Things I Wish I Knew Before Embarking on My First Cruise – Thrillist

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My people are not cruise people. Between an easily seasick mother, a landlocked Midwestern childhood, and an inner circle more interested in exploring the land under their feet, the notion of cruising never really came up. I’ve been whale watching and fishing, taken ferries to barrier islands, and partied on moored speed boats plus pontoons. But spending the night on a boat? Never.

That was until August 26, 2022, when I stepped onto the particular brand sparkling new Norwegian Prima and settled in for eight full days on the water.

aerial view of cruise ship
My future trusty steed.
| Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

I flew to Reykjavik, Iceland, where the ship would depart, armed with a few changes of clothes (“You’ll be lounging, bring stuff to lounge , ” my coworkers consulted me), the work laptop, an international roaming plan, and absolutely no clue what to expect. But on the plane, I frantically Googled things I realized I couldn’t answer. Like, what happens if I’m hungry at 3 is? Can you just walk off a cruise at port or do you need special permission? Can you watch broadcast TV on a cruise ship? Are there doctors on cruise ships? What exactly is maritime law?

The fact that, on land, I’m rarely hungry at 3 am, don’t have or need cable television, hardly ever go to the doctor, plus haven’t had a brush with the particular law since high school failed to soothe my last-minute spiraling. I was about to be confined to a single vessel for more than a week. I steeled myself for this bizarro all-inclusive resort, where instead of a road leading back to town, there’s simply miles upon miles of frigid, shark-infested waves (okay, probably not shark-infested, but still).

That’s not to say We wasn’t excited. I’m a big fan of boats, and the route promised to unveil a lineup of cities I would’ve probably never visited in case traveling by air. Places like County Cork, Ireland , with its rabble-rousing past and pastel-colored row houses; England’s curving seaside, a region known for its rich history and healing breezes; plus La Havre, France, the Normandy port town dominated by crisp mid-century architecture and a killer beachfront skatepark.

go cart track
Vroom vroom. | Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

I actually also knew I’d be treated in order to Vegas-quality live entertainment by way of headliner Katie Perry and closing act Chaka Khan—ship christenings are a big deal, I gathered, and they spare no expense when it comes to star-studded events. There’d be celebrity chef-helmed restaurants, infinity pools, a full thermal spa, and—no joke—a three-tiered go-kart speedway perched high atop the particular ship’s uppermost deck. (According to the online brochure, the track guaranteed to be “longer, larger, plus zoomier than ever. ”)

But what I didn’t know? As it turns out, that could fill acres of the seemingly endless ocean ahead of me.

interior cruise room
My chamber awaits. | Picture courtesy associated with Norwegian Cruise Line

For one week, our brain took the form of an infant-like sponge, soaking up every cruise ship detail that will came my way. I peeked out of each porthole, strolled each deck from aft to stern, mastered the particular breakfast buffet line, and baked in charcoal saunas stashed deep in the vessel’s belly. The fellow passengers, all 3, 000 or so of them, seemed to all become wizened cruisers, spouting ship-related facts plus figures along with the casual confidence of a seasoned MLB announcer talking balls and strikes.

Eventually, I got my sea legs. After a few days, We stopped reaching for the wallet after ordering a drink, plus my designated cabin steward’s cheery “Good morning, Meredith! ” no longer made me jump as I exited our room pre-coffee. I was comfortable, content. I had been cruising.

Are there more cruises in my future? Perhaps. I actually can’t say I’m a total convert—to me personally, travel is all about encountering the unexpected, detouring off the particular itinerary, and engaging in the kind of cultural immersion that usually takes longer compared to a day at slot. Plus, I really love dive bars. But when I ever do find myself taking towards the seas aboard the towering cruise liner, in least I know I’ll be prepared.

Here’s everything I wish I understood before embarking on my very first cruise.

cruise gift shop
This ain’t no 7-Eleven. | Photo thanks to Norwegian Cruise ship

First thing’s first: Pack the essentials

It required me five full days onboard to discover the ship’s convenience store—well, more like a convenience section, stashed inside a very upscale boutique stocked with designer apparel, sunglasses, watches, and the like. You had in order to kind associated with duck around the front displays to locate the alcove offering Advil bottles, breath mints, soaps, toothbrushes, sunblock, tampons, plus Band-aids.

Could I have asked my cabin steward to replace a forgotten pack of dental floss or comb? Probably, yet that seemed like more effort than I could muster. And what if the particular missing toiletry item was a bit, shall we say, sensitive? If a person don’t want to roam the ship to track it down or wait until you reach port to buy this, you better make sure it’s in your suitcase before you hit the outdoor patio.

cruise pool deck
Living large around the Lido Deck. | Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Get to know the particular local lingo

Ships of this prestige and magnitude come with their very own vocabulary, and it is helpful to take note of some key terminology if you intend in order to comprehend the messages belted out over the loudspeakers every so often.

