ULTIMATE FIRST-TIME CRUISE GUIDE WITH TIPS & KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Going on a cruise is most definitely a whole new style of travel for many who love their time on land discovering specific destinations and the surroundings authentically to achieve cultural immersion. However, selecting and booking the right cruise that meets personal travel requirements is the key, yes cruises can also be tailored to match land preferences, especially as there is at least around 37 cruise line companies out there. This article is an informative first-time cruise guide which aims to showcase this style of travel on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas ship, the amenities and activities aboard as well as port stops and tips intended to help with smoother planning and preparation. This first-time cruise guide has been produced to help with demystifying cruise travel, based on questions we had when embarking on planning our cruise.
Disclosure: This 7 night Western Mediterranean cruise aboard Symphony of the Sea’s is sponsored in collaboration with Cruise Circle and Royal Caribbean. All views and opinions on this First-time cruise guide, are our own and along with the photography, remain a copyright of Be-lavie. Please do not reproduce any part of this first-time cruise guide article without prior consent. This article may contain affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. For further information, refer to our Disclosure Policy
Pin & Save
- First-Time Cruise Guide: What’s the Best Way To Book
- Royal Caribbean and Symphony of the Seas: Overview
- First-time Cruise Guide: Symphony of the Seas Destination Ports
- First Time-Cruise Guide: Choosing Your Stateroom
- What the Cruise Package Include and Should I Purchase the Add-ons?
- Things to Prepare Prior to the Cruise
- What Happens the Day You Board?
- Do You Need To Use Cash On Board?
- Electronic Devices & Internet Once On-board
- Things To Do On Your Cruise
- Take Advantage of the Restaurants, Cafes and Bars
- Food & Beverage Facts: Did You Know?
- Enjoy The On-Board Activities
- The Solarium (Adults Only)
- Kids and Teen Activities
- Vitality at Sea Spa
- Fitness Centre
- Shore Excursions
- Gratuities (Tips)
- First-Time Cruise Guide: Tips and Recommendations
- Should I Book My Cruise Based On Destinations or Activities and Things To Do On Board?
- Would The Ship Leave Without You If You Don’t Get Back In Time?
- Should I Take My Passport With Me At Each Port?
- What If I’m Celebrating A Special Occasion During My Cruise?
- Can I Get Sun Burnt On A Cruise Ship?
- Does it take a long time to get off the ship?
- Does It Feel Really Rough On The Ship If You Suffer From Sea Sickness?
- Do You Get To Meet The Captain On The Cruise?
- What Happens When The Ship Sails Away On The First Day?
- Does The ship Stick To A Strict Port Itinerary?
- First-Time Cruise Guide: Things That May Surprise You About A Cruise Ship
- First-Time Cruise Guide: The Misconceptions
- First-Time Cruise Guide: Would We Book a Cruise Again?
- First-Time Cruise Guide & Symphony of the Seas: Round-up
- First-Time Cruise Guide: Related Articles
- Check Out this Discount Code Before Booking…
- First-Time Cruise Guide: Pin & Save
First-Time Cruise Guide: What’s the Best Way To Book
When it comes to booking a first-time cruise, a cruise specialist agent is an invaluable option over opting to do this independently for many reasons. Their specialist knowledge and expertise and their ability to match a cruise to your land travel preferences is key. A cruise specialist can also demystify much of the cruise terminology you may come across and be unfamiliar with. Yep cruising is a whole new game when it comes to travel. Read more about the cruise booking process with Cruise Circle. How best to book a first time cruise with a specialist agent.
Royal Caribbean and Symphony of the Seas: Overview
Boarding Royal Caribbean’s second largest ship, The Symphony of the Seas is quite the experience whether you are a dab hand at cruising or first-time cruise novice. Most of the basic information should be available on your cruise line companies website and give you an overview of the vessel.
Here are some fast facts about Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas
- Maiden Voyage – 7th April 2018
- Total guest occupancy 6,680 (5.518 double occupancy)
- 2.759 state rooms
- 2,200 international crew
- 228.081 gross register tonnage
- 215.5 feet wide
- 1,188 feet long
- Cruising speed of 22 knots
- 16 guest decks, 18 decks in total
- Seven neighbourhoods on board to hang out in
- Nine complimentary dining facilities plus 11 speciality outlets
- 24 guest elevators
- 46 wheelchair accessible staterooms
Symphony of the Seas is a family-friendly ship which has many great activities targeted at children and teenagers, with a youth zone. Adults wanting some time away can head to the adults-only Solarium complete with sun loungers, jacuzzis and the Solarium dining area, which is all located at the front of the ship with 180 degree ocean views. Regardless of age, this Oasis class ship literally has something for everyone onboard.
First-time Cruise Guide: Symphony of the Seas Destination Ports
This particular cruise Itinerary is seven nights sailing around the eastern mediterranean and included a fly-in cruise with Cruise Circle from the UK to Barcelona, which was the port of embarkation and disembarkation.
