“We go on the cruise in a month!” “This time next week, we will be on the cruise!” “Tomorrow we will go on the cruise!”
It is amazing how quickly time flies by in the last few weeks leading up to your cruise. Especially so when it is your first cruising adventure. Not only that, but it can also become a little daunting for the would-be newbie. How does the baggage work? Will it be too noisy to sleep? Is the food any good? Will we hit 45 foot waves? Will the toilets block up and we have to endure the smell of poo for the entirety of our cruise?
Honestly, reading some of the facebook groups about cruising in the lead up had us wondering what exactly we had got ourselves in for. Had we made some gargantuan mistake? Happy to report that no we did not! Below are some of our “must knows” for the newbie cruiser.
Our cruising journey began in Brisbane on the Pacific Dawn. Our cruise of choice was with P&O Australia on their Pacific Island Hopper. It had been a toss up between a cruise or heading to Fiji for the wife’s 40th birthday. After a quick cost benefit analysis, the cruise won hands down. And now here we were, heading off under the Gateway Bridge on a big boat with wide eyes and full of a mix of optimism and nerves. Here is what we learned and wish we had known before boarding.
The Planning For Your Cruise
1) Book early. If you are in the first 200 passengers to book onto a cruise you will receive priority boarding and priority tenders. This in truth was a godsend. We were in the first group to board the Pacific Dawn. This allowed us to quickly get to our cabin, set up, have a quick look around before heading up to deck 12 to grab some lunch in The Pantry. Not to mention enjoying some nasty looks as we were able to bypass the huge line for the tenders and board when we wanted to.
2) After booking early, check your passports. Specifically expiration date. If any are nearing expiry, renew them immediately and avoid the priority processing fee’s which are ridiculously high! A lesson learned for us. 6 month validity! Upon your return date your passport needs to have a period of no less than 6 months validity remaining. Have 4 months remaining? Sorry, you can not go on your cruise. Fortunately, we realised this with 3 weeks remaining and I managed to get priority processing. $400 later and a nice new shiny passport arrived. $400 better spent than getting to the terminal and being told you can not go.
4) Drop your baggage off upon arrival. Wave good bye to your baggage! As if by magic they will reappear later at your cabin door.
So, you have booked early, checked all is in order with your passports and you have dropped your baggage off. What about now that you have boarded?
Boarded – Now What?
5) “I am onboard, cocktails here we come!” Slow down, cowboy. You ain’t ready for that just yet. Head to your cabin. This can seem daunting at first. 14 decks to choose from -where the hell is my room, where do I go? Fortunately there are many crew members around to welcome you aboard and direct you to your cabin. It really is not hard however once you decipher how it works.
Let’s assume our cabin number is 9152
The first 1 or 2 numbers of your cabin number relates to your deck number. So in the case of our example, our deck would be “9”. If the cabin number was 11143, the deck number would be “11”
Grab a lift down/up to your deck number. On the walls near the lifts will be signs pointing to the left or the right (port or starboard) indicating which side is odd or even room numbers. Head to your relevant side then simply find your room number which are conveniently numbered in order – who’d have thought?
6) “Sweet, found my cabin. Where the hell is my baggage???” Chill, it is still coming.
7) “Ok cool, cocktail time!” Yeah, no not yet. Meet your room stewards. We had not been in our room more than 5 minutes before our two stewards had come forth to introduce themselves. Treat these guys with respect and courtesy and they will ensure your cabin will always feel home away from home. And remember, tip them well at the end of your cruise (I have seen suggestions of between $50-$100 per steward). Make sure you hand them the tips (in the supplied envelopes from reception) personally.
8) “Right, room found and met my stewards. Where is that bar?” I wonder how many alcoholics have been created on cruises? No! No cocktails yet! Book your restaurants straight away. Find your cabin, drop your carry on and go book some dinner seatings. These can book out quickly so act fast.
9) “Are we ready to go get that first cocktail yet?” Nope, don’t forget about the kids. Head to the relevant kids club area and register your kids. Trust us, the kids will be begging you to let them go back again and again.
10) “I get the feeling its still not cocktail time yet?” Well, you could. “Hurrah!” But we suggest heading to the Pantry asap and grab your lunch. It will get very crowded later as more and more passengers board the vessel so grab a table and fill your belly’s first.
11) “Now?” Yes…now you can go get your cocktail and get ready for the sail away party! Your cruise has just begun!
What else is useful to know for your cruise?
