Best Cruise Tips for First-Timers

Are you taking a cruise for the first time? We’ve got you covered. We’ve gathered the 10 most important tips to know before for your first cruise with Carnival. Read on, and you won’t feel like a newbie for long with the following cruise advice for first-timers.

family enjoying their time on a deck onboard a carnival cruise ship

1. What to Wear

One of the most important first cruise tips is knowing what to wear. If you’re cruising to the Caribbean, of course, bring your best beachwear for fun in the sun. But you’ll also need to prepare for some surprises. Don’t get caught without the following, no matter where your cruise destination is:

  • Always pack some gear for cool and rainy weather, such as a hoodie or light jacket.
  • Wear slip-resistant flip-flops for getting safely around the ship.
  • Comfortable walking shoes are ideal for shore excursions; leave high heels and fancy footwear in the stateroom.
  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunglasses or a hat

three women socializing onboard a carnival cruise ship

2. Know the Best Staterooms

Every stateroom is the best stateroom, but for your first-time cruise, it helps to know what’s right for your own needs. You’ll likely prefer one of the five types of staterooms. Here’s the quick lowdown on each:

  • Balcony staterooms: Rooms with small outdoor balconies for invigorating sea breezes and perpetual views. They’re perfect for cruises to Alaska so you won’t miss any unexpected wildlife sightings.
  • Interior staterooms: The most affordable rooms on the ship, designed for guests who love a little quiet cocoon to curl up in after a fun-filled day.
  • Ocean view staterooms: Rooms with portholes or windows to gaze out at the ocean.
  • Suite staterooms: Larger rooms for family cruises so you can all stretch out and relax together.
  • Specialty staterooms: In select ships, you’ll find rooms with themed settings, such as the Family Harbor staterooms when traveling with kids, and the Cloud 9 Spa staterooms for couples or solo guests who want a pampering cruise.

a father tucking his children into bed after an exciting day of cruising

3. Surprising Conveniences to Pack

One of the first things that guests want to pack is a camera. While DSLRs provide great, high quality photos, we recommend that beginner photographers take an inexpensive compact digital camera or they stick to their phone. This way, they can still enjoy their cruise and take great photos of their trip.

Here are some other helpful things that you should pack for your trip:

  • Outlet adapters increase the number of plugs you’ll have in your stateroom.
  • Dry bags are ideal for shore excursions.
  • A sandless beach towel for beach excursions (and they fold down small).
  • A lanyard to hold your identification and room essentials while on board and on shore.
  • Biodegradable sunscreen is required for all water-based shore excursions, to protect the coral reefs and your skin.

a group of people enjoying a shore excursion on the beach

4. How to Reserve Anything

Veteran cruisers know to make important reservations and bookings before they ever get on the ship. Make it a priority beforehand or in your first few hours on board to do the following:

  • Babysitters: Grab spots in kids clubs if you’re traveling with family. For example, if you want some time at the onboard Casino, make it a priority to book Camp Ocean for your 2- to 11-year-olds, Circle “C” for your 12- to 14-year-olds and Club O2 for your 15- to 17-year-olds.
  • Spas: Book your hair appointments at the onboard salon, time in the onboard medi-spa and a soak in Cloud 9 Spa’s Thalassotherapy Pool.
  • Tours: If you haven’t already pre-booked your port activities, that’ll also take priority. Some shore excursions are more popular than others, and spots quickly fill up.
  • Specialty Dining: Booking one-of-a-kind dining experiences is essential when going on a cruise. From Cucina Del Capitano to Steakhouse, there are plenty of unique experiences that will make your voyage unforgettable. However, it is important to make reservations to these restaurants quickly, as spots are limited and they fill up fast!

women socializing at the cloud 9 spa

5. Indulge in Cuisine

One of the best things about a cruise is the choice of foods, both on and off the ship. A cruise is the best place to feed your hankering for deluxe hamburgers and your curiosity for exotic dishes and one-of-a-kind drinks.