The Seven Day itinerary comprises of:
** Times may vary**
- Day 1 – Barcelona, Spain (departs at 18:00)
- Day 2 – Palma de Mallorca, Spain (from 08:00-16:00)
- Day 3 – Marseille, Provence, France (from 09:00-18:00)
- Day 4 – La Spezia, (close to Florence/Pisa/Cinque Terre) Italy (from 08:30-20:30)
- Day 5 – Civitavecchia (close to Rome), Italy (from 07:00-19:00)
- Day 6 – Naples (close to Capri, Amalfi Coast), Italy (from 07:00-19:00)
- Day 7 – Cruising (day at sea)
- Day 8 – Barcelona, Spain (arrives 06:00)
First Time-Cruise Guide: Choosing Your Stateroom
A cabin is typically referred to as a stateroom on a cruise and on Symphony of the Seas there’s a great range of staterooms to choose from, to suit all budgets. Here’s a little snapshot of what to expect aboard this particular vessel: In this first-time cruise guide, for completeness, we have included all staterooms (cabins) types available on Symphony of the Seas.
- The interior cabin – 149 square feet with everything you need but no window
- The interior cabin with virtual balcony – 179 square feet with Hi-def TVs that mimic balcony views, using real-time feed of the ship’s outdoor cameras.
- The spacious interior cabins – 172 square feet, more space with no window
- Promenade view interior cabin – 194 square feet, a small window with a cushioned seat of the Royal Promenade
- The ocean-view cabin with large balcony – 182 square feet. Ocean views and an 80-square-foot balcony with two chairs, foot rests and a small round table.
- The boardwalk view balcony cabin – 182 square feet, A 52-square-foot balcony with Boardwalk views.
- The Junior Suite – 287 square feet. The bathroom includes a bath tub, a sitting area with sofa bed and an 80-square-foot balcony.
- The one-bedroom grand suite – 371 square feet, a bathroom with a bath tub and two sinks, a living room with sofa bed and a 105-square-foot balcony with seating and dining areas.
- The two-bedroom grand suite – 580 square feet. Two rooms with two twin beds that convert to a Royal King, and two additional Pullman beds; a living area with a double sofa bed; two bathrooms, including a master bath with a tub; and a 238-square-foot balcony.
- The owner suite – 556 square feet. Two twin beds that convert to a Royal King; a bathroom with a tub and two sinks; oversized closets; a living area with table and sofa, and a marble entryway; and a 243-square-foot balcony with a table and chairs
- The Aqua theatre Suite – 739 square feet. A 610-square-foot balcony with views of the Aqua Theatre; a master bedroom with a king-sized bed and a master bath with a tub; a second bedroom with two twin beds that convert to a Royal King, and two additional Pullman beds; a living room with double sofa bed and entertainment centre; and a dining room.
- The star loft suite – 722 square feet. A master bedroom with a king-sized bed and bathroom on the second level; a main level with a dining area, dry bar and living room with double sofa bed; a 410-square-foot balcony with seating and dining areas, and panoranic ocean views.
First-Time Cruise Guide: Luxury End Staterooms
- The villa suite – 1,142 square feet, Four-bedroom suite that sleeps up to 14 people and includes two master bedrooms, each with its own master bathroom with tub; two additional bedrooms with two twin beds that convert to a Royal King, and two additional Pullman beds; a dining room with a dry bar; a living room with double sofa bed; a guest bathroom with a shower; a 476-square-foot balcony with a whirlpool, dining area and a bar.
- The Royal loft suite – 1744 square feet. Two-level suite that sleeps up to six people; a 843-square-foot balcony with a whirlpool and a dining area; a master bedroom with king-sized bed and a master bathroom with a tub, shower and two sinks; a second bedroom with a closet and two twin beds; a dining area with a dry bar; a living room with sofa bed; and a guest bathroom with a shower.
- The ultimate family suite – 1,134 square feet. A one-of-a-kind, two-story playground for families with a private 3D cinema, air hockey table, a slide for the kids-only bedroom to the living room, and a floor-to-ceiling LEGO wall; a 212-square-foot wrap around balcony with a whirlpool, climbing wall and kid-friendly pool table; a tiny Coca-Cola fridge and Orville Redenbacher popcorn-maker in the kitchen; and two “hidden” nooks in the cabin’s staircase
We stayed in a boardwalk view balcony cabin, which was super spacious and had views out to central Park from the balcony. The stateroom comprised of a king bed with two wardrobes with lots of hanging space, a TV, desk, chair, drawers, a safe, flat screen TV and sofa. It was extremely spacious with the bathroom comprising of shower, WC, washbasin. Amenities included in-house soap as well as well as a shower gel dispenser plus plenty of room to store toiletries and personal products.
What Kind of Stateroom Should You Opt For?
If you plan not to spend a lot of time in your stateroom and are literally just going to sleep, freshen up and get ready an indoor cabin would be absolutely fine and very budget-friendly.
