After almost 7 years traveling and visiting 100 countries I finally embarked one of those big ships I had always been willing to go on. My first cruise was a fact! In Barcelona I went on board the Crown Princess of Princess Cruises and set sail for a 7-day cruise on the Mediterranean towards Rome. As I was extremely excited and wanted to go in with zero expectations, I did not do any research about a what to expect on a first cruise. For you though I wrote this guide with first time cruise tips so you get an idea of cruise do’s and don’ts.

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what to take on a cruise

Still grateful to the moon and back for how my passion for traveling turned into a lifestyle of a professional travel blogger. It is now almost 7 years ago that I quit my job and started traveling. Now exactly 100 countries later one of my dreams came true: going on a cruise for the first time. All these tips come from the bottom of my heart and I hope they are helpful for your first cruise trip some day soon.

In October 2019 I was able to join to first cruise of the Princess Cruises new ship: Sky Princess. An amazing new masterpiece of Princess Cruises and I was able to be on the first sail ever. 

My first cruise

Before giving you all my cruise tips for first timers let me tell you a little bit about my journey on the Crown Princess. When I lived in the Caribbean in my twenties I saw cruise ships passing by on a daily basis and always thought: I want to go on a cruise! Though I never took the step to book a ticket for my first cruise and I always regret I did not. I wanted to travel back to the Caribbean to go on my first time cruise some time, but eventually I ended up taking a cruise in the Mediterranean. As I said before I embarked the Crown Princess in Barcelona and in 1 week I sailed across the Mediterranean and ended up in Rome and what an awesome journey that was!

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In just a week I saw a couple of the best tourist spots in Europe. In all honesty my first cruise was an eye opener, I had never thought a cruise holiday would actually be so convenient, laid-back, uncomplicated and most important so much fun.

Read here all my tips for cruising on the Med.

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One of the excursions was to Cinque Terre in Italy. This was not one of the stops on the cruise, but a 2-hour drive. One of the things to know for your first cruise vacation is that excursions can lead to anywhere. You decide for yourself, just be back in time on the ship! Click here to see the videos of my adventures and all my Med cruise excursion tips.

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Im sure you don't want to miss the great entertainment on board anyway!

Of course I was excited to be on such a massive ship and therefore biased, but there were so many things that surprised my during my first cruise trip. My room was way more spacious than I thought it would be. It was less crowded than I had in mind and more things like this. Check out the list below with more first time cruise tips.

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If you want some romantic moments, they are easy to find! Just explore the ship a little bit and know your way around.

For more stories and videos about my first cruise ever with Princess Cruises click here. (coming soon)

23 First cruise tips

This is all you need to know when you are going on a cruise for the first time. The following tips and tricks I gathered during my trip with Princess cruises last September 2018.

1. Not as expensive as you think

A common misconception about cruising is that it is too expensive, but what if I tell you that you can already book a cruise for under $100 a night. My cruise stopped in Barcelona, Marseille, Gibraltar, Pisa, Genoa and Rome. Have you looked up prices for hotels in these places? Hotel prices in European cities are insane nowadays. A sailing hotel room on board a cruise is even cheaper! That said I am a master in finding the best travel deals! LOL. Click here to see for yourself what your dream cruise cost!

2. No customs control

When you disembark the ship and enter a new country you don’t need to go through customs. This was very surprising as I thought there would be a passport control. During my first cruise with Princess on the Mediterranean I just walked into every new country just by checking out of the ship using my cruise card. It is advized though to always bring your passport to identify yourself may that be necessary on an excursion.

3. Security check

With every embarkation there is a security check. Bags will be scanned and rules apply. When I am not mistaking on my first cruise it was allowed to bring 0,7 L of alcohol (no liquor) on board per person. You could bring a bottle on board every day, but you would either be charged a corkage fee of $15 or it would be kept for you until the day of embarkation. From my experience though security did not say anything when we brought bottles of wine on board, where they should have actually charged a fee or stored it.

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4. Go on board early

This depends on how eager you are to explore your port of embarkation but if you board the ship early like I did, you have plenty of time to get to know the ship. Wander around, check out some restaurants, make spa reservations and check out all the pools before everyone else gets on board.

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5. Check in is super easy

When I had to check-in for my first cruise I thought it would be like taking a flight. Waiting lines, security, etc. If you are going on your first cruise you will straight away see this is nothing like it. Baggage drop off took 1 minute, security check just as much time, and check-in was a matter of showing my passport. I was handed my cruise card and within a couple minutes I was already on my way to my room. Only a short amount of time after I showed up I plunged on my bed. My suitcases were delivered just a little later as well.

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6. Security drill

The day of embarkation there will be a security drill and every passenger has to attend. There are two drills planned and without everyone attending the security drill the ship is not leaving. Some ships make you bring your life vest. On board the Crown Princess it was not needed luckily. Attending the security drill is Maritime Law but in my opinion the same like the security briefing on board a plane. Boring! When there is a serious emergency I bet 90% of the passengers can’t remember anything from what they said at the security drill.

