How to Prepare for a Cruise: Tips for Beginners

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How to prepare for a cruise? Booking a cruise is half the fun. Preparing for a cruise is the other half of the excitement.

We’ve been there—our first cruise was a combination of excitement and lack of readiness. We forgot hubby’s swimsuit. Booked no shore excursions and, even worse, had not researched anything on the port-of-calls and the things to do. Spontaneity didn’t work for us at the time. I don’t even think we purchased travel insurance.

In this guide, we dive into cruise prep tips to get you cruise ready, especially for first-time cruisers. We offer practical, tried-and-true advice from personal lessons learned from our first cruise 20+ years ago and beyond. We’ll cover everything from getting travel insurance to preparing for port-of-calls. Included is also a cruise preparation checklist to help you get ready.

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Get ready for your cruise vacation with top tips on how to prepare for a cruise. We’ve also included a printable checklist below.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we earn a commission at no extra cost. Please refer to our full disclosure for details.

Cruise Prep Tips on How to Prepare for a Cruise

The following cruise preparation tips are designed to assist you, whether you’re a first-time or seasoned cruiser. The things to do before a cruise may become routine after booking multiple cruises, but returning to this list in the future serves as a helpful reminder for all.

Travel Insurance is a Must

paper cut outs of a family with luggage with the word protected at the top and a box checkarmed in red

Please don’t overlook the importance of travel insurance; it’s a top priority for any cruise. While cruise lines may offer their own insurance, exploring other options for comprehensive coverage is wise. We learned the hard way by sticking with the cruise line’s insurance and faced losses because insurance policies are written in a way that protects the cruise line’s bottom dollar.

The most important things your insurance should cover are:

  • Medical
  • Evacuation
  • Trip cancellation

Start your search on to compare options, ensuring they cover important aspects like medical emergencies. 

You should purchase travel insurance as soon as you have made the final payment, at the latest. That does not mean you can’t get travel insurance at the last minute; you may run into limited plans and higher costs.

Passports and Visas Check

Always confirm passport and visa requirements with your cruise line based on your itinerary. If your passport is near its expiration, renew it well before your cruise. Different destinations may have unique visa requirements. Sometimes, even shore excursions that cross a border into another country may require a vis. This simple step can save you from any last-minute travel hiccups.

If you are a US Citizen and do not have a passport and you’re boarding a closed-loop cruise that departs and returns to a US port, a valid government-issued ID and birth certificate will be necessary for boarding. We do recommend double-checking with your cruise line. You will also find the requirements listed in the first print of your cruise contract.

Travel Tip: Keep a scanned copy of your passport on your phone, online hard drive, or a hard copy.

Booking Flights Needed to Get to Your Cruise

kathy, excited, sitting in plane seat for a flight to take a cruise

On the plane, I’m excited for our flight to Italy for our Mediterranean cruise.

Aim to arrive a day before your cruise to buffer against any flight delays. We once took a risk with a redeye flight that arrived early on embarkation day. It worked out, but it’s a gamble with today’s travel uncertainties, and if you don’t want to stress, give yourself enough time.

For your return, avoid booking early morning flights on disembarkation day. While most cruises start disembarking at 8 am, there is a risk of delays, so a flight that leaves at noon and beyond is safer. Read our tips for a hassle-free disembarkation day.

Cruise Prep Tip: If you have extra vacation time, plan to spend time a few days before or after at the port-of-call.

Book Accommodations for Your Pre-cruise or Post-Cruise Stay

King Size Bed Room at airfield Inn & Suites by Marriott New York Manhattan Central ParkPin

Our pre-cruise hotel room at the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in New York. We arrived one night ahead of our Norwegian Joy cruise.

Whether you arrive a day before embarkation, leave a day after disembarkation, or extend your stay, you’ll need to book a hotel.

  • Choose a Convenient Hotel: Pick a hotel close to the port for the day before embarkation or in a nearby city for easy access.
  • Look for Shuttle Services: Check if your hotel offers a free shuttle to the port, saving you transportation hassle.
  • Look for Parking Deals: If you’re driving to the port, seek hotels with ‘stay and park’ rates, letting you leave your car safely while cruising.
  • Breakfast Included: Opt for a hotel with free breakfast; it’s a cost-effective way to start your day before heading to the port. Just save some appetite for the cruise.

Prepare for a Cruise by Joining a Roll Call

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Joining a roll call for your cruise, found on sites like Cruise Critic or Facebook groups, is an optional step but one that can enhance your cruise experience. It offers a chance to meet fellow cruisers who are as excited and ready to cruise as you are. Groups are known for sharing tips, organizing group shore excursions, and other fun activities on the ship. It’s a great way to make new friends and get insider knowledge from seasoned cruisers.

