Whether you’re new to cruising or a seasoned sailor, there are always a few things to take on board when planning your next cruise adventure. From choosing the right ship and cabin type to planning your excursion list in advance, we’ve collated all of our years of experience and knowledge into one handy complete guide to cruising

In part two, we take a look at everything you need to know and prepare for before you sail, including what to pack and how to get to the cruise terminal.

A selection of drinks available on a cruise

Before you sail

What should I pack for my cruise?

Packing for a cruise can be quite a tiresome chore, especially if you’re doing so for yourself and all of your family. Take a look at our top ten tips for packing for a cruise:

  1. Pack for your destination - depending on what time of year you’re sailing and to which destination will largely determine what kinds of clothing you want to pack. If you’re off to the Norwegian Fjords in March, you may want to pack more jumpers than sunbathing wear and vice versa if you’re travelling to the Med in August. However, don’t take our word for it - we would also suggest you take an emergency jumper just in case!

  2. Evening wear - formal and smart/casual dress codes are the norm on most cruise ships, so pack a black tie/cocktail dress outfit for one of the cruise’s formal evening dinners along with chinos and shirts for the men and elegant linens or smart two pieces for the ladies for the rest of the week’s dining and evening entertainment events

  3. Daytime clothing - try and pack clothes that are suitable for both lazy days at sea and ashore, such as suitable length shorts, polo shirts and tops. Swimwear isn’t normally acceptable attire for the restaurants, unless you’re visiting an outside eatery, and even then most cruise lines like passengers to be covered up, so we always recommend having adequate overclothes such as kaftans and lightweight t-shirts

  4. Footwear - that’s right ladies, we’re talking to you! Try not to pack every pair of shoes you own, as tempting as that may be! Trainers are great for the gym and for shore excursions and one or two pairs of evening shoes that go with a selection of outfits are ideal

  5. A good book - there’ll be days at sea where you may just fancy chilling out by the pool or in your cabin with a cool G&T and a book. If you’d rather not utilise some or your precious suitcase space, why not consider an audiobook or two?

  6. Sun cream - regardless of where you’re sailing to, be sure to pack suitable sun cream for you and your fellow passengers. While it may not be glorious sunbathing weather on occasions, the wind and reflection from the sea can attract just as many UV rays as laying directly in 30 degree sun, so it’s always best to come prepared

  7. Hats/gloves/scarves - if you’re cruising up towards the northern hemisphere, you are likely to need some additional warm wear, particularly if you’re planning on seeing the wildlife in Alaska or the Northern Lights. While some cruise lines provide wet weather and warm clothing for shore excursions, you may want to have your own

  8. Medication - this may sound strange but remember to pack any medications that you may need for the duration of your cruise. This includes paracetamol, ibuprofen and sea sickness tablets, which, although you can buy on board, you’ll pay a hefty fee for the privilege!

  9. A phone/gadget charger - heaven forbid the kids have no access to Insta because their phone is dead! Again, you will likely be able to buy a spare on board but the cost will most definitely be much higher than you’d pay on Amazon

  10. A carry on bag - while you wait for your luggage to be brought to your cabin, have all the essentials you’ll need to start having fun straight away, from packing a bikini for immediate sun worship or a touch of rouge if you want to hit the cocktail bar straight away.

What shore excursions should I choose?

Most cruises visit a number of ports during their time at sea, unless of course you’re sailing on a UK staycation cruise where you don’t actually stop anywhere. But even if you are going on a cruise around the British Isles, there will always be a few ports of call where you have the chance to head ashore and take in some of the local sights.

It’s worth taking a look at the intensity of an excursion before you book. If you struggle walking too far, certain visits ashore may be off limits, but prepping in advance does mean you can speak to your on board services team to see if there is a) an alternative or b) additional assistance available so you can join in too. You may also need additional vaccinations to visit certain ports, so again, planning in advance means you can be prepared for all eventualities. 

Finally, make sure you have budgeted for the excursions in advance and where possible, book ahead if you can. There’s nothing worse than having your heart set on visiting an ice hotel in Norway only to find it’s fully booked when you get on board. 

What activities are available on board and do I need to book them in advance?

Most cruise ships today are filled with a range of exciting on board activities, available to all those cruising. From relaxing spa treatments to high energy water parks, you’ll likely be spoilt for choice, particularly if you’re sailing on one of the enormous cruise liners that have rides, extreme experiences and spectacular evening shows.

Once you’ve booked your cruise, take some time to explore the cruise ship you’ll be sailing on online and make a note of what activities are available and which ones you’d like to take part in. Activities such as on board water parks are likely just on a first come, first served basis, but if you want to try a spot of surf tuition, you’ll probably need to book. Some activities such as mixology classes or stargazing parties will more than likely be bookable in advance of your cruise and in some instances may be chargeable. In addition, some on board activities such as spin classes and morning yoga may need to be booked but won’t be available to do so until you’re on board.

