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This post is part of a paid trip I took with Princess Cruises on one of their 7-night Europe itineraries, but all opinions and words (including typos!) are my own.
When I told people I was going on a cruise, their responses could have come from the same verbal cookie cutter: “ohh, how exciting!”.
I nodded. I smiled. Perhaps my eyes even lit up. But what they didn’t know was that, behind my enthusiastic front, I was super, super nervous about the whole thing. This was an entirely new experience for me and I had no idea what to expect on a cruise.
Going on a cruise is exciting, sure, but the first time can also be pretty intimidating! The size of the ship, the number of people on board and preparing for an entirely new way to travel… it can all make a first cruise a pretty overwhelming experience.
Going on a cruise for the first time
I’ve said it time and time again, but pushing myself out of my comfort zone is one of my favourite things about travel. It’s addictive. And that’s exactly why I jumped at the chance to try the cruise lifestyle for the first time. It’s SO far from the way I’d usually travel that I couldn’t resist.
I’ve done a lot of new, nerve-inducing things in the last couple of years. I came face to face with a white rhino in Eswatini. I jumped off a 2km high mountain in Turkey (and then another one in Austria). And let’s not forget the time I turned up at my campsite in Botswana to find an angry male elephant occupying it. Eek.
The idea of going on a cruise didn’t throw me quite as far out of my comfort zone as wild camping with elephants around, but it came pretty close. I was going into something completely blind, felt way out of my depth and, once there, knew that there would be no way out. It was a completely different situation but the similarities were uncanny.
Most of those nerves came from the unknown. More than I would like to admit, though, they came from the few expectations I had. I guess you could even call them concerns. But, just as I knew would be the case, those reservations were almost entirely unfounded.
ABOUT THE CRUISE: I took a 7-day cruise from Southampton with stops in La Coruna, Bilabo, Bordeaux and Guernsey. A similar voyage (in reverse order) will be running in October 2020, or you can click here to see all of the European cruises available.
What to expect on a cruise
If you’re wondering what to expect on your first cruise – worry not. Save yourself the concerns and just enjoy the excitement because my first cruise was so much more incredible than I could have imagined.
Just like the *ahem* elephant incident, those initial nerves have been replaced by nothing but beautiful memories. And, while I’m in no hurry to camp in elephant territory again, I’m already planning my next cruise. In fact, I’m already planning two!
Hello, my name is Jodie and I’m a cruise convert.
Here’s what surprised me most about cruise life (and what I’m looking forward to next time!).
The friendliest staff
The staff on board the Sapphire Princess were some of the kindest, cheeriest people I’ve ever met. And not in a “I work in sales and I’m told to smile” kind of way, but in a very genuine way.
My interactions with some of the 1,000+ staff are among my fondest memories of our week on board the Sapphire Princess. It’s the kind of thing you don’t really think about… until you do. Being surrounded by happy people makes any place a more enjoyable one and it was certainly a highlight for me.
A mix of nationalities
Our cruise began and ended in Southampton, which meant there were more Brits on board than there might be on another route. I guess I’d assumed the staff would be mostly British, too, but I was surprised to see a real mix of nationalities on board.
All of the staff have their home country on their name badges and, as a full time traveller, I simply loved seeing where everybody was from. I had so many lovely conversations with people from my favourite countries, including Namibia, South Africa and the Philippines. Throughout those conversations, I enjoyed reliving my favourite travel memories with them and I’m sure they enjoyed the chance to talk about home.
I also met a chef from Montenegro, which is where I’m heading next. His face lit up as he gave me some tips for my trip!
It quickly becomes home
As someone who moves “home” every 1-3 months, I’m pretty used to adapting to new places and settling in. Every now and then, though, I come across a place where that happens really naturally.
I definitely didn’t expect that feeling to happen on a cruise ship. I was completely out of my comfort zone when I first stepped on to the Sapphire Princess and didn’t even think of it as my “next home”. But, by the end of the week, I was incredibly sad to leave. I wanted to stay in my new cruise ship world, with my new-found friends, and the new daily routine I’d found. It was home.
Extend your cruise by travelling to the departure port a day or two early and enjoy a relaxing start to your trip. Check for hotels to see what’s available:
You probably won’t go on only one cruise
I’d never considered that cruise holidays could be addictive – but they are!
One of the most common topics of conversation on the cruise was… cruising. Whenever you meet someone new, it won’t take long before you know how many cruises they’ve been on, where they’ve cruised to and what their preferred cabin location is. Oh, and they’re going to be SO excited when they find out you’re on your first cruise!