However, it’s not too much more to upgrade to an ocean-view stateroom and it’s definitely worth exploring if you’d like to experience the sunset and sunrise on your own balcony with ocean views. As room service is complimentary on Royal Caribbean if you order a continental breakfast, you can even enjoy breakfast here. Our preference would be a ocean view room for any future cruises for these very reasons.
What the Cruise Package Include and Should I Purchase the Add-ons?
In this first-time cruise guide, some great tips to consider, what you may want to pre-book before your trip as some things come at a slightly reduced cost. You can of course make these purchases aboard the ship however it’s good to bare in mind as they will cost a lot more.
Here’s what you should consider:
- Should I get an internet package? – On the symphony of the seas, there are two options of Voom the basic package (such as being able to send and receive emails, browse on the web, use messenger apps); the surf and stream option which gives complete access everything internet related) including video and music streaming.
- Should I opt for a Drinks Package? – these vary among cruises but it can be pretty cost effective if you like your cocktails and alcoholic beverages. It’s possible to get Deluxe packages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, including premium drink refills of soft drinks too); refreshment packages which includes all non-alcoholic beverages – hot and cold); Classic soft drinks packages (coca-cola and others plus a cup) and a water package (water is delivered to your stateroom).
- Which shore excursions shall I book? – If you’re not one for independent travel and would like to go as part of a group, organised by the tour group company then, ensure you look at each port, do your research and select the excursion of your choice. You’ll be picked up and guaranteed to be dropped off well before the ship sets sail.
Be-lavie Tip: There is lots of entertainment aboard the ship including musical theatre, comedy shows, courses, seminars etc so it’s good to check these out beforehand so that you can book once you are on board when they release slots.
Things to Prepare Prior to the Cruise
Here are a few considerations which will help with planning and preparation pre-cruise.
Download the Cruise-line App on Your Phone
Cruise liners like Royal Caribbean have a paperless approach so once you book your cruise, you should download the app, which essentially will enable you to check in for the cruise and will also serve as your daily calendar of events, have a record of your account spending on board and will be the place you can book your dining, entertainment and activities. You will also find your daily port information (arrival and departure times) and anything that is going on abroad the ship as well as general information.
What to Pack
With the cruise itself, there will be no luggage restrictions, so you can technically pack as much as you’d like but be sensible of course! BUT do remember that if you are flying to get to your port city, like in this case, Barcelona, there will be a luggage restriction so bare that in mind.
The more luggage you have the more you have to lug around. Make sure you pack medicines and anything you’ll require straight away in your hand baggage as your stateroom may not be ready as soon as you board the ship and your actual luggage will be taken directly to your stateroom at designated timepoints.
There are items that you can’t take on a cruise….
- Alcohol on Royal Caribbean cruise’s is limited to one bottle per person
- 12 x 500ml bottles or cans per stateroom
- No hairdryers, kettles, irons can be taken on board.
You can take straightening irons but ensure they are for international use (Do an online search of the company your irons from to check if you’re not sure).
Be-lavie Tip: Look into crease release spray of those small creases, then hand in a steamy bathroom or try and opt for clothing that doesn’t crease.
Coffee Cups & Water Bottles
There are many water filling stations on the ship as well as coffee and tea dispensers that you can help yourself to when required, so don’t forget to pack a water bottle and/or reusable coffee cup.
Water bottles can’t be filled directly from the dispensers due to hygiene reasons, but via. cup, which is easy enough. There is also an ice dispenser next to the water so you can have your water as ice cold as you like!
Evenings On Board
Ensure you take a light jacket or shawl as it can get quite windy and cool up on top deck, even during the summer months.
It’s not recommended to travel without travel insurance. We opt for an annual policy, do note that you cannot go on. Cruise without having adequate cruise cover. For this reason, it’s good practice to check that your existing policy covers a cruise. SafetyWings Nomad Insurance is a competitive policy, get a quote below
Travel Adaptor and Multi Plug Outlets
All the sockets in Symphony of the Seas are American two pin Type A sockets, therefore if you are travelling on the ship from Europe then you’ll definitely need an adaptor or two, depending on the amount of devices you’ll need to charge, for example camera batteries, a tablet and mobile phones.
We usually pack three to four travel adaptors between us to charge a number of devices. Additionally we charge these throughout the night, when not in use so a multi-plug outlet can also be pretty useful just incase your stateroom doesn’t have enough plug sockets.
It’s worth checking beforehand if there is a dress code. The main dining areas on Symphony of the Seas, has a themed night depending on the day of the week. On our seven nights Western Mediterranean Cruise we had, two formal nights, a white outfit night, a Caribbean night as well as a couple of casual nights.
On formal night, it’s about going all out. You’ll see ladies in cocktail dresses, ball gowns, dressy jumpsuits, whereas the gents will go for a black tie Tux or a suit with no tie. The night is a dress to impress evening so go for it!
Casual nights do not mean turn up in your baseball caps and shorts. You’ll usually see men in slacks and polo shirts with deck shoes and ladies in more casual dresses and sandals. No jeans or frayed jeans or shorts.
