The grand welcome of the Holland America Cruise Line Nieuw Amsterdam ship in the Ft. Lauderdale port was almost overwhelming. While I felt mostly prepared for my first cruise to the Bahamas with my passport, bathing suit and loose itinerary there was some anxiety spurred by my inexperience with cruising.
For the newbies like me, knowing a few key questions to ask before you board will help ease you into your first cruise experience.

  1. How do I stay connected and how much does that cost?
    Internet is a premium at sea, after all, you are in the middle of the ocean. Most cruise ships have internet packages but be prepared to include that in your budget as that can run you close to $1/minute for WiFi.
  2. What food and drink is included in my package?
    When I first stepped onto the Nieuw Amsterdam to explore before departing Ft. Lauderdale I could not wait to try one of the many delightful food choices. While waiting to pay for my hamburger lunch I discovered that the food was included in the package that I already purchased. What a surprise as that included all of the food at the buffet which spanned three rooms on both sides of the ship – anytime of the day or night. Be sure to ask what food and drink is included in your package because it can vary. Generally, alcoholic beverages and soft drinks as well as specialty restaurants are additional costs.
  3. Define “smart casual?
    All cruise ships have a dress codes and it changes depending on the restaurant or even the evening if there is a special event. It is important to ask for clarification of the dress code terms because they mean something different to everyone. What qualifies as business casual to one person may be formal to someone else. It helps to have this defined ahead of time so you know what to pack and are dressed appropriately in every situation.
  4. How do I avoid motion sickness?
    If you have not been on a cruise you may not know if you are prone to motion sickness. Arrive prepared with a few items just in case. Motion sickness bands and patches are helpful. I also pack a small bag of ginger candy that you can buy at Trader Joe’s or in the dried fruit section of the supermarket. Your cruise organizer may have additional ideas.
  5. How do shore excursions work?
    First-time cruising comes with a lot of instructions and information. If you want to maximize your time on shore at the island ports then it is best to plan your excursions ahead of time. Ask your cruise planner what is available and when you should book. Waiting until you are on board can leave you locked out of the more popular excursions.
  6. What should I explore first on the ship?
    When you get on-board before departure leave several hours to just explore the ship. Ask someone who is more experienced with cruising what they recommend checking out first. The food? The hallways? The decks? The entertainment venues? It can get quite confusing but allowing yourself time before you set sail to get the lay of the land will help your comfort level (and save you time) during the cruise.
  7. Who do I tip and how much?
    Tipping can take quite a bite out of your cruising budget so it is important to consider that before you get on board and understand protocol. You will need to know if tips are included in your purchased package and/or what tips are not included. Ask about tips for shore excursions and miscellaneous service providers that you may not naturally consider. Most cruise lines will offer tipping guidelines but it is best to ask specifically.

Cruises are basically baptism by fire. You figure things out as you go, except your cabin hallway – that is something that you pretty much never figure out until the last day on the ship. It is best to get as many questions answered ahead of time as possible to make most of your trip. Just think, next time you will know the ropes!