First time choosing, booking and planning a cruise? We asked the experts for their top tips to help you have your best holiday ever

First Time cruisersLynn Narraway, UK Managing Director of Holland America Line & Seabourn:

Think about destinations you have always wanted to go to and imagine being able to visit many of them in one holiday. You can enjoy full days and overnight stays in iconic cities such as Venice, Barcelona, Valletta – even far-flung destinations such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

On board there will be a choice of activities and entertainment to suit you, your partner and your family. You’ll enjoy new experiences, amazing food and service, incredible shows, music, talks, classes, kids’ clubs, spas, fitness – all on one holiday, and most of itʼs included in the price. A cruise is the easiest holiday you’ll ever have and guaranteed to be your favourite way to travel for years to come.

Julie Peasgood, Contributing Editor, Cruise International:

Study the ship’s daily paper to maximise the onboard activities.  Don’t expect to hear all information over the tannoy as many ships – wanting to be unobtrusive – don’t announce everything this way.

Two travel staples for your suitcase are a photocopy of your passport page (this saves you carrying your passport around) and a plug-in nightlight – great for negotiating unfamiliar cabins in the middle of the night when you need the loo.

While many cruise lines offer free wifi, it’s worth putting your mobile phone into airplane mode when you board the ship – charges at sea can be expensive, especially on ocean–going vessels. You can always find a café with wifi to download emails when you’re in port (just follow the crew for the nearest free wifi zone – they’ll all be sitting there).

The peaks of St. Lucia’s Twin Pitons, lit as the sun rises in the morning.

Tony Roberts, Vice President UK & Europe, Princess Cruises:

Before your cruise take some time to find out about the ports you will be visiting to ensure you make the most of them when you arrive. This might be going on one of the brilliant shore excursions arranged by the cruise line or heading off to do your own thing. I tend to do a mix of both, but my family and I always get together to talk about what we want to
see and do during our time on shore.

Liz Jarvis, Editor, Cruise International:

Do your research before you book. Talk to your travel agent, read Cruise International, visit our website, look at blogs and reviews. Work out what’s most important to you – do you want a state-of-the-art ship with high-octane thrills on board, do you want to go off the beaten track, does a river or ocean cruise appeal the most? There really is a cruise to suit everyone, so take the time to discover which one is best for you.

What I love about cruising is that it puts so many of the world’s destinations in reach. Whether you want to explore the ruins of Pompeii, the islands of the Caribbean, the palaces of St Petersburg, see whales in Alaska or the temples and villages of South East Asia, a cruise makes everything so much easier because all your travel arrangements are taken care of and you only have to pack and unpack once. So let your imagination take you wherever you want to go.

Marcus Adams, cruise blogger at sparkx.org:

Hand luggage is your best friend when you’re about to go on a cruise. When you get to the cruise ship there will be a few hours where your main luggage is making its way up to your cabin and out of reach, so it’s important to have everything you may need easily accessible in your hand luggage to start your holiday. Why should you waste a day of the holiday waiting for your belongings?

As well as cruise documents, currency and ID, make sure you pack any medication and toiletries that you may need. And if you’re travelling with children, ensure you have everything they can’t live without. Also, consider packing swimming gear and a change of clothes for the first day, in case you fancy taking a dip. Finally, don’t forget your camera, phone and other tech. Once on board you’ll want to start capturing and sharing every moment of your holiday, so have your camera at the ready.

Becky Wiggins, blogger at Englishmum.com and Contributing Editor, Cruise International: 

Don’t stress about packing too many formal outfits. All the cruise lines have advice about what to take on their websites, so take a quick look before you start packing. Of course, if you love to dress up and the cruise you’ve chosen has specific formal nights, then feel free to go for it, but if, like me, you’re more of a casual dresser, then a couple of your favourite dresses will be absolutely fine for evening wear.  For men, a shirt with a collar and a pair of trousers is perfect (but ditch the trainers in favour of proper shoes).

Erin Johnson, Marketing Director – UK, Ireland, Middle East & Africa, Silversea Cruises (UK) Limited:

Look closely at the itinerary in the planning stages. For example, taking a cruise to the Caribbean needn’t just be about leaving Miami and going to the Bahamas. Many cruises leave from deeper in the Caribbean (Barbados or San Juan) and visit islands such as St Kitts and Antigua. This might enable you to tick off more islands in one trip.

Also, find a cruise with a good balance of both port and sea days, allowing time for both exploration on land, and relaxation on board – key to enjoying the experience to the full.

Wendy Atkin-Smith, Managing Director, Viking Cruises UK:

The beauty of cruising is that you get to visit several ports and cities, meaning a new adventure each day. So make sure you embrace each and every destination – taste the regional dishes, explore the architecture, experience local life and discover the hidden gems. There is always something brilliant to be found, every time you step off the ship.

Canal in Venice, Italy

Jo Rzymowska, Vice President and Managing Director, UK & Ireland and Asia, Celebrity Cruises:

Cruise holidays are a great way to visit multiple destinations in one holiday, all in the knowledge that you won’t need to pack and unpack your bags each day, and can return to the comfort of your own room each night. There’s nothing quite like falling asleep in one city and waking up the next day in a completely new one. My top tip for first-time cruisers is to put together a dream list of places you want to visit and sights you want to see. Then find a cruise that helps you see as many of them in a region as possible.

Sara Macefield, Contributing Editor, Cruise International:

Be prepared for gratuities or service charges, which are generally charged at a daily rate and then added to the on-board bill. You should be especially careful if you’re travelling as a family because children are usually charged, too – although some lines waive them for under-12s.

Do check each line’s policy carefully. Although most of the larger lines add gratuities, not all do. The details also often vary.

On average, US brands charge more, at around $14pp (£10) per day, while among British lines, P&O levies £7 per person per day and Fred. Olsen charges £5.

Most cruise lines stress the gratuity charges are discretionary and can be cancelled or varied by going to the ship’s customer services desk.

FIND YOUR PERFECT CRUISE HERE