For the particular sake associated with brevity, bow and forward basically mean the front of the ship, while demanding and back refer to the back associated with the deliver. Port plus starboard refer to the ship’s sides (if the bow is in order to your north, port is west and starboard will be east). Speaking of ships, it’s always a ship, and in no way, ever a “boat. ” Furthermore, boats apparently identify as female and demand she/her pronouns at all times.

Embarkation takes place when you first climb aboard, while disembarkation only occurs on your final day. A port of call is usually a stop along your journey (or “crossing”), while the cute little lifeboats affixed to the ship’s exterior walls (or “hull”) are called tenders. Guest rooms or cabins are called staterooms, the particular ramps used to board and deboard are gangways, the Lido Deck has the biggest swimming pools, and your own cabin steward is your point person throughout your stay, making sure your room is (literally always) spic plus span. The captain steers the vessel from the bridge, floors are usually called decks (as within, “My cabin is located on Deck 15”), and the cruise director is the embodied version of that voice booming on the loudspeaker.

cruise spa
Soaking pools from sea? Total gamechanger. | Photo politeness of Norwegian Cruise Collection

If there’s an onboard spa, make good use of it

I’m not really huge upon spas. Saunas and steam rooms have a tendency to make myself claustrophobic plus public nudity has never been my cup associated with tea. Yet damned in the event that I didn’t enjoy the bejesus away of the foray into the Prima’s Mandara Spa on Deck 16.

The Thermal Suite progressed through a variety of hot and cool areas, meant to get your blood flowing, before culminating in two shallow soaking private pools kept with a pleasant bath water temperature. One undulates sleepily, courtesy of some sort of gentle jetstream configuration I could not quite pinpoint, as the other is salinated to create a floating sensation. Submerged in those waters, buried in the center of the giant dispatch that itself is submerged in a body associated with rolling drinking water, I have never in my life felt so much like a baby inside utero—not the sensation We necessarily knew I wanted, but wow, what a ride. 10/10, would recommend.

cruise port
Cobh, Ireland’s interface placement allows easy access in order to town.
| Photo by Chris Hill, courtesy of Tourism Ireland

A person can pretty much do your own thing on port

I’m not jazzed about riding around within buses full of strangers, while straining to hear a guide call out information about the particular scenery zooming past. Because of this—and because I actually generally did not have our shit together before heading out—I did not book any organized shore excursions in advance. It wasn’t until I saw how really strict the boarding plus deboarding process was, with its complex dock configurations, security screenings, and out-of-the-way ports of call, that the particular dreaded realization hit me: If I hadn’t signed up for a sanctioned outing, would I be able to get away the ship at all?

The truth is, in short, absolutely. Most cruises will allow you to pop away from the deliver as soon as the gangway’s been secured plus the luxury cruise director gives the go-ahead. The rest of the journey depends on the port—more remote locations are often equipped along with free shuttle buses ferrying cruisers in order to and from the nearest city center, while others, like the ones in Cobh and Amsterdam, are close enough to town that you can simply wander right off. Just make sure you’re back on-ship before the posted call time, lest a person watch almost all your belongings drift away into the particular night whilst you stand humbly ashore, hands-in-pockets. (Just kidding—the crew will definitely try to find you, but it won’t be fun for anyone. )

Culinary options are limitless (and plentiful). | Norwegian Luxury cruise Line

You will never get hungry—like, actually

Between cafeteria-style buffets, food-hall-style setups, sit-down options, poolside bars, and specialty dining destinations (AKA high-end dining places not usually included in your pre-purchased meal plan), cruise ships are veritable floating supermarkets. Feeding opportunities can easily dominate your own itinerary, through omelets plus cappuccinos in order to midnight munchies like personal pan pizzas, French fries, and wings. There’s usually at least one 24-hour operation, with other spots covering early and late shifts plus every meal, snack, or even other edible hankering in between. And if that weren’t enough, there is always room service, oftentimes available 24/7 and constantly arriving at your door with the utmost expediency.

It’s impossible to stump the wizened professionals behind the particular bar. | Norwegian Cruise Line

Or thirsty, with regard to that matter

And then there are the drinks. Aboard the Prima, that means 16 full-service booze vendors, ranginging in style from beachy in order to buttoned-up and each overflowing along with their own allotment of beer, wine, spirits, and specialty cocktails, plus soft drinks and bottled water. In one dimly lit hideaway, the colorful character in a bedazzled cowboy hat whipped up craft cocktails using sustainable plus recycled ingredients. In another, tuxedoed barkeeps poured top-shelf whiskey inside front of a panorama of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to sea. And in yet another—my personal favorite for an early afternoon burger and beer—a jovial group of Brits ordered up six shots of Sambuca with their lunch.

