Cruising 101: Know Before You Go

Hi, my name is Tina and I’m addicted to cruising.

Since 2002, I’ve been on 17 Carnival, 2 Royal Caribbean, and 2 Disney cruises. I know, that’s a lot. But, because I live in Florida it’s actually the most cost effective vacation for me. I don’t have to pay for airfare or parking because I live so close to multiple ports (Canaveral, Tampa, Miami) that a friend can drop me off. Don’t be discouraged if you live further away because by the end of this article you’re going to learn how to save a bunch of money and pack like a pro.

Girls on the beach
Nikki and Tina’s beach shenanigans

Before You Go

So, you just booked your first cruise and everything is awesome. Most amenities on a cruise are included in your booking price, but did you know there are a ton of add-ons to enhance your cruise experience?

  • Shore excursions
  • Beverage packages
  • Spa and salon services
  • Internet plans

Don’t wait until you board to explore these options! Usually, you get at least a 10% discount if you reserve any of these packages within a few days of booking the cruise. You can get 30% off if you’re bundling packages. Here are my thoughts on add-ons…

Shore Excursions

Worth it! I highly recommend doing your research and booking through the cruise line for your excursions. They’re insured through the company so they’re generally safer and if a tour runs late, the ship won’t leave without you.

Some of my favorite excursions

Beverage Packages

Do the math. The Cheers “unlimited” alcohol package runs about $63 per day after gratuity. A single beer costs $7 and a cocktail costs $9 on average. Unless you purchase nine beers or seven cocktails per day, EVERY DAY, the Cheers package isn’t worth it. Also, if you’re cruising with me you’re going to be sneaking on a lot of liquor, so save your money to invest in some rum runners. You’re also allowed to carry on one bottle of wine or champagne on board per cruiser over the age of 21. Don’t put the bottle in your checked luggage!

Captain Morgan
Our lord and savior, Captain Morgan

What are rum runners? They’re clear, durable plastic pouches that hold liquid and are hard to detect through security. They cost about $10 on Amazon Prime and will survive the apocalypse. All you do is fill them up according to the directions in the package, then pack them in your luggage between layers of clothing and put the cap around your toiletries. It’ll look just like a toothpaste cap. Once your luggage is in the room, take the rum runners out and pour yourself a nice tall glass of a job well smuggled.

Spa and Salon Services

Worth it! Well, some of them. You can’t go wrong with a massage and facial, but I’ve heard people have bad experiences in the hair and nail services. There are reviews online for every service, so do your research and find a service that works for your needs. Also, some ships have extra amenities in the spa other than the standard steam room and sauna that you can purchase access to. These amenities vary depending on which ship, but you can usually expect a large whirpool, Thalassotherapy pool, Thermal suites, and upgraded sauna and steam rooms on the newer ships. A day pass is $40, but it’s more cost effective per day to purchase a pass for the length of the cruise.

Some of my favorite spa services:

Have a crowded stateroom? Pro-tip: Put on your fluffy robe and get ready in the spa locker room! The showers are bigger and you’ll have plenty of room to spread out your toiletries and makeup while your roommates are fighting over the one tiny sink back in your room.

Internet Plans

The best advice I can give you during your cruise is to unplug. Unless you absolutely have to get work done while you’re on vacation, don’t bother purchasing the internet plan. The service is very spotty and doesn’t work well in the staterooms. I tried the social media plan so I could use Instagram to post photos during my trip. The download speed was bearable on the pool deck but uploading was pretty impossible no matter where I was on the ship.

Embarkation Day

Cruise embarkation
The paparazzi are everywhere

Don’t park at the port. There are plenty of park and ride services around the port that are a fraction of the price.

When you board the ship, the first thing you do is head straight to the pool deck and get some lunch before it gets too crowded. At this point, most guests don’t have access to their room unless they’re high enough up on the cruise loyalty program, so they’re all out and about in the public areas of the ship. Even if you have access to your room, sometimes your luggage isn’t there immediately so it’s important to have select items in your carry-on bag.

Wear on your body:

  • Bathing suit
  • Cover-up or tshirt/shorts
  • Slip-on shoes

Put in your carry-on:

  • Passport, ID, and cruise documents
  • Credit card and cash
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Camera
  • One bottle of wine or champagne (the only legal alcohol you’ll be bringing)
  • 12 cans of soda/juice in a soft cooler

After lunch, you can do a number of things: find the room and unpack, explore the ship, or lay out by the pool, to name a few. Login to the Carnival mobile app to view the full schedule of activities and showtimes!

What to Pack

I like to pack day outfits and night outfits. On a cruise, during the day everyone is in bathing suits and it’s meant to feel like a beach resort. At night, everything transforms into a Vegas/casino lounge vibe.


  • Shorts
  • Crop tops
  • Sandals
  • Coverups
  • T-shirts
  • Boat shoes


  • Rompers
  • Dresses
  • Dark jeans
  • Button-ups
  • Dress shoes

Formal Night

One night at dinner will be required “cruise elegant” wear. Examples of appropriate attire would be slacks and a button up shirt with tie (sport coat is encouraged, but optional), or a cocktail dress. No flip flops or sneakers allowed!

Formal night
Posing with our to-go desserts on formal night

Things You Might Forget

  • Underwear/Bras
  • Pajamas
  • Light jacket or sweater
  • Toiletries (shampoo/soap are provided)
    • Lotion, conditioner, lip balm, toothbrush/paste, contacts/solution, deodorant, curling iron, razors/shaving cream, feminine products, hairbrush, face masks, nail polish
  • Day pack (for walking around the islands)
  • Book or e-reader
  • Phone charger
  • Makeup
  • Medication (prescription, pain relievers, motion sickness remedies)
  • Work-out clothes
  • Earbuds
  • Jewelry
  • Sneaks/socks
  • Watch (it can sometimes be hard to find a clock on the ship)
  • Wine opener (if you brought a bottle)
  • Lint roller
  • Power strip (there are limited outlets in the staterooms)

What NOT to Pack

  • Clothes iron
  • Coffeemaker
  • Weapons/restraints
  • Towels
  • Laptop/valuables
  • Martial arts gear
  • Hookahs
  • Bleach or paint
  • Aerial drones
  • Heelies

Have More Questions?

If you have more questions after reading all of this, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to answer anything in my honest opinion! Another great resource that I’ve always relied on is Cruise Critic. There are tons of message boards and threads for anything you could possibly think of when it comes to cruising.

Bon Voyage!

Tina ♥

Guide for First-Time Cruisers

4 thoughts on “Cruising 101: Know Before You Go

  1. You nailed it! Lots of good tips here. The last cruise I went on we tried to save and do our own excursions. It worked okay because we had a couple with us that could navigate the trains in Europe, but I was biting my nails more than once wondering if the boat would be there when we got back. Next time, definitely booking the excursions through the ship!

    1. Thanks Juliana! Definitely, it can get super nerve-racking especially when you’re in a new place and you’re supposed to be relaxing on vacation. I’m a big advocate of letting the company take care of the messy logistics. 🙂

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