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6 things I wish I knew before setting foot on a cruise ship that all first-time cruisers should keep in mind

Left: The author on the top deck of a cruise ship with wind in her hair Right: The same cruise ship deck seen at night with colorful lightsThe author went on her first cruise with Royal Caribbean and noticed a few key things about the experience that she wished she knew before embarking.

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  • I went on a cruise for the first time on Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas in April 2022.
  • After taking the trip, I think there are some things everyone should know before going on a cruise.
  • Here’s what I learned about aspects as varied as how to pick a cabin and where to go for dinner.

Before I took my first cruise in April 2022, I had never even seen a cruise ship.

It was a seven-night voyage on one of the largest cruise ships in the world, Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas. We sailed from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Roatán, Honduras; Cozumel and Costa Maya in Mexico; and Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas.

While I had a good time, I ultimately decided the cruising lifestyle wasn’t for me. But there were some things that would’ve made my trip a little easier and more comfortable. Here’s what I think all first-time cruisers should know before setting sail.

Some cruise ship cabins can be rockier than others, like those situated at the front of the ship.Arrows point to two different views of the front of a cruise ship: outside (L) and inside of the stateroom (R)The author’s room was at the front of the ship.

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Before booking, I wish I’d researched how the location of a cabin can affect the amount of motion you feel while the ship is moving.

My ocean-view stateroom was at the front of the ship, and I didn’t expect to feel as much movement in my cabin as I did. But I later learned that ships rock from side to side, so the front and back move more than the middle.

Several seasoned cruisers on the voyage told me that the front of the ship was one of the worst places to feel motion. Higher decks in the middle of the ship felt calmer and more stable.

If you are as prone to motion sickness as I am, I suggest choosing a room in the middle of the ship.

The restaurants included in the cruise rate had all different types of food and were high quality, so splurging on specialty restaurants wasn’t necessary.Shrimp, rice, tomatoes, asparagus on a white plateThe author’s dinner in the main dining room.

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One of the most distinctive things about cruising is that most meals, snacks, and drinks are included in the cruise rate.

But on large ships like Wonder of the Seas, more than a dozen restaurants with specialty offerings, like sushi, are not included and incur additional charges, either a one-time fee or by the dish. I paid $40 to $60 for each meal. 

I reserved all specialty restaurants before my trip, but I wish I hadn’t booked so many once I realized the included restaurants offered a wide range of delicious food to eat.

There was more than one buffet, and the main dining room served a three-course meal with changing menu items each night.

These included options satisfied every craving. One of the best meals I had was in the main dining room.

Since I booked so many specialty restaurants, I didn’t have time to try all the buffets or eat in the main dining room more than once. If I had known they’d be so satisfying, I would’ve saved money and eaten more of the included meals instead.

Formal nights weren’t enforced, so don’t waste luggage space on nice outfits if you don’t want to participate.A formal night onboard Wonder of the seas cruise shipThe author on the first formal night.

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I hate dressing formally, but I knew cruises required formal nights, so I brought one nice dress with me. After the first formal night, however, I learned that the dress code wasn’t strictly enforced. I noticed people wore a variety of outfits, from evening gowns to T-shirts.

I relaxed my look on the other two formal nights, but the dress felt like a waste of the limited space in my suitcase. If I had known it wasn’t necessary to wear, I would’ve left it at home.

Laundry on board was expensive, so bring a bar of laundry soap to save money.side by side photos of a full (L) and mostly-empty closet on a cruise shipInside the author’s closet in her cabin.

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Since I brought only a carry-on suitcase, I was hoping to get some laundry done on board, but then I saw the pricing sheet.

I live in New York City, and most apartments I’ve rented haven’t included in-unit laundry. So I’m used to paying for my clothes to be washed. But rather than pricing by weight like local New York laundromats, Royal Caribbean charges for each article of clothing. Each shirt costs $4, and a dress costs $9, while washing just one pair of underwear would be $2.

This would add up fast, I thought, so I didn’t get any laundry done on my trip. If I had known the pricing before my trip, I would’ve brought a bar of laundry soap to hand-wash a few things. 

Though it was a Caribbean cruise, I got chilly, so bring some warm clothing.The author wearing pants and a sweater on the top deck of a cruise shipThe author on the windy top deck just after sunrise.

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My favorite times to be on the top decks of the ship were early in the morning and late at night, when there weren’t as many crowds. But during those times, there were cold, strong winds, which made me wish I’d brought more than one sweater and pair of pants.

I would’ve brought a few more pairs of pants and another sweater to keep me warm (instead of the poofy formal dress). Since I didn’t, I ended up wearing the same pants and sweater nearly every morning and evening.

I would’ve brought my own case of water if I knew it was allowed.A case of water bottles in the author's stateroom on the world's largest cruise shipA case of water bottles in the author’s room.

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To ensure I stayed hydrated throughout my trip, I opted for the water bottle package while booking trip extras like restaurant reservations and excursions. For $16, Royal Caribbean delivered a case of 24 water bottles to my cabin. It seemed expensive for a pack of water, but I thought this was just part of the price of cruising.

Then when I was boarding the ship, I noticed people carrying their own cases of water. That’s when I realized that Royal Caribbean allows guests to bring their own nonalcoholic beverages as well as nonperishable snacks.

If I had known this, I would’ve brought my own water and a few snacks, too.

If I’d known these details before my cruise, I could’ve prepared to have a better time while saving some money. I hope they help other first-time cruisers.The author at a port in front of the world's largest cruise shipThe author at a port in front of the world’s largest cruise ship.

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While I enjoyed parts of my cruise, some of this knowledge could’ve made my trip much more comfortable. If I ever cruise meet other soon-to-be first-time cruisers, I’ll remember what I learned about cabin locations, formal nights, and cool, windy mornings sailing in the Caribbean Sea.

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