Anything goes. | Norwegian Cruise trip Line

And it’s not just quantity—these bartenders truly know their stuff. No liquid desire is off-limits. No order is met with the quizzical look, no one behind the sticks is Googling a recipe, consulting a book, or throwing even a quarter-ounce associated with shade. We once heard a woman order a good off-menu Brandy Alexander—a Brandy Alexander! —and the bartender simply nodded and obtained to work. Later, I actually watched that will same bartenders field the Blue Hawaiian, a round of Jager Bombs, a Harvey Walbanger, and the Vesper (all off-menu) with the same humble precision, efficiency, and confidence. I’ve been to some of the best cocktail bars in the world, we’re talking multi-award-winners in Tokyo, London, and Paris, and these martini-slingers? They easily could throw down with the best of them.

Onboard performances might be free, but you still need a ticket.
| Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Make reservations early and often

Not immediately hitting up the Guest Services counter on Deck 7 upon my arrival is perhaps my biggest regret. There you can snag tickets for live entertainment acts, everything from the Katy Perry-lead christening ceremony and Fleetwood Mac night at Deck 8’s disco to a live taping of The Price Is Right , complete along with real prizes. You can also book shore excursions, make dinner reservations at the specialty dining restaurants, and plan out your time onboard within an inch of its life. I didn’t know reservations were required for these things, and thus didn’t make any, meaning I spent the next eight days scrambling in order to get the name on a list or my butt in a seat. Don’t be like me.

Keep the particular grubby hoodies at home, please. | Norwegian Cruise Line

Mind the dress code (seriously)

In his 1997 collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again , late essayist David Foster Wallace writes associated with his first cruise ship experience: “Look, I’m not going to spend a lot of your time or even emotional energy on this, but if you are male and you ever decide to undertake the 7NC Luxury Cruise, be smart and take a piece of advice We did not take: bring Formalwear . ”

Foster Wallace, deeming the suggestion to pack a tuxedo “absurd, ” opted instead for an ironic tuxedo-motif t-shirt, and when he sported it in order to formal events, became the particular ship’s uncomfortable laughing stock. I, having not read Foster Wallace’s essay before my trip, also ignored the directive to bring nice clothes. Sitting down to dinner within an upscale French brasserie outfitted inside jeans plus Adidas Shell Toes, I actually soon learned that when these folks say fancy, they’re not messing around.

Here’s the rundown: Cruise casual is chill yet not too chill—sports shirts and slacks, possibly loafers. Cruise elegant is trickier, mostly dress pants and cocktail dresses. Formal, on the other hand, is full on black tie. And while it’s not really officially required to adhere to the black tie standards for the occasion, you’ll feel pretty silly in a cotton button down and the aforementioned Adidas Shell Toes.

Gravity can be a harsh reality | Photo courtesy associated with Norwegian Luxury cruise Line

Believe it or not, landsickness is a thing

Going into this, I didn’t think motion sickness would be an issue, as I’ve never had any trouble with it. I was right, thankfully, and even enjoyed it when the waters grew slightly choppy, leaning into the ship’s swaying as if I was bobbing around a water park wave pool. But climbing ashore after two days in sea was a different ball game altogether—my legs were wobbly and our balance has been slightly off. Once we disembarked, it took a few times for that nausea to wear away. It wasn’t terrible, but I certainly didn’t expect it.

What time does the disco open tonight? Great question.
| Picture thanks to Norwegian Cruise ship

The daily newsletter is your friend

Every evening, you will receive a neatly typed, full-color printout on your bed detailing everything you need to know about the following day onboard. Time zone shifts, weather forecasts, updated venue hours, entertainment lineups, even fun facts about the next port of call—it’s all covered, and honestly, it became one of the highlights of my nightly routine. Don’t even think about tossing it aside.

Approach with caution. | Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Rest assured that your toilet is not trying in order to kill you

You know that will loud, somewhat unsettling suction-type commode you find in airplane lavatories? Get used to it, because that’s exactly what you’ll become dealing with on-ship a cruise ship. Upon first usage, I was not prepared for your flush’s booming intensity, and jumped backwards, crashing into the stand-up shower’s (thankfully sturdy) glass door. Be warned that the public toilets scattered around the ship are even more Herculean in their flushing efforts—I’m assuming it’s a volume thing—and the particular ones equipped with auto-flush mechanisms make for quite the squatting encounter.

tip on bed
Pay this forward. | Olena Ivanova/Shutterstock

Don’t forget to tip the particular staff prior to departing

After spending more than a week not really paying with regard to a single goddamn thing, remembering to leave a cash tip regarding the cabin steward can easily slip the cruiser’s mind. But, as with hotels , tipping at the end of your stay is expected whenever a cruise company hasn’t explicitly included gratuity in your final bill. American currency will be favored here, and a good rule of thumb is $10 to $12 per day, per passenger. If you’re unsure whether or not gratuity is included, just give those friendly folks at Customer Services the buzz plus they’ll assuredly set you straight.

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Meredith Heil   is a Senior Cities Editor at Thrillist.

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