Opinion8 Things That Always Surprise First-Time Cruisers

8 Things That Always Surprise First-Time Cruisers

There are a lot of misconceptions about taking a vacation on a cruise ship.  A few things are always a surprise to first-timers cruisers. While on cruises, I like to hear from first-time cruisers when they have been at sea for a few days and talk about their impressions.

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Norwegian Prima and Royal Caribbean's of the Seas

Questions like, “Where’s the rest of the bathroom?” or “Is this gelato complimentary?” are often heard from new travelers as they navigate the cabin and ship.

Most of these points below refer mostly to the mass cruise market, cruise lines like Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line.  Since most first time cruisers will select one of these cruise lines, these revelations will be for them.


The size of the cruise ship

Can anything really prepare you for the size of the cruise ship the first time you step on board?  Even knowing that these ships are over 200,000 gross tons in volume in some cases (Oasis class ships with Royal Caribbean) it’s still a shock to be in the middle of that immense vessel.  After all, gross tonnage means nothing to someone who has never been on any ship bigger than the Staten Island Ferry.

After many wrong turns, wondering which way is forward and which way is aft, and getting their daily step-count in just by walking to the buffet from their cabin, many cruise rookies are amazed at the sheer size of these floating resorts.

teach children to navigate the cruise ship


I still remember standing in awe in the promenade of Freedom of the Seas on my first cruise, wondering if I was still on a ship or in some kind of dream.

And now it seems like every major cruise brand is building bigger.  The aforementioned Oasis class ships by Royal Caribbean International will soon be outdone by the coming Icon of the Seas with its 250,000 gross tons of volume.

Carnival Cruise Line now has two ships over 180,000 in gross tons, with another coming in 2023.

Norwegian Cruise Line has four ships over 160,000 gross tons, and MSC Cruises has built a 215,000 gross ton vessel in MSC World Europa.

So whether you like them or not, big ships are not going away any time soon.

For some context, in the year 2000, the largest cruise ship in the world was Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas at 137,000 gross tons.

Related: Cruise ships with best and worst space ratios

The size of the cabin

In contrast to the size of the ship, the size of a standard stateroom on a cruise ship can be a little surprising on the other end of the spectrum.

Most travelers are used to staying in hotel rooms.  The average hotel room is 13 feet x 25 feet or 325 square feet.

How does that compare to a cruise ship cabin?  On most cruise ships a standard cabin will measure about half that size at 170 square feet.

A cruise ship cabin can be about 52% smaller than the average hotel room in terms of square footage.

Of course, these numbers vary from ship to ship.  And an inside or balcony cabin can vary in total space.

Still, a first-time cruiser might be a little underwhelmed at the size of the cabin initially.  I never felt like that was an issue, though.  As everything is arranged neatly and I always felt like I have plenty of room.

For larger folks this might be an issue, especially when it comes to the bathroom.  The showers aren’t usually that spacious and usually only have enough room for one person at a time, unless you want to get into an elbow fight while brushing your teeth.

Some cruise veterans will tell you that you only need the cabin to sleep in anyway and you’re hardly ever there, but for those who do want to enjoy some quiet time in their stateroom an upgrade to a suite might be in order.

Yes, the stateroom might be smaller than a regular hotel room.  But just remember, you only have to unpack once for your entire vacation and all those other cabins are helping make your getaway a little more affordable.

Related: How to pick the best cabin on a cruise ship

How little movement is felt on a ship

I’ve talked to some that were concerned about motion sickness before their first cruise.  Afterward they were amazed at how little they felt any motion at all.

Modern cruise ships are designed with advanced stabilizers to make even slightly choppy seas nice and smooth.   Additionally, as we mentioned before, these ships are massive and it takes some rather large waves to feel it on board.

Some cruise ships have figure skating shows and balancing acts.  This could not be possible if ships experienced too much motion.  I’ve been on dozens of cruises and have never had an issue with motion sickness personally.

Occasionally, a big storm could cause some motion, especially if your captain is trying to get to the next destination faster or just get out of the storm quicker.  The awesome thing about cruises though, is that a captain can cruise out of the way of a storm or avoid it altogether.  This might change your itinerary or schedule, but this flexibility of cruise ships is one thing I truly love.


The number of food options

The quality and sheer volume of food that one can eat on a cruise ship is really astounding.  Even in the last 10 years the cruise industry has seen a huge leap forward in this department.  Even budget-friendly cruise lines offer tremendous variety and creativity in their specialty dining options.

