Boarding a big ship for the first time can be exciting and overwhelming. Here are Sue Bryant’s top tips on how to make the most of your first day on board

10 things to do on board

1. Tour the ship

Chances are that your cabin won’t be available when you board and your luggage will still be in the system, as you’ll have handed it over to a porter before checking in. So pick up a plan of the ship at reception, start on the highest deck and take yourself on a tour, from top to bottom.

2. Choose your excursions

Most cruise lines offer a chance to pre-book excursions online and some tours will sell out, but there is always some flexibility on board. Avoid the queues at the tour desk and book via the TV in your cabin.

3. Inspect the dining room

If you’ve signed up to eat in the main dining room, pay an early visit and check your table location. If it’s not what you wanted, have a polite word with the maître d’ about moving. If you’ve requested a special diet, check that the maître d’ knows plus any dietary requirements.

4. Create a schedule

Some ships provide a helpful schedule for the week, detailing what port you’re in, arrival and departure time, dress code for the evening and what show is in the theatre that night, with spaces to add shore excursions, dinner reservations and so on. If there isn’t one, create your own. However un-spontaneous it seems, even a rudimentary plan can help.

5. Sign up for the spa

An early visit to the spa is always a good idea. Don’t be pressurised into booking everything at once but if, for example, you want a facial just before formal night, get in early, as that’s the busiest time. Remember, spa treatments can often be booked online before boarding.

6. Book in at the gym

Now is also a good time to sign up for the paid gym classes – yoga, spinning, pilates and so on (more basic classes are free and offered on a drop-in basis). You may have to commit to a course rather than a single lesson, but it’s a good incentive to keep exercising throughout the cruise.

7. Check out the kids’ club

If you’re travelling with children, the fi rst day is a good time to register them in the kids’ club. There’s no pressure to attend, even if you’re registered, although for a lot of children once they see the facilities you might not see them again for the entire cruise!

8. Fine dining

Big ships always have alternative restaurants, operated on a reservation basis. Normally, you can get in most nights but embarkation day is nonetheless a good time to book. Remember to factor in days when you’ll be on tour – so don’t book an early dinner for a day on which you’ll arrive back late.

9. Explore your cabin

An announcement will be made when cabins are ready. Check out your home for the next week and make sure everything works – shower, loo, TV, safe and so on. If the beds aren’t in the right configuration, just ask your cabin steward to change them. If you’ve pre-booked excursions online or made spa reservations, tickets should have been left on your bed.

Once your luggage has arrived, stash your cases. Use all available space – I once moaned for a week that my cabin lacked storage space, only to find a huge drawer under the bed on the last day.

10. It’s almost party time

Lifeboat drill almost always happens before sailing and everybody has to attend, so save cracking open the champagne or hitting the bar until the drill is complete. Then, it’s time to get up on deck for sailaway and toast the beginning of what will be a fabulous holiday.