10 Tips to Plan Your First Cruise Vacation

Despite being somewhat intrigued by the world of cruising and having access to some awesome deals, we have never taken a cruise.  In this post, we share some tips and information about cruising for the cruise curious traveler based on our friend’s first cruise experience.


We have been hesitant to take a cruise as the food options are limited (confined to dining onboard) and exploring in general seems more difficult and structured. That being said, the ability to explore numerous destinations conveniently from a luxury cruise ship equipped with amusement park-style activities and without the hassle of having to pack, unpack, check-in and check-out of hotels, and deal with numerous airports and flights does have its advantages from a relaxation and fun perspective.

Photo by Shawnna Donop on Pexels.com

In speaking with friends who are avid cruisers, the cruise industry seems like a secret society where people speak a language that can be hard to decipher for newbies, and debates always ensue when the topic is discussed. These people have figured out which ships and companies are the best from trial and error based on personal preference and even have connections with people who can make great things happen for them on board. With so many options and opinions, one can feel overwhelmed and fearful to commit to a cruise. Thankfully, our friend and author R.H. Nix and her husband went on a cruise for the first time in November 2022 and have agreed to share information and tips with those considering cruising in the future.

  1. Can you tell us what inspired you to cruise for the first time? Were you hesitant to cruise?

“I was definitely hesitant to cruise for the first time. The idea of being stuck on a boat and not being able to get off if I was sick or miserable? This is why we booked a short cruise for our first one, just 5 days. Everyone always talks about how fun cruises are and I do love a fun vacation so I wanted to try it out. We originally booked it in May 2020 when we were going to Miami for an event, and it just made sense to tack on a little cruise to test the waters, so to speak. Of course, then COVID happened and the event and original trip were canceled and we ended up with a cruise credit that we had to use. We decided to stick with the shorter cruise and spend some time exploring Miami on either end of it.”

2. How did you select your ship/cruise? Any tips for 1st timers?

“The different cruise lines have different specialties so you should definitely talk to friends who love cruising and do some research. The size of the ship and amount of passengers on board can vary significantly. There are also very high-end and adults-only cruises vs much more family-focused ones. When we were selecting ours, I didn’t do a ton of research but did talk to a few friends. I booked ours mainly based on a few friends’ recommendations and the length and price.”

3. What is the optimal cruise length for a newbie?

“We thought five days was optimal. Long enough to get your groove on and figure everything out, but not too long if you’re miserable. The first 24 hours you’re figuring the boat out and adjusting to cruise life so it almost doesn’t count.”

4. What did you like the best about the cruise and what did you dislike the most about the cruise?

“We loved having one home base and being able to see different spots. Loved the ability to check out a new location like Cozumel and decide whether or not we’d want to go there for longer. The things I disliked about the cruise were 1- they were able to handle my food allergy but the options weren’t great so in the end I found it easier to just figure it out myself and not eat their set meal options. I feel like they could do this better. 2- the pools are really busy and in full sun so we didn’t use them at all. And you know how much I love a pool. 3- I wish there were more shade options on the deck and in open air.

View of the beach at the Westin Cozumel
View of the beach at the Westin Cozumel

5. What are the 3 most important tips to share with people?

“Book your dinner reservations the moment they open for the specialty dining options if you care about what time you eat. The best restaurants fill up quickly.

Research booking shore excursions yourselves, as opposed to through the ship. You’ll find better prices and more options, but be aware of safety etc. when booking.

Bring lots of sunscreen and be prepared to chase the shade. I was really surprised that there are very few spots that have any shade – and most of the ones that do are in covered areas.

Bonus one – Have breakfast before you board the ship as it can be a while between checking in and actually getting on the boat.”

6. Did you ever get “boat fever”?

“No! Surprisingly by the fourth day we were wishing we’d had a couple more days.”

7.    If you are anti-social, can you easily avoid social interaction?

“Yes you definitely can. We found spots on the boat to set up our chairs and read and hang out without ever talking to anyone else all day. You could also easily make friends by hanging out in the very busy spots like the pool area if you were so inclined.”

8. Will you cruise again? If yes, what’s your next cruise?

“Yes, I think we will. Our next one will be on Virgin which is the adults-only one. I think we’ll do 8 days around the Eastern Caribbean.”

9. Any packing tips? Like, pack Band-Aids or they will cost you $50 onboard!

“We brought Yetis to cut down on all the plastic cup usage, and it was also nice to always have a water bottle. Bring your own shampoo and conditioner because while they do have some onboard it’s not great. Bring Tylenol and something in case of sea sickness. And I wore my bathing suit and a cover up all the time unless I was at dinner, so pack a few.”

10. Any plans to write a book in the future set on a cruise ship? Maybe a romantic horror comedy during a Hannukah cruise? ☺

“Funny you should ask that…the people watching was great and it would make an excellent setting for a novel. Maybe someday….”

R.H. Nix’s bio: R.H. Nix is addicted to Starbucks but doesn’t like coffee. She craves the summer but lives in a town that hosts winter for 6 months a year. She is afraid of dogs but has an Airedale Terrier. She thrives on big cities but lives in the country. She is an avid runner but doesn’t really enjoy exercising. She currently has three novels available for purchase. Find out more here.


InA Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, David Foster Wallace chronicles a week-long cruise in the Caribbean.  He weaves first-hand accounts of his experiences with anecdotes and philosophical musings. This more or less summarizes his cruise experience:

“I have now seen sucrose beaches and water a very bright blue. I have seen an all-red leisure suit with flared lapels. I have smelled suntan lotion spread over 2,100 pounds of hot flesh. I have been addressed as “Mon” in three different nations. I have seen 500 upscale Americans dance the Electric Slide. I have seen sunsets that looked computer-enhanced. I have (very briefly) joined a conga line.”

We have come to the conclusion that everyone will enjoy some aspects of cruising more than others and while it can be limiting, it offers many options as well and should be considered. Managing expectations, doing your research and appreciating things for what they are (…and not what they aren’t) are part of having an enjoyable vacation in general, whether or not it’s a cruise or something else. A big thank you to R.H. Nix for sharing her tips and perspective!

Have you been on a cruise? If yes, did you enjoy it? Do you have any tips to include?


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