Seating area in the buffet on Celebrity Edge

As there are so many different places to eat, you might even find it impossible to eat at every dining venue once during a cruise.   Some of the newer cruise ships can have over 20 restaurants to choose from.

Travelers new to cruising could become overwhelmed by all the eateries, but I encourage first-timers to eat at as many different places as they can in the first few days so they can focus on the restaurants they truly love the rest of the trip.


How much is included vs complimentary

As one of the most affordable vacations you can take, a cruise can cost as little as a few hundred dollars for one of the mainstream lines.  But that price just let’s you get on the ship.  The rest might cost a bit more.

Many people new to cruising can be surprised at how many things cost extra and how quickly those things can add up.

cappuccino on msc bellisima

The gelato on the other side of the frosty glass looks so appealing on a hot day in the Bahamas.  Just know it will add to your bill at the end of the vacation.

What kinds of things might cost extra on a budget-friendly cruise?  Things like room service, Wi-Fi, drinks, specialty coffees, specialty dining, excursions, laundry services, etc. can cost extra.  Oh, and let’s not forget gratuities.

But remember, these things are optional.  And if a first-timer cruiser wants to spend as little as possible he can forego all the extras.  The free ice-cream from a working machine on a hot day can be just as satisfying as the gelato.

Of course, if your first time cruise is on a luxury cruise line or even certain premium lines, you will have much of the above included in the price.

Just get used to asking, “Is this complimentary?” if you’re sailing on one of the major cruise lines.

Related: Don’t waste money on a cruise

How there’s so much to do on the ship

One look at your daily program and you’ll see that there’s tons to do on a ship.  You can’t do it all, obviously but usually you can find programs, games, or activities that are perfect for you or your group.

After my first few cruises I would be so exhausted because I tried to do everything.   Now, I look for the quiet places on the ship to relax most of the time.

But for those who want to make the most of everything, there can be everything from rock-climbing walls and roller coasters to Virtual Reality arcades and go-kart tracks on today’s ships.

A go-kart track on Norwegian cruise ship


If you love trivia and game shows, there’s plenty of that as well.  And every evening can be spent watching a show in the main theater or singing along with the talented pianist in one of the lounges.

If you’re a first time cruiser you might as well try to do it all, so you can experience everything the ship has to offer.  You might find that the activities of the ship kept you so busy that you didn’t even need to hit the gym for a workout.  But hey, if pumping out a few reps helps you grab that extra slice of cheesecake, go for it!


How time in port is shorter than you think

The most wonderful part about cruising is waking up in a different port each morning.  You get to experience so many exotic places in such ease.

The drawback can be the time you are able to spend in port, though.  You might dock at 8am and get off the ship by 9am.  And if your ship sails at 4pm you might feel like you’re not able to spend as much as you would like in port.

I always say that cruise ships give you a sampling of each destination.  Kind of like a free sample at Costco, a cruise ship gives you just a taste of a port so you will know what to expect the next time you visit.

Rookie cruisers will often be surprised at how quickly the day goes by when in port and have to rush back to the ship.  Just give yourself plenty of time when heading back to the ship so you don’t make some kid’s viral TikTok video as you wave at the ship sailing away.

@cruisefever Better start running when the ship is blowing its horn. #cruise #cruisefever #travel #vacation #Cozumel #pierrunners ♬ original sound – Ben Souza

How cruising is addictive.

There’s a reason this site is called “Cruise Fever”.   I got cruise fever after my first cruise in 2009, and I was hooked right away.

msc bellissima pool deck at night

There’s just no other vacation like it.  The food is abundant and incredible.  The places you visit are straight out of a postcard.  The crew is usually so friendly and gracious.  And the variety of things to do and places to relax offer the perfect blend for long-lasting memories.

I was surprised at how much I liked it and how I was already planning my second cruise while still on my first one.

That isn’t to say that everything is always perfect on a cruise.  Things happen at sea just as they do on land.  Some areas can get crowded and sometimes service will not be 100% spot on.  But the positives overwhelmingly outweigh any negatives I’ve experienced.

In fact, writing this post kinda makes me want to book a cruise right now.  Excuse me while I look for some warm-climate getaways…

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J. Souza
J. Souza
Jon is the co-founder of Cruise Fever and has been on 50+ cruises since his first in 2009. As an editor, 15-year writer on the cruise industry, and avid cruise enthusiast he has sailed with at least 10 cruise lines and is always looking for a great cruise deal. Jon lives in North Carolina and can be reached at [email protected].
Opinion8 Things That Always Surprise First-Time Cruisers

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