Guide for first time cruisers

Top tips for those setting sail for the first time.

What to expect on your first cruise

First time cruiser? CHOICE will help you figure out the basics. In this guide you'll find information about:

How much does a cruise cost?

As with any holiday, the cost of a cruise varies widely. There are several costs to take note of to figure out the true price of a cruise. You can read about how to save money in our guide to cruising on a budget.

  • Base/cruise fare: This is the fixed, per-night cost of your cruise and will vary widely depending on the size and type of ship and the length of the cruise. The base fare will include accommodation, most meals and some activities and entertainment. While companies may advertise their cruise as "all-inclusive", there are often extras such as special restaurants or cafes, alcoholic and soft drinks, excursions, spa treatments and tips that won't be included in the base fare.
  • Transportation: Unless you get on and off your cruise at a port near your home, you'll likely have to pay transport costs to get to and from the embarkation and debarkation ports. This may include airfares, taxis or shuttles to and from airports or rental car and parking fees, and potentially a night or more at a hotel if you're arriving early or staying longer.
  • Tips: Depending on the type of cruise, you may have to pay extra for gratuities. Some cruise lines charge a daily per-person fee that you can pre-pay online, while others will charge a tip automatically for bar bills, spa services and other extras.
  • Excursions and activities: Most ships will charge for optional guided excursions at your ports of call (although bear in mind you can book a tour separately, or take a stroll without a guide).
  • Specialty dining: While meals in a ship's main restaurant or dining room and some room service are generally included in your base fare, many liners also have extra-fee restaurants, or dishes in their regular restaurants that cost extra.
  • Alcohol and other drinks: On most cruises, alcoholic drinks and certain soft drinks aren't included in the base fare.
  • Onboard activities, spas and salons: Massages, fitness classes, wine-tasting and other premium activities will likely cost extra.
  • Internet: You'll likely have to pay (through the nose) to access internet while you're on your cruise.

Seasickness and safety

  • Seasickness: Generally, the bigger the ship, the less likely you are to suffer from seasickness or motion sickness. New cruise ships tend to be equipped with stabilisers, which reduce a ship's side-to-side motion. If you think you'll have issues, see your doctor for medication.
  • Onboard medical care: Most ships have an onboard doctor who will stock a range of commonly prescribed medications, but seeing one can be expensive. Bring your own medication onboard and take a copy of your prescriptions in case you need a refill.
  • Gastro and flu outbreaks: While there have been several high-profile cases of cruise ships affected by gastro outbreaks, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acute gastrointestinal illness on cruise ships is relatively rare. To ensure you stay safe, practise good hygiene such as washing your hands before touching food and after using the bathroom. If you get sick while onboard, you'll likely be quarantined in your room until you're well again.

For more on staying safe onboard visit our Cruise ship holiday guide.


Cruise ships have a range of activities you can do onboard and off, some of which are included in the base cost and others that require additional payment. These include water activities, lectures, sports, shopping, spas, crafts, wine-tasting, gambling, adventure sports, shows, musicals and movie nights. If you're cruising on a child-friendly vessel, they may have access to a kids' area and special activities such as discos, water slides, arcades and drop-off 'camps', where counsellors will play organised games and lead arts and crafts activities and classes.

Most ships will let you know of upcoming activities via a daily newsletter delivered every evening or via an app.


A ship's main restaurants and buffets and some room service meals will be included in the base daily fare you pay. Some ships offer specialty restaurants, or fancy meals such as whole lobsters, celebrity-chef-designed menus or degustations in the standard restaurants for an extra fee. If you're concerned about how all those buffets will affect your waistline, some cruises offer meals and dining options for the calorie-conscious.

Related stories: 

What to pack for your cruise

How to pick your cruise

Travel insurance for cruises