7 things to know before your first cruise, according to a former employee

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After working in the cruise industry for about 15 years, I lost my job during the coronavirus pandemic. Now I cruise half the year as a “woman on board” with my husband, a flight engineer.

We live on land and sea, and I share my adventures on my TikTok (@dutchworld_americangirl). Years later, I still think cruising is one of the best ways to see the world.

It’s like tapas – you get a taste of ports around the world and can decide if you want to return to a certain place and have “the full entry”, a destination. That said, planning your first trip can be overwhelming.

Here are some important things I think future newbie cruisers should know.

The boat won’t wait for you

For the most part, this seems like common sense. But, add a beautiful destination, margaritas and music and one can easily forget that a ship is waiting.

More than once I saw people running on the jetty – but if your boat has already been untied from it, you won’t get back on board.

And yes, passengers who miss the boat are almost certainly responsible for the cost, airfare and hotel to get to the next port where the ship will dock.

If you dock less than 8 hours, book your excursions through the ship

Everyone has a different opinion on this. But as a former cruise director, I have a simple rule that I use to book excursions when my parents come sailing with me.

If you are in port for a long time – at least overnight – it is not crucial to book your excursions through the ship as you have plenty of time to sail around the port of call.

But if your ship is in port for less than eight hours, I suggest you book an excursion through the ship as it has to wait for people to return from its own excursions.

If a taxi breaks down or you encounter traffic jams and you are on a personal excursion, you are out of luck. If you go on an excursion with your cruise line, the ship won’t leave you behind.

the writer with binoculars watching a cruise

If you’re only docked for a few hours, you might want to book your excursions through the ship.

Christine Kesteloo


You might not want to ignore international travel insurance

Yes, there are nurses and doctors on every ship. I know more about being sick overseas than most, as I was once taken off the ship due to illness and spent two months in a New Zealand hospital.

My medical expenses were covered since I was employed, but cruise lines should really consider talking to their insurer before the trip and also looking for international coverage.

Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean the world will protect you from accidents in bubble wrap or that they’ll all be covered.

Seasickness is no joke – even though I get sick after more than a decade on board

I’ve been sailing intermittently for 12 years and I still get seasick.

I have seen many cruisers come on board without knowing they have motion sickness. And believe me, when the disease sets in, it’s already a bit too late. In some cases, be prepared to be “down for the count” for at least 48 hours.

To better prepare yourself, you can try bracelets, patches or other natural remedies. Personally, if I know rough seas are expected, I take non-drowsy motion sickness medication like Dramamine or Bonine.

Keep in mind that I’m not a medical professional – just a former cruise director who has tried just about everything to ease nausea at sea. Do what’s best for you.

Your cruise line is just as important as your destinations

There are so many cruise lines and each offers something different. Key factors such as age, interests and what time you want to go to bed should dictate which cruise line you sail on.

For children, I would send them directly on a Royal Caribbean or Disney ship. For young adults or young-at-heart adults, I suggest Carnival. For a little chic and trendy, try Virgin or Celebrity. For sophistication, music and good food, I recommend Holland America Line.

I could go on and on. And ships may also vary. Choose wisely and do your research.

the writer looking over the balcony at a sunset on a cruise

Research can really pay off when booking a cruise.

Christine Kesteloo


Search each destination and port before going home

A cruise can take you around the world to all seven continents and dock in some pretty amazing places.

That said, I’ve seen many cruisers disappointed because they imagine their ship docking in a perfect spot where they can just step out of the ship and embark on tons of fun activities and sights.

But it’s not always the case. In Asia, for example, ships often dock at a cargo port – not a popular tourist spot.

You’ll either have to book a tour, taxi, or shuttle to see anything, because you can’t experience shipyard food and culture. Plan ahead.

A little kindness goes a long way – and even though we’ve heard all your jokes, we’ll still laugh about it

The crew members are incredibly kind and hardworking. Many of us love our way of life and enjoy being at sea. We are happy to help, but you should never talk to the crew.

A little kindness goes a long way. Plus, we’re returning the favor.

We’ve heard your cruise jokes a million times – “Looks like we’re all walking drunk,” a guest will say as we cross the ship. “I’ll get the check for dinner tonight,” a guest will say in the dining room, knowing full well that all the food is paid for.

Even though it’s nothing new, we’ll still smile and laugh at your jokes every time.

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