Travel

Cruise curious? Top tips for first-timers

Cruising? You might not be sure it’s for you, but if you are curiously determined to give it a try, then Carolyn Tate explains the failsafe ways to prepare for smooth sailing.

By Carolyn Tate

If you’re a social type and you like adventure, going on a cruise can be a wonderful way to see some of the world - or even just Australia. 

Cruises allow you to fit several destinations into a short amount of time (while only having to unpack once), you meet lots of new people, and your holiday can be affordable given the all-inclusive price packages.

While you may think you know what cruises are like, there is a range of types and sizes to suit just about everyone. This article outlines the easy way to prepare for a smooth first (or even second or third) sailing.

Cruise tip #1: Research the ship and cruise company before you go 

There are as many cruise companies sailing around the world as there are places to visit.

It's not usually the destination that will deliver a successful cruise so much as how well it matches your criteria for day-to-day living while on board.

Ocean cruise liners are big, and each ship is unique, so go to the cruise company website before you leave and check out the deck layouts and features before you book. 

Searching YouTube can also help you find video ship tours by cruise obsessives. There’s also loads of review sites to read what real people say about their cruise.

Shuffleboard used to be a popular cruise activity - check what the cruise company you want to travel with offers in terms of daily activities and events and see if they match your needs.

P&O Cruises Australia

Departs from: Brisbane and Sydney year round, Adelaide, Melbourne. Adelaide, Cairns, Fremantle, Auckland, seasonally

Goes to: South Pacific Islands, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia

If you want to try a cruise, enter our cruise giveaway before March 10. P&O Cruises is also offering Citro Card holders 5% cashback on all cruises. Bargain! This is one of Australia's most well-known cruise companies offering reliable, well-priced cruises around our corner of the globe. Catering to families, couples and groups, their longer holidays and short break cruises are a great way to disconnect and reconnect.

Learn more: P&O Cruises

Carnival Cruises

Departs from: Brisbane and Sydney

Goes to: Australia, South Pacific, New Zealand, New Guinea, America and Singapore

Carnival's ships, Carnival Splendor and Carnival Luminosa, sail year-round and are packed with fun and adventure, offering more than 45 activities that appeal to families, couples and groups. There's a range of short break and longer cruises, including a 'cruise to nowhere' option for those wanting to taste cruising life for a quick break before committing to a longer cruise.

Learn more: Carnival Cruises

Viking Ocean Cruises

Departs from: Sydney

Goes to: Canada, Alaska, Japan, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia

Viking Ocean Cruises are loved for their long-haul trips. Their Australia, Asia and Alaska journey takes passengers to experience 11 different countries in 79 days, perfect for keen travellers who love to settle in. Viking Ocean cruise ships are decked-out with a modern, Scandinavian interior and while the ship is not officially adults-only, the cruise line is known to attract a friendly clientele that is older and well-travelled.

Learn more: Viking Cruises

Princess

Departs from: most Australian capital cities

Goes to: This cruise line offers a range of Royal Class ships with dramatic over-water SeaWalks and plush private poolside cabanas that appear to be floating on the water. It visits more than 100 countries with itineraries that take in all 7 continents around the globe.

Learn more: Princess Cruises

Seabourn

Departs from: Australia and destinations all over the world

Goes to: Everywhere, including Tahiti, New Zealand, Bali, Australia, Antarctica and beyond

This cruise brand pitches itself as the all-inclusive luxury brand with smaller ships that offer more space per passenger than larger ships. It has sailings all over the globe, from Bermuda to the Arctic.

Learn more: Seabourn

Holland America Line

Departs from: Sydney, Perth and Auckland

Goes to: Alaska, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, Australia and more

Specialising in culinary and long voyages, these ships have a large range of fitness activities, dining and on-shore exploration. Like many larger cruise companies, they offer family-friendly cruises, themed cruises (like culinary or music-themed cruises), and special event cruises.

Learn more: Holland America Line

Virgin Voyages

Departs from: Melbourne and Sydney

Goes to: Sydney, Picton, Napier, Tauranga, Auckland

This adults-only cruise line has fares covering unlimited non-alcoholic drinks, all-day buffet, group fitness classes, WiFi and a variety of other inclusions, and their itineraries feature late stays and overnights, so you can see it all without rushing.

