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The Insider Tips You Need to Plan Your First Cruise

CAA Travel Planners on what to know before you book, before you go and while you’re on board

Large cruise ship sailing through the water next to multiple small islands

From river cruises and adventurous expeditions to megaships that ply the oceans, this is the golden age of cruising. Here’s a guide to help you get ready to sail away.

What to know before you book

  • Use CAA Travel to get the best deals and extra benefits.
  • Book at least a year in advance for the best deals. Last-minute deals exist, but may be offset by the price of last-minute flights and hotels.
  • “Wave season”—the January to March sales period—can offer extra incentives and choose-your-own-bonus sales. Deals might be on offer year-round if you pay non-refundable deposits.
  • Always fly in at least one day before the cruise departs.
  • Get travel insurance.
  • Mid-ship, on a low to mid floor, is usually best for those prone to seasickness.
  • Flexible cruisers may save with a “guarantee booking” that secures a cabin category instead of an assigned stateroom. Free upgrades are possible, but details aren’t revealed until just before sailing.
  • Repositioning cruises (one-way routes as the season ends in one region and starts in another, like Europe to the Caribbean and vice versa) offer deals.

What to do before you cruise

  • Pack anything you’ll need right away in a carry-on bag; checked luggage won’t arrive in staterooms until several hours after you embark.
  • Fill out all required forms and book shore excursions online in advance.
  • Passports must be valid for at least six months after your return date for travels beyond the U.S.

What to know while you’re on board

  • Expect a cashless society and to run a tab with a shipboard account. Consider pre-paying gratuities before you depart and checking shipboard accounts throughout the cruise to keep spending in check.
  • To combat seasickness, go to the top deck for fresh air and to stare at the horizon.
  • Most ships only allow smoking in a designated area, not in rooms or on balconies.
  • Evening chic is the new suit and tie at meals. Ask if free room service is an option.
  • The second-last day is really the last full day; you’ll leave right after breakfast on the last day.
  • Book your next cruise while on board for discounts and incentives.

Looking for more cruise ideas?

Are you a seasoned sailor or more of a landlubber? Find out with our fun cruise quiz.

If you need some tips on saving up before you sail, check out our expert tips on smart ways to boost your vacation fund.

For more inspiration, read our complete guide to cruising in the spring 2019 issue of CAA Magazine.

Image credit: iStock.com/Remus Kotsell