8 Surprising Things I Learned During My First Cruise Experience


Why had it taken so long for me to go on a cruise?

The first thing that comes to mind is that for years I was working and raising a family. Saving for college and retirement. Cruises are not inexpensive, so I wasn’t able to take my family on a cruise, nor was I going to go off alone. So for me, timing was largely the issue. And now, the time had come.

Cruises Are Not for Old People; They’re for Smart People

I know I am guilty of thinking, “Cruises are for old people.” I used to think that if you went on a cruise it was for physical reasons – you had given up on traveling the traditional way.

It meant you could not move at your own speed with trains, buses and rental cars. That your age required a more relaxed way of travel. Hah!

The fact is, cruises can be as active or relaxed as you wish. The cruise I went on was so active it had me begging for down time, but I’ll tell that story in a future post.

Cruising is smart because you’re not unpacking every night in a new location. The ship moves and you get on and off in different ports, as you wish. There are lectures on the culture, art history, geography and food of each place you visit. It is your choice to attend or not.

Back to the Age Issue

One reason cruises have a lot of older people is that we have the disposable income and the time to take a cruise.

If you look at the cruise industry offerings though, you will see all sorts of family-based cruises for every age group. Many families love being on a ship where everyone can choose their activities and meet for meals.

My first cruise was an active, “adventure” type of cruise. It was in late September and the age range varied from 50 to 70+. People in their 40s and younger had kids in school at this time. Quite frankly, I adored the fact that there were no children on my cruise.

People who were my seniors all outdid me in the kayaking, hiking and snorkeling departments. I was quite shocked – and inspired! – that so many of my compatriots had stayed in such good shape so as to participate at a level far more intense than I could.

When a long, difficult hike was offered, I chose the easier, shorter one – and was amazed at the oldsters who signed up for the hard one!

What did I learn on my first cruise? I hope my fresh observations help you get onto your first cruise a little savvier, and with no “woulda, coulda, shoulda.”

Don’t Step Foot on the Boat Without Travel Insurance

First things first, buy the travel insurance. Yes, it’s pricey and painful, and adds a hefty bump to the cruise’s already expensive fare. But in the past year I had undergone a hip replacement and had been briefly hospitalized overnight for something else, so I knew that anything could happen at any time.

I’m sorry to report I actually had a medical emergency on the last day of the cruise and was carted off in an ambulance! It was dreadful! But a 24-hour hospital stay put everything right, and it was 100% covered by my insurance. Had I missed my flights, those expenses would have been covered, too.

Packing Properly Helps You Cruise Happier

Pay attention to the packing list if the cruise provides one. I embarked on an adventure cruise in Alaska, in the iffy off season heading into deep fall. The packing list mentioned items I didn’t own, and am I ever glad I bought them!

Being properly equipped on an adventure cruise is key to having a good time. I shopped for rain pants, a rain jacket, thermal underwear, water proof bag to take in the skiff and kayak, hats, gloves, down vest and jacket. Warm scarf, gloves, socks. Fleece pants and sweatshirt. This was not a glamour cruise, but a stay-warm-and-be-cozy cruise.

If your cruise says that dinner is casual, it’s good to know you don’t need evening clothes. Conversely, if dining is formal, or there are formal occasions on board, you’ll feel much happier if you have the right duds.

Choose the Right Cruise for You

Ocean or river? Luxurious or economy? No children allowed or family friendly? History and culture, or active adventure? It’s all out there. And if you have no idea what kind of cruise you might like, start by taking a short one.

Of course, you have to do your homework. Do you want a super ship with 3000 passengers, or a medium size ship with 600 passengers? Perhaps you would best enjoy a small ship or river cruise with 60 passengers? There are so many wonderful options to consider so that you can design the perfect trip.

You Can Find a Cruise You Can Afford

Cruises have off seasons, when the weather might be iffy and so the price is lower. Another way to go for less is to book a repositioning cruise. That’s when the cruise season has finished and the captain and crew take the boat back to its summer or winter location.

Cruises offer great last minute deals, so if you’re in a fancy-free, schedule-free moment in your life, you can be spontaneous and go at the last minute and get serious savings. Last minute usually means two weeks’ notice, so you have plenty of time to arrange things and get your airfares if needed.

Wash Your Hands All the Time

You are floating in an enclosed space with lots of people and lots of germs. It isn’t pleasant to think about, but it’s the truth. Cruise lines want happy, healthy passengers. There are gel dispensers in lots of handy locations around the ship. Use them.

Tip Generously

The crew on my ship were fascinating young adults who were generous with their time and service. Ask your travel agent or the ship’s cruise director about the tipping guidelines on your ship.

In my next post, I’ll tell you the story of my first cruise and maybe you’ll see if it’s “your cup of tea”! In the meantime, do you have any cruise advice you can share with us? If you haven’t cruised, tell us why. Please join the conversation below!

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