Check your mobile data!

Although the majority of cruise ships now offer wi-fi to guests as standard, it’s always worth remembering that it won’t be as fast or indeed, as reliable, as what you’re used to at home. Problems then occur if your delightful teenager is constantly sharing Tik Toks and the wi-fi continuously cuts out, thus resulting in mobile data being activated!

Some network providers such as Three offer all you can eat data in a number of countries, meaning there are no horrible roaming charges to contend with when you return. The safest bet is to contact your mobile provider before your cruise, advise them where you will be travelling to and confirm that data roaming is included as part of your contract. If it isn’t, or you have a pay as you go sim, you may be able to purchase an add-on for a one off fee which allows you to use data for the duration of your cruise without generating exorbitant fees.

Is your passport in date?

It’s common practice for all travellers to have at least six months of validity left on their passport when they travel abroad. While some countries, and indeed cruise lines, are less restrictive, others simply won’t allow you to board or go ashore unless you have the six month window until the expiry date. 

To avoid any unwanted surprises the week before you’re due to sail, check all passports when you book your cruise, giving you plenty of time to renew it should it need it.

On board credit and drinks packages

While some cruise lines offer a selection of drinks as standard, both during the day and at meal times, others have a charge to cabin policy whereby you register your card either prior to your cruise or when you embark, and then each purchase made while on board is added to a bill which is settled on disembarkation via the card registered when you boarded. While this is a convenient way to do it, it does mean that you don’t necessarily have full visibility of what’s being spent (unless you’re an avid tracker and mark everything down as you go!) And while a £6 beer may not seem much at the time, times that by 10 every day for seven days and you’ve suddenly got a £420 bar bill to pay! And that’s just for one!

Most cruise lines offer drinks packages or on board loot, payable in advance of your cruise, which can save you money in the long run. In certain circumstances, when you buy a drinks package for say, £225, the cruise line will automatically add an additional amount as extra gratis, so while you may pay £225 for it, you’ll actually have more to spend - both cost effective and transparent. In addition, on board loot is occasionally not restricted to the bar, so you can book that relaxing massage followed by a champagne cocktail and all will be taken care of before you even set sail.

Getting to the cruise terminal 

The day has finally arrived and you’re ready to set off on your long awaited cruise. But wait, how are you going to get to the port? Do you need to pre-book parking? Would getting a taxi be more cost effective? Have you booked a cruise which includes travel to and from the port? If so, what time is your driver arriving? There are a number of questions you need to ask yourself as you plan your arrival at the port and preparing in advance can mean you won’t have any last minute stress.

Some cruise lines, such as Saga, include VIP travel to and from the port as part of your cruise package. If this is the case, you’ll likely be advised when to expect your driver in the days leading up to your departure. Where a driver isn’t available (if you live over 250 miles from the port), you may be offered rail or coach travel instead, and tickets will be sent to you a few days before you’re due to depart. Where these aren’t included, confirm which port you’re sailing from, book any parking you may need and plan your journey in advance, checking for traffic updates on the day. 

Booking your embarkation time

Like an airport, you’ll be required to arrive at the port in plenty of time for your cruise, but to avoid overcrowding and to minimise queuing times, your cruise line will give you an allocated embarkation time or allow you to book a slot yourself prior to departure. Make sure you book a slot that’s achievable and remember to factor in additional time prior to embarkation to have any COVID-19 tests undertaken, where required. 

COVID-19 vaccination checks and lateral flow tests

We now live in a COVID-19 world, which means that, to travel, you’ll likely need to meet a few requirements before you can step on board. If your cruise line requires you to be double-jabbed in order to get on board, you’ll need to have either a letter from NHS England or have downloaded the NHS app and linked it to your NHS number. Don’t worry if you don’t have this, your name and date of birth are normally sufficient enough to access your initial files and once you’ve accessed the basic platform, further security measures are undertaken to ensure data protection. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can get a COVID passport sent to you in the post, but make sure you request this in plenty of time as they can take up to five working days to arrive. For more details about the COVID-19 passport, please visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/covid-pass/.

In addition, your cruise line may require you to provide a negative PCR or rapid lateral flow test taken within 48 hours prior  to departure. Some cruise lines offer testing at the port immediately prior to embarkation while others request you have it done at home and bring proof of a negative result with you ready to board. Please make sure you read all relevant information regarding what checks and paperwork will be required prior to travelling to the port so as not to delay your embarkation.

Find out more 

If you’d like to find out more about the cruises we offer, take a look around our website or call our knowledgeable team on 01737 646412. 

Previous: A complete guide to cruising - part one: planning your cruise

Next: A complete guide to cruising - part three: setting sail