Be-lavie Tip: Dress code information is stated in the Royal Caribbean app each day. Additionally, there will be photographers available on each themed night, on Deck five taking photography which you can later purchase at the photography store on Deck 6 of Symphony of the Seas so if you’d like some memories of your fancy nights a board, be sure to ask for a photo or two.
What Happens the Day You Board?
Prior to boarding the ship, you will undergo full security checks, just as you would at the airport together with your hand luggage and you’ll be issued with your personal sea pass. Your sea pass will have your name, account number, stateroom number, dates of travel as well as dining options on there, for example whether you have a fixed time in the dining hall or like us have anytime dining for dinner. Keep this card safe and take it with you everywhere! You will be asked for it A LOT!
Do You Need To Use Cash On Board?
The Sea Pass is like a ID card, something you’ll show when booking in dining, entertainment and activities and also will be used to get entry into your stateroom along. This card will also be used instead of cash and you can see your current account balance on the Royal Caribbean App or you can always head to Guest Services aboard the ship to clarify or get a record of this sort of information.
Be-lavie Tip: Each time you get on and off the boat, you will need to show your Sea Pass card and remember to take your passport with you just incase of emergencies.
Be-lavie Pro-tip: We would suggest to carry some Euros with you. We had around €100 and these came in useful when we needed to get the shuttle bus from the port into the centre of cities such as Marseille and Palma de Mallorca. You may be able to charge this to your stateroom account, but if not the cash will be useful. Alternatively you may prefer to have a Revolut Card for port stops. The Ship does have ATMS but you will be charged a fee to make withdrawals.
Electronic Devices & Internet Once On-board
If you have purchased the Voom internet packages, when you enter the ship, set your phone to airplane mode and follow the instructions to set up your device. It’s pretty easy, you just need to make a username and pin. Remember to switch off roaming on your phone.
Things To Do On Your Cruise
Now that all the prep work is done, it’s time to enjoy your first-time cruise and take advantage of what’s included as well as extras on the ship to elevate your experiences.
Take Advantage of the Restaurants, Cafes and Bars
When it comes to dining on the Symphony of the Ship, you will be spoilt for choice. Dining in the main dining room is confined to two sittings generally, around 18:15 or 20:00 to be approximate. You can book in for whichever is best and this can be fixed each day and you can look forward to having the same service team with you daily.
There is also ‘My Time’ dining which means you can have dinner anytime after 19:15 in the main dining room
Be-lavie Top Tip: Wherever you plan to have your evening meals, booking is recommended to get your preferred time. Also bear in mind that dinner can take around 90 minutes if you are booking a show for later.
Important Hygiene Information
You will be asked to wash and sanitise hands at the basin stations at the entrance of restaurants. A really good idea for personal hygiene.
Complimentary Dining (included in cruise package)
- Main Dining room – open for breakfast lunch and dinner, this multi-level, world-cuisine restaurant has great window seats with ocean views as well as a range of three gourmet courses. Attire is smart casual and themed on many of the days during the cruise
- El Loco Fresh – A casual Mexican restaurant serving delicious authentic dishes, burritos, tacos, fresh ingredients and desserts. Great for lunch and is most definitely one of the most popular choices on the cruise. Reservations not required.
- Sorrento’s – Open for lunch and dinner, the pizzas are available by the slice of a family size to share. Casual, fun atmosphere. Reservations not required.
- Boardwalk Doghouse – A casual walk-in near the carousel for a hot dog and fries.
- Windjammer Marketplace – A casual spot which is perfect for global cuisine served in a open space. This is one of the places you’ll get great sea views. They’re open for lunch, dinner and breakfast and food is served in a buffet-style set-up
- Park Cafe – Located in the central park neighbourhood, the cafe is perfect for a healthy salad or sandwich at any time of the day. Fresh and delicious.
- Cafe Promenade – Open for drinks and snacks and a great spot to drop by, post show, to grab a beverage before heading to bed. It’s open around the clock!
- The Solarium – Over 18’s only dining area, serve mainly beautiful fresh buffet style spread of courses and snacks. The Solarium is also a peaceful place for breakfast as well as lunch and dinner.
Ice-Cream – Lovers of Mr Whippy style ice-cream are in luck as there’s an attendant who will happily prepare your mini cone ice-cream in vanilla or chocolate all day long should you wish to partake!
Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas has some fantastic speciality dining spots to for a special night out. These also need reservations and are a great way to have a special night in more intimate surroundings if you wish or celebrate a special occasion.
There are packages available for a number of speciality dining venues, so do have a check if you fancy going to more than one.
- Hooked – for the seafood lovers.
- Sugar Beach – sweet lovers and dreamy creamy ice-creams and sundaes topped with all the sweet-tooth treats.
- Playmakers Sports Bar – arcade serving burgers, sundaes whilst watching your favourite teams.
- Wonderland – Imaginative cuisine based on the Alice in Wonderland theme. Think painting menus, magic elixir cocktails and creative dishes.
