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Tips for first time family cruisers

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Before I’d ever been on a cruise, my main worry was “What if I don’t like it – I’m stuck on a boat!” or “What if I meet someone I’d rather avoid – there’s nowhere to hide!”
Not that I avoid people often, it’s just the thought of being ‘trapped’ as I saw it, meant that my options might be limited. Now I’ve been on 4 cruises, I can honestly say from experience that a cruise holiday is definitely not boring, limited or lacking in places to hide!

This summer my family and I are going on an 8 night Mediterranean cruise on Carnival’s newest ship – Vista. This superlunar boasts a waterpark called Waterworks with a 455ft tube slide of speedy twists and turns as well as the regular ‘lane’ or splash swimming pools you find on deck. There is also a high-altitude SkyRide feature if you are really daring. You can cycle the 800ft track on the first ever cruise ship aerial pedal powered ride, taking in breathtaking 360 degree views from 150ft above the sea.

Vista is big on experiences as it brings us the first ever IMAX cinema at sea, allowing movie goers to feel like part of the action with a big screen spanning three whole decks! Or if relaxing is more your thing, they created Havana – a bar and dance spot complete with a pod and hot tubs so you can enjoy the cocktails and Cuban snacks in an atmosphere reminiscent of paradise.

Carnival Countdown Clock 191 days

It is just 191 days until our cruise holiday and I am really looking forward to it as I know what to expect but I thought It’d be useful to put together a handy guide on tips for first time cruisers so you can see what a family holiday at sea is all about!

my entertainment
Before you go:

  • Packing for cruises is just like packing for any land-based holiday. You’ll need swimwear, casual clothes and also some smart casual dress for evenings out. But on a cruise you will also have several ‘Formal Nights’ to pack for too! These are black tie events and a great excuse to dress up. Bring your cocktail dresses, high heels and bling. The men should pack a formal suit and tie or a tuxedo and bow tie, you can’t be too overdressed on a formal night (these nights are called ‘Cruise Elegant Night’ onboard Carnival Vista).
  • Formal nights are when the ship’s photographers are out in force with pitches at the best locations onboard and also portable studio backdrops so Cruise Elegant nights are the perfect occasion to get your up to date family portraits done. You can purchase the photography from the ship’s gallery the next day and at around the £15 to £20 per print price point (depending on the cruise company you are with), it makes a cost effective way to get your family prints versus a few hundred pounds for an hour’s studio time at a photographers near home.
  • Kids also dress up on formal nights unless they are going to remain in the kids club for the evening, but the dress codes are relaxed for children and smart casual attire will be fine for them.
  • Don’t pack a beach towel – save your suitcase space! On cruises you can access fresh pool towels daily and on the Vista, you have to sign out however many towels you want each day and ensure you return the same number of towels at the end of the day.
  • Bring your own toiletries. They are usually more expensive to buy on board and it may be a few days until your first port day when you can get off the ship and find a supermarket on land. The Vista will have shampoo and soap in the state rooms but I also need a conditioner for my long hair so I will make sure to take my own so I have what I need!
  • Prepare your reading material in advance! Load up your Kindle with books and buy your newspaper and any magazines before you board as none of the shops on Vista will sell magazines or a daily newspaper. There is a library on board so you can borrow books and the ship has it’s own daily newsletter which you will receive in your stateroom daily to give a full itinerary for that day. This is things like special events, celebrity appearances or the day’s duty free special offers. But as I keen reader, I always need more to consume than this so I always have a spree on Amazon loading up my Kindle before I leave my home. Here is a bonus tip: If you buy e-books, be sure to actually download them whilst you are still on your home wifi! They may appear in your device library once you buy them but they actually also need downloading before you can read. To connect to the wifi on a ship incurs a charge and it’s cheaper to download everything at home before you travel!
  • There is a hairdryer in each stateroom so no need to pack a travel one but if you like your curlers or hair straighteners like me, bring them with you! Cruise ships are normally wired with the North American two prong 110 US plug sockets and on the Vista you get two of them on the vanity desk plus a USB post for charging a phone or tablet so you will need a UK adapter to use the plug outlets.
  • Onboard:

  • Cruises feel different the minute you step on board. The first main difference from a land based holiday is that once you have handed over your suitcases – you don’t see them again until they appear in your stateroom later that day! If you join the cruise at the dock, you will hand your cases to the ship’s porters but if your cruise line representative is meeting you at the airport you’ll put your cases onto the coach that is taking you to the post and that’s the last you’ll see of them until they appear in your room. Therefore keep any medications or nappies and a change of clothes for babies and toddlers in your hand luggage.
  • Once you get on board the ship you have free rein and many people head to find their rooms. My tip – DON’T! Your cases won’t appear until later that day anyway and you will have plenty of time to check out your room later – your room may not even be ready yet if the stateroom steward is still turning the rooms around from the guests who left that morning. I’d advise to go to the top deck dining room and get some lunch! The restaurant staff will have plenty of food available from salads and a jacket spud to full carvery style dinners and there is always a pudding and a cup of tea to enjoy too, so after your long journey to get there, go enjoy yourself! It’s what we always do!
  • All your food and selected beverages (such as tea, coffee, water and often juice at breakfast) is included in the fare you paid for the holiday and there are no annoying ‘time limits’ where food isn’t available during some hours like you get at some European ‘all inclusive’ resorts. On a cruise, the food is available round the clock- whenever you want and drinks too. However soft drinks and alcohol are chargeable so check out any drinks packages before you go or when you first board to save some money on your holiday drinking.
  • Laundry: The last thing you want to think about on holiday is doing the laundry but if you are travelling with children it may comfort you to know that you can do a wash-load on a cruise ship! When I was toilet training my kids, I went through loads of sets of clothes each day and when you are on holiday you are also trying to pack light usually – especially when you have airline baggage weight restrictions before you get there! The Carnival Vista has a laundrette on board and there is a charge to use the washers and dryers. I would however advise packing some of those 2-in-1 laundry capsules of detergent and fabric softener before you arrive so you don’t have to also buy washing powder on board!!
  • Lastly after the ‘Muster Drill’ which is a mandatory event upon boarding all cruise ships (it is a safety drill) there is always a ‘Sailaway’ party on the Lido deck (the deck with the swimming pools on) when all passengers are on and the ship sails away from post for the first time on the cruise! It is usually a fun event with music, cocktails and dancing where you will see the ship’s entertainment crew for the first time so it’s worth attending.
  • Travel with a baby

    I hope that has helped some first time cruisers – cruising with a family is such fun and really does have something for everyone, whether you have babies, school age children or teenagers. No-one I’ve ever met who has been on a cruise has said “Never again’! So there must be something in it, plus many families who cruise wouldn’t do anything else! We love our cruise holidays and always have some fabulous memories afterwards.

    2015-2016 Blog Ambassador: JuggleMum is proud to be an official ambassador for Carnival Cruise Lines and to bring you exclusive news and information about their newest ship – Carnival Vista. Carnival is ‘The World’s Most Popular Cruise Line®’ operating 24 ships. Learn more at their website
    Click here to read all my Carnival Ambassador posts

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    Comments to Tips for first time family cruisers

    • Lots of great tips there for first time cruisers. So much to think about if you haven’t been before! 🙂

      Emma 9th February 2016 11:02 am Reply
      • Knowing what to expect makes everything run much smoother I find! I wish I’d known on my first cruise not to head to the bedroom and instead go and eat! I’d have been much less frustrated than I was when I was sat there thinking ‘why hasn’t my suitcase turned up yet’!! Thanks for commenting.

        Nadine Hill 9th February 2016 11:42 am Reply
    • Some brilliant tips there! We definitely have cruising on our list of things to do – it sounds like the perfect way to travel! x

      louise 9th February 2016 2:43 pm Reply
      • It is such a stress free way to travel!

        Nadine Hill 9th February 2016 10:05 pm Reply
    • Great tips!! We love cruising as a family, it’s such a great combination of travel and relaxation – perfect!

      Globalmouse 9th February 2016 3:09 pm Reply
      • I totally agree- we love it as a family too.

        Nadine Hill 9th February 2016 10:05 pm Reply
    • I’ve never been on a cruise but it’s something I’d really like to do, thanks for the tips as I really wouldn’t know what to expect. I hope you have a fantastic holiday.

      Anne 9th February 2016 3:24 pm Reply
      • Thank you, we are all really looking forward to it!

