For seven days this was our home.

You can see our balcony if you squint, go to the ninth deck, and count five rooms over.

This was only our second cruise, but I’ve learned SO MUCH along my journeys. I felt like I was in elementary cruise school with the first voyage and now? I feel like I’m about to cruise graduate.

(total aside: there are tons of PhD cruisers walking around and I hope to learn even more about cruising from them, too.)

I’ve talked to so many people—on the Facebook groups and online and at the dining tables and by the pools—and along the way I’ve picked up tons of tips.

So that’s why I wrote this post. So you could pin it and save it and have it to help get ready for your next cruise.

I wanted to share all the tips that I’ve learned that I wish someone would have told me before my first cruise.

Are you ready?

Let’s GO.

Here are 21 things I wish I knew before I went on a cruise.

1. The walls are magnetic:

First of all–it’s so important to understand. Cruise cabins are tiny.

They remind me of a floating dorm room. Remember how your mother tried to help you find all that space in the dorm room and then you discovered that you could velcro a skirt onto the sink and hide your hot rollers underneath? These magnetic hooks are just like that. Utilize the magnetic walls in your cabin by bringing along magnetic hooks.

These hooks are perfect for hanging hats, lanyards, or even lightweight bags. I also used them to organize my sunglasses.

You can see the magnetic hooks here.

2. Luggage Tags:

With Royal Caribbean (and most cruise lines) you have to deliver your luggage at the port before you board the ship. In other words, you board without your luggage. They deliver it to your room.

Do NOT leave valuables in your luggage in case it gets lost. Instead, pack a small carry-on where you keep your passports, jewelry, electronics and other valuables with you as you board the ship.

You go online and print out paper tags to help with your luggage delivery. The challenge? Those tags are paper and can rip easily. There are plastic tag sleeves for your cruise line that you can purchase to put those paper tags in so your luggage doesn’t get lost.

You can see the luggage tags I used with Royal Caribbean here.

3. Eating in the main dining room:

Okay.

This may be a controversial opinion, but I think specialty dining is often overrated.

Don’t feel pressured to splurge when the main dining options can be just as satisfying. You can book the same table with the same people each night. We actually booked a table where we didn’t know anyone to make some new friends.

Here’s the menu from one of the nights in the main dining room (it changes every night) and there are three courses and you can have multiple options of as many entrees, appetizers and desserts as you want.

And it’s included with your passage fare. Specialty dining is an extra charge. We splurged one night with our friends and ate at one of the specialty dining rooms. It was good, but I actually preferred the meals in the main dining room.

4. Join the Facebook Group:

Did you know each ship usually has its own Facebook page?

(total aside: the name of your ship is super important. When you tell people you are going on a cruise everyone always asks the name of your ship—and all ships are not created equal.)

Join the Facebook group for your cruise to connect with fellow passengers, share tips, and even organize group activities or excursions.

5. Upgrade to a Balcony Cabin:

We’ve had a balcony cabin on each cruise and it is worth EVERY PENNY.

This is the size of the most of the room.

Having a balcony makes you feel like you have an extra room–and you can open the sliding doors and listen to the ocean.

6. Early Bird Gets the Deck Chairs:

I am usually late to everything. But to get a good deck chair near the pool? You have to go early.

Some people get up early and put a towel over the chair.

On our cruise they kept announcing that you could not use towels to save chairs, so I just got up early and there were plenty of chairs before 10:00 am.

We also took advantage of the water aerobics class (which was so good), so we could put our towels on the chairs as long as we were there.

7. Secure Towels with Bands or Clips:

Someone told me about these and I was kind of like, what?

And then? I saw the wind on the deck. There is NO WAY your towel would stay in place without a clip or a band around the top of the towel.

You can see the towel clips here.

You can see the towel bands here.

8. Room Service Breakfast:

Did you know you can order breakfast to your room?

There are two menus and the continental breakfast is free to be delivered to the room.

It’s a relaxing way to start your day, especially before heading out for excursions. We had ours every morning on the balcony.

9. Customize Your Dining:

You can also request special things from the staff.

Request special dietary accommodations or menu modifications to tailor your dining experience to your preferences. The onboard culinary team is usually accommodating.

Our staff was NEXT LEVEL when it came to special requests.

For example, we had all our meals without the sauce so it was a little bit lighter.

10. Use the Cruise App:

Stay organized with the cruise app, which provides a daily schedule of events and activities.

It’s your key to planning your days efficiently.

Royal Caribbean has an app and we would plan out every day with our events. There’s a schedule of all the activities and we’d click on the ones we were interested in and the event would be added to our calendar. Then we’d get an alert on our phone when the event was about to happen.