- 150 Central Park – A formal adults only fine dining restaurant serving seasonal cuisine.
- Izumi Japanese Cuisine – Teppanyaki and sushi fans, this is 100% your spot. You’ll feel like you’re watching the chefs on TV with their food performances..
- Johnny Rockets – A casual fun place serving burgers, hot dogs, onion rings, fries and shakes.
- Jamie’s Italian – Seasonal Tuscan-inspired ingredients and cuisine by UK-chef Jamie Oliver.
- Coastal Kitchen – Mediterranean cuisine fused with the Californian Coast – for Suite Guests only.
- Chops Grill – a classic American steakhouse serving good cuts of beef with accompaniments.
- Vitality Cafe – located in the wellbeing centre near the fitness centre and spa, Vitality cafe serves, freshly made juices, fruit salads, smoothies and healthy, vitamin boosting food and drinks.
- Room Service – If you don’t fancy leaving your room, food and drinks can be delivered to you. Refer to the in-room menus. The cost for room service, bar a continental breakfast, is $7.95 USD per room.
Here are a few of the on-board bars, we enjoyed for pre and post dinner drinks
- The Bionic Bar – Allow the two robotic bartenders to mix, shake and stir your drinks. Go for Bionic Signatures or Classic Cocktails from a menu or select your own concoctions, this is a fun and clever use of technology. Great for all the family as the Bionic Bar also makes mocktails and other juice drinks.
- Schooner Bar – The perfect place to end an evening with a lovely drink or cocktail with a live pianist or guitar combo.
- Trellis Bar – Located in Central Park, surrounded by park benches, live walls and plants, this is the perfect spot to enjoy a drink. and people watch whilst listening to the calming sounds of the garden.
- The Rising Tide Bar – a bar serving all your favourite drinks and cocktails as it ascends and descends in air from Central Park to the Royal Promenade.
The usual dietary requirements are catered for on board such as gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan diets. Speak to your server when on board who will be able to advise accordingly. The kitchen team are very accommodating and the chefs can often rustle alternatives up pretty fast.
Food & Beverage Facts: Did You Know?
- There are 20 chefs, 222 cooks, 102 sanitation and culinary cleaning crew.
- 15 bar managers/supervisors.188 bar tenders and bar servers.
- 25 food service areas plus a 24 hour crew Windjammer.
- 37 front. Bars and 26 back-of-house-support bars.
- 28 galleys that operate independently, some operate 24 hours.
- There are 108 catering areas, bars, galleys, pantries, food preparation rooms.
- The on board bakery makes 4,000 bread rolls in 1 hour, all breads and pastries are made in-house.
- Each of the restaurants operates independently of each other and have their own galleys and culinary service teams, that applies to each of the three decks of the main dining room.
- You can have as much ice-cream as you like, it’s included in the package and it’s served in a half-size wafer cone.
Enjoy The On-Board Activities
Symphony of the Seas and it’s family-friendly amenities means there’s lots of great activities to take part in throughout the day. To avoid disappointment, it’s best to check times and whether you ned to book a slot.
Activities include the Flow rider (a thrilling surf simulator), The Abyss (a slide that runs the height of the ship), water slides, shuffle board, basketball, zip lining, crazy golf, a carousel, a climbing wall, ice-skating, laser tag and so much more.
Be-lavie Tip: Some activity may require signing a form to ensure you understand what it involved. Additionally due to height restrictions on certain activities like the zip, children may not be able to partake.
When it comes to filling your evenings, there’s an array of incredible performances to choose from. Be sure to make reservations through the app as always. You can expect musicals such as Hairspray, Ice Shows (1977), water acrobatic performances, (Hiro), and many more. There are Jazz performances, Comedy, Magicians with their illusion tricks, demonstrations, quizzes, club-style events as well as a a casino which is open when the ship is sailing.
Be-lavie Tip: When you book entertainment, there is no seating reservation so arrive about 20 minutes before the show to grab seats which give you the best perspective of the stage.
The Solarium (Adults Only)
The Solarium is like an oasis for the adults and a child-free zone. Not only does it have the dining portion where you can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, there is a bar serving drinks all day. Take a seat in one of the cantilevered whirlpools in this tranquil, adults-only space with 3 decks of glass. It can get quite busy here on sea days but there is usually a sun lounger or seat free most of the time.
The Solarium bears great views out to the ocean and is perfect for lounging whilst dipping in and out of the whirlpools or popping out to feel the sea air on the glass bottom deck.
Kids and Teen Activities
If you’re travelling as a family and wondering what the kids will get up to, worry not, There are kids clubs with fab activities that can keep them entertained all day. If you have teens the Symphony of the Seas has a Youth neighbourhood, with a space for teens to hangout as well as specifically organised meet-ups so they don’t have to hang with the adults!
Vitality at Sea Spa
Symphony of the Seas has an incredible spa with a long list of treatments from pedicures to hot stone body massages and everything in-between including more specialised treatments administered by a qualified cosmetic doctor such as cryo-suction.
