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How To Survive Your First Cruise Ship Experience

This weekend we spend three days and two nights on the MSC Sinfonia cruise ship. Glen was invited to perform at a charity event on the ship and I got to tag along. You have to understand how amazing the timing was: the cruise was on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and then on Monday we celebrated our two year anniversary.

When I was a kid I joined my parents on a five hour ferry trip from England to France. We didn’t have a cabin, and I was so young that my brother and I spent more time in the kids facilities than anywhere else. A couple of years ago, Glen and I also did a sunset cruise at the V & A Waterfront, which was a couple of hours long. Other than these two experiences, I had never done a “real” cruise until this weekend. So I thought I’d share some tips on things to be aware of before you embark on your own cruise experience.

We took a lot of photos [because I’m usually “that person”] and I hope you like them!

1. Don’t park at the harbour

If the harbour you have to find is anything like Cape Town Harbour, there is limited parking and it’s not secure. If it is secure parking, you’re most likely going to pay per hour for three days of parking. Rather get dropped off or take an Uber.

2. Remember to keep your ID and printed tickets with you

I didn’t realise that getting onto the ship would be such a process. The harbour has terminals, security and everything else you’d expect to encounter at an airport. You don’t just hop onto the boat, like you might have imagined. Keep your ID easily accessible and have your printed tickets at hand too. Once you’re on the boat, there are a few things you might not be able to access without a cruise card (which is usually not going to be available immediately). This is where your printed ticket comes in handy.

3. Handle seasickness before it occurs

It doesn’t matter if you usually get motion sickness or not, just follow my advice and take some kind of medication before getting onto the ship, and carry on doing so during the cruise. Glen and I didn’t feel seasick at all while we were on the ship, but I began to feel sick once we were back on land. My body is still adjusting to the swaying motion, but things could have been so much worse if I wasn’t taking anything on the ship. I was told to look for Trip-Ease, which sadly wasn’t available, so I found something else that works the same way. It’s a natural motion sickness medication that worked really well and didn’t leave me feeling like I had to take a long nap.

4. Take a look at the ship’s floorplan before you get on

This will give you an idea of what to expect when you arrive. For example: is there a gym or some other form of physical activity which might require gym clothes? Is there a fancy restaurant you’d like to try? Are there any activities that you’d like to plan ahead of time? Those sorts of things can be chatted about before the cruise begins, and knowing about them beforehand might help.

5. Find the right plug points

The ship we were on is European, and if it wasn’t for someone who pointed this out to me beforehand, I wouldn’t have thought to take the correct plug converter. Make sure you find out this type of information before you embark on your journey so you can plug in your hairdryer or charge your phone. If all else fails, you should be able to purchase a plug converter on the ship, but it’s cheaper to get one elsewhere.

6. Pack a day bag for day 1

When you first get onto the ship, there’s a period of time in which you won’t have access to your cabin or your luggage. It might be handy to have a day bag with your essentials (sunblock, medication, deodorant etc) to keep you going until you can get your luggage. Some passengers were clever enough to have their costumes in their day bags which allowed them to explore the pool before everyone else could.

7. To wi-fi or not to wi-fi

My advice? Don’t connect to the wi-fi. Use this as an opportunity to unplug and not be reachable. Make this decision beforehand so you can set up the necessary out of office responses to emails that might come in, and you can tell your family that they won’t be hearing from you.

8. Pick a meeting point

If you are planning on not connecting to the wi-fi, remember that you won’t be able to message or phone your family if you get lost. Pick a meeting point (your cabin, or the reception area, for example) where you could meet if one of you gets lost. We had one situation where we got split up and I ended up having to leave a note for Glen to meet me somewhere. The note worked but we could’ve prevented that by having a more solid plan.

9. Make the most of the activities

The ship we were on had loads of fun activities and we got to take part in some of them. Glen performed in the evenings so we didn’t get to enjoy the theatre, but there were a few other fun things happening. There was a trivia quiz, live music in various venues, sports shown on TV in different lounge areas, a library, theme parties, a casino, and so much more. Familiarise yourself with the activities for the day and plan accordingly. You probably won’t want to spend every waking moment out in the sun.

10. Get to know the food and drinks arrangements

Our ship had complimentary food, buffet style, in two restaurants, which both offered free tea, coffee and water. There was also a burger joint and pizza place that stayed open until midnight. There were a couple of fancier restaurants that weren’t included in the ticket price, and all the bars and coffee shops provided drinks that get added to your bill to be settled on your last day. Know what’s free, what you’re paying for, and where to get food at various times of the day.

11. Choose your cabin wisely

We were guests on the cruise so we didn’t choose our cabin. I’ve heard that people who get motion sickness should select a cabin that is in the interior of the ship, lower down. You won’t have pretty views, but you’ll sway less.

12. Take a couple of bags

If you are a woman who likes to have a bag with you, take two different sizes. I had one backpack (my day bag) which I took to the pool with me and one small handbag which I used for more formal dinners and events. It helps to have bags that are suitable for different occasions if you need to carry things that don’t fit into your pockets (such as your cruise card, lipstick, phone, and so on).

13. Take the stairs

After one day of waiting around for the lifts, we started using the stairs more often. Granted, we took over 10 000 on day 1 (thank you fitness watch for keeping track), we walked more on the second day and used the stairs more often. It ends up being quicker to take the stairs if you are only going up or down a couple of floors. If this is your plan, you will also want to wear comfortable shoes.

14. Pack your bags wisely

Knowing what the ship has to offer and what activities you’d like to participate in will help you to pack wisely. Don’t anticipate that you will only sit outside at the pool. You can’t wear a bikini to some of the restaurants, so pack beach clothes, relaxing clothes, warm clothes (for chilly evenings outside), fancy clothes, and you’ll be good to go!

15. Get outside

Spend as much time as you can just soaking up the view and the fresh air. There is something really magical about watching the sky turn from blue to orange, with the sea air blowing through your hair. If this is a relaxing holiday (and not a working holiday), enjoy just doing nothing for a little bit.

I would love to hear about your cruise ship experiences! Please leave a comment and tell me if you have any advice you’d like to add.

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