11. Consider All-Access Tours:

Think about booking an all-access tour for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the ship’s operations.

One of the couples that we had dinner with went on the tour.

You can see all the different types of cabins and what they look like.

The entire tour is supposed to be fascinating to see how the ship works.

12. Stay Informed with Newsletters:

Read the daily newsletter delivered to your cabin each evening to stay updated on onboard activities and events.

Every night our steward would deliver the newsletter.

It was so tempting to just ignore it because you were so busy—but there was TONS of helpful information.

13. Closet Organization:

This is key.

There isn’t a lot of closet space in the room.

Here are some of the things you can use to extend your space.

You can see packing cubes here (I use them in the suitcase and then I use them to organize outfits and other smaller things like socks and delicates.)

These foldable hangers are kind of a game changer and save so much space.

I also use a hanging toiletry bag to keep the bathroom organized and maximize storage space.

I also LOVED having an over-the-door shoe organizer like this (I used it for other things than shoes).

14. Wrinkle-Free Clothing:

Thanks to so many of you? I learned you couldn’t bring an iron (or a steamer) on board.

Since irons are not allowed on board, pack Downy wrinkle release spray to keep your clothes looking fresh.

This travel-size Down wrinkle release spray is a game changer.

15. Laundry Solutions:

If you want to splurge?

They have amazing laundry service. Our cruise had specials when you checked in—you could send out a bag of laundry for about $17 (which sounded like a great deal).

We didn’t use the laundry service, but we had a dirty clothes bag that kept everything organized.

Pack a collapsible laundry hamper like this to help with laundry.

I also ended up washing a few things in the sink. You can use these Tide packets designed for the sink.

16. Combat Seasickness with Sea Bands:

This suggestion came from one of the travelers I met on the ship.

She used Sea Bands—acupressure wristbands believed to alleviate motion sickness, for a smoother sailing experience.

You can see the sea bands here.

Also–this has nothing to do with seasickness–but the picture of the bathroom reminded me that I’m kind of obsessed with toothbrush cover holders. They keep your toothbrush protected in a random space that’s not home.

You can see them here.

17. Stay Hydrated with Collapsible Water Bottles:

We brought water bottles with us.

You can get water and coffee for free on the ship, but they both come in smaller cups.

I think next time I’m going to bring a coffee mug with me to keep it hot.

Refill collapsible water bottles to stay hydrated throughout your journey without adding extra bulk to your luggage.

You can see the collapsible water bottles here.

18. Stay Cool with a Foldable Fan:

I have to use a fan when I sleep.

Last time we brought a big fan, but it was so much to carry.

This time? I brought a foldable fan.

You can see the one I used here.

You can also use a fan app that mimics the sound of a fan to drown out noise and help you sleep better.

19. Early Embarkation:

Again with the early.

But it helps so much.

We arrived early to Miami to board the ship and it saved so much time. We were on the ship by 10:30 and we could go right to our room.

The same holds true for excursions at port. Early, early, early.

Also, consider bringing a collapsible tote like this for any additional purchases or souvenirs.

20. BYO Snacks for Excursions:

Pack snacks and drinks from the ship for shore excursions to save money.

You could get whole fruit from the main dining room. It was perfect to bring on excursions.

Protein bars are also easy to pack, too. It’s a great way to save money at the ports.

21. Portable Power Bank:

I love a good portable power bank.

It makes everything so much easier.

Especially when you are at a port and you are looking around and realize that beaches don’t have power cords.

You can see the portable power bank here (and it has a 50% off coupon right now).

It was an amazing trip.

Later this week I’m going to share what I packed for the cruise.

I got it almost right and I can’t wait to share.

Oh—and I should have added number 22 to the list of things I wish I knew before taking a cruise.

Before you know it—you’ll be booking your next one (we are looking into going to Greenland). 🙂

PS I’d LOVE to hear your tips and products you use, too. Can you share in the comments so I can keep everything for reference.

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Comments

  1. Image for Jem Jem

    Thank you KariAnne! We’ve been on many cruises, but you still taught me a few things! I had no idea the walls were magnetic! I’m glad you had such a wonderful time!!!!

  2. Image for Teresa George Teresa George

    Perfect timing! We sale on the Explorer on the 18th! This past Sept we sailed on Symphony of the Seas. (We are in Miami). I hope to do Icon soon - it's the new super ship! I knew about some of these items, but did not know about the collapsible water bottle. I'm definitely taking that on board. Looking forward to your packing list!!

  3. Image for Terri Herman Terri Herman

    JIT! Leaving tomorrow for a day in Savannah then onto FL for Adventure of the Seas! Our first RC & your info was great! & we opted for a balcony!