12) “I heard the toilets will clog up and all I will smell is poo the entire trip” “I heard the food is disgusting”. I also heard Santa is closing down his workshop and the Easter Bunny will be taking over Christmas deliveries from now on. There are a ton of stories on social media, and I am constantly amazed at the amount of people replying to some of these stories “oh, we may cancel our cruise.”
People, opinions are like a butt crack – everyone has one. Just because one cruise had blocked up toilets does not mean that that happens on every cruise. Only flush the supplied loo paper down the toilets. If everyone does that, happy days!
It is the same with food. If you are reading a comment regarding the food on social media just remember the person writing might be used to 5-star dining. We found the food perfectly adequate. The Pantry is fine, simple, hearty food that will keep you full. 5 star it is not and by the end of the cruise might start to feel a little same-same but its filling and that’s the main thing. Other options for dining are available for those with more refined tastes.
Watch out on Roast Pork night – the line up for that will be insane so if you want double helping of that dish, grab two plates at the start!
It’s fine to read others opinions on a cruise but in the end, the only opinion that should matter to your holiday is your own.
13) Get to know your ship and be in it to win it. On the first day there will be a treasure hunt “collect the stamps” activity. This is designed to teach you where everything is on the ship but you also get the chance to win some prizes. Given 2000 people on the ship, we were not going to do this draw. 1 hour before the prizes were drawn, we raced around the ship and got into the raffle just in time. Low and behold – boom, first prize and a dinner for two in Salt, the onboard restaurant by Luke Mangan.
14) A pre-conceived notion I had before going on the cruise that you would feel like a sardine on a ship with 2000 people all over the top of each other. This was so far from the truth. There is so many entertainment areas, so many activities and so much to do never did you feel overcrowded.
15) Seasickness. If you are unlucky enough to suffer from this I would suggest avoiding the stairs. The wife would feel the effects worse if using the stairs during rougher seas. Now, if you are being sick – do not set up camp over the toilet. While this may seem like a top idea, you will learn the water in the toilet will follow the rocking of the ship and in turn not help your situation one bit! Similarly with the shower. The water will wash back and forth as the ship rocks, not totally being sensitive to your plight.
16) What cabin to choose? We were initially disappointed when balcony cabins had been sold out leaving us with an ocean view cabin as next best option. In hindsight, we would not book balcony rooms now. The only time we were in our cabin was to shower, get changed or sleep. A balcony would have been useless for us. Same with the TV in the cabin. We did not need to use it once. If you are wondering if there are DVD players in the cabins, forget it. You wont need it.
17) Do as much or as little as you like. Each night you will get the ships newsletter on your bed outlining the activities for the next day. Make sure you pack a pen and a highlighter. This will help you plan your next day and fill out any forms that may come your way. Our nights would usually consist of taking the kids to the kids dinner at 4:30pm, in kids club by 5:30pm. We parents head off for dinner, catch the 7pm show in the theatre then enjoy drinks at one of the bars until it was time to pick our spawn up from kids club. On the subject of the live shows…
18) Catch the shows. These were fantastic and were all very different in terms of tone and style each night. Well worth it. Each show goes for just under 1 hour.
19) Kids dinner. Served in The Pantry from 4:30pm each day. Pick from typical kid-style meals for the little ones.
21) Shore tours. On our cruise we did a mix of activities. Noumea, we did a P&O organised tour (your tickets for which, assuming you book before your trip, will be in your cabin when you arrive), Lifou we did our own thing and in Port Vila we used the services of a very good and reliable local tour operator. If booking with P&O, book early via Cruise Control so that you can get a choice of the best tour times.
22) All ports/islands accepted Australian currency, but only notes. Make sure you take small denominations ($5 and $10) as change will usually be given in local currency.
23) Laundry. Washers and drawers using gold coins are available on the ship. There are also free-to-use irons in the laundry.
24) Duty Free. Our suggestion is to wait til Port Vila (if it is on your stop). Prices are cheaper on alcohol then what they were on the ship. We used our credit card for duty free shopping in Vila
25) How much money will you need? In all honesty, if you have the drinks package you could quite easily not spend another cent. All up we spent about $1,500. This included our Chou Chou train tour in Noumea, local tour in Port Vila, souvenirs, buying the P&O photos, duty free alcohol and ice cream. We spent more this trip being our first ever cruise, on our next cruise I’d expect to spend well less than this as we would not get the photos etc.
26) Glen 20 and wipes. Spray your cabin / air con vents etc. Keep those bugs away!
27) When you get back….book your next cruise!
What other tips would you have for the first time cruiser? Leave your comments below.