However, if you prefer a more solitary cruise experience or have a busy itinerary, participating in a roll call might take up valuable relaxation time. Ultimately, whether to join a roll call depends on your cruise style and preferences.

Join the Tasty Cruises Facebook Group
Connect with other cruisers in our community.

Familiarize Yourself With the Cruise Ship

Get to know your cruise ship before you set sail. Study the cruise deck map. Research its features and amenities. This way, when you get on the ship, you’re completely lost and have some sense of where to go and what to do.

Look for information on:

  • Alternative Dining: Where else to eat besides the buffet on embarkation day?
  • Laundry Facilities: Availability of self-serve laundry.
  • Included Restaurants: Dining options that are included in your fare.
  • Specialty Dining Reservations: How to book and how soon can you book them?
  • Formal Nights: The number of formal nights scheduled.
  • Unique Ship Activities: Special events like brunches or afternoon teas.
  • Shows and Experiences: Can you make advance reservations for any?
  • Tendering Process: Procedures for early tendering at ports.
  • Onboard Amenities: Details about fitness centers, pools, spas, and adult-only areas.
  • Kids’ and Teens’ Activities: If traveling with family, see what age-appropriate activities and kids clubs are onboard.
  • Accessibility Features: For those needing assistance.

You can start by checking the cruise line’s website. Cruise blogging sites, Facebook Groups, Pinterest, and YouTube are great for finding first-hand information. Being well-informed means you can fully enjoy what your cruise offers without missing out.

Cruise Amenities and Extras You May Want to Book or Purchase in Advance

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Continue planning your cruise by booking certain amenities and extras before you embark. Many cruise lines offer discounts on drink packages and specialty dining packages if booked pre-cruise, which can lead to significant savings compared to onboard prices.

  • Drink Packages: Soda and alcoholic drinks are not typically included, so a booking before your cruise may be cost-effective.
  • Specialty Dining: Secure your reservations for specialty dining early. It’s easier to cancel or change your plans once onboard.
  • Spa Services: Specific spa services can’t be booked until you are onboard. You can purchase Spa Suite Passes (if the cruise ship has one) before embarkation day.

Remember to check the cancellation policies for these bookings, offering you flexibility if your plans change. 

Planning for these extras will make your cruise experience much better. Leave the stress at home.

Cruise Prep Tip: Download your cruise line’s mobile app and log into your account. The app is a handy tool for accessing a wide range of cruise information and features, including available upgrades, activity schedules, shore excursions, and dining reservation options.

Prepping for Cruise Port Days

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Here I am on an independently booked excursion on the White Pass Railway in Skagway, Alaska. Admiring the views.

As cruisers prioritizing the cruise ports, we can’t emphasize the importance of planning and researching. Some of the best days from your cruise vacations will take place off the ship at port. Our first cruise taught us that wandering aimlessly at ports means missing out on unique local experiences. 

Before you embark, research the port destination and consider what you want to experience at each port. You can plan your day and do it yourself or book a shore excursion.

DIY vs. Guided Tours

  • Exploring independently at port allows you to go at your own pace and make your discoveries.
  • Guided tours are more structured. They can maximize your time at port and provide in-depth insights and access to spots you might miss alone. Whether you book a shore excursion independently or with the cruise is up to you.

Renting a Vehicle

  • One of our favorite things at a port destination is renting a car. We suggest planning on Google Maps in advance for efficiency. Note: this is not always an option and is not recommended at all ports.

Local Transportation Options

  • Use taxis for local transportation and even custom tours. Tip: Always negotiate the rate before getting in the vehicle or make sure the meter is on.
  • Buses, trains, and ferries can be a great alternative to getting around, if available.

Cruise Tip: Always prioritize returning to the ship on time. The ship staff will remind you of the necessary return time. Aim to be back at the port at least an hour before all aboard time to avoid the stress of rushing at the last minute. This ensures you’re not left behind, as the ship will adhere strictly to its departure time.

Bring Money on a Cruise

Your credit card will be linked to your cruise card, which handles most transactions onboard. However, having some cash on hand is essential for certain situations.

  • Tipping: Cash tips are appreciated by luggage porters, crew on the ship, and tour guides.
  • Port Expenses: Sometimes, credit cards are not accepted. Cash for taxis, souvenirs, or local food on the ship is recommended. Most Caribbean and Mexico destinations accept US dollars, but if you’re traveling in Europe or other international destinations, you may need to prepare for the right currency. 
  • Casino Use: If you’re inclined to gamble, having cash is necessary.
  • Emergency Cash: Always good to have in case of unexpected situations or in locations where credit cards aren’t widely accepted.

We recommend keeping smaller denominations for ease of use. Getting cash before embarkation is advisable to avoid high ATM fees on the ship. Another trick to get cash on a cruise is at the casino: insert your cruise card into a slot machine, charge a certain amount of play money to your cabin, and then cash it out.