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7. It is a ship, not a boat!

Something very important to those on the bridge, like the captain and his team! A ship can carry a boat, but a boat can not carry a ship! Got it? ;) Anyway all cruise vessels are ships. To joke the staff just always mention boat! :)

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I was able to take a look at the bridge. This is where the captain and his team hangs out and where they control and steer the ship from.

8. No money needed on board

Your room key is everything on board the ship. It not only is your access to your room, it also doubles as your credit card. On board you pay everything with your cruise card, so you can leave your wallet in your room. Even check-in and check-out is done with your cruise card.

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Fine dining was also included on board my first cruise. I must say Crown Princess fed me really well haha. This was such a great night out and the food among the best I had in a while!

9. Possible to cruise on a budget

Of course it depends which cruise you book, but my first cruise with Princess Cruises had a lot of things included. Buffets, fine dining, entertainment and some non-alcoholic drinks. In fact it is possible to not spend any money on board. On my first cruise even fine dining was included and water, lemonade and a couple other drinks were non-chargeable as well. On board Crown Princess it was very easy to see if something was included or not. When it did not have a price tag it was free of charge.

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A menu with prices on it means extra charge, the rest is free of charge. This was the wine list. The start of a great night out!

As I am traveling for almost 6 years non-stop around the world now, I learned how to travel on a budget. Read here about my tips and tricks. Or go to the article in where I explain how I travel the world full time and became a professional travel blogger.

10. Tipping on board a cruise

That said you will always have to pay something at the end of your cruise and that is gratuity. If it is going to be your first cruise don’t be surprised that your bill is way higher than expected. Tips are a set fee per day added to your bill. For Americans probably very normal, Australians and Europeans will look at this different. I am not a fan of this system to be honest, in fact really hate the tipping culture some countries created, but that aside. For my first cruise with Crown Princess it was $13,50 per passenger per day.

11. Book a balcony room

Of course I understand that it is not within everyone’s budget and yes taking your first cruise is more important than the room you book. But if you have a little more money to spend definitely book a room with a balcony. One of the best things about my first cruise was to wake up very early and see the sunrise from the balcony. And what about watching stars at night, the wind in my hair and the fresh air. I was digging my balcony a lot!

balcony room cruise

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The view from my balcony at 06.00 am when arriving in the port of Marseille!

12. 24 hours food and drinks

There is always a place on board that is open 24 hours. Whether it is a cafe or the casino, but whenever you want you can go for a drink and even order food. On the Crown Princess there were actually many options and the most surprising one was the 24h room service with no extra charge. Another reason to book a balcony room, because watching stars at night having some delicious late night snacks and a bottle of wine (which you can bring on board yourself) is a truly amazing experience.

Going on a cruise for the first time? Let me recommend you Princess Cruises! I sailed with them and there were just very few little things that I think they could improve on. Like better coffee! Haha, yes I am picky when it comes down to coffee! But overall I had the most amazing time on board Crown Princess. Click here to check out if they have some awesome deals to your liking!

13. Multiple destinations in one holiday

Not only are you able to see several different countries, cultures and landscapes, you also get to see many destinations when book your first cruise vacation. I was super surprised how simple it actually is. If you are going on a cruise for the first time you will quickly realize you actually staying in an all inclusive hotel that also does the transportation for you. One day you are in Barcelona, you get back on board, eat, drink, have fun, sleep and when you wake up you are already at your next destination! Cruising is so easy, you save all the hassle of constantly being on the move and traveling. Your hotel room moves with you, it is like a dream: waking up in a new country every day.

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14. Time per destination

Ships tend to arrive very early in the morning and leave as late as possible to give guests sufficient time to explore a destination. If you really want you can be out and about for a good 10 hours. I first thought cruise lines would do everything to keep you on board and spend money, but in fact every night you get an info sheet with cool things to do and places to see in your destination the next morning.

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We explored the famous tourist spot in Italy: Cinque Terre. It was a full day so we had enough time to roam around through the villages and had lunch on a cool rooftop terrace.

15. Book excursions in advance

If you are keen on doing excursions book them in advance. From what I have learned is that the prices for excursions are the same on board. They don’t get cheaper, but they do sell out. Some excursions were booked out on board, simply because they were full.

Looking for the best Mediterranean excursions? Have a look at these 6 fabulous trips.

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We did a wine tasting tour in the Provence in France and had lunch in this lovely little village. For more info on all my Mediterranean cruise excursions, click on the link and see what I was up to on my first cruise.

16. No need to book excursions

When you decided to visit a destination there is no need to book an excursion, there is also the opportunity to just walk off the ship and go your own way. Some ports are directly in the city center and walking off the ship is like stepping into another cultures, language, and food, basically another world. Go explore by yourself, I would do the same!

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On board the Crown Princess they had a so called Sanctuary. A kind of wellness Center and kids free zone. Loved it to bits and pieces!

