Last Updated on December 10, 2023

First-Time Cruise Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Cruising can be a wonderful way to travel and it’s a great chance to see lots of new places whilst enjoying the freedom of the open seas.

However, there are some mistakes that first-time cruisers often make, so, with this in mind, here are 12 common mistakes to avoid.

1. Not Budgeting for the Extras

Most of your cruise expenses such as meals, accommodation, and entertainment, are included in the price.

However, other costs such as drinks (if you haven’t pre-bought a drinks package) and some onboard activities (such as the spa or yoga classes) might be extra.

*Tip: Make sure to set aside some money to cover these additional costs so you don’t end up overspending.

2. Not Getting Involved in Onboard Activities

You can have a great time trying one of the onboard activities, meet some great people, and have fun that you didn’t know you could have.

I never ever considered the idea of playing shuffleboard before going on my first P&O cruise, but, egged on by Valeria, I gave it a go and had great fun.

The ladies in their 70s and 80s were actually extremely competitive and were hard to beat! In fact, I didn’t beat them.

Paul playing shuffleboard on P&O's Ventura
Paul playing shuffleboard on P&O’s Ventura

There is usually a range of activities to choose from including:

  • Dance lessons
  • Pub quizzes
  • Table tennis (ping pong) competitions
  • Karaoke
  • Various card games
  • Casino games lessons (such as Poker)

Try something new whilst onboard!

*Tip: Review the daily schedule and take part in various activities, shows, and workshops.

3. Not Researching Shore Excursions

It can be a great idea to research the shore excursions and work out if you really need to book a shore excursion or not.

In Lisbon, for example, we paid for the cruise line transfer from the port to the center and it took about 30 minutes through traffic. Yet, on the way back, we found that you could easily walk from the edge of the center to the ship in ten minutes. The transfers were really not needed.

Likewise, I prefer to use the hop-on hop-off bus or to just walk, when arriving in Barcelona port. Cadiz is another great port for just walking off the ship and finding your own way around Cadiz.

You might find our post on 15 ports where you do not need to book a shore excursion worth reading.

4. Forgetting Important Documents

Just do not be the person who turns up to check in for the cruise and who has forgotten their passport. Alas, you will not be the first.

Also, remember to consider documents such as a copy of any:

  • Travel Insurance
  • Inoculations (i.e., Yellow Fever or any related to the place of travel)
  • Passports or ID Cards
  • Printed Boarding Pass/es
  • Visas (such as the ESTA if visiting the USA as part of your cruise)

*Tip: There will normally be a safe in your cabin for you to place the important documents when you do not need them.

*Tip: I recommend also having a digital copy of any key documents. Take a photo of them with your phone and store them also in your cloud (digital online storage if you use a cloud). You can then easily access a visual copy from anywhere worldwide if you lose a document.

5. Not Packing Enough Layers

Wearing a jacket on a cruise
Even in warmer climates, the nights can get much cooler

Even if you are going to locations where it should be warm or hot, it’s still important to bring along a few layers of clothing as temperatures can drop dramatically at night.

It will not take up too much space to include one top and one light jacket.

6. Relying Too Much on Technology

Most ships have Wi-Fi and cell service available, but they can be unreliable at times so don’t rely solely on technology during your trip.

You might want to buy a data package with your cellphone operator or wait until you arrive at a local port.

If you are running an online business or need to do some work meetings (as this might be a kind of working holiday for you) then try and pre-plan to do meetings on port days rather than days at sea.

7. Skipping the Lifeboat Drill

Come on! Why stress out the hard-working crew on the boat because you do not feel like spending the 30 minutes or so attending the fire drill that takes place within the first few hours of being onboard? There always tend to be a few people who try to avoid it.

Remember that the crew are doing it for our own safety, so make sure you attend the lifeboat drill onboard your cruise, as it’s important to know what to do in an emergency.

8. Treating the Drinks Package as a Reason to Drink Far Too Much

In the pub on the P&O Ventura
In the pub on the P&O Ventura

Just in the same way that an All-You-Can-Eat buffet should not be seen as an All-You-Must-Eat buffet, the drinks package does not mean you must drink as much as possible to get your money’s worth.

I tend to actually avoid the drinks package so that I am more careful with the amount of wine I drink onboard (perhaps I need to relax more onboard 🙂

Try not, as a first-time cruiser, to get completely carried away.

9. Not Taking Motion Sickness Medication

If you’re prone to seasickness, it’s best to have some motion sickness tablets or other medication on hand.

If traveling through the Bay of Biscay on the Northern coast of Spain (a popular route if traveling to/from the UK to the Mediterranean), it can get quite choppy for 24 hours.

You can normally buy motion or sea-sickness tablets onboard but it might be easier to buy them beforehand so you have them ready.

10. Overpacking

Although it’s important to bring enough items for a cruise, it’s also important to try and pack light.

Cruise ships tend to have limited space, so make sure you don’t bring too many bulky items that will take up a lot of room.

*Tip: Pack wisely by checking the cruise line’s dress code and weather forecast. Also, consider versatile clothing items.

11. Overlooking Dress Code

If this is your first cruise, it is worth being aware that on different evenings in the main dining halls, there are different dress codes.

Some evenings are casual, some smart casual, and some evenings formal.

So for men, for example, it is worth packing a few nice shirts, a suit, and a tuxedo (if you have one).

For ladies, some nice dresses or trousers (pants in American English) and some nice formal tops.

Do note though that, if you really do not want to do the formal nights, you do not have to because you can dress casually and use the buffet restaurant/s instead if you wish (rather than the main dining room/s).

I would say though that it can actually be quite good fun on the more formal nights and it’s probably worth trying at least once on your cruise.

*Tip: Pack appropriate clothing for formal nights and themed parties, if applicable.

12. Not Exploring the Ship

I strongly recommend really exploring all corners and areas of the ship in the first days onboard.

Do not make the mistake that Valeria and I made on our first two cruises where we only found some bars and areas of the ship on the last couple of days and wished we’d found them earlier on in the cruise.

Even on medium-sized 2000 or so passenger ships, there are often so many things to explore, especially so on the even larger ships that hold 3000+ passengers.

*Tip: Explore the ship to discover all corners of the ship, i.e. to discover early on those hidden gems such as the onboard movie cinema, a great cocktail bar, or a nice quiet area on the deck for reading.

Bonus Tip: Disembarkation Disorganization

Southampton Cruise Port baggage collection hall
Southampton Cruise Port baggage collection hall

You will normally need to pack your suitcases the night before and then leave them outside your cabin, ready for the porters to collect and store.

They will then take the bags off the ship early in the morning and the bags will be waiting for you in the arrivals baggage collection area.

It is normally easy to find your bags because the baggage collection hall is normally marked out according to your cruise cabin floor number.

*Tip: Follow the cruise line’s instructions for disembarkation and ensure your belongings are packed and ready.

Paul Symonds