There’s a reason many first-time travelers become lifelong cruisers — cruise vacations combine all the best parts of the land and sea for an unforgettable journey through different cultures and experiences. Between packing, embarkation day, shore excursions, bucket list tours and cultural considerations, planning your cruise can seem overwhelming — but it doesn’t have to be.
Keep reading to learn some top insider tips from veteran cruisers to make planning easier and enhance your stay.
Table of Contents
- Top Tips for the First-Time Cruiser
- Cruise Secrets Only Insiders Know About Embarkation Day
- Prepare for Shore Excursions
- Get the Most out of Your Windstar Cruise
- Start Planning Your Windstar Cruise Today
Top Tips for the First-Time Cruiser
With your first cruise quickly approaching, here’s what you need to know to ensure a smooth, stress-free journey.
What to Pack
Most seasoned cruisers will tell you that you only need about half as many clothes as you think you do. Instead of bringing along too many outfits, use the extra space to pack socks and underwear, since you’ll go through them the quickest. At Windstar Cruises, laundry is an amenity we include with all Star Collector voyages of 14 days or longer.
If you plan to enjoy the onboard pool, bring towel clips to keep your towel secured during high deck winds and invest in durable sandals with good tread to wear in the pool area to avoid slipping. Pack a foldable dry bag to stash wet clothes if you change before heading back to the stateroomor at the beach when at the port.
A few accessories can enhance your cabin stay.
- A hanging organizer: Bring an organizer to hang from a hook in the closet to keep your accessories, shoes, jewelry and other belongings organized and easy to grab in a hurry. Choose one made of soft plastic, so you can roll it and stash it in your suitcase.
- A power strip: If you’re bringing multiple items that require regular charging, consider packing a multi-outlet USB port or outlet converter for USB plug-ins. Avoid power strips with surge protection, as most cruise lines prohibit them and confiscate them upon check-in.
- A small fan: Bring a small, portable fan or white noise machine if you have trouble sleeping in new places or silent surroundings. Consider a battery-powered model, so you can move it around the cabin as needed.
- Wine or champagne: Celebrating a special event? Windstar allows two bottles of wine or champagne per cabin for a weeklong cruise and three bottles for a cruise eight days or longer.
If this is your first time on aship, keep some motion sickness medicine on hand in case it takes you some time to adjust to the wave movements. A refillable water bottle will help you stay hydrated during excursions, onboard events and at night.
Before You Go
The more tasks you check off your to-do list before you arrive on embarkation day, the easier it will be. Take care of these tasks before leaving on your cruise vacation.
- Reserve your spot early: Make a list of all onboard activities and events you want to participate in, as well as shows or tours you plan to take at port stops. Whenever possible, reserve tickets online to limit time spent in line on your cruise.
- Contact phone and credit card companies: Give your credit card company a call and let them know you’ll be traveling. That way, they won’t freeze your account for suspected suspicious activity. Check with your cellphone carrier about your international policy and service limitations, if necessary.
- Consider travel insurance: Though not required, cruise insurance can help protect your investment in the event of an emergency, accident, cancellation, illness or interruption.
- Look for add-ons: If you’re cruising to celebrate a milestone event, like a proposal, anniversary or birthday, contact the Windstar Cruises Vacation Planning department before arrival. Add-ons can make your stay extra-special, like cabin décor, champagne with room service or private dining options. The onboard hotel manager can help with any impromptu celebrations while on the water. Ask about our All-Package, an all-inclusive option with Wi-Fi, laundry, beverages and gratuities, all in a single package for optimal value.
Onboard Comfort and Entertainment
Enjoy your time aboard with these insider tips.
- Don’t skip the ship tour: Take advantage of ship tours, so you can get to know where you’ll be living for the next week or two and learn your way around without getting lost. Knowing the fastest route to amenities and events may also help you avoid some lines.
- Get your picture taken: Ask fellow passengers or crew members to take photos of you and your travel partner, so you can commemorate the vacation.