If your port says Barcelona you don’t necessarily need to explore that specific city. Some of the trips I did were 2 hours away from the cruise terminal. Rent a driver, a scooter or even a car for a day and go on a little road trip. Everything is possible on a first cruise vacation.

17. Be back in time

When you leave the ship there will be sign saying what time they are setting sail for the next destination. Sometimes that is 5pm, sometimes 8pm. It totally depends on the itinerary. Whenever you go on excursions make sure to be back in time. Yes there still is a little playtime, but it is very limited. If you are too late the ship leaves without you! No mercy! And you will have to make it to your next destination by yourself. Don’t make 4,000 people wait for you.

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18. You don’t have to go off board

Even though there are always many things to do in every destination a common misconception about taking a cruise for the first time is that you have to leave the ship! Nope that is wrong. If there is a destination that is a little less to your liking and you want to chill on board please stay. The ship is half empty and you have plenty time to explore every corner or simply relax on board.

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There are so many places to discover on board a cruise ship!

19. Plan your first cruise carefully

Although I did not plan anything for my first cruise I would not recommend you doing the same. One of the most important cruise tips for first timers is to plan your trip. You only have about 8 to 10 hours in every destination so you don’t want to waste time going the wrong way. There are always a couple highlights at every destination, find out how much time it takes to visit them and plan your trip to make the most of it. Time is limited!

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Ships arrive early morning in ports and you can disembark straight away. This is another sunrise view from my balcony! What was it about a balcony room again?

In fact my journey was planned by Princess Cruises so that is why I did not do any planning and still had a fully packed schedule. In every port I disembarked and went on an excursion.

20. Research the ship

Everything is overwhelming if you go on a cruise for the first time and what most people don’t realize is that opportunities are endless. My advice for first time cruisers is to research the ship online. Check out the restaurants that are included, find the bars with good views, all the different activities and particular events. There is so much to do on board, I am sure you will be amazed.

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I first thought a cruise would be super busy and way too hectic! Look at this...

21. Find your favorite spot on board

Researching the ship and planning your first cruise is one of the most important cruise tips for first timers, but once you are on board roam around the ship so you know where everything is and how you get there. Cruising is about relaxing and revitalising so find that spot on board the ship that you like most. On the Crown Princess this was high up on the back of the ship where there are jacuzzis with endless views.

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22. Time flies when having fun

Last but not least make sure to relax, sit back and enjoy the ride. With so many new impressions on your first cruise I am sure time will fly by like crazy. Even after 7 days cruising I came to the conclusion that there were still some things I really wanted to do. I mostly regret I did not take time to watch a movie under the stars. One of the most awesome features of Crown Princess was the outdoor movie theatre on the the top deck. I was too busy enjoying myself with other things to do on board that I completely forgot!

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The outdoor cinema theater! 

23. What to bring on a cruise

This completely depends on your destination of course. If you are going on a cruise in the arctic I bet you want to take a rain jacket, warm winter clothes, gloves and so on. If you go to the Caribbean, you want to take bikinis, sandals, sunscreen, mosquitos spray, etc. In general I would recommend to bring at least a jumper for evenings. Even in warm climates on the open sea it can get chilly. Sunrise is an amazing happening at sea, but early mornings can be cold.

These are essential things to take on a cruise.

  • Formal clothing

Occasionally there are formal nights on board so bring appropriate clothes for those events may you want to attend. Dress code for men is black tie, for ladies a cocktail dress. Black tie does not have to be expensive, check out this formal Blazer Tux Vest and trousers.

  • Comfortable shoes

If you are going to explore a destination, but even on board. Ships are huge and unknowingly you tend to walk a lot. I don't go anywhere without my Nikes.

  • Travel adaptors for electronics

Research which type of plugs your ship has and bring appropriate adaptors to charge your camera. Handy are the world adaptors which you can plug into any type of socket.

  • Daypack

Definitely bring a little daypack which you can take on your excursions. Bring sunscreen, your passport and camera with you. This is the daypack I am always bringing with me everywhere I go. Theft protecting and a zipper to open it completely.

  • Powerbank

With so many things to do on board and off board I am sure your phones battery will drain in no time. Bring a powerbank to charge your phone on the go. Take one that lasts long with at least 10,000mAh

My first cruise was in the Mediterranean, but Princess Cruises also has cruises from Sydney, LA, Rome, Athens, UK, Miami, Singapore, Japan, Alaska, Oslo and of course in the Caribbean. The list is endless, check out all their destinations in this link.

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Captain Traveltomtom on board Crown Princess.

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I celebrated my birthday on my first cruise and the staff went out of its way to celebrate it with me! Thanks again Princess Cruises.

One last thing! Make sure your insurance covers your first cruise! I always use World Nomads for my trips around the world and they have never let me down.

world nomads travel insurance

Thanks for keeping up with my travel adventures from around the world! May you have any more questions please leave me a comment. I am more than happy to answer all you first time cruise questions!

Everything you need to know about a cruise on the Mediterranean can be found in my latest blog, also check out the new Sky Princess cruise ship. I was able to be part of the inaugural cruise in October 2019.

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