It’s a beautiful calm setting if you need some time to rest and relax for a couple of hours whilst having a much needed pamper. Group and couples treatments can also be arranged.
Be-lavie Tip: If you are planning to head to the spa on a sea day then book way in advance as most people will most probably have the same idea. All treatments must be booked in advance with some requiring completion of a health questionnaire to best tailor the treatment plan.
If you still love to stay active and fit during your time away from home, the fitness centre is a great option with everything you have in a regular gym from treadmills, weights to mat areas for toning work. A personalised program can be created with one of the gym team too.
Be-lavie Tip: The running track can be accessed via the fitness centre so you can run with sea views against the breeze of the ocean.
As mentioned previously, read up on all your shore days and ports. Things that you can do in the area and excursions that you can take independently or book in advance. You will have around eight hours on each port stop generally so its best to be prepared. If you’re just wandering the actual port towns then you can pretty much do this yourself but trips where you may need to head to a city like Florence or Pisa from La Spezia for example will take a little more co-ordination.
Research your ports thoroughly to gain further insight into whats available to do and in the surrounding area.
Using the excursion service provided by the cruise line will guarantee you return to the ship in plenty of time for peace of mind spending the extra may well be worth it.
We’d recommend the following excursions or port stops unless you would prefer to stay on the ship.
Be-lavie Tip: If you do stay on the ship on a shore day, you’ll notice that things will be pretty quiet which can work to your advantage for a leisurely breakfast, access to more activities and a high choice of sunbeams on deck as well as in the adults only Solarium space.
This is the port of embarkation as well as disembarkation and you can organise an independent excursion before or after your cruise. You can always add on a couple of nights either side of your cruise to discover this city which has a huge focus of Gaudi’s architectural marvels such as Sagradia Familia, Parc Guell and Casa Batllo to mention a few.
Palma de Mallorca, Spain
It’s easy to take the Shuttle Bus provided to the city and mooch around. There are organised tours if you’d wish to visit surrounding areas but there is plenty to do and see in Mallorca independently
Marseille, Provence, France
Take the shuttle bus into the centre of the city and spend the day on foot walking along the Vieux port and cafe line streets of Marseille.
La Spezia, Italy
You’ll be dropped off at the port close to the city centre where you can choose to wander the area or take an excursion to Florence or Pisa. This can be done independent if you are familiar with the trains or organised through the cruise line.
La Spezia is also a great location to catch a train to the five villages of Cinque Terre where you can travel between the five of them using the local small trains.
This is the closest port to Rome and many passengers will take an organised bus tour into the capital city which will cover all the main sites. Of course this can be done independently to.
Be-lavie Tip: Civitavecchia is a smallish port town with not so much to do but has a lovely promenade and some great cafes to people watch. It’s definitely worth getting off the ship to have a look around.
A must-visit in our opinion. This is the home of Pizza so make sure you grab a slice or two on your day in the city. If you don’t fancy staying in Naples, it’s possible to get a boat to Capri, the Amalfi Coast or even get a train to visit Pompeii. All are great options but exploring Naples is equally rewarding. The views of Mount Vesuvius from the promenade are particularly stunning.
On Royal Caribbean there is the option to prepay gratuities which can make things a little easier and is shared between all staff. If you are dining and drinking at speciality restaurants and bars, you can add a tip to the balance which you’ll be presented with for your specific order.
Royal Caribbean charges gratuities of $16 per day per person. This amount is split between the stateroom attendant, dining room and other hotel services.
Some people may tip their stateroom attendant on the last morning of their cruise via the envelope they leave in the room.
Royal Caribbean as with many other cruise lines are aware and mindful of their impact on the ocean and the surrounding environment.
They have published a whole host of fact sheets on their efforts and pledges to the environment. At each port an environmentalist will check off and observe logs which have a number of criteria the ship has to fulfil with regards to preservation of the environment including disposal of waste. The Port environmentalist must be satisfied with the efforts the cruise line has made as per regulations
Access Royal Caribbean’s Seastainability Information
This first-time cruise guide does not cover the area of the sustainable aspects of cruising as we intend to be addressing the environmental impact and the cruise line pledges onboard the Symphony of the Seas in an upcoming article which will talk also about the cruise industry as a whole.
As a quick snapshot, plastics used on board are made from recycled ocean plastics, stateroom bathrooms only have soap and shower gel to reduce wastage, allowing guests to bring their own products. Linen and towels are encouraged to not be changed daily with many of the restaurants cooking food to order.
The Symphony of the Seas has a park neighbourhood on board filled with living walls, plants, succulents which are tended to by a team of gardeners.
First-Time Cruise Guide: Tips and Recommendations
Here are a few questions we asked ourselves, as first-time cruisers.
Should I Book My Cruise Based On Destinations or Activities and Things To Do On Board?
