How to Cruise for the First Time: A Beginners Guide to Planning a Cruise Vacation

sunset cruise in water with view from top deck showing pool and waterslides

Learning how to cruise for the first time can be a little daunting, as there are a lot of questions that need answering. How do you stay within a budget? What things will you need to bring? Which cruise package should you select? These can be tough questions if you have never had to plan a cruise for yourself. But if you break it down into a few simple steps, you will find that it is not as hard as you may have thought. In this article, we will go over what you need to do and what you should consider any time you are booking a cruise vacation. These steps are easy enough for anyone, but remember that a travel agent can help guide you through to make cruise planning even easier!

1. Plan a Cruise Budget and Date

Ask any veteran cruiser; setting a realistic budget is the most important step for those who know how to cruise without overspending. You’ve got to know ahead of time what you are going to want to do and what you are going to need, so there aren’t any surprise costs that will cause you to go over budget. This means shore excursion, onboard activities, gratuities, travel expenses, feeding yourselves, and souvenirs. One of the easiest ways to stay under budget is to plan between 6 and 12 months in advance so that you can take advantage of those juicy early-bird specials and lock in a good price before demand makes ticket prices go up. If you aren’t able to afford your ticket that early, fear not. offers monthly payment options when booking to help you manage your budget!

2. Plan a Cruise Destination and Itinerary

There are tons of destinations that cruises sail to all over the world. Choose a destination for your cruise that aligns with your interests and vacation expectations. If you want to hang out by the beach and relax, a tropical destination like the Caribbean or Mexico is the obvious choice. If you want to experience different cultures, then a river cruise through Europe or Asia might be the ticket. Want to see the Northern lights? Book a summer cruise up to Alaska or Eastern Canada for an expiration of the natural world. Consider what kind of climate you enjoy and how your prospective destinations will be affected by the seasons. If you are looking for a place to start, take this cruise port personality test to get an idea of what kind of cruise is right for you.

3. Choose a Cruise Line and Ship

Any time you plan a cruise, it is crucial to know which cruise line will fit your desired vacation plans. Some lines specialize in smaller ships that can travel to more out-of-reach destinations, while others have enormous ships that feel like floating theme parks or mega-hotels. The level of luxury and amount of amenities can vary drastically and if you don’t want all the bells and whistles, then it is better to pick a ship that offers a smaller, more intimate experience. If you need help deciding, travel agents can help guide you when determining what cruise line and which ship is best for your dream vacation. Also, try taking this quiz to give you an idea of which cruise line is right for you.

4. Choose a Cruise Package

Next, you are going to want to pick from one of the cruise packages that are offered by your selected cruise line. Picking the right package is especially important when figuring out how to cruise without going over budget. Bundling things together will save you more money than purchasing everything a la carte. On the other hand, if you simply are not sure what you are going to want during your cruise, then it might be better to plan a cruise trip that is a little more freestyle. Again, is here to help you figure out what you need and how to get it within your budget. You can also get exclusive deals that will stack with any discounts that you get from the cruise lines to maximize your savings and make the most out of your vacation!

5. Book Airfare if Needed

It isn’t enough to just figure out how to cruise to your dream destination, you’ve also got to plan how you are getting to the port for embarkation. If you pick a port that is close to home, this may be as simple as taking a car ride, a bus, or a train. But for many of us, the only viable option is to take a flight. Whichever way you go with, you will want to plan on arriving in the port city at least a day before your voyage sets sail, so that you don’t miss your cruise if there are any hiccups. If you made the fortuitous decision to work with a travel agent to guide you through how to cruise for the first time, then they can even help you find and book the best airfare for your trip!

6. Pack Your Bags and Set Sail

The last step that is often missed by passengers who are learning how to cruise for the first time is packing! You will want to make sure that you have a good variety of clothing to fit any potential unexpected weather. You may also need fancier clothes for formal nights, swimwear for beaches and pools, hiking gear if you are venturing into nature, or culturally appropriate clothing if you are visiting foreign countries. Make sure you have all necessary travel documents and copies of all your digital tickets and reservations (even if you don’t think you need them!), plus necessities like sunscreen or sunglasses. Go through your entire itinerary and try to predict what you will need for the trip to go as smoothly as possible. To get you started, use one of these packing lists to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. Now you can get excited for your dream vacation without having to worry about anything!

Need help figuring out how to cruise for the first time? Visit for the largest selection of cruise line deals — we can help you book the smart way! We give you our exclusive bonus offers and all qualifying cruise line offers, plus all of the cruise line loyalty program benefits. Book online at or call 800-288-6006 today.

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