- Tell the crew about food allergies: Let the staff know if you have any food allergies or dietary restrictions upon booking, so the culinary team can prepare options for you. Onboard, the dining crew is happy to guide you through which options are safe for you to eat. They can also recommend alternative dishes based on your dietary preferences, whether you are vegetarian, vegan, sugar-free, gluten-free, diabetic, low-carbohydrate, lactose intolerant or have any other restrictions.
- Take a picture of the planner: Snap a shot of the ship’s daily planner, newsletter or special events list, so you can refer back to the photo throughout the day.
Practicing Cultural Sensitivity While Traveling
If you’re exploring a port of call in an international location, research what to expect and learn appropriate cultural behavior. Every country and region has different standards and expectations for things like:
- Eye contact
- Physical touch
- Hand gestures
- Refusing food
Be especially careful at sacred or religious events and locations, like historic landmarks, memorial sites and monuments, and confirm the dress code before arriving. Take the time to learn several essential phrases in the locallanguage to make navigation easier and as an act of respect for locals.
Cruise Secrets Only Insiders Know About Embarkation Day
If possible, plan to arrive at your departure destination the day before embarkation day, just in case you encounter any delays or mishaps along the way. Embarkation day is the day you board the ship and begin your cruise. It’s a busy and exciting time, so it’s crucial to have a plan when you board the ship. During embarkation, take care of any last-minute registration tasks and set up a cashless, onboard spending account linked to your credit card.
Sailaway is the moment before a cruise departs,when the ship plays Venglis’ 1492 as the sails go up and a new adventure begins. Though it’s easy to get swept up in the rest of the boarding process, this is a perfect time to pause and let yourself feel excited for all you’re about to experience.
Since you might not get immediate access to your luggage or cabin, bring a small carry-on or tote bag with essential items like:
- A book or e-reader
- Prescription medications
- A swimsuit
- Lip balm
- Sanitary products
- Your cellphone
- A change of clothes
Prepare for Shore Excursions
Shore excursions are the highlight of many cruises because you get to learn about new cultures, enjoy local cuisine and participate in once-in-a-lifetime activities before reboarding your cruise ship. Windstar Cruises creates shore excursions that focus on giving visitors an authentic look at local life, catered to meet your passions or interests. You’ll also have the chance to design custom shore excursions, if you prefer, or participate in a private tour.
Your shore excursions’ duration will vary, depending on the location and your cruise package, so keep an eye on departure time and plan carefully to minimize waiting in lines and maximize how many activities you can enjoy before moving on.
These tips will help you enjoy your shore excursions even more.
- Variety is the spice of life: If you’re not sure where to start, try incorporating a balance of active adventures — like hiking trails, scuba diving or dancing — with more passive undertakings, like sightseeing, walking tours and museums.
- Be flexible with plans: Have a few backup plans for your shore excursions, or fill your itinerary with rain-or-shine activities. Travel with a disposable rain poncho, so you’re ready for anything.
- Reserve your car before you go: If you plan to rent a car at a port of call, do so before you arrive, so you can secure one before they run out and don’t have to waste time registering when you arrive.
- Walk when you can: While taxis and car rentals are a good option for navigating a large city or traveling long distances, try to walk when and where you can to keep costs low and see as much of your port of call as possible. Wear comfortable walking shoes to prevent fatigue and early burnout.
- Research your port locale: Research your port of call before you arrive. What is the culture there? What historical events took place that might be worth exploring? What should you expect in terms of seasonal temperatures, traffic conditions or cultural sensitivities? What are the can’t-miss attractions or restaurants? Don’t be afraid to explore beyond popular tourist attractions and dig deep into the local scene.
- Take small bills and tip often: Bring small bills or currency to tip bartenders, waitstaff, taxi drivers and tour guides as you travel. In some places, like Switzerland, Denmark and most Asian cities, tipping is unnecessary or even impolite, depending on the context. Be sure to research tipping customs for restaurants and bars before heading out.
