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Exterior on Carnival Sunshine

Getting Prepared for Your First Cruise: What to Expect

Exterior on Carnival Sunshine
Cruise Critic

Jan 8, 2020

Read time
8 min read

Where do I find my cruise ticket, luggage tags and other documentation?

After you book a cruise, you'll need to go to the cruise line's website to create an account in order to log into the line's "Already Booked" microsite for access to your tickets and luggage tags. You will often provide pre-check-in information like emergency contacts, flight information and passport details. You also can book excursions and specialty dining reservations and make other arrangements for your upcoming trip from this microsite.

Some travel agencies will handle this step for you, but usually it's up to you to print the necessary documentation, including the luggage tags -- plus, it's fun to see the ticker count down to your cruise.

Do I need a passport or visa to cruise?

The answer to this depends on your nationality and your sailing itinerary; always check with your cruise line well in advance of your departure date to find out what's needed. Typically, if you are from the United States and on a closed loop sailing (departing from and reentering into the same U.S. port) you only need a valid government ID, such as a driver's license.

However, Cruise Critic always recommends taking a passport, as it's safer and easier to be a passport holder in case a flight home needs to be arranged mid-cruise. If you're flying to a port overseas or in Canada, a passport is almost always needed.

Visa requirements vary depending on your nationality and the country or countries on your itinerary.

What should I pack for my cruise?

When planning your packing list, consider factors like the weather in the ports you'll be visiting, as well as whether there are any formal nights or theme parties; don't forget practical items like chargers and comfortable walking shoes, and maybe some not-so-practical items like door decorations. For more information, check out the Ultimate Guide to Packing for a Cruise.

Is there anything I should NOT bring on my cruise ship?

There are some no-nos on a cruise ship, much like any other regulated form of transportation. Drugs, weapons and even alcohol (though, in some cases, beer and wine are accepted) are not allowed onboard. Less obvious but equally unacceptable are clothing irons, hot plates and anything else with a heating element, including coffeemakers. (Exceptions are personal grooming items like hair dryers and curling irons.)

Am I allowed to bring ___ onboard?

If you still have questions about what is -- and isn't -- allowed onboard a cruise ship, every cruise line offers a list of prohibited items on its website. Candles, musical instruments, drones and even wrapped gifts are subject to denial upon embarkation. Both carryon and checked bags are screened when you board the ship. Anything not allowed might be confiscated and held by the crew until the end of the cruise.

Do I need to alert my regular service providers before I set sail?

If you're traveling, especially abroad, it's always smart to call your credit card companies to alert them to your itinerary. This prevents any red flags that might be raised if your bank suspects fraudulent charges in another country or even state. It will also ensure access to foreign ATMs is not blocked. Make note to mention each place you will be docked in case you use a card there. Sometimes, your bank can suggest affiliate banks in other locations that won't charge foreign transaction fees.

Your cell phone will not always work at sea. If it does work and you leave it on, you will be charged roaming fees. You only need to call your service provider ahead of your cruise if you're looking for a phone plan you can use in ports or if you want to sign up for your provider's version of a cellular at-sea plan.

How much money do I need to bring with me on my cruise?

Although cash isn't used onboard (everything is paid using your room key/cruise card), it's useful to have some cash (generally singles) on hand for cash tips at the end of your sailing for crew you feel went above and beyond, and for porters on embarkation day, room service and guides/drivers on shore excursions.

It's also worth taking out some of the local currency ahead of your voyage if you're traveling to foreign ports -- especially if you don't have a debit card you can use at a local ATM or don't feel like paying foreign ATM fees or exchange fees on credit card purchases.

How do I make special requests if I have dietary or mobility restrictions?

If you have a severe food allergy or a disability, or if there are simply special circumstances you want the onboard crew to know, it's always a good idea to contact your cruise line before your sailing. They can provide tips, assistance and even special menus to accommodate your needs while onboard your cruise ship. You may also be able to make note of your special needs in your online passenger profile preferences. Cruise Critic recommends calling and keeping the name of the representative you speak with.

If someone in your group has dietary restrictions that were not discussed with the cruise line prior to embarkation, it's not too late. Simply speak to the headwaiter in the main dining room about those dietary restrictions once you board. Most cruise lines will still make every effort to accommodate you with the supplies onboard. The person will usually be given advance menus to choose from for the remainder of the cruise, so that their food can be prepared separately.

Can I rent a wheelchair for use on my cruise? Is there anyone to aid with accessibility issues?

Yes. Cruise lines partner with wheelchair, scooter and other mobility device providers so you can get around while onboard and in port, though you will need to make your own arrangements directly with the provider. Some cruise lines take it a step further and designate a crewmember to assist you in the case of an emergency. Whatever your disability is -- whether auditory, visual, developmental or mobility -- it's best to contact the cruise line before you embark to let them know you will require additional aid or a cabin designated to accommodate you.

I have small children. Can I arrange to have things I'll need (strollers, cribs, diapers) sent to the ship before I arrive?

Yes. Most cruise lines require you supply your own diapers and bring your own stroller, but lines like Disney and MSC provide strollers to borrow onboard and in some ports like Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. Carnival has rental strollers. Royal Caribbean is also among the lines that allow you to order diapers ahead of your cruise vacation in their online store and have them delivered to your cabin before you arrive. All cruise lines will provide cribs given advanced notice. Also, if a bath tub is important for baby, make sure your selected cabin has one before booking it.

Can I pre-book spa services, entertainment, or make dinner reservations?

Many cruise lines offer pre-booking for specialty restaurants, some theater shows, spa treatments and more. Once your cruise is booked, log into your online account to see what reservations are available to make or contact your travel professional to see if he or she can make those arrangements for you.

How do I get to the cruise terminal? Where do I park?

If you're driving to a port, be sure to have the directions to the parking facilities on hand, along with your tickets to show security you are a passenger. You can probably find clear directions to your embarkation port on the port's website.

If you're flying in and taking a cab to your port, make sure you have the address and terminal number, just in case the driver speaks another language. Also be sure to have cash in case your taxi doesn't accept credit cards. Most cruise lines offer transfer packages that will pick you up at the airport and take you directly to the ship.

How do I meet other cruisers before I sail?

A great way to meet other cruisers on your sailing before you sail and then to connect once onboard is to join the Cruise Critic Roll Call for your sailing. Some roll calls are active for a year prior to a cruise and are filled with excited chatter about what everyone is looking forward to, what excursions are booked and if there will be a meetup or cabin crawl on the first sea day of your sailing.

How can I learn more about preparing for my cruise?

You might like the following articles:

The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise, and visiting ports of call on your cruise.

Updated January 08, 2020
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