Travel Tips

A Cruise Veteran’s 12 Tips for Cruising Couples

Deck chairs“It’s 9:30. Going to breakfast—Garden Café. Don’t forget ship’s tour at 10— meeting at Reception desk.”

I once left that note in our stateroom on the Grand Princess.

It’s one example of the sea-going modus operandi my wife and I have developed so that we can find each other and coordinate our activities on a large cruise ship.

Life on the high seas is a world away from what it is at home. Day-to-day routines are so different that many cruisers have established procedures so that they can more easily relax and enjoy themselves on board.

On such a large vessel we would run across each other more by accident than by design if we didn’t rely on written messages.

Phone calls help. You can dial your cabin from many points on the ship to see if your companion has come back from some activity to take a nap. But you may simply get no answer if your beloved is out taking tea in the lounge or addressing a tee in the golf simulator.

On Celebrity and Royal Caribbean cruises, we discovered that their large vessels, at least, have voice mail—certainly an electronic plus. No doubt others do now, also.

Of course there are many advance steps to take before even going on a cruise. But once you’ve stepped on board, here are a dozen specific suggestions. All may help traveling companions get the most out of a 21st-century luxury sailing experience:

1. Unpack together. There are so many shelves, drawers and cubby holes tucked into a ship’s stateroom that you are in danger of never finding some things you need on the voyage until it’s over and it’s time to go home.

Parrots in LovePerhaps the most common phrases heard in a cabin begins: “Hey, where’s my …?” If the two of you unpacked at the same time, there’s at least a chance the other party will have an idea where to look for that elusive tie clip or cummerbund.

Another tip: If your empty suitcases get in the way, you can usually hide them out of sight under the bed.

2. On-deck navigation. Learn the layout of the ship soon after unpacking. If a ship tour is offered, take it immediately. If not, ask the reception desk for a deck plan. Take it in hand to find the bars, restaurants, night clubs, shops, swimming pools, theater, card room, library, spa, gym, etc., and the best stairways and elevators to reach them.

Then when somebody wants to meet you at the lap pool, or there’s a lecture you want to catch in the Starlight Lounge, you’ll know exactly where to go and how long it will take to get there.

3. The importance of routines. Immediately set up some routines in your cabin. Accommodations probably will be smaller than you’re used to in hotels, so you might arrange slightly different times for getting ready for dinner or other activities which might involve stumbling over each other.

And, as indicated above, leave notes or, better yet, Post-Its for your cabin companion in a pre-selected place in your quarters. Sometimes we take along a pair of walkie-talkies— very handy when they work correctly, which is not always the case everywhere on a ship.

4. The first nighter. Avoid staying up late the first night out. You may be exhausted from last-minute packing, flying to meet the ship, etc., and you may not even realize it yet. It’s much better to go to bed soon after dinner and then face the first morning at sea fully refreshed.

Sunset Beach5. Shore excursions. If you’re going to go on shore excursions during the cruise, make reservations as soon as possible after embarking. Desirable tours can fill up quickly, and later you may be so busy with new friends and on-board activities that you forget to make your land arrangements in time.

6. Dinner for eight? In the dining room, eschew the table for two. On the first day ask the maitre d’ to assign you to a round table for at least six, or perhaps even eight. That way, you’ll get to know some other folks on the cruise right away.

If there are two sittings, choose the second so you can talk late without being hustled off to make room for the next gang.

7. The smoking question. If cigarettes bother you, be sure to tell the head waiter so he can assign you a table with other non-smokers.

If smoking is even allowed indoors, usually cruise ship dining rooms, show rooms, etc., are divided into areas for smokers and non-smokers. However this is less true on some small vessels and others that do not cater as much to today’s health-conscious Americans. (Nowadays, smoking is generally limited to cigarettes except for some ships that provide a specific, supposedly well-ventilated room for pipe and cigar smoking.)

8. Be friendly—and expect others to be, too. Half the fun on a cruise is meeting people. You’ll soon find plenty in common besides the weather. Start by talking about the shows, the ports, the waiters, the stewards, the fitness coach or the captain, and the next thing you know, you’ll be comparing pictures of your family.

Close couple9. A bumpy ride? If the weather is rough, or if you think you may be prone to the effects of mal de mer, don’t be ashamed to take a pill: Dramamine, Marezine, Phenergan or whatever. We used to say we were never adversely affected—until that miserable day we were unpleasantly surprised. Follow directions on the box or bottle.

10. Attention, everyone. Listen for interesting announcements from the bridge. Often it’s the captain talking about course headings, temperatures, etc., perhaps in an amusing European accent. These are not always broadcast direct to the stateroom unless you tune in to a certain channel on your television.

11. Read the daily bulletin … daily. Large cruise ships today may deliver two regular publications a day to your cabin. One is the ship’s newspaper or an abbreviated newspaper flyer printed from the Internet. The other is the newsletter that gives meal times, show descriptions, the evening dress code, and pertinent information on events and programs you might otherwise miss. (These notices are also usually carried on the shipboard TV.)

12. Don’t overeat. And do exercise as much as possible. On the Crystal Symphony we once discovered that in addition to the dual-seating dining room, there were three other restaurants, at least one of which always seemed to be open.

Not counting an optional booking at a specialty restaurant, for which there may be an optimal extra charge, all meals are included on a cruise. But unless you’re accustomed to shoveling in four and five-course dinners every night, it’s very easy to gain pounds even on a one week cruise.

Thankfully, most cruise ships now offer well-equipped gymnasiums and strenuous workout programs which, if used, will help alleviate this problem.

And, of course, there is almost always an outdoor promenade deck where a given number of turns around the ship will add up to a mile. Use tricks like this to chart a course on the sea of healthy living.

By Robert W. Bone for When not at sea, cruise writer Robert W. Bone lives in Walnut Creek, California. He first traveled by ship in 1957 and has written several books and articles on travel subjects. See him on the Web at and

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