6 things I wish I knew before setting foot on a cruise ship that I think all first-time cruisers should keep in mind




 
  • I recently went on a cruise for the first time on Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas.

  • After taking the trip, there are some things I think everyone should know before going on a cruise.

  • Here's what I learned about everything from how to pick a cabin to where to go for dinner.

I went on my first cruise onboard Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas - the largest cruise ship in the world. I learned a few things along the way that I wish I'd known before I'd booked my trip, that I think any first-time cruiser should consider.

The author takes a selfie in front of the world
The author takes a selfie in front of the world's largest cruise ship  

I joined my first Caribbean cruise in April for a reporting trip with multiple stops in the Caribbean Sea. Before the trip, I had never even seen a cruise ship.

I embarked on a seven-night voyage on the largest cruise ship of its kind, Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas. We sailed to Roatán, Honduras; Cozumel and Costa Maya in Mexico; and Royal Caribbean's private island in the Bahamas.

While I had a good time, I ultimately decided that the cruising lifestyle wasn't for me. But there were some things I wish I had known beforehand that would have made my trip a little easier and more comfortable. Here's what I think all first-time cruisers should know before setting sail.

Read more: 10 things I wish I'd done differently on my first cruise, from choosing a better room to reserving shows in advance

Some cruise ship cabins can be rockier than others, like those situated at the front of the ship.

The author
The author's room was at the front of the ship.Joey Hadden/Insider  

Before booking, I wish I'd done some research about how the location of a cruise ship cabin can impact the amount of motion you can feel while the ship is moving.

My room was located at the front of the ship, and I didn't expect to feel as much movement in my cabin as I did. But I later learned that ships rock from side to side, so the front and back move more than the middle, as USA Today reported.

This made sense to me after talking to seasoned cruisers on the ship, several of whom told me that the front of the ship was one of the worst places to be for feeling motion. Higher decks in the middle of the ship feel calmer and more stable, they said.

If you are prone to motion sickness like I am, I suggest choosing a room in the middle of the ship. I wish I had known this beforehand.

Read more: I spent 7 nights in a 179-square-foot room on the world's largest cruise ship. Take a look inside my cabin.

The restaurants included in the cruise rate had all different types of food and were high quality, so splurging on specialty restaurants wasn't necessary.

Shrimp, rice, tomatoes, asparagus on a white plate
Shrimp, rice, tomatoes, asparagus on a white plate  

One of the most unique things about cruising is that most meals, snacks, and drinks are all-inclusive as part of the cruise rate.

But on large ships like Wonder of the Seas, more than a dozen restaurants with specialty offerings, like sushi, are not included and incur additional charges, either as a one-time fee or by the dish. I paid between $40 and $60 for each meal.

I reserved all specialty restaurants before my trip, but I wish I hadn't booked so many once I realized the included restaurants offered a wide range of delicious types of food to eat.

There were a handful of buffets, and the main dining room served a three-course meal with changing menu items each night.

Every single one of my cravings was satisfied by these complimentary options. One of the best meals I had was in the main dining room.

Since I booked so many specialty restaurants, I didn't have time to try all the buffets or eat in the main dining room more than once. If I had known they'd be so satisfying, I would have saved money and eaten more of the included meals instead.

Read more: I spent a week eating on the world's largest cruise ship. These are the 10 best dishes I had.

Formal nights weren't enforced, so don't waste luggage space on nice outfits if you don't want to participate.

A formal night onboard Wonder of the seas cruise ship
A formal night onboard Wonder of the seas cruise ship  

I hate dressing formally, but going into the trip, I knew cruises had required formal nights I brought one nice dress with me to wear anytime I needed it, but learned after the first formal night that the dress code wasn't strictly enforced. I noticed that people wore a variety of outfits, from evening gowns to T-shirts.

I relaxed my look on the other two formal nights, but I felt like I wasted the limited space in my suitcase with the dress. If I had known it wasn't necessary to wear, I would have left it at home.

Read more: 8 things I learned when I sailed solo on my first cruise, from how to meet people to having to pay a 'single supplement'

 

Laundry on board was expensive, so bring a bar of laundry soap to save money.

Inside the author
Inside the author's closet in her cabin.Joey Hadden/Insider  

Since I only brought a carry-on suitcase, I was hoping to get some laundry done onboard, but then I saw the pricing sheet.

I live in New York City where I've never had in-unit laundry, so I'm used to paying for my clothes to be washed. But rather than pricing by weight like I do at my local New York laundromat, Royal Caribbean charges for each article of clothing. Each shirt costs $4, and a dress costs $9, while washing just one pair of underwear would be $2.

This would add up fast, I thought, so I didn't get any laundry done on my trip. But if I had known the pricing prior to my trip, I would have brought a bar of laundry soap to hand wash a few things.

Read more: I packed for a weeklong cruise with just a carry-on and a backpack. Here are 10 items I'm glad I brought and 7 things I wish I had with me.

Although it was a Caribbean cruise, I got chilly, so bring some warm clothing.

The author on the windy top deck just after sunrise.Joey Hadden/Insider
The author on the windy top deck just after sunrise.Joey Hadden/Insider  

My favorite time to be on the top decks of the ship was early in the morning and late at night when there weren't as many crowds. However, during those times, I felt cold, strong winds, which made me wish I had brought more than one sweater and pair of pants.

I would have brought a few more pairs of pants and another sweater to keep me warm (instead of the poofy formal dress). Since I didn't, I ended up wearing the same pants and sweater nearly morning and evening.

Read more: 15 side-by-side photos show how the world's largest cruise ship transforms at night with vivid, colorful lights

I would have brought my own case of water if I knew it was allowed.

A case of water bottles in the author
A case of water bottles in the author's room.Joey Hadden/Insider  

To make sure I stayed hydrated throughout my trip, I opted for the water bottle package while booking my trip extras like restaurant reservations and excursions. For $16, I had a case of 24 water bottles delivered to my cabin by Royal Caribbean. It seemed expensive for a pack of water bottles, but I thought this was just part of the price of cruising.

Then when I was boarding the ship, I noticed people carrying their own cases of water. That's when I realized that Royal Caribbean allows guests to bring their own non-alcoholic beverages as well as non-perishable snacks.

If I had known this, I would have brought my own water and a few snacks, too.

Read more: I just went on my first cruise - here are 15 things that surprised me the most about this type of travel

If I'd known these details before my cruise, I could have prepared to have a better time while saving some money. I hope they help other first-time cruisers.

The author at a port in front of the world
The author at a port in front of the world's largest cruise ship  

While I enjoyed parts of my cruise, some of this key knowledge could have made my trip much more comfortable. If I ever cruise again, or meet other soon-to-be first-time cruisers, I'll remember what I learned about cabin locations, formal nights, and cool, windy mornings sailing on the Caribbean Sea.

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