    1. Image for Terri Herman Terri Herman

      Oh & im packing some wet bags since we will have a 9 hr drive home. Don’t want all our stuff to smell! 😀

  4. Image for UMZ UMZ

    Great information! Thanks for sharing. Now, will you share a link to those fabulous pink flower shoes you're wearing in the last picture???

  5. Image for Diana Clark Diana Clark

    KariAnne I have never been a big fan of cruises but been on a few. You taught me a lot and had very good suggestions. I would like a cruise on Viking but mercy I would have to sell my first born!

  6. Image for Tracey A Tracey A

    Kari Anne, I am so glad you had a good time! We belong to Cruise Critic, which can give you reviews and some information from other cruisers. We love the magnets. I always over pack and even though we have been on 20 cruises or so, I still seem to over pack! (you'd think I would learn!) I have to say I am getting better. Cruising is a great experience. You get to see more for your buck, I think.

  7. Image for Liz Shivel Liz Shivel

    Packing cubes are definitely the way to go for your luggage and for planning outfits. Your suitcase keeps everything in place with the cubes. Pack your like items together, but also pack a casual outfit, top & pants together. When getting your clothes ready to pack at home, take out 1/4 of the amount. When you come home from the trip, look to see what you didn’t wear, that will help for next time! Great info on the magnetic walls; that was new to me! Also take a river cruise sometime! We took one in France to celebrate my retirement trip and it was great! Smaller group of passengers, everything first class, it was a Viking Cruise, plus you get familiar with the staff. Sitting on the balcony of the river cruise cabin while your boat is going up through 4 river locks, as your water level changes, is amazing to experience! You can touch the walls of the locks because you’re so close!

  8. Image for Sandra Wells Sandra Wells

    Such great tips! Thank you! I've only been on two cruises and look forward to another soon. Packing was a challenge for me so eagerly await your next post.

  9. Image for Cathy Cathy

    Thank you! I have been on several cruises and I love it! The tips were great! One thing I have learned is to pack light! I have used the laundry service before but I had to do my own laundry. 🤣🤣. But, then I do not have to pack as much. We are doing a girls trip (We all turn 65 this year!!). We are going to St. Maarten! Can’t wait! These tips will help with this trip!! Yes, I can’t wait for the clothing post! ❤️

  10. Image for Sharon Bowman Sharon Bowman

    You may not use a flat iron for your hair. I do, and always take one on trips. It is allowed on cruises, and I have used it to get wrinkles out of clothes if needed.

  11. Image for Sharon Sharon

    Great tips! Going on my third cruise in less than a month. I agree with getting a balcony room and with eating in the main dining room. We really don't feel the need to splurge on specialty dining when there are so many other options included with the cruise fare.

  12. Image for Debbie Debbie

    KariAnne, what amazing tips!! I went on a couple of cruises with girlfriends years ago. Our cabin seemed like the size of an airplane bathroom and it was inside!🥴😳 My husband and I are going on our first cruise on May 1. We’re going on Regents new ship, the Grandeur. And we have a balcony. It’s a smaller ship sailing the Mediterranean. We’ll see how it goes. Your readers gave such great tips too. Thank you ladies! I’m starting to think through my clothes and I’m going to try my best to use the capsule wardrobe concept. 🤞. Thank you again for these great ideas. Amazon here I come!

  13. Image for Linda Johnston Linda Johnston

    Great tips! I don't usually over pack. We have travel too many times hauling around exrtra luggage we didn't need! We did a cruise before COVID and one after. We just won't go without a balcony after seeing those poor people trapped in their rooms without fresh air! Pus they are wonderful and we really enjoyed having one.

  14. Image for Kristen Rettig Kristen Rettig

    Thank you for the tips. I ordered the over door mesh thingy and the hanging toiletry bag. We're going on a cruise in May but ours is a smaller ship. I'd love to know what you thought about such a large ship with so many people?

  15. Image for Jodena Beale Jodena Beale

    It all seems so wonderful. Just looking at your pictures made me smile and wish I could go. But that won't happen.

  16. Image for Rizae Rizae

    I'm glad you had such a wonderful time. One day you will have to try a Viking Cruise. Smaller, very personal and a very different style than a big ship! Big Hugs,

  17. Image for Caron Webb Caron Webb

    I loved my cruise last year with my sisters! There is a great documentary on Prime called "The Secret Life of the Cruise" that you must watch if you want to see what goes on behind the scenes to make a cruise happen. It was awesome!

  18. Image for Michelle Michelle

    Thank you for all the great tips! I will be going on my first cruise in September, and will definitely be referring back to your advice!

