View of the sunset from QM2

What do you remember about your very first cruise? It's a fun question that makes most folks happy to reminisce, akin to the stories couples like to tell about their first meeting. Just about everyone gets a smile on their face. (And on Cruise Critic's Ask a Cruise Question forum, where we've been sharing our own memories of our maiden voyages this week, you can feel that smile through the keyboard!)

Cruising sure has changed a lot since the early days -- some posts reminisce about experiences in the early 1960s -- and yet some things haven't changed at all.

Cruise Critic member SaltyBrat writes: "I realized over the years, I missed the ship and the dangerous nights swaying back and forth in the North Sea. I missed the lazy afternoons playing card games and sipping scotch with no land in sight. I remember getting to know the intimate details of the ship, menus, and faces all just becoming familiar. It was a real cruise that I would do over in a second's notice, it was a test of my unworthy sea legs. I passed."

Another consistent message we got from members is that once you've tried a cruise, you pretty much always come back. Sometimes again and again. "Welcome to the club," posts member Sparks1093. "I don't think that there is a cure or a 12-step program, but then I don't want to be cured (although I could stop any time I wanted, really)."

And this piece of advice, offered by the late John Honeywell, a fellow cruise writer and passionate ship fan, pretty much sums up the appeal: "Any day at sea is better than a day in the office."

As always, members of Cruise Critic's community, have lots of other great memories and tips to share. We culled some of our favorites. Whether you're considering your own maiden voyage, or think of yourself as an experienced cruise traveler, have a look -- and feel free to add your own tips and anecdotes in either the comments below or on the thread.

Best discoveries on that first cruise

"The choices! If you don't want to eat in the Main Dining Room, the buffet is available. Don't want to visit a port? No problem, stay on the ship and enjoy having it to yourself." -- RMF11699

"My best discovery was pretty simple. I loved cruising, and never felt my vacation needed to be anything other than what I wanted it to be. Our first cruise was all about family. I've had other cruises since then that were all about relaxation, others that were all about the ports and excursions, and others that were all about spending time with family and friends. The one thing they have in common is that they were all cruises. And they were all great." -- Julie3Fan

"We sailed five nights from Barcelona, celebrating my 40th with a short cruise as DH (Editor's Note: That's Cruise Critic lingo for "dear husband") didn't think he'd like the crowds and constraints of being on a ship. Learnt that there is always a quiet deckchair or bar stool if you want to avoid the crowd. And DH is now equally hooked: You wake up in new places to explore, there's food a-plenty and time to properly relax. -- Linda

"Cruises aren't necessarily what I'd imagined. I had had this image of low-class, boorish passengers and 24-hour buffets. That's not what I found. I'd also envisioned tacky ports and corny tourism, and while those do exist, they're not all there is to it." -- Squick64

Digging through the advice, what simple tips do veterans share most often?

"If flying to a port, arrive a day early. I used to work for an airline and people would book a flight the day of embarkation. Too many things can go wrong and ruin the flight. And get insurance! I had to use it on my first cruise. We were booked for early 2011 when my father passed away and we had to cancel that trip and rebook for 2012." -- RMF11699

"My advice for those who haven't yet cruised is to research, if that's in your nature, or just wing it if that's your style. There is no one way that a cruise needs to be approached. I personally am a planner (OK, over-planner) and I couldn't imagine embarking on an adventure like a cruise without knowing every last thing there was to know about the ship, port stops, things to do, etc. But as (thank goodness!) not everyone is like me, I also see nothing wrong with doing no advance planning other than how to arrive at the debarkation port on time. (Editor's Note: We're huge fans of doing homework – er, especially on Cruise Critic – that helps us winnow down choices for cruising. At the end of the day, though, why not hand it all over to a good, cruise-experienced travel agent and let the professionals do the heavy lifting)."  -- Julie3fan

"On our first cruise 17 years ago, we bought every picture, did ship excursions for every port, shopped in the shops. Spent a ton of money. Now we are seasoned." -- Janetz

"Do your research to be sure that the cruise and ship are most appropriate for you and what you wish to experience on your first cruise. Don't try to do everything on your first cruise. If you do, upon returning home, you will need a vacation from your vacation! (But, hopefully, you'll return home eager for the next one!)" -- RKACruiser, 52 cruises strong.

Cruise passengers debarking in Cozumel

What do you need to know about being in ports of call?  

"We partied at Carlos and Charles in Cozumel, danced on tables and chairs. We were also so caught up, we lost track of time. The DJ called out over the microphone the name of five ships and said, 'you've got 30 minutes before they pull out.' The entire place cleared out. We were jumping in cabs with people we didn't even know, getting back to the port. It was hilarious." --Ms. C

"What I think we enjoy most about cruising is the ability to go from place to place and take your hotel room with you. The down side to this is that you don't spend a lot of time in any one place. Last year we did a Mediterranean cruise and know that we only scratched the surface of the places we visited. Which just means you need another cruise that visits those places." --NYBumpkin

You won't believe how cruising has changed!

On our first cruise in 1974, "our first shock was the communal showers and toilets, with just a sink in the cabin." -- LHT128

(Editor's Note: Cabins have come a long way since that time. Check out these over-the-top cruise ship suites!)

"On my first cruise, there were no inside, outside or balcony cabin categories, only portholes. There were no shore excursions. The only activities on the ship were shuffleboard, skeet shooting and use of a pool. There was a mandatory dress for lunch and dinner on sea days. Movies were shown every evening and live shows were offered every night with top name entertainment. The cost for the cruise including all taxes for my wife and me was $699.00, same as today." -- LenQuixote66

"Tipping was accomplished with the envelope system on the last night. Envelopes were provided to you with the titles of those to receive tips stamped on them. We made sure that our cabin steward, waiter, and assistant waiter were taken care of and I even walked around the dining room looking for the maitre d even though we had not seen him on any of the other nights to give him his envelope. I never made that mistake again!" --Tip10

Cruising as a career option

"In 1988 on NCL's Sunward II, I was still in high school. I only remember bits and pieces of it, but I discovered on that cruise that I loved being out at sea. It played a big role in my decision to join the U.S. Coast Guard five years later."  -- Aquahound

"My favorite memory was running into our oldest son at a teen pool party at the aft pool one night -- ice cream in one hand, pizza in the other, saying 'This is great!' Today that son is a 26- year old Navy lieutenant. I like to think we had something to do with his wanderlust. --NYBumpkin

If you're considering -- or planning -- your first cruise and want to get more information from fellow cruisers, check out Cruise Critic's New Cruisers forum. You can also turn to the site's First Time Cruisers section, chock-a-block with stories offering advice on planning and taking the best possible cruise vacation.

-- by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Chief Content Strategist.

From the Bridge is a recurring column on hot cruising topics by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Cruise Critic's Chief Content Strategist.