Need help planning the perfect shore excursion? We design each Windstar Tour Cruise to include popular bucket list attractions, like popular points of interest, one-of-a-kind activities and immersive opportunities at each port of call. We’ll take care of all the logistics, including securing tickets and accommodations, so you can sit back and take it all in without worrying about the details.
Get the Most out of Your Windstar Cruise
Every cruise ship is different. Get to know your cruise line by reading reviews from other travelers who’ve gone to the same places or sailed on the same ship. Small cruise ships offer a more intimate, refined sailing experience. Compared to larger, more corporate ships, you’ll enjoy more space, fewer crowds, shorter lines and more attentive service. Small ships can also fit in lesser-known ports that large ships can’t access.
At Windstar, we have six small cruise ships.
- Wind Surf: Sails with no more than 342 guests across 171 staterooms.
- Wind Star: Sails with no more than 148 guests across 74 staterooms.
- Wind Spirit: Sails with no more than 148 guests across 74 staterooms.
- Star Pride: Sails with no more than 312 guests across 156 staterooms.
- Star Breeze: Sails with no more than 312 guests across 156 suites.
- Star Legend: Sails with no more than 312 guests across 156 suites.
All ship suites and staterooms include fine linens and thoughtfully designed bathrooms with easy access to nearby activities, amenities and culinary excellence.
Check your cabin amenities before creating your packing list. Some items, like cozy waffle-weave robes, slippers and a hairdryer, are already provided for you. Use the extra space in your luggage to pack a favorite book, extra swimsuit or store souvenirs.
As you browse cruise options, don’t forget to look at current specials that could help you save money or make reservations easier, like bundle options with airfare and hotel stays, flash sales on tickets or special event packages. Contact your travel advisor or vacation planner to get assistance or recommendations for hand-picked hotel accommodations and transportation to the ship terminal on embarkation day.
Take Advantage of Onboard Activities
Onboard activities are always optional, and Windstar offers a variety to appeal to every type of traveler, including:
- A Watersports Platform with complimentary kayaks, paddleboards, water trampolines and water skis.
- A community Lounge for drinks and socializing with fellow travelers.
- The Library, stocked with plenty of educational and entertaining reads.
- The World Spa by Windstar and Fitness Center for ultimate self-indulgence and self-care.
- A relaxing onboard pool and hot tub.
- The Open Bridge, where you examine navigation charts and get to know your Captain and crew.
- Live entertainment, including music and our beloved talent show.
Consider enjoying a few new things, especially when dining. Onboard chefs craft meals inspired by regional fare and locally sourced foods, so you can start immersing yourself in your destination’s culture before you dock for shore excursions. You’re also sure to love our Signature Onboard Barbecue experience, where you’ll enjoy international barbecue cuisine expertly prepared and served with a side of entertainment.
Become Part of the Windstar Yacht Club
If you can’t get enough of cruise ship life, you will automatically become a member of the Windstar Yacht Club after your first sailing, granting access to exclusive custom keycards, discounts and rewards. A cruise loyalty program helps you build rapport with your favorite cruise line while earning rewards for each trip.
The Yacht Club lets you earn points for each night of qualifying stays and get members-only perks, like:
- Discounts on merchandise and select amenities, like Wi-Fi and laundry.
- Discounts on special add-ons, like beverage packages and shore excursions.
- Access to members-only sale events.
- Access to an exclusive cocktail party with cruise officers and fellow members.
- Early notification to all new deployment destinations and sale events.
Guests are also eligible for a 5% Welcome Home discount when booking another Windstar Cruise within 60 days of your first disembark date.
Start Planning Your Windstar Cruise Today
Windstar Cruises is here to help you see the world with a unique and immersive approach to every port destination. Our ships offer a more intimate approach to cruising, with comfortable accommodations, refined amenities and a welcoming ambiance that makes it easier than ever to unwind and connect with fellow travelers.