Your guide to cruises

Make sure your cruise holiday is plain sailing – here’s all you need to know before you head off on your maiden voyage

Cruises are perfect for “superboomers” – the carefree over 50-year-olds who relish the good life. But if you’re new to the high seas, you’re bound to have a few niggles. Before setting off, here are the most frequently asked questions.

What’s a good itinerary for a first-timer?

A seven-night cruise with plenty of ports of call is best. These cruises aren’t too long and allow plenty of time for you to enjoy all that the on-board experience has to offer.

Can I get off if I don’t like it?

You can, but if you’ve done your research and picked the right ship and itinerary, it should all be happy cruising. All cruises give you the opportunity to go ashore at ports of call so you’re not permanently confined to the boat.

Do I need special travel insurance?

Yes, you’ll need international cruise travel insurance – even on domestic cruises. If you’re planning to do sports such as scuba diving, make sure your policy covers this.

What should I pack, and how much luggage can I take?

Most cruise lines don’t have luggage restrictions but you will need to consider the storage space in the room you’ve booked. Definitely consider taking togs, walking shoes, a day pack for exploring ashore, books and toiletries.

Will I have access to phones and the internet?

Most liners offer ship-to-shore phones and internet but they can be expensive and slow. If a cruise line doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi, you can take advantage of free Wi-Fi hotspots in ports and use an app such as Skype to call home.

Do I need to take money? If so, how much should I budget per day?

Cruise ship life is cashless, but you might need money ashore. Take a small amount of local currency depending on your cruise destination, plus some of the ship’s on-board currency.

What’s the etiquette on tipping?

This depends on the cruise line – some include gratuities in the fare, others add a daily gratuity per guest to your shipboard account that you will need to pay at the end.

Should we travel with another couple, or a group, or go it alone?

Although many people cruise with family or friends, it’s also a great opportunity to meet new people if you are travelling alone as there are plenty of spaces for social mingling.

What if I get seasick?

If you’re uncertain about the state of your sea legs, choose a room in the most stable part of the ship (typically towards the centre on a lower deck), and pack over-the-counter remedies for motion sickness.

What visas will I need, and do I need to organise one for every port of call?

This depends on your itinerary and your passport. Some ports, such as Bali, issue a visa on arrival for a fee, but in other countries, such as China, you’ll need one before you go, so make sure you do your research.

I want to cruise with my adult kids and grandchildren – which cruise ship and itinerary will we all enjoy?

Most cruise lines welcome passengers of all ages, however do your research to help you decide which cruise is best suited to you and your family. A travel agent can give you an idea of what life aboard the high seas is like, and who it is aimed at.

What kind of on-board shopping is available?

This depends on the type of ship, however, there’s usually duty-free alcohol, pharmacy goods, snacks and shops selling cruise attire and specialty designer clothing.

Can I take my own alcohol on board?

Cruise lines have tightened their alcohol policies in recent years and the rules vary. Some luxury, all-inclusive ships allow you to BYO, while others only allow a small number of bottles of wine per person which attract a hefty corkage fee.

Do I have to do the ship’s tours?

No, you don’t, but be aware that if you do decide to explore independently, you’re responsible for getting yourself back to the ship on time.

What’s included in the fare?

Most cruises include on-board accommodation, meals, entertainment, use of the fitness and pool facilities, port charges and government fees.

Will I have to sit with the same people at dinner every night?

This depends on the cruise line and the ship. Some offer flexible dining times with open seating, while others have fixed times and tables.

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