it will obviously be different. But aboard a ‘mass market’ cruise ship, it is busy. To avoid the crowds, a common rule is to arrive a little late for dinner and early for breakfast.

It involves queuing

The queuing can be relentless. When you board you have to queue to check-in, then you have to queue to get the key card to your stateroom, which doubles as your cruise card as well, and you’ll need to queue to have money put onto that cruise card. Then you’ll have to queue when you want to go ashore if it is during a particularly busy period, and you’ll most certainly need to queue if going ashore involves the use of a tender. When tendering ashore, you’ll need to queue in the theatre and wait for your assigned group to be called, and when it is you’ll be taken down to the tender deck, where you’ll queue to board the tender.

It is not all-inclusive

The great selling point for a cruise holiday, in addition the changing destinations mentioned earlier, is that it is also an almost all-inclusive fare. You pay for food, entertainment, accommodation and travel all in one, at what is most of the time a very reasonably priced fee. However, there are things you will inevitably need money for that are not included in the cruise fare.

All three meals of the day, for example, are provided, but not the refreshments to go with it (except water – though this does very much depend on the cruise line). A breakfast, coffee will be free of charge, but not at lunch or dinner (again, this is generalizing because it does depend on the cruise line). And at dinner, soft drinks will usually come with an extra charge. All alcohol will need to be paid for as no alcohol is included in a cruise fare (unless you purchase a drinks package, which doesn’t count).

Between meal times, if you are thirsty, you will need to pay for soft drinks, water, tea, coffee or anything else. Although some cruise lines, even a few mass market ones, will provide water for free.

Port days are slow days

Port days are fantastic for passengers not going ashore because almost the entire ship clears out and amenities like the pools, spa, library, internet café etc become easily accessible without those queues mentioned above. It comes with a downside though, because when the ship is in port the casino is usually closed, the duty free shops are closed and you usually aren’t able to exchange money aboard either.

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