        Nadine Hill 9th February 2016 10:05 pm Reply
    • These are some amazing tips. I have never been on a cruise but I found these helpful for if I ever do.

      Nikki Fraser 9th February 2016 3:55 pm Reply
      • Thanks Nikki!

        Nadine Hill 9th February 2016 10:05 pm Reply
    • I went on a mini cruise years ago to Norway & Sweden and I loved it. I would love to do a med cruise! Fab post x

      angela hamilton 9th February 2016 6:14 pm Reply
      • Ooh I’d love to explore Norway and Sweden! There’s so many places to see out there!

        Nadine Hill 9th February 2016 10:06 pm Reply
    • I’ve always been a bit worried about getting cabin fever but everyone who has been on a cruise always says how great they are and I’m sure my kids would love it!

      Kate Williams 9th February 2016 7:54 pm Reply
      • Cabin fever was one of my concerns too but it really isn’t like that once you are on board!

        Nadine Hill 9th February 2016 10:06 pm Reply
    • This is such a great post. I have to admit I have been put off the idea of a cruise for the same reason you mention here; the feeling of being ‘trapped’ on board but you’ve definitely given me food for thought. Great tips as well for first time cruisers.

      Jess @ Catch A Single Thought 10th February 2016 10:29 am Reply
      • Thanks! I can honestly say cruising is such a fun and relaxing holiday – I love it!

        Nadine Hill 10th February 2016 1:22 pm Reply
    • I have pinned this as we have no idea what we need to pack – Hubby is already worrying about needing bigger suitcases lol

      Kara 10th February 2016 11:22 am Reply
      • You’ll be fine as long as you have a few nice outfits, some casual wear and a swimsuit!!

        Nadine Hill 10th February 2016 1:22 pm Reply
    • Now that’s something to look forward to! Have fun x

      susanna 11th February 2016 7:46 am Reply
      • It certainly is! I love cruise holidays:-) x

        Nadine Hill 11th February 2016 2:28 pm Reply
    • What an informative post, sounds like you really know what you are talking about. I’d love to go on a cruise and will remember where to come if we can ever afford one x

      Sonia 11th February 2016 12:39 pm Reply
      • Thanks Sonia, I hope you do get the chance in the future, it is so relaxing! x

        Nadine Hill 11th February 2016 2:29 pm Reply
    • So many brilliant and useful tips! Love a good cruise and amazing that you are an ambassador. Have a fab time away x

      Mary Louise 11th February 2016 11:25 pm Reply
      • Thank you, I am really looking forward to it! x

        Nadine Hill 14th February 2016 11:47 am Reply
    • How cheaply can you do this allowing for the extras x

      NInjacat 13th February 2016 2:06 pm Reply
      • Cruises aren’t generally cheap holidays but they are great value as all your food and entertainment is included and it is usually brilliant! (The quality is excellent). However you do also have to factor in the tips on a cruise holiday – many cruise companies will add a daily rate to your bill per person in the room to cover tips which you pay at the end. You can remove or adjust the amount but it’s worth bearing in mind.

        Nadine Hill 14th February 2016 11:42 am Reply
    • So many great tips here; fab article and v comprehensive!

      Stephs Two Girls 14th February 2016 6:55 pm Reply
    • Hi Nadine, we may be seeing you on Vista this summer! We’re cruising for the first time as a family and I can’t wait. I hope you don’t mind but I’ve been planning a blog post with a very similar title just with contributions from other travel bloggers. I’m keen to gather as much knowledge as I can before we board. I’d love to link back to this post if that’s OK with you?

      Claire at Tin Box Traveller 7th March 2016 6:35 pm Reply
      • Hi Claire, great to *meet* you! Please do link back to this post – if I can help other first time cruisers with my first hand knowledge I’m happy to help! We are on the Mediterranean cruise this summer – which are you on?

        Nadine Hill 7th March 2016 7:00 pm Reply
        • That’s great, thank you! We’re on the Med cruise at the start of June. I’m so excited about it as the ship looks epic.

          Claire at Tin Box Traveller 11th March 2016 10:19 pm Reply
          • It really does look fab doesn’t it? We are all really looking forward to our next cruise!

            Nadine Hill 13th March 2016 10:24 am Reply
    • Pingback: Tips For Newbie Cruisers (From Real-Life Families) - Project: Wanderlust

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