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OpinionIs the Pre-Cruise Experience Too Overwhelming for First-Timers?

Is the Pre-Cruise Experience Too Overwhelming for First-Timers?

A first-time cruiser expresses frustration and tips for simplifying the pre-cruise planning process

Image of cruise passengers walking along pier while MSC cruise ship comes in.
Photo credit: Cruise Fever

I recently came across a concerning comment from a first-time cruiser.

Everything just seems incredibly overwhelming,” the person stated after prefacing the comment with how excited they were about a first-time cruise out of Miami.

Between here [Reddit], the obligatory Facebook groups for the sailing, the bloggers and influencers is making the idea of the experience anxiety inducing.”

This really made me pause to think about what it really is like for someone who has never gone on a cruise before.   It’s been well over a decade since my first cruise and things have changed dramatically since then.

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The hours scouring the internet and social media feeds for cruise tips and advice is at first exciting, and then it can easily become stressful when hearing about all the things that you “absolutely MUST do—or else”.

The person went on to mention the different things that caused stress in the planning process, saying,

It’s almost Disney-like with those devoted to RC saying in almost every avenue how to have a vacation, and if you don’t do something, it’ll make your trip worse. The stress of booking excursions, drink packages, shows, getting the right check in time… everything has become so stressful for us as a first time, multi-generational family.”

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Allure of the Seas. Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

Reading all of this led me to reflect on what’s really necessary for a first-time cruiser to focus on, and what things they can just forget about.

I can’t help but feel partially responsible after attempting to give cruise advice on Cruise Fever these last 13 years.  But we don’t try to sensationalize here.  We like to give practical, actionable advice, that is designed to be easy to understand and follow.

So, for those first-time cruisers stressing about the planning process, I wrote down a few things to help ease the stress and only focus on a few things that matter most.  Not everything is as important as we regular cruises make them out to be.

The point is to take care of the basics and just make sure the pre-cruise stress doesn’t ruin a great vacation.  After all, that’s what we’re all really after.

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Tips for Making it Easier

Don’t try to plan out every minute of every day

I’ve made extensive plans on some cruises, only to throw them right out the window once I was actually on board.  Having a plan is fine, but the best part of cruising is not having a rigid schedule.  Plus, you will find certain things about your ship that totally change how you want to enjoy your week at sea —  a certain show, lounge or dining venue that you just want to try again and again.  Embrace the moment and be flexible.

Realize that even with zero planning you can have an amazing time

This goes along with the point above, but I can’t stress it enough – ok, maybe I shouldn’t use the word “stress” there.  I’ve gone on cruises where I planned like crazy and others where I didn’t plan at all.  You know what the outcome was of each?  There was basically no difference at all, except for one set of cruises I did a whole lot of work ahead of time.

Yes, there might be some FOMO if you miss out on an excursion or great place to eat, but if all the planning stresses you out, either keep it to a minimum or let someone else do it.  Even if you know nothing about cruising, there will be tons of passengers and crew to help you out.

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Take care of check-in

This one is easy and only takes a few minutes.  Different cruise lines open check-in at a certain number of days before your cruise.  Just mark your phone’s calendar for when you can check in and forget about it.  Checking in on the day it opens will help you get a good boarding time, select your dining time, and help lock in a stateroom if you picked a guaranteed fare.

Book any packages ahead of time

Whether it’s a drink package, specialty dining package, or Wi-Fi package it’s almost always cheaper if you book it ahead of time on the cruise line’s website.

Book excursions through the cruise line

You don’t have to go crazy here.  You can spend more on excursions than the cruise itself if you wanted to.  And you can totally ignore this tip if you just want to walk around a port of call and experience it yourself.  I actually love to do this myself.   But if you must, book your excursion through the cruise line.  As a first-time cruiser this will ease your mind in knowing the ship will not leave without you, and if you have any issues you can work directly with the cruise line.

Read more: 10 most overrated cruise excursions

Download the cruise line’s app and follow the daily planner

Cruise lines are very structured in the daily routine.    This is why you can just show up.  Download the cruise line’s app and you will have everything you need.   The daily planner will tell you what’s going on each day and you can often use it to keep in touch with other member of your group.

Know what your priorities are and focus on that

Are you all about seeing a show?  Are you a foodie above all things?  Do you just want to relax the entire time? Whatever aspect of a cruise puts a smile on your face, make that your priority and don’t worry about the other stuff.  For shows or restaurants see if a reservation is needed and if you can do that ahead of time or must wait until you’re on the ship.

Realize that cruising is one of the easiest vacations you can take

Sure, I’m biased.  But my brother and I started Cruise Fever for a reason.  We just love cruising.  Unpacking once, seeing the world, eating amazing food – what’s not to love!  And with so many things included, just show up with your luggage and you can have a great cruise.

Related: 8 keys to a stress-free cruise vacation

Realize what you don’t have to do for the duration of the cruise

You don’t have to cook, make your bed, drive anywhere, or worry about where to go next.   Whew, just writing that kinda makes me want to book another cruise right now.

Let a travel agent take care of everything

A good cruise travel agent will not only make all of these arrangements for you, but they will also be able to answer any questions you have in the process.  Asking a question on social media or on a cruise forum will just overwhelm you with every side of an argument.  Simplify things by just having one or two sources for information.  Hey, even if reading this cruise blog is overwhelming, by all means take a break.  I’d rather have someone enjoy a cruise vacation than be the source of their stress.

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Read more: 5 reasons you don’t need a travel agent and one big reason you do

Packing a good attitude makes all the difference

Let’s be real for a moment.  Not everything will go according to plan.  There will be a few disappointments along the way.  But a cruise is exactly what you make of it.   Staying positive and making the most of any situation is going to have a huge impact in how you feel at the end of the week.

Bottom Line

There’s no wrong way to cruise.  And everyone has a different style of cruising they enjoy, even on the same ship.

That’s been one of my favorite things about cruising.  Thousands of people can be on one ship and have a great time while enjoying different aspects of the ship.

Just ignore the advice-givers who think their way of cruising is best and there’s no alternative.

If the pre-cruise stress is becoming too much and you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Related: 8 keys to a stress-free cruise vacation

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J. Souza
J. Souza
Jon is the co-founder of Cruise Fever and has been on dozens of cruises since his first in 2009. As an editor and avid cruise enthusiast he has sailed with at least 9 cruise lines and is always looking for a great cruise deal. Jon lives in North Carolina and can be reached at [email protected].
OpinionIs the Pre-Cruise Experience Too Overwhelming for First-Timers?
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