There is snow on the ground as I write this blog post, and it is 100% appropriate. Because I would absolutely LOVE to be on cruise ship somewhere heading toward a Caribbean island. This post is inspired obviously by the winter weather, but also because I did go on my 1st cruise during summer 2016 with MSC cruises. It was awesome. It was my first cruise ever, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Cruising is a fun and an amazing experience. But if you’ve never been on one before there may be something things that you aren’t sure about. So this post are few helpful tips for first time cruisers.
Everything I mention relates to my time cruising with MSC Cruises. However most of these tips can transfer to other cruise lines as well
Your Cruise Card is your life.
When you arrive at your embarkation port, during check in, your picture is taken and you’re given your cruise card. IT IS YOUR ENTIRE IDENTITY ON BOARD. Every single passenger is issued a cruise card. You don’t not want to lose your cruise card. Not only is it your stateroom key. Your cruise card is scanned when getting off and on at each port. You should match your picture (lol hopefully) It lists your dinner seating & table number, your emergency assemble station and your internet ID number (specifically for MSC). Your cruise card is also how you make ALL purchases on-board. If you are traveling with kids, obviously you want to told on to their cruise cards for them. Might I suggest clear ID holders that you can wear around your neck. I’m serious, treat your cruise card like you debit card, ID or passport.
No Cash Transactions On-board
This is something I didn’t understand until I went on my 1st cruise. While on-board, you don’t pay for anything with cash or debit/credit cards. Everything must go through your cruise card. When you arrive on-board, you or your family will have to go to the customer service area to put money on your cruise card. Essentially making your cruise card like a pre-paid card. You have the option to use cash (dollar amount is up to you) or you can leave your credit/debit card. Any purchases made on-board will be deducted from the cash or credit/debit via your cruise card.
- If you’re using cash you do have the option to replenish your account if run out before the end of your trip.
- If you used cash and DID NOT spend it all, you will get the remaining cash back at the end of your cruise
- If you are traveling with your family (husband, wife kids etc) You have the option of putting multiple cruise cards under one credit/debit card of cash account. Ex. Your husband leaves his credit card, you as his wife along with the kids will be added to that account and as you purchase throughout your trip, all the money will come from his card.
- If you are traveling with your friends or extended family. Is suggest having your own account. The last thing you want when settling your account at the end of your trip is paying for someone elses drinks or casino visits. It’s best to stick with your money and account so you know where your money is going and how much you actually spent.
This something I didn’t know about until I was on-board. On MSC cruises, every passenger is charged a $12 daily gratuity. It comes out of the money/credit card on your account. Do keep this in mind when putting money on your cruise card. I did not pay the gratuity upfront. I do know that cruise lines do give you the option to pay the gratuity when booking your cruise. The choice is up to you, either way you’ll end up paying the gratuity. Some cruise lines do give you the option to change your daily gratuity. Check with customer service on-board to be sure. As far as tipping the staff that cleans your room, I would ask the staff themselves. They crew that cleaned my room, declined taking any cash tips. So I use your best judgement, ask the staff and if they turn it down, do not take offense.
When I was on my cruise I got this question quite often. In the age of social media, we’re always wanting to share our adventures. MSC cruises does offer internet packages that you pay a 1 time fee for. MSC had 3 options for wifi packages which ranged in pricing
- Social media only (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and snapchat)
- Social Media, email, and web browsing
- Social media, email, web browsing and video streaming
Do check with your cruise line to see what internet packages they offer. Do keep in mind that most likely the wifi will be satellite wifi not broadband so the wifi may not move as fast as you are use to when you’re on land or home.
Personally during my cruise, the wifi did not work in my stateroom, but was just fine in the main areas of the ship. Again this may be different for your particular cruise line. But at the end of the day having wifi at all was huge so I rolled with it.
This was huge thing for me because I wanted to explore so much at each port. However, excursions can get expensive, and if you’re traveling with a family paying for 3, 4, or 5 people, it will add up quickly. My tip is don’t pay for excursions that go to a beach or local tours. While it is nice that you can find excursions through the cruise lines, there are cheaper options if you’re open to being more flexible. In majority of the Caribbean islands, at each port, there will be no shortage of cabs that will go to local beaches or tours around the area.
Upon getting off at The Bahamas, Jamaica & Cayman Islands there was an abundance of sting ray tours, glass bottom boat tours, local tours etc. at the ports. Tours were definitely a dime a dozen.
Of course you want to be very careful and use your best judgement when talking to the tour guides at these ports. In the long run it will save you some money. But do keep in mind that your responsible for getting back to the ship on time. The ship will leave you.
How to pack
Now you may or may not want to take my advice on this tip. I am a blogger so I packed all kinds of extra clothes because I never want to miss an opportunity to take outfit pictures on vacation. If you are someone that plans to shop, I would pack as light as possible so when coming home your suitcase isn’t over packed.
- Pack according to where you’re going. Warmer weather; shorts & t-shirts Cooler weather; long sleeve options.
- Bathing suits and proper beach attire is a must for Caribbean cruises. Not only when off the ship, but to walk around the ship when you’re at sea or if you choose to not get off at a particular port.
- Comfortable shoes in case you plan on doing a lot of walking off the ship. Otherwise sandals or flip flops are just fine.
- A nice evening dress or evening attire. Most cruises will have themed nights for you to dress up.
- Workout cloths; most cruise ships do have gyms and other workout areas on board
- You don’t have to pack towels. You will be provided with those (both for your room & pool/beach)
- Smaller travel bag for when you’re traveling off the ship at each port
There you have it. These are just a few of my helpful tips for first time cruisers. If I didn’t answer one of your questions with this list, feel free to leave it in the comment section. See you in my next post.