  19. Image for Penny Penny

    Thank You for the collapsible water bottle tip. I'm going to the beach in Mexico and we usually bring insulated water bottles to keep our drinks cold at the beach. I'm going to try this instead to take up less room and weight in my bag.

  20. Image for Lyn Lyn

    I took my children on a cruise the year following the death of their dad. His death was so unexpected and cataclysmic for us all. This trip was one of my best decisions ever. All three kids were teens. We had the absolute best time. To go from sadness to laugh out loud fun lightened my heart. Adventures like climbing a waterfall, Swimming/snorkeling in a cove while I was on unneeded shark watch (oh, mom???) and seeing the sights. The one Item I would bring -- plastic food bags. We would take our ship meal On our adventures with us to save money. A truly unforgettable trip for us all even though over 25 years later.

  21. Image for Lee Stearns Lee Stearns

    Just back from our 31st cruise! Yep! That’s right! Such a “ great bang for the bucks”! Food/fun/service/ everything all under one roof! A BIGGG roof! 10 days on Holland America to the southern Caribbean! We really go now for the cruise experience, not always the ports since we’ve been to most more than once! I have lots of tips- pack light/mix and match etc. but a hanging shoe bag is a MUST! Sunglasses/sunscreen/brush/lipstick/makeup/ lanyards/Tylenol and bandaids… anything! Use your magnetic hooks on the wall and hang the shoe bag grommets on them! “ Game changer” as someone would say!😁😁. We always get a balcony! And sleep with the curtains open! We eat there/read/nap/yoga there… Also left off some lists… night lights! Yikes it’s dark in there! I got 2 cute flat square ones in a pack at Walmart, plugged one in on the desk, the other in the bathroom! I keep ALL my cruise stuff in a bin in my storage closet so it’s ready for the next trip! Love everyone’s ideas!

  22. Image for LeAnne LeAnne

    Thank you! These are great tips for any kind of travel. I'm definitely getting that collapsible water bottle and the Tide packets for our Scotland trip. PS Y'all are so cute!

  23. Image for Juliet Juliet

    Magnetic walls? What?! Looks like I need to repeat a grade. Great info, KA. Can’t wait for ‘what you packed’ installment. xo

  24. Image for Paula Holloway Paula Holloway

    Great article, KariAnne! So many helpful tips. I've been helping a friend try to figure out her packing strategy for an upcoming cruise, so I'm looking forward to that next installment. ;-) Hugs, Paula www.dimplesonmywhat.com

  25. Image for Heather Taylor Heather Taylor

    Thank you so much for this article. My husband and I are planning to do a cruise for his 60th birthday, we will definitely be getting the balcony cabin now! My Amazon list has just grown. So looking forward to your packing post.

  26. Image for Holly Holly

    Hey! Great tips for crusing! I’m going on my fourth cruise with my dad in December of 2024. Always great to have a refresher course.

  27. Image for Leslie Watkins Leslie Watkins

    Great tips! I took a cruise with my sisters on Royal Caribbean in September. So much laughter and memories made! Highly recommend a sibling trip. I got the patch behind my ear and had no seasickness. Loved a behind the scenes tour of the kitchen followed by the most amazing brunch!

  28. Image for Vicky Vicky

    Glad you had a great time. We’ve been on 3 “ocean” cruises (Alaska, Hawaiian Islands, and part of the Mediterranean) and 3 river cruises (Amsterdam to Budapest via Viking, Lyon to Avignon via Viking, and the Three Gorges Yangtze River cruise in China). I’ve decided I prefer the river cruises. I like the smaller boats, and I like that they generally dock in town rather than at some big industrial port. We are light packers. We’ve been on month long trips to other continents with just a 20 liter backpack (about the size of a book bag). My tips: pack a capsule wardrobe where everything matches everything else and dress in layers for maximum flexibility with little space. If you wash your clothes in the sink, use the shampoo that’s provided. Bring a travel laundry line. Mine is just two strands on heavy elastic cord with hooks on the ends. No clothespins necessary. Bring a flat rubber stopper for the drain. A collapsible water bottle is essential. Bring ziplock bags for snacks, wet clothes, etc. Don’t bring too many pairs of shoes. Nobody else really cares what is on your feet. I bring two at most and a pair of flip flops. Get a good haircut before you go so you don’t need hair appliances. Decant toiletries into small containers. Most of my toiletries and make up are now “not liquid.” It makes going through security checks a piece of cake, and water takes up a lot of space. Don’t spend all your time looking at your electronic devices, but do bring a pair of earbuds with wires for tours, etc. Dine with strangers and have fun!

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