TIPS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE BOOKING YOUR FIRST CRUISE

Cruise ship life can be a little mysterious. Your choices aren't always spelled out in black and white. The more you cruise, the more you pick up on the unofficial secrets the cruise lines don't tell you which give you more options, let you save money and generally allow you to have a better time onboard.

Maybe it's knowing what your cabin steward is able to bring you or what the off-the-menu items are at the bar or dining room. Or perhaps it's a tip to getting a good deal on an onboard purchase. But whether you're a first-time cruiser or an old sea dog, you may find there's something here you didn't already know. 



1. Get There the Night Before -- and Extend the Fun.

Sounds simple, but hundreds of cruisers literally miss the boat each year because of delayed flights, traffic, bad weather and other unforeseen troubles. Others board by the skin of their teeth, panting and screaming at one another. Who needs that sort of stress? Fly or drive into your port city the night before and you simultaneously bypass pre-departure jitters and add a day to your vacation. Check tourist boards for stay-and-cruise information. 

2. Say 'Bon Voyage' in Style.

Nothing kick-starts a cruise better than a little spurge, and the cruise lines are happy to oblige -- plus you’ll look like a hero to your better half. Most lines offer gift packages that will be waiting for you in your cabin when you check-in.

3. Stay Away From the Pool.

At full capacity, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas can hold 6,360 passengers -- and many will have their eyes set on the vessel’s pools. Unfortunately, mega-ships only have a fraction of the chairs necessary to accommodate everyone. The result: a mass of humanity sun-burning in tandem on chairs they claim early and won’t give up. Instead, duck the hubbub. Most new vessels have adults-only areas, some with pools, and almost always less crowded. 

4. Eat on Your Terms.

Many major cruise lines continue to encourage group dining at a prescribed time. If making small talk with the same strangers every night at the same time is your thing, go for it. But options abound to break up the routine: If the ship is in port late, slip off and have dinner, preferably something native. Order room-service breakfast and have a picnic on your balcony.

5. Stay on the Ship.

The ugly little truth about port calls? You barely get to see the place you’re visiting, and you’re paying a high price for the privilege if you book an excursion. If you can stand not spending 6 hours crammed on a tour bus, stay onboard. Most facilities are still open, and you’ll have them to yourself.


7. Go to the Disco.

Yes, dancing the night away is not your thing. But when’s the last time you played bingo or ate at a buffet? Shake it up a little. For the most part, cruise ships start to quiet down by midnight, unless there’s a deck party or some other event. B-o-r-i-n-g. Meet some interesting characters and super-charge your holiday in the ship’s disco -- the London-subway-themed Tube club on Disney Fantasy is an unlikely standout  and Costa ships are known for their active early-morning scenes. Chances are, you’ll return the next night -- or look at your pictures the next morning and hide the rest of the day.

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