Unless you want a holiday to spend all your time solely partaking in the activities on the ship and relaxing aboard, select a cruise based on the destinations it includes. Additionally make sure to consider your interests. A good way to decide is to look at your land preferences in the way you travel and let a specialist agent like Cruise Circle help with the booking process and their expert advice.
Would The Ship Leave Without You If You Don’t Get Back In Time?
The same rule applies here as it does with flights. The ship will leave with or without you so it’s imperative to get back before the stated time. The cruise line works to a strict time line on when it needs to arrive and depart the port so do not get left behind, otherwise you’ll find yourself making arrangements to meet the ship at its next port! Nobody needs the hassle whilst on holiday!
Should I Take My Passport With Me At Each Port?
You should’t technically need your passport at security points at port as you can use your stateroom card or Sea Pass. The cruise company deal with all the immigration paperwork at the booking process so you don’t need to worry about this.
You will not go through passport control and you can leave it in your stateroom safe at each port. However, it’s advised that you take your passport with you all the time, when getting off the ship. You can’t predict what may happen when you’re off the ship and even though your travel insurance can cover any issues that may occur later, you will not be able to get far or move around legally without your passport, if you have to stay back for any reason. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
What If I’m Celebrating A Special Occasion During My Cruise?
The service aboard a cruise is truly exemplary. The crew are there to ensure you have the best possible time and will help to make your trip a memorable one. During your cruise if you’re celebrating a birthday, anniversary, honeymoon or any other special occasion, let the crew know because ether will make it a very memorable occasions and literally pull all the stops out.
Can I Get Sun Burnt On A Cruise Ship?
The answer to this is Yes, most certainly. Even on overcast and windy days make sure you apply SPF lotion and keep topping it up regularly especially if you’re in and out of the water and slides.
Does it take a long time to get off the ship?
You may think it takes a while to get on and off the ship but this is not the case. Many of the ports you arrive at are pretty large so you can head to the gangway to leave once the captain says it’s safe to do so. All you have to do is hand your sea pass to the security and then all down the path into the port.
There was no queueing at all. There are some docs where the port is quite shallow and so the cruise ships have to dock a lot further away and here passengers take a tender (small boat) to reach the port. This I imagine would take a little longer.
Does It Feel Really Rough On The Ship If You Suffer From Sea Sickness?
The bigger the ship you cruise on the less likelihood of seasickness. You really don’t feel the movement and a ship the size of Symphony of the Seas has some pretty impressive stabilisers. You really can’t feel the movement. We had a couple of stormy nights and although some outdoor shows were cancelled, we didn’t feel a thing having dinner or back in our stateroom which was on the 11th deck.
If you are particularly sensitive and prone to sea sickness then see if you can book a room towards the middle of the ship on a low deck as the centre portion, closer to sea level is thought to be better.
It is possible to get sea sickness tablets in the hospital/medical centre in the ship, if really required
Do You Get To Meet The Captain On The Cruise?
Unfortunately you do not get to really see the captain unless you bump into him/her on their daily walk around the ship. Pre-covid, they’d have a captain’s dinner, where yo could meet the captain and have a photo with them and the first officers.
Aboard Symphony of the Seas on Sea Days, there is a session called, Captain’s Corner where you have an hour of the captain’s time in one of the theatres and he will answer any questions you have.
Following this there was also a session where you could have your photo and have a little chat with the Captain and the first officers, so get all your questions ready for this as it’s quite a nice chilled experience hearing what happens on the bridge.
Royal Caribbean does an Access all Areas of your ship, priced at $250 per person, which is a guided tour and security checks are done in order to enter the bridge area. It’s a pretty secure space for obvious reasons.
What Happens When The Ship Sails Away On The First Day?
To start the exciting voyage, you’ll be encourages to head to the top deck and wave goodbye to the ports as the ship leaves. There will be a party spirit, with a live band and drinks with a lovely friendly atmosphere.
Later in the evening, inside etc ship here is a bit more of a party with a balloon drop too.
Does The ship Stick To A Strict Port Itinerary?
The simple answer to this is Yes. Occasionally due to bad whether the captaincy may make the decision to dock at an alternative port so it’s always best to be aware of this, this would only be done for safety reasons. Primarily in bad weather conditions, tenders cannot leave the ship and certain ports may even have to be cancelled. Fortunately this rarely happens but its good to be aware.
First-Time Cruise Guide: Things That May Surprise You About A Cruise Ship
You may be surprised to learn, that there is a mortuary on board. It’s. Depressing subject but a necessity. Additionally incase of crimes on board, there is also a jail or a’brig’ as it’s known in nautical terms.
There is no on-board fire service so each crew member is trained in fire safety and thus it’s imperative you watch the fire and safety videos prior to boarding the ship to know your evacuation zones.
If you injure yourself on the ship, you will not be charged for medical treatment at the on board hospital however if you hurt yourself at a location off the ship, any treatment will incur a charge on Royal Caribbean ships.