Travel Tip: Use a travel credit card to maximize reward points and benefits.

Check-in, Print All Travel Documents and Luggage Tags

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Download the Cruise Line’s Mobile App

  • Before embarking, download the cruise line’s mobile app and sign in.
  • Some cruise lines may offer access to your check-in through the app, making it a streamlined process.

Print Your Documents and Luggage Tags

  • For the most part, with today’s technology, the app will have all your check-in docs ready for embarkation day. We recommend printing them and saving a PDF on your phone, email, or online drive. Better to be safe than sorry.
  • When ready, print your documents and luggage tags. 

Attach Luggage Tags

Pack for Your Cruise

This is the moment when it all starts to feel real. The one that you get to pack for your cruise.

When it comes to packing for a cruise, that depends on the cruise line’s dress code, the destination, the length of the cruise, the weather, and the activities and events you plan to participate in. The most important thing is that you pack what you’re comfortable wearing, including the outfit for chic/formal night. 

You also will want to bring some cruise essentials like comfortable walking shoes for port days, necessary medications, and a swimsuit, to name a few. Don’t forget the swimsuit like we did on our first cruise. You can download our packing list for these key cruise items here.

Travel Health And Safety Tips to Be Aware Of

  • Vaccinations and Health Requirements: While proof of vaccinations for the big C is a thing of the past, check if any specific vaccinations are required for the destinations you’ll visit. Usually, the more offbeat locations may require certain vaccines.
  • Safety Measures Onboard: Familiarize yourself with the cruise ship’s safety protocols, including participating in the muster drill. The muster drill is required of ALL cruise passengers on embarkation day. The ship can’t set sail without it being completed. We recommend reading and watching the muster drills video you emailed before embarking. Make sure to check in with your muster drill station upon embarking.
  • Sanitation: Sanitizing your hands consistently and routinely is vital, and you will always be reminded on the ship as they’d like to prevent the spread of any illnesses. We suggest bringing your travel sanitizer, although sanitizing stations are posted throughout the ship.
  • Medications: As mentioned above, bring any necessary prescriptions and keep them in a bag close to you at all times; do not check them in. Also, consider packing a small first-aid kit.

Printable Preparing for a Cruise Checklist

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To help you get through the most important aspects of preparing for a cruise, we’ve created a printable checklist (PDF). Check mark things as you’ve accomplished them. Before you know it, you’ve prepared for your cruise, and you will be cruise-ready.



Kathy Ava

Meet Kathy Ava, a food, travel, and cruise writer based in Los Angeles/Pasadena, and the owner and main writer of Tasty Itinerary. With over 20 years of experience planning trips and logistics at her full-time job and for herself, she's become a pro at crafting unforgettable tasty itineraries. She's always on the hunt for delicious, fun travel destinations and cruise itineraries. She firmly believes that life is short and we must make the most of it, so always say yes to dessert.

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    1. Thanks so much for reading!
      I have a love and hate relationship with cruises, which I will leave for another blog post, ha. However, they are fun, there is a ton of food and you get to discover new places you have might have never stepped foot in before. Plus, you can find great deals. I love cruising the Caribbean and recommend everyone to do so at least once. =)

  1. I’ve never been on a cruise before but have had some level of intrigue and your post has definitely piqued that interest! The ideas for things to research are particularly useful as I know cruising has its own particular issues (such as tendering) that you don’t know until you know. Thanks for a great post with lots of food for thought ?

    1. I think cruises are great to relax and get a taste of cities you may have never thought of visiting. They are not for everyone. It doesn’t hurt to try once and you can start with maybe a 3-4 day cruise. 🙂

  2. Hey you,

    I am going to try this one again and not on WP reader LOL!! WP reader lets me type these long comments and then is like: nope, not posting. I have to start copying my comments before hitting the send button. That way they are not lost forever.

    I loved reading this informative and helpful post. I have actually never been on a cruise because I get severely motion sick. I know that everyone says it is a BIG boat and not the same, but…..I also have taken strong meds and well, ya know. Sometimes I am completely fine. If I ever take a cruise, I know who to plan with. YOU!!! You can bet I pinned this one all over the place.

    I hope you feel better and get some rest today, too.

    Christine, The Uncorked Librarian

    1. Motion sickness is not fun, and if it’s that bad, you may not want to try cruising. Or if you do, maybe like a weekend cruise. A mega-ship may be best for you. You can take ginger pills or eat green apples on the ship. Fact: they have whole green apples available at the buffet just for this. There are a number of remedies.
      My best friend also suffers from motion sickness and she loves to cruise. What she does is she makes sure to get a cabin mid-ship because that helps a bit and she wears these wrists bands they sell to help. Not sure how well it works. Last time we cruised together, she was sick for half of it.
      Thanks so much for reading, commenting, and pinning. Your support really does mean the world to me! Hugs.