Learn more: Virgin Voyages

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Departs from: Sydney

Goes to: Bali, Komodo, Darwin, Cooktown, Cairns, Townsville, Mooloolaba, Newcastle

Regent Seven Seas Cruises are known to be one of the cruise lines with the most inclusions within their base fare rates, including on-land tours, alcoholic beverages, room service meals and tips. They tend to draw an older crowd and the cruiseline’s luxurious design promises a relaxing journey through Australia’s pristine beaches and towards the shores of Bali.

Learn more: Regent Seven Seas

Silversea

Departs from: Cairns

Goes to: Sydney, Eden, Melbourne, Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, Phillip Island, Newcastle, Mooloolaba, Shute Harbour

Despite Silversea’s lavish brand and smaller passenger capacity, their all-inclusive fares are relatively reasonable, and are a fun and fresh way to see Australia.

Learn more: Silversea

Azamara Cruises

Departs from: Perth

Goes to: Bali, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong

Sailing with Azamara Cruises is a premium cruise experience at a reasonably affordable fare rate. The cruise line favours long hauls, touring Western Australia before heading for Asia. And since their boat does not include any activities or facilities for children, it can be the perfect 16-day holiday for those looking for tranquility on a journey full of culinary arts, culture and more global treasures.

Learn more: Azamara Cruises

It’s not unusual for cruise ships to have a range of pools and waterside offerings - look them up before you go. If you’re the quiet type, see if there are quieter and smaller areas for introverts to hang out in.

Cruise tip #2: Long or short, big or small?

The biggest trick for successful cruising is working out your budget, destination and the type of ship you would most enjoy.

If it’s your first cruise, don’t book something with lots of days at sea and long itineraries - try something short that breaks up the trip with lots of tours and stop offs.   

Read Citro’s article about the advantage of booking a short cruise to nowhere - it makes sense!

Once you’re comfortable with a short cruise, you might be ready to try a longer cruise that can deliver a whole lot more value.

Cruise tip #3: Be flexible if weather or itineraries change

Itinerary changes are common on cruise ships and usually happen at the last minute. Factors like rough seas, cyclones and even civil unrest like that being experienced in the northern hemisphere right now can disrupt the ports you leave from or stop at.

Refund and cancellation policies vary between cruise lines, so read the fine print. Even if an itinerary change doesn’t result in a refund, some companies may offer cruise credits as a courtesy.

To have your trip fully covered, consider taking out travel insurance. Citro partner Freely offers cruise insurance (with 15% cashback), including coverage for Covid-19.

Cruise tip #4: Don’t be shy

The idea of being in the middle of the ocean with thousands of strangers can feel intimidating, but it’s a great opportunity to meet new people, particularly experienced cruisers who can offer great hacks and tips to make things more fun.

Some cruise websites (do a Google search - there's loads of them) have Roll Calls for guests on a particular sailing to join and chat with one another in advance. Passengers have also used Roll Calls to form groups to plan independently booked shore excursions, which can be cost-effective.

Cruise tip #5: Once you’ve booked your cruise

There are all kinds of tricks and tips to make the most of your time onboard, but these are the tried and true ideas.

Bring a carry-on bag for when you can’t access your luggage

After you walk on board and check your bag at the cruise terminal, it may take several hours before it’s delivered to your room. 

Have a carry-on with sunscreen, swimsuits, a phone charger and any other essentials that you’ll need as soon as you board. 

Sign up for activities in advance

Popular onboard restaurants, shore excursions and spa treatments can fill up quickly so book ahead. Many companies will let you book in advance through their website or app, but if not, head to excursion and activity desks soon after you’ve boarded.

Don’t try to bring your own drinks

Beverages are expensive on cruises and can add up so lots of people are tempted to bring their own. Usually, this means the alcohol is confiscated and returned to you once you disembark.

Most cruise companies offer all-inclusive food-and-drink packages for a flat fee, which can save money, particularly for those who enjoy alcohol. If you’re not a heavy drinker, just paying as you go is fine, too.

Some cruise companies have apps where you can check on your daily charges and make sure they are accurate. All cruise companies are different and check the terms and conditions on their website so you know what's allowed on board.

Cruise tip #6: Switch your phone to airplane mode when cruising

During your cruise, you will likely be crossing through several international telecom networks and could rack up significant roaming charges as your phone automatically downloads data. It’s best to keep your phone in flight mode and connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi if it’s included. If Wi-Fi isn't included, you can often purchase it or choose to completely unplug and do a digital detox while you travel.

It’s also worth reading Citro’s guide to securing your smartphone when you travel.

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