If you are like me, a newbie cruiser, it probably seems a little confusing and you probably have a lot of questions. How does debarkation work? Do I need to bring a passport into port? What’s included in the cost of the cruise? What should I pack? How fancy do people dress for dinner? And on and on and on…
Don’t worry if you don’t know what to do. This post has everything you want to know as a newbie cruiser (and more) divided into categories of what you need to know: 1) Before You Go, 2) When Boarding, 3) Onboard the Ship, and 4) When Visiting a Port.
Before You Go
#1: Review the Cruise Information — Check out all the information provided by the cruise line. Carnival Cruises has My Cruise Manager where you can review the cruise itinerary, schedule dining times, book shore excursions and find out all there is to see and do (and eat) on board the ship.
#2: Review Your Packing List — Start with the helpful lists on the Carnival web site that includes frequently asked questions about what to bring as well as a list of items not permitted on board. A few additions to that list include lanyards for your cruise card, waterproof case for your smartphone, beach bag or backpack for shore excursions, a refillable water bottle and/or go cup, and a watch.
#3: Book Shore Excursions — Figure out what you’d like see and do in each of the scheduled stops. The #LetsGoCarnival retreat destination was the Western Caribbean with stops in Belize, Costa Maya, Cozumel and Mahogany Bay. Depending on the port, you may choose to just find a beach and relax or putter around the shops for local souvenirs.
#4: Review Dining and Entertainment Options — Do a quick scan of the onboard offerings before you go and make a list of all the must-do things you’d like to try or do as once you are there, it feels a little overwhelming. Our favourites were the Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse and the Dive-In Movie nights on the pool deck.
#5: Schedule Spa Treatments — Plan on treating yourself to a little onboard luxury while at sea. The onboard spa, Cloud 9 Spa on Carnival, offers a wide range of treatments, including massage, acupuncture, facials, body wraps and more. And if you didn’t have time to get your toes done before your holiday, you can visit the onboard Beauty Salon!
#6: Check Out the Kids Club — Plan on spending at least one afternoon or evening away from the kids! The Kids Club offers daytime kids’ camps as well as evening programs to allow parents to enjoy a little quiet time. The Kids Club also has parent and child programs, such as the Build-A-Bear Workshop and the Scavenger Hunt.
#7: Pack Your Boarding Bag — Bring a separate carry-on bag to bring with you when you board as your suitcases may take a while to reach your cabin. If you are traveling with kids, bathing suits are a must so you can check out the Carnival’s WaterWorks (their onboard waterpark featuring the Twister Waterslide and THE Drainpipe).
#8: Arrive Early — Check your cruise information package for the embarkation times. Typically, you will see a range of times, starting as early as 10 am and wrapping up in the afternoon. To avoid getting stuck in long lines, arrive early and plan on hanging out on the ship while everyone else boards. The bonus is you get unlimited access to the ship’s amenities while everyone else is sorting themselves out.
#9: Check In — Bring your boarding pass, passport and credit card to check in and get your cruise card, which will act as your ID and credit card for your time onboard the ship. If you want to speed up the process, you can enter your credit card via the My Cruise Manager before you leave.
#10: Find Your Stateroom — Check your ship map before trying to navigate the long corridors to your stateroom. The staterooms are arranged by floor, following the usual convention of the first digit in your room number indicating the floor number, AND by odd and even numbers with odd numbers occupying one half of the ship and even on the opposite side.
#11: Explore the Ship — With the ship’s map in hand, take a tour of the ship to orient yourself. Don’t worry — you’ll still probably spend a good amount of time doubling back after going in the wrong direction, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy to navigate. Things that are a little tricky to find are the laundry room where you can use the iron and the Kids Club.
#12: Figure Out Front and Back — Use front and back to orient yourself on the ship so when the ship is moving, a quick glance out your window will tell you which direction is forward before you step out your door as it’s easy to get turned around and end up at the back of the ship when you meant to go to the front.
#13: Set Your Watch to Ship’s Time — Don’t rely on your smartphone for the time while onboard and visiting ports because your smartphone will automatically update to the local time and all the times, including what time you need to be back at the ship, are given in ship’s time, which is usually the timezone of the port you sailed from. It’s a small detail, but a few days in, you start to lose track of what timezone you are currently in and what timezone the ship is in.
Onboard the Ship:
#14: Review the Cruise News — Grab a copy of the daily schedule to find out everything you need to know for that day, including what time you will be arriving and leaving port, the dress code for the dining room that evening, and special events happening that day. It’s a good idea to highlight the things that interest you so you don’t loose track of them as every day has a LOT of options.
#15: Attend the Formal Dinners — Plan on dressing up and attending the formal dinners as the menu in the main dining room changes from night to night and the formal evenings have the best options. For example, the first formal evening onboard the Carnival Magic was the lobster and prime rib night!
#16: Take Advantage of Room Service — Order up a plate of cookies and milk before bed or a late night snack of raw vegetables. Most of the room service menu is INCLUDED and anything that is an extra charge is clearly indicated on the room service menu.
#17: Try the Specialty Restaurants — Don’t spend all your time eating at the buffet restaurant or the main dining room. Many of the other onboard dining options, like Guy’s Burger Joint, Pirates Pizza, and Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse, are included and the up charge for those that aren’t included is quite reasonable.
#18: Sample Featured Items at the Taste Bar — Even if you don’t want to splurge on a night at Cucina del Capitano (the Italian restaurant) or the Steakhouse, pop by the Taste Bar to sample featured menu items from these menus because sampling is included and encouraged!
#19: Take in the Cruise Nightlife — Parents: stop by the Alchemy Bar for a custom-mixed concoction or take in one of the nightly comedy shows. Families: grab a lounge chair by the pool while the kids splash in the pool during the nightly Dive-In Movie!
#20: Pay Attention to Shopping Specials — If you are a shopper, listen to the daily announcements for that day’s special deals in the onboard shops. Sometimes it’s a free liquor sampling, other times it’s discounts on merchandise.
When Visiting a Port:
#21: Order Room Service Breakfast — Save yourself time and hassle by ordering in room service breakfast so you can dress, eat and pack for the day at the same time. This is especially handy for those early morning port arrivals for those of us who are not morning people and dealing with a 3-hour timezone difference.
#22: Do Your Travel Homework — For port visits where you aren’t going on an excursion, research the local options to find those hidden gems. Thanks to an unplanned stop in Key West due a medical emergency onboard the ship and a helpful list of must-see’s from a fellow traveler, we were able to tick the Hemingway Home off our Travel Bucket List.
#23: Get Down to the Debarkation Area Early — Avoid getting stuck in long lines by getting down to the debarkation area early. This is especially important for tender ports, like Belize, where you have to take a boat to shore. If you have booked an excursion, your ticket will have the details on where and when to meet.
#24: Bring Your Cruise Card — Always have your cruise card with you as it’s your ticket to getting off and back on the ship. Depending on the port, you may also need to bring photo ID, such as a driver’s licence or passport, but that information will be announced prior to reaching the port.
#25: Pack Extra Snacks and Water — Even if your tour offers lunch or a snack stop, pack extra snacks and water as sometimes the gap between leaving the ship and the scheduled lunch break is too long for kids and for us Canadians, the heat is way more intense than we’re accustomed to.
Inspired to Finally Try Cruising? Here’s How to Find Carnival Online:
Disclosure: I participated in the #LetsGOCarnival retreat managed by SJ Consulting. The opinions on this blog are my own.