  3. I’ve been meaning to sit down and read this post for a while now, mainly so I can share it with my mum a she is a big cruiser! & because I love the way Kathy writes all your posts are always fab! This is great advice for anyone embarking on a cruise anytime soon! I think you’ve covered all the essentials and more in this post and I’ll be sure to check back if I ever go on a cruise myself! I especially love your kind heart in regards to tipping, a friend of mine worked on a cruise ships for years and the Tips meant so much to him! And of course he ‘gave a little love’ back in the drinks and went out of his way to make his guest vacation even more enjoyable! Great post can’t wait to read more! I’ll be sure not to miss one now with my subscription! ?

    1. Alicia – You have made my day! You shared it with your mom? That is so sweet! I hope she approves of my tips. And thank you for your kind words. I think this was the easiest post I’ve written so far because I’m in the middle of all the planning and research. It was kind of cathartic to write to tell you the truth. Hah. So nice to hear that my tips are appreciated. Someone once chided me and told me I’m not supposed to tip because I already paid a daily service fee. I’m glad to show my appreciation to the wonderful servers. Thanks again for stopping by. =)

    1. Thanks so much! Cruising is fun and it’s nice to experience another form of travel, even if its just once. Hope you get to cruise soon!

  4. Hey! I know that you updated this post (and I commented before about yakking lol), but I just wanted to say how awesome the updates are! The layout is perfect for someone like me who hasn’t cruised before. Thank you for taking me through cruising from literally start to finish.

    Mentioning cash is huge because who the heck carries cash these days?! We always have to remember to hit up the ATM before we travel. It’s 101, but we always screw up.

    Thinking about formal nights is big too because you want to pack light (and nice clothes take up soooo much space), but you don’t want to be underdressed. I always forget my damn nice shoes that go with the pretty dress.

    I love your little budgeting/saving cash ideas too, which are applicable for any trip. I never thought to make little envelopes for each area of spending. OMG: can you freaking imagine what my booze envelope would look like? I’d probably need ONE PER DAY. Unless it’s all-inclusive.

    Getting a pre-cruise hotel with BREAKFAST is SUCH a good piece of advice too. Breakfast can add up, and if you are in a hurry, the convenience is perfect. I think a lot of travelers overlook this piece.

    Love love love the updates, especially with the bullets since we are all busy skimmers lol.

    Have a GREAT upcoming vacation. Xxx

    1. We never have cash. It’s the worst! You’d think we’d learn our lesson each and everytime we forget to prepare, but it’s only been the past couple of years that we’ve gotten better. I love separating things in envelopes and it helps immensely on these cruise trips, but I fail at it sometimes. I’m only human lol

      Clothes take up so much space and I really hate carrying around fancy clothes that I will only wear once during the trip. It’s also so uncomfy. I like to look pretty but being comfortable is my #1 goal.

      I am not one to give tips on how to travel on a budget, so I really won’t ever give advice to that. HAHA But I can totally advise on some tips and tricks on how I save cash. Your booze envelope would be thick. If you went on a cruise, I’d totally push for that drink package. Some cruise lines are more expensive than others and not worth it.

      Some of those hotel breakfasts are sooo good! I was so impressed wtih the hotel in Barcelona, I didn’t want to leave.

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. Your cruise posts are so bad for me because I really want to go on one but I don’t have the vacation time. ?
    So much helpful info for a first timer, I’ll be saving to read again whenever we are finally are able to try cruising!

    1. I hate that feeling of not being able to go somewhere or plan anything because the vacation time is not there. I’m always planning the next vacation but I don’t have enough time in the year to go everywhere I want to go. Dreaming and planning keeps me sane. So look up a cruise or any trip far in the future, just start planning and have fun with it. I already hae a cruise booked for 2021. Yup, you can start figuring it out that far in advance.

      Hope you get to try cruising. Even if it is one that takes place over a long weekend. There are a ton of those itineraries and for great prices too.

  6. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to you before, but my grandparents used to go on quite a lot of cruises! I have a particularly fond memory of welcoming them home one Autumn afternoon, but I digress :’) I loved to look at the photos of my Nana in a black sparkly dress onboard the ship, and my grandpa all suited up behind her. Anyhow, this post has reminded me of all of that, and I think I’ll ask my Nana for some cruise stories the next time I see her! I know she’s probably got some good ones haha :’)

    1. Hi Macey – Thanks for the comment! I think you mentioned it once in another post. I love hearing cruise stories from the golden days of cruising and am open ears when cruise veterans recount those special times. It was such an elegant time and cruising then was so different. You should absolutely ask them all about it and get all the scoop.