Thinking about going on a cruise, but not sure what’s included, which size ship to choose or what clothes to pack? Our selection of top tips takes the mystery out of cruising and guides you from booking to boarding

As with any holiday, planning your cruise carefully and reading top tips can only enhance your overall experience
As with any holiday, planning your cruise carefully and reading top tips can only enhance your overall experience

1. BOOK AHEAD

You’ll also get the cabin you’d like in the location you want, and you might even get upgraded. Book close to the sailing date and you may get a low price but you probably won’t get the cabin or location you’d like.

2. WHAT THE COST OF A CRUISE TELLS YOU

Not only will the amount you are prepared to spend determine the size, location and style of your accommodation, but it will also offer guidance as to the ship’s ambience, the type of passengers and the degree of luxury you can expect.

3. CRUISE BROCHURES

As brochures are printed a year ahead it is best to check whether oil and other fuel costs have risen in the interim – a fuel surcharge may be imposed, in addition to the printed fare.

4. WHAT’S INCLUDED?

Your fare will typically cover your cabin, meals, entertainment, activities and service on board. It generally won’t include alcoholic beverages, laundry, dry cleaning or valet services, shore excursions, meals ashore, gratuities, port charges, cancellation insurance, and optional on-board activities. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule, such as some small ships (those with fewer than 600 passengers) where just about everything is included.

5. INSURANCE

Before you go, do take out full cancellation insurance as cruises must be paid for in full before your tickets are issued.

6. WHO ARE THE PASSENGERS?

Depending on the ship you choose, you’ll meet singles, couples, families with children of all ages, honeymooners and groups of friends. Today’s passengers could just as easily be your next-door neighbours.

7. AGE OF CRUISERS

The average age of passengers is actually getting younger each year, but generally speaking it is mid-50s.

8. PASSENGER RATIO

The female to male passenger ratio is typically high, so some lines provide male social hosts. Gentlemen hosts were first introduced aboard Cunard’s QE2 in the mid 1970s and are now employed by a number of lines, including Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Silversea Cruises.

9. CHILD-FREE SHIPS

P&O Cruises (two of its five ships), Saga Cruises and Thomson Cruises are among the lines that offer child-free cruise ships.

10. SINGLE OCCUPANCY SUPPLEMENT

Most cruise lines do charge a single occupancy supplement and because there are so few single-occupancy cabins, it’s best to book ahead. Lines that charge low supplements include Crystal Cruises, Cunard, Fred. Olsen and Peter Deilmann Ocean Cruises. Only a few of the smaller lines, such as Saga Cruises and Voyages of Discovery have no additional supplements for singles.

11. SOLO SAILING

If you are travelling alone and want to pay just half what it would cost for a double-occupancy cabin, look for a line that offers a share programme. The cruise line will try to find another passenger of the same sex to share your cabin and if they can’t, you might get the cabin to yourself at no extra charge.

12. TAG YOUR BAGS

Make sure all your luggage is labeled with your name, ship, cabin number, sailing date and port of embarkation.

13. GOING ASHORE

Don’t feel that you have to go ashore each time the vessel is in port. This can actually be an ideal, and quiet time to enjoy the onboard facilities, and you might even find the spa treatments are less expensive during this period.

14. DRIVERS LICENSE

Take your drivers license with you, just in case you decide to rent a vehicle whilst on an excursion

15. BON VOYAGE PARTIES

Sadly streamers and free champagne have all but disappeared from deck on sailing day. Instead, waiters will encourage you to buy a ‘bon voyage’ cocktail.

16. ALL ABOARD

Make sure you don’t miss the ship after a day at port. If you do, it will be your responsibility to get to the next port where you can re-join the vessel. All aboard time is half an hour before sailing. Ships do, however, wait for passengers delayed on official excursions.

17. LAUNDRY AND PRESSING

Some offer dry cleaning, others have self-service launderettes.

18. READING MATERIALS

Most cruise ships have a well-stocked library.

19. TELEVISION

A mixture of satellite feeds and on-board videos are used, but reception can be poor.

20. STAMPS AND LETTERS

Some ships will use their flag of registration as a stamp, while others will buy local stamps at port.

21. E-MAIL ON BOARD

Many ships have wi-fi for a fee, but connections are often slow.

22. MOBILE PHONES

Using the ship’s mobile signal at sea will incur satellite rates.

23. THE DAILY PROGRAMME

You’ll find details of each day’s activities, entertainment and social events are delivered to your cabin the evening before the day it covers.

24. THE LIDO

This is the name given to the deck devoted to swimming pools, hot tubs, showers and recreations.

25. THE CASINO

Due to customs regulations, the on board casinos don’t normally open when the ship is in port.

27. EXCURSIONS

From sight-seeing to cross-country, four-wheel drive trips, mountain biking and zip lining, there are almost limitless options when it comes to excursions. But be aware that it’s possible to spend far more on shore excursions than on the price of your cruise.

28. OPEN SEATING

If your ship has open seating, you can sit at any available table with anyone you like. If it doesn’t, then unless you are with family members or friends you’ll be seated next to strangers.