I’m the kind of traveller who will try (almost) anything once – including cruises. It’s why, despite my skepticism, I boarded the Sapphire Princess with an open mind and eager anticipation. How many people do you know who have only been on one cruise? It doesn’t happen, and there’s good reason for that.
I always threw cruises into the “once in a lifetime” pond along with safaris and other bucket list trips. But, as I quickly realised, it’s almost impossible to do just one cruise because you’ll quickly find yourself dreaming about your next one! As I said, I’m already planning my next two!
You’ll meet lots of people
If you want to, that is.
It’s always the people that make a destination and, with multiple destinations and little time in each, I was worried that a cruise might lack that human side. I needn’t have worried, though.
Despite there being more than 3,000 people on board, you quickly get to know other passengers. There’s a real sense of community on board the cruise ship and I didn’t want to leave the new familiar faces in my life by the end of the week.
Cruises are great for solo travellers
Following on from the last point, I think a cruise would make a surprisingly fun solo trip. In fact, I was really surprised by how many (young!) solo travellers we met on board.
There are loads of ways to meet people during the cruise, too, from singles meet-ups to land excursions. You really only have to spend time alone if you want to.
The types of people you meet
Confession time: I thought there might only be one type of person on board – a “cruise” type, if you like – but that wasn’t the case. Simply put, there is no “cruise” type. One of my favourite things about the cruise was how many different kinds of people were on board!
While I frequently heard fellow passengers bonding over their shared love of cruising, the mix of passengers on board couldn’t have been more varied. Sailing from Southampton, I expected it to be an older demographic but we met people from 22 to 101 throughout the week. There was a range of ages, interests and backgrounds – the kind of crowd I like to be in.
You can skip flying
When you hear the word “cruise”, you probably think of the Caribbean or other sunny, exotic places – all of which require a long flight to get there.
Sailing from Southampton meant there was no flying involved. It was just a 1-hour train from London, and it was GREAT. It was so nice not worrying about luggage allowances, delays or twiddling your thumbs in the departure lounge.
How much luggage you can bring on a cruise
Speaking of which, the luggage allowance itself was something that surprised. I’d never really thought about it, of course. But I just assumed there would be some kind of luggage restriction on cruise ships like there are on planes.
It turns out you can bring whatever you want, though, which is something you can make use of if you’re not flying!
There’s a TV show on board
When a couple of people in our group started talking about “The Wake Show”, I had zero idea what they were talking about. Fast forward a couple of days and I couldn’t wait for the next episode of the ship’s own daily show!
The show is presented by the cruise director and runs through the daily activities, events and excursions in the next destinations. It’s basically a great way to find out what’s going on and make sure you’re making the most of everything available.
There’s never a boring moment
I knew the cruise ship was going to be big, but I didn’t realise quite how massive it would be. (And this was a mid-sized ship!)
What surprised me more than anything was that I discovered new areas of the ship every day. I could have spent the entire 7 day trip just exploring the ship and making use of the facilities on board, and I disembarked with many things still left unticked.
You can pack a lot into a port day
Like most first time cruisers, I was sceptical about how much we’d get to see on port days. With departures as early as 4pm, it sounded like we’d have minimal time to explore.
As someone who’s used to spending 1-3 months in each place, I was concerned, but we squeezed in a lot. Every port day felt full without feeling rushed, and I feel like I really got to see a lot in each destination. I would have loved even longer, of course, but we definitely got more than just a taste of each place.
You won’t go hungry
I’d heard the food on Princess Cruises was great, but I hadn’t expected it to be available 24 hours a day. In addition to the numerous dining rooms, grills and speciality restaurants, there were treats available around the clock. Cookies, sugar free cake and soft serve ice cream… whatever your sweet tooth craved.
Best of all, though, was the 24-hour complimentary room service. It included anything you could want or need, and you could even have breakfast delivered to enjoy on your balcony (or in bed!).
It was really fun!
I don’t really know how I expected to feel at the end of the week. Tired, maybe. Ready to leave and go back to “normal” life, perhaps.
But every time someone’s asked how it was, my answer has been the same. “It was SO much fun! I wish we could go back and do it all again!”
It’s not that I didn’t expect to enjoy the cruise, I just didn’t realise quite how much fun it would. And, given how apprehensive I was about the whole thing, I guess that was the biggest surprise of all.
As I stepped on board the Sapphire Princess, I had no idea what to expect and I was nervous. If you’re in the same boat (sorry!), you really don’t need to worry. Cruise ship life is so comfortable and fun that you forget you’re out at sea. And it’s a wonderful place to be.
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