Fancy a cruise but don’t know where to start? Here’s our expert guide to ensure your first holiday by ship is something to remember

Family at the Dive In Theatre - first-time cruiser © Carnival Cruise Line
Family at the Dive In Theatre © Carnival Cruise Line

Cruising is the ultimate way to see the world. Stylish and stress-free, it’s so easy to sail away and explore several cities and countries in as little as a week without having to repack your bags once. But for first-time cruisers, it can be daunting to know where to start with myriad choices of ships, destinations and types of cruises available. Luckily, we’ve spoken to the cruise industry experts to help you navigate your way to the perfect first voyage with their top tips, tricks and insider knowledge.

Tsutenkaku Tower in Osaka - first-time cruiser © iStock
Tsutenkaku Tower in Osaka © iStock

Cruise anywhere you like

As with any holiday, destination is key, and the advantage of a cruise is that you can explore places as far-flung as China, Japan and Brazil, discover hidden gems in the Med or get a behind-the-scenes tour of Russian palaces – or you can simply kick back in the Caribbean.

Make a list of the things you’d like to see and experience – particularly useful if you’re travelling as a family, couple or friends with different interests. Do you want to see the sights or soak up the sun? Are you interested in arts, culture, wildlife or just want to spend time away together? Do you like the idea of a big ship, with all the facilities of a resort on board, or hanker after a more boutique-style smaller vessel on the ocean or even a river cruise? The more you think about exactly what you want out of your cruise, the easier it will be to narrow down your choice of destination.

As Bernard Carter, Senior Vice President & Managing Director, EMEA Oceania Cruises, says: “A holiday is a big purchase. So it is absolutely crucial to thoroughly research first. If you have never been on a cruise before, ask yourself some questions. What do you like to do on holiday? What is important to you? How would you like to spend your time?”

By narrowing down your options you can explore online, read reviews for an objective view, or visit your nearest CLIA-accredited travel agent (you can find them at cruiseexperts.org).
“The choice is endless,” says Andy Harmer, Vice President of Operations, CLIA Europe. “It’s all about using the agent’s knowledge and expertise to guide you through the process. They will establish what type of holiday experience you are looking for, explore different destinations and cruise companies and discuss your options. The key is ensuring the guest is matched with the right cruise.”

Luxury service - first-time cruiser © Silversea Cruises
Luxury service © Silversea Cruises

Finding your cruise line

Once you’ve chosen the perfect destination, you can pick your cruise line from the ones that sail there. Think about the kind of experience you’d like. Do you want to travel in total luxury, or get the most value for money with a family-focused fun time on board?
From afternoon tea and formal wear on board elegant Queen Mary 2, to a giant Scalextric track and circus workshops on board P&O Cruises’ Ventura, there’s plenty of choice on offer.
“Every ship is different,” P&O Cruises’ Senior Vice President Paul Ludlow explains. “So it really is a matter of taste. A young family will want a very different experience to an older couple or a group of friends.”

As well as deciding where to go, you also need to decide when. It may be for a special birthday, anniversary, or maybe you can only travel during the school holidays. “Brochures and websites make it easy to see where each ship is throughout the year,” adds Ludlow.
“Short break cruises are ideal for a first-time cruise. The Caribbean is a heavenly escape from the winter weather and the Med is an ideal family summer holiday. There’s also nothing like opening the curtains in the morning to see the breathtaking scenery of the Fjords in summer.”

Check out what’s included in each cruise as extras can quickly add up. Usually you can expect your cabin or stateroom and meals in the main dining room to be part of the package, as well as onboard entertainment and activities. Some cruises include complimentary room service, onboard activities and entertainment (except casinos), plus the flights and transfers to and from the ship if sailing from outside the UK. What generally isn’t covered are alcoholic drinks, speciality dining, spa treatments and shore excursions. But it’s worth checking as cruise lines vary.

Check beforehand if tips are included, too – they will be added to your onboard account automatically if so. Most ships require a credit card, like a hotel, so you can charge extras to your room. You can check the balance on your in-room TV and you’ll be required to settle the bill in full before the end of the cruise.

Read part two of our first-time cruiser guide.

Whether you’re looking for a cultural holiday or relaxing break, find your perfect cruise with our Cruise Finder.