My family went on our first cruise this year on the Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas Mexican Riviera Christmas cruise. Our group consisted of myself, my wife and our three sons, ages 24, 22 & 9. Overall, I would say we are very satisfied with the trip. It was better than we thought it would be and we are very likely to partake in more cruises in the future. That's not to say that things were perfect, there were a few things that would have made the cruise even better. Being first time cruisers, we had a lot of questions going into the trip, so we are writing this in hopes of perhaps helping out others that are in the same spot we were.
Pre-cruise Research Once we booked our trip, like others in the internet age, my wife and I spent hours researching cruises. We booked the cruise early, in March so we had a lot of time to look things up. Unfortunately, this may have caused us more grief and confusion than necessary. Like everything in life, what you experience is based on expectation, so what is good for one person will be crap for another. For example, when we read reviews on the food that was served on the Vision of the Seas, we were told the food was ; great, terrible, bland, tasteless, fresh. Try to base your expectations on those remarks! In hindsight, I would suggest that we tended to believe the negative reviews more so than the positive ones. I'm not sure if it's human nature to do so, but we went on the trip with a relatively low expectation which may have added to how much we actually enjoyed the cruise. One things we found on the internet that really helped was YouTube. There are a number of excellent videos people have put together documenting their cruise experience and you can likely find a video that was done on the same cruise ship and voyage you will be taking. We found these helped in answering question like what clothes we need to bring (for example, what is acceptable for Formal Night dining), what activities you can expect on boards, shore excursions and so on. We would highly recommend you check these out, especially you fellow first timers.
Boarding Our cruise didn't exactly get off to a stellar start. We boarded in Los Angeles and to be frank, it was a bit of a cattle call to get onto the ship. It took us over an hour to get processed, through customs and then aboard the ship marching through various line-ups along the way. A large part of this was due to security checks (screening bags, documentation checks, the usual customs procedures) and really can't be helped, plus we were very tired after fighting our way down to Los Angeles (remember, this was the winter of the bad weather and even getting to Los Angeles on time was a triumph). But it should be something to expect when you board the ship.