Here's what you should know before taking your first cruise.

5 things I learned on my first cruise

This fall I took my first cruise. I went to the Bahamas with my family and even though we didn’t do much except hang out at the bar and eat food, still it was one of the best vacations I ever had.

But if I had to do it again, I’ve learned a few things from my own experience and from a survey I saw by Cruise Critic, which claims to be the world’s largest cruise reviews site.

For instance: I learned that while all the meals are included, for breakfast and lunch it was the same thing day in and day out — fruit, eggs and cereal, then burgers, chicken tenders and french fries.

Dinners were awesome though — they served everything from chateaubriand steak to lobster tail to lamb. And during dessert, the waiters entertained every night without fail, with silly dances. And if you’re lucky you get picked to join in the performance.

I wasn’t lucky.

Anyhow, if you want to take a cruise next year, Cruise Critic says a number of cool things are on the horizon…

More river cruises

River will become even more popular next year, and may be a great option if you don’t want to fly to a major cruise port like Miami. So, if you want to go on a voyage down the iconic Mississippi and Ohio Rivers from New Orleans to Minneapolis or Cincinnati, you can aboard the Queen of the Mississippi. You can tour the glaciers in Alaska too: Fantasy Cruises is the number one choice for Southeast Alaska small ship cruises.

Smoke-free cruisin’

Smoking is allowed on many of these floating hotels. But Cruise Critic says most of the people it surveyed want smoking banned on all cruise lines. A whopping 74 percent feel smoking should be banned at the very least on balconies and in cabins. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Cunard, P&O, Disney Cruise Line, and Seabourn all announced that they would be banning some, if not all, smoking on balconies by 2014, and MSC announced new smoking bans on US-based MSC Divina.

Short cruises

This is a great option for experienced cruisers, but it’s also the best way for newbies to try out the cruise experience without spending a lot of time and money. Try a one-night cruise to nowhere or a 2-3 day cruise. A “cruise to nowhere” is one that spends its entire time at sea and doesn’t make any ports of call. Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Disney and MSC Cruises are great options.

And speaking of new cruisers, here’s what I learned on my first time…

1. Try not to do it all, because you can’t

Relax. If you miss an activity, don’t sweat it. There are all sorts of activities throughout the day. Check the schedule and highlight the activities you really want to do or attend. There’s no way you can do all the activities on board, so prioritize. And remember there’s nothing wrong with lounging around all day — after all it’s a vacation.

2. Avoid overeating

Nothing is as much fun when you are too stuffed. So pace your meals. Avoid paying for food, especially the specialty dining. The main dining rooms usually have a variety of delicious options that you’ve already paid for. While you may not be driving after heavy drinking, you don’t want to be out by noon sleeping it off most of the day. Stay hydrated.

3. Don’t BYOB

Don’t try to sneak in alcoholic beverages. It will get confiscated, although it’s returned at the end of your trip.

4. Do your homework before you start your cruise

Book early or independently. You may enjoy some discounts. But whatever you do, match your personal preference to a cruise line that best fits your personality and offers what you are looking for.  Research the ports and find out what excursions really are best and what you want to do in each port. If you are on a budget, there are fun things to do on your own way cheaper than what the cruise lines offer.

5. Don’t overpack

Pack comfortable shoes and loose clothing, especially if you plan on overindulging. Be sure to pack something nice for dinner. Most cruises do not allow jeans and T-shirts in their dining rooms.

6. Don’t forget to pack your manners

Being on a cruise is no excuse to be rude and obnoxious, but unfortunately a lot of people are. Be nice and courteous to fellow cruisers and crew members.

Bon voyage!

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