29. ALTERNATIVE RESTAURANTS

If you want to give the large dining areas a miss, there’ll be a choice of smaller, à la carte venues to choose from. You will need to make a reservation and there will be an extra charge.

30. WEIGHT GAIN

It’s very easy to gain weight when cruising, so it’s worth knowing that most ships offer lighter dining options.

31. LIFEBOAT DRILL

Regulations dictate that a passenger drill must take place within 24 hours of the ship sailing from the embarkation port. You’ll find your life jacket in your cabin, and directions to your assembly station will be posted on the back of your cabin door.

32. BOARDING PASS

When you board your ship you will be issued with a personal pass. Typically this will include your photograph, details of your lifeboat station and any other important information. You’ll need to show this at the gangway each time you re-board the vessel.

33. RELIGIOUS SERVICES

The Captain or Staff Captain will usually conduct an Interdenominational service. A few of the older ships do have small private chapels and if there are any travelling clergy they might lead a Denominational service.

34. WHAT TO WEAR ON BOARD

Generally the dress code is smart casual by day and whatever the ship stipulates by night. Some are more informal while others designate some evenings as formal or semi-formal. Comfortable shoes are a must, although women might want their heels for formal nights.

35. LARGE RESORT-STYLE SHIPS

If you enjoy being with lots of other people and like to experience plenty of entertainment and dining options, then the highly programmed, large resort-style ships are for you.

36. MID-SIZED SHIPS

These are easier to find your way around, don’t normally suffer from long queues and can stop at the smaller ports.

37. SMALL SHIPS

If you’re looking for an intimate atmosphere, don’t need much entertaining or a wide choice of restaurants, then focus your attention on the small or boutique cruise ships.

38. ALWAYS ASK YOUR TRAVEL AGENT

When making a booking, there are key points that should be covered

✽ What size cruise ship do they recommend and why?

✽ What kind of accommodation would suit my taste and budget?

✽ How much should you budget for the cruise and what is included in its price?

✽ Realistically, what extra costs can you expect to have to pay for?

✽ Which destinations are included in the itinerary and how long can you expect to spend at each?

✽ What kind of food and style of service does the ship provide?

✽ What is the on board ambience like?

✽ Exactly what facilities does the ship have and what excursions are on offer?

39. FORMAL NIGHTS

On these occasions men are expected to wear a tuxedo or a business suit and tie, while women can wear a long evening gown, cocktail dress or smart trouser suit.

40. CRUISING TO ALASKA, THE NORTH CAPE OR THE NORWEGIAN FJORDS

You’ll need warm, comfortable clothing layers and a raincoat. And if you go on an expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula or through the Northwest Passage you’ll need thermal underwear, thick socks and heavy sweaters.

41. TRAVELLING TO TROPICAL AREAS

Make sure you take sunglasses and a hat, inexpensive rainwear for any excursions – rainstorms won’t last long but they can give you a good soaking! – and plenty of lightweight cottons and other natural fibres to wear.

42. SPORTY TYPES

Don’t forget to pack your swimwear, sportswear and gym shoes – if you want to you’ll be able to get plenty of use out of them.

43. VISITING MOSQUES AND CHURCHES

Shorts and bare shoulders may cause offense, so take something suitable to cover up with, if necessary.

44. MONEY AND SECURITY ON BOARD

Most ships use US dollars, euros or UK pounds, but always check before you travel. Major credit cards are accepted on board and some of the large ships have ATM cash machines, although a transaction fee will be applied. You’ll also find trained security professionals employed on all ships.

45. DAILY PAPERS

Ships have their own newspapers where you’ll be able to find the world’s news and sports results. Or they’ll be placed on a bulletin board.

46. IS THERE A DOCTOR ON BOARD?

Generally, ships carrying over 50 passengers have medical facilities and at least one doctor on board. As doctors are typically employed as outside contractors they will charge for the use of their services, so it’s always best to take out insurance before you travel.

47. SEA SICKNESS

The reality is that less than three percent of passengers become seasick, but if you do find yourself developing symptoms it is best to eat lightly. A heavy meal won’t keep your stomach anchored. Get the fresh breeze in your face; and focus on a steady point, such as the horizon.

48. GETTING YOUR SEA LEGS

When you first notice movement of the ship, walk back and forth on deck. Your knees are you own form of stabilizer and will start getting the feel of balance and counteraction. This is known as getting your sea legs.

49. ARE PETS ALLOWED?

No, pets aren’t allowed on cruise ships. The only exception is Cunard’s ocean liner, QM2 which provides air-conditioned kennels for dogs and cats.

50. PASSENGERS WITH DISABILITIES

Cruise ships have become much more accessible and many lines have a special department or person to handle requests from disabled passengers. All modern ships have specially modified cabins for wheelchair users and some have hoists for the swimming pool. If you’re simply less mobile, choose a midship cabin, near the lift, and if your ship has fixed-time dining, opt for the second sitting as it will be more leisurely.