First-Time Cruise Guide: The Misconceptions
Before actually experiencing a cruise for ourselves, it was the misconceptions of others that did cloud our judgment a little. But try not to let this dictate whether you should try a cruise. Often some of those telling us about the reasons why we should not consider a cruise happened to have not experienced for themselves and were speaking from what they’d heard or read. It’s one of the reasons we decided to put together a well researched first-time cruise guide to help dispel any of the misconceptions that are out there.
In this first-time cruise guide, we’ve addressed some common misconceptions that we’ve heard over the years in the UK:
- Cruises are for older people – This couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a mix of people on the cruise depending upon what cruise ship you opt for. Symphony of the Seas is a family ship so you’ll see families, couples, older people. Some very small river cruises or more party style cruises will have age-appropriate activities.
- Cruises are super expensive – This is one of the biggest misconceptions, cruises are incredibly good value for money and affordable plus they include your transportation, accommodation, food and drinks. You decide if you want to upgrade or spend more. Cruises can also be of differing lengths like three nights to weeks.
- There will be too many kids – Not at all. We cruised on a family ship and although there were children, I wouldn’t say there were too many. There will of course be more in the summer breaks or school holiday seasons. You can always opt for adults-only cruises too.
- Excursions won’t be immersive cultural experiences – You don’t get as much time in a destination but you can still do activities which are culturally immersive with excursions or independently organised trips. Some cruise-lines even have guests joining the on-board chefs on local market tours.
- I’ll put lots of weight on – Although we’ve heard that you can put up to 2lbs on per day on a cruise, you can be as healthy or as unhealthy as you please. It is a holiday after all. There are daily salads and healthy alternatives to calorific food as well as non-alcoholic drinks. Additionally the sports activities, walking the steps instead of taking elevators and all the walking you do around the destinations should have you getting plenty of steps in.
- Everyone gets drunk – 100% not the case at all. Just because guest buy drinks packages, does not mean they are going to spend the whole time aboard drinking. We didn’t encounter any drunk or even tipsy behaviour throughout our cruise.
- Cruising isn’t for solo travellers – Some cruise-lines will. not charge a solo supplement for their solo cabins
- Cruises are jam-packed and super crowded – Even on huge ships with thousands of passengers, some how this never happens. there are huge public spaces like water parks, shopping centres, boardwalks, decks, your stateroom, communal theatres and parks. Sure you will bump into some people but it definitely does not feel crowded. A sea day may feel like there are more people on board but that’s because you have to all stay on the ship. It’s a noticeable difference but things will not feel suffocated. There’s simply a lot of area to get lost in.
- You have to dress-up – Formal nights still exists on ships such as Cunard and other small liners, but you do not need to partake in formal nights or any of the themed nights if you do not want to. The decision is yours. Whereas it can be fun for some to dress up, the ships appreciate it’s not for everyone and it most definitely doesn’t feel like a gala ball atmosphere at dinner time.
- The food is pretty poor quality – This is a million miles from the truth! You’ll see that even the main dining rooms will serve gourmet courses with waiter/waitress service. If you are heading to a casual restaurant, it may be self-serve or a little bit more laid back but by no means will the food be poor quality. Infact, we found the complete opposite of our food and couldn’t believe the presentation, service and execution catering for a large number of guest. Service always feel so personal too. You’ve seen the foodie photographs in this first-time cruise guide, they speak for themselves.
- Cruises make you sea-sick – This is not the case. Cruise ships are built with large stabilisers which are there to ensure the journey is as smooth as possible. If you suffer from sea sickness it’s possible to get tablets and bands from the medical facility on board. Whilst preparing this first-time cruise guide we spoke to a number of regular cruisers who get sea-sickness but not on larger ships.
First-Time Cruise Guide: Would We Book a Cruise Again?
After this cruise, it’s broadened our opinions on the whole cruise holidays concept as a whole. Land travel would never replace a cruise but it is great to discover a few destinations in one go and decide if we’d like to return to explore them in more details.
Personally we’d partake in an adults-only, smaller cruise or one which has a much longer cultural activity focus at port for comparison. It is quite obvious to see now that we’ve experienced a cruise, why this holiday type appeals to many and is particularly great for families too. We would love to opt for a cruise that spends more time at port as we love the cultural immersion of the locals and have a larger appetite to get to know a locale.
First-Time Cruise Guide & Symphony of the Seas: Round-up
As a first-time cruiser, we hope this first-time cruise guide resource provide you with a round-up of many of the question you may have about cruising. Ultimately your cruise depends upon the type of holiday you like on land and what ports and locations you’d like to include. When choosing a cruise you may also want to take into account the size of the ship as well as the activities and stateroom type. It is a personal choice indeed as with all travel.
The best peice of advice we can offer as first-time cruisers is that booking and engaging the help of a cruise-specialist agent is a decision you will not regret. It’s a great way to ensure you book the right cruise to match your likes and dislikes but their knowledge is invaluable
We hope this first-time cruise guide benefits your future cruising travels and most of all you love the cruise that you opt for, even if you are not usually someone who would ordinarily think of boarding a ship for a week or two.