Always check your booked ship to see your dining options. For example, enjoy premium cuts of beef paired with the Steakhouse wine list, which is recognized by the distinguished Wine Spectator Magazine’s Award of Excellence in 2019.

For every port you visit, indulge in a local culinary treat or tour.

For example, cruise to Ketchikan and watch lumberjacks compete in axe throwing competitions, while you feast on all of the dungeness crab that you can eat! You can even head to Mexico’s port of Yucatán (Progreso) to brush up on your food photography skills while experiencing fine Mexican cooking and losing yourself in the local culture.

family enjoying a wonderful dinner at fahrenheit 555 steakhouse

6. Know Your Ship

One of the best first-time cruise tips is learning that you can access a layout of the ships. Research your ship and enjoy virtual tours and view deck plans. Download the deck plans to a PDF file, print it out and review it before your cruise.

For ships you’ve already booked, the Carnival Hub App is a great tool that allows you to access your ship’s map. You can even get a copy of your ship’s map at guest services on embarkation day!

Although nothing takes the place of real-time experience, at least you’ll have your bearings before embarking.

the top deck of a carnival ship

7. How to Pay and Tip On Board

Carnival uses cashless cruising. All of your onboard expenses are charged to your own Sail & Sign Card. Just present the card when purchasing anything on board. You can check the balance of your Sail & Sign Card accounts at onboard kiosks or through the interactive TV system in your stateroom.

As for gratuities, those can be paid in advance through the hub app, while fine dining gratuities are paid onboard. With that said, there are indeed ATMs on board.

a cruise guest’s vifp spending card

8. Know the Lingo

Before embarking (stepping on board) your ship, know a few terms to make your first-time cruise more comfortable. Here are a few choice words and terms to keep tucked in your back pocket during your first trip:

  • Cruise casual: This is tasteful attire, which you can wear most nights during dinner. It includes slacks, khakis, jeans (but no cut-offs), long dress shorts and collared sports shirts for men. For women, it means casual dresses and skirts, summer dresses, blouses, pants, capri pants, dressy shorts and dress jeans (no cut-offs here either).
  • Cruise elegant: This is evening wear for one or two nights of dinner on your cruise, specifically for when you’re eating in the main dining room. Men are asked to wear dress shirts and dress trousers, and a sports coat is suggested. Ladies dress in pantsuits, cocktail dresses, and elegant skirts and blouses. You may also have a formal night on board, where more formal wear is required.
  • Early seating/late seating: This is an assigned schedule and seating for passengers in the main dining room.
  • Open seating: This means there’s no fixed schedule and no seating arrangements.
  • Stateroom steward: This is the person responsible for keeping your stateroom in order with your requests and amenities.
  • Lido deck: This is the most popular deck on the ship because it’s where the outdoor pools are located.
  • Upper deck: This is the deck that’s typically closest to the entertainment, fun and other outdoor deck areas.

a toast being conducted by a captain

9. Take Advantage of the Nightlife

Besides the onboard casinos, the variety of adult nightlife you’ll find on any ship rivals the most glittering nights you’d have during a vacation on land. Always check which events your ship will offer on board, but here are some guest favorites:

  • The Punchliner Comedy Club: Here’s the best place for laugh after laugh.
  • Dive-In Movies: Snuggle up on the poolside and watch the (movie) stars.
  • Stage Shows and Playlist Productions: Enjoy musical productions on the high seas.
  • Live Music: Come here to party along with live performances and jams on the lido deck.
  • Piano Bar: This bar is for guests who love cocktails and singing for a good time.
  • Nightclub: Here’s the spot for dancing to the hottest hits.

a playlist productions show onboard a carnival cruise ship

10. Find Some Peace and Quiet

Scope out the little nooks and crannies on your particular ship where you can get away for some quiet time:

It’s perfectly okay to ask questions and learn as you go. There’s a lot of information for first-time cruisers to know, but cruise enthusiasts and crew members love to use their knowledge to guide other guests. After all, each of them started out with a first cruise. You’ll always feel comfortable on a Carnival cruise where you can relax, and even take some insider notes to share with others.