Things I Learned on My First Cruise

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Got a cruise in your future? Learn from my recent experience.

Despite recent bad publicity around cruises, they’ll likely remain a popular form of vacation. The chance to explore ports both domestic and foreign while soaking up sun on the deck and enjoying a variety, and unlimited quantity, of food virtually guarantees it.

But the idea of being trapped on a ship out of sight of land wasn’t enticing for me. At least, not until I heard about the Cruise to the Edge, a five-day trip featuring concerts by a host of progressive rock bands, including Steve Hackett, Saga, Nektar, Tangerine Dream, and the headliner, Yes.

I was familiar with the concept of music cruises in general, and had previously considered going on a jazz cruise. But this one was particularly intriguing, and I was soon booking passage with my fiancee.

One of the first things I did, of course, was research cruising. And one of the first videos I watched was the one that follows from Money Talks founder Stacy Johnson. It’s about five things to know before you book a cruise; check it out, then read on for my advice…

What I did right – and wrong – on my first cruise

As I said above, I had some ideas on what to do and what to expect, but as I’d never been on a cruise, I knew there would be surprises. Here are some do’s and don’ts, both the expected and the  unexpected.


We thought we had this one down – packing some long sleeves and long pants for windy days, shorts and swimsuits for the hoped-for balmy weather.

Unfortunately, while we didn’t over-pack for the ship, we did for the plane, exceeding the 50-pound limit for checked baggage. Only 6 pounds over, the cost could have been $100. Fortunately the airport gate agent’s computer wasn’t working properly, and we were able to slide. Having picked up a few items on the trip, on the way back we mailed home a 16-pound package. It cost $43 – far less than what the airline would have charged.

Still, before you get on any plane, might want to read How to Go to Europe for 10 Days With Just a Carry-On

Arrive early – by a day

Cutting your arrival time too close can result in missing a flight, which could domino into missing your cruise altogether. Our solution was to fly on Saturday for a Monday cruise. This turned out to be a great idea.

On Sunday, we got to explore Fort Lauderdale (our departure port), including finding a fabulous restaurant, Market 17. How fabulous? In addition to winning awards, it offers Dining in the Dark, where patrons eat unknown food in a lightless room, guided by a waitstaff wearing night-vision goggles. If we’d been pressed for time, we would never have found it. We also might not have found the handy drugstore down the road.

Take precautions for heavy seas

I mention the drugstore down the road because that’s where, at the last minute, I picked up some Dramamine. Good move. Turned out our cruise faced much rougher conditions than expected. We were truly rocking and rolling: Yes’s pedal steel guitar was literally rolling across the stage.

I thought motion-sickness medications would be readily available onboard. Turned out I was wrong, and the pills helped us a lot the first couple of days.

Other notes

  • If you care about the time, take a travel alarm. During our five days, I never saw a single clock. And if you’re counting on using your cell phone for the time and alarm, be aware that if you leave it on, hefty international charges could apply if anyone calls or texts. 
  • Be prepared for lots of foreign travelers. On our cruise we heard Spanish, French, German, and other languages. Not only will many passengers speak other languages, the staff may not be particularly fluent in English. 
  • Be flexible. While electronic music pioneers Tangerine Dream and Canadian progressive rockers Saga were on the original schedule, neither was able to perform. Tangerine Dream leader Edgar Froese fell and broke his hand and jaw prior to the trip, and the son and nephew of Saga brothers Jim and Ian Crichton was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident the day before the cruise. But prog/pop band Ambrosia was slotted in, and despite the sea-sickness, played two great shows.
  • Don’t try to use traveler’s checks – they don’t exist anymore. Use credit cards; but if you’re leaving the country, get one that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, like the Discover It card. While plastic is fine for most any expense off the ship, onboard you’ll use your cruise card. Except at the merchandise table – for your Cruise to the Edge shirts, totes, or live Ambrosia DVD, you’ll need good old American cash.
  • Be patient. There will be lines at customs, at the airlines, even when disembarking the ship. A smile and a good attitude will serve you well everywhere.

Been on a cruise? You probably have tips of your own. Share your knowledge and experience below or on our Facebook page!

Stacy Johnson

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