It Isn’t a Cruise Until You Do These 9 Things

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Sure, your cruising experience can differ vastly based on where you’re cruising to, the cruise line you’re cruising with and your own personal cruising preferences. However, there are just some cruising activities that are quintessential for a classic cruise experience.

If you’re a new cruiser, getting ready to embark on your very first cruise ever, these are the activities you’ll want to be sure you take part in before your cruise wraps up.

If you’re a long-time cruiser who’s sailed on your fair share of ships, these are the activities you may want to revisit. Maybe you’ve got caught up in all the bells and whistles of modern cruise ships and you’ve forgotten about some of the classic experiences that really make a cruise a cruise.

The fact is, it just isn’t a cruise until you do these nine things.

1. Catch the Sunset

There’s just something about catching the sunset over the ocean, while on a cruise ship. There’s not a thing between yourself and the horizon. It’s an experience that can’t be matched anywhere on land.

During your cruise, don’t make the mistake of rushing to and fro, ignoring the beauty that awaits just beyond the ship’s side. While yes, there’s plenty to do and see, at all hours, during a cruise, there’s still something majestic simply about being on the ocean at sunset.

Cruise Sunset During Departure
Cruise Sunset During Departure (Photo Credit: Wirestock Creators)

So, pick a great spot and settle in to watch the show. Whether you’re on your private balcony, on one of the ship’s top decks or dining at an outdoor restaurant with a great view of the water, make a point to make your way out of doors as the sun sets.

Even better if your ship has a particularly cool spot from which to watch, such as on Royal Caribbean’s North Star. Just be sure to make your way to the side of the ship where the sun is actually setting!

2. Walk the Promenade

Probably the most well-known promenade in the cruising industry, Royal Caribbean has its indoor Royal Promenade, truly a can’t-miss if you’re on a Royal Caribbean cruise. It’s the hub of all activity. It’s the heart of the ship, and it’s where you’ll make your way to find dining, nightlife, watering holes, shops and more.

If you’re on a Royal Caribbean cruise, on a ship that features a Royal Promenade (not all of them do), don’t just briskly walk your way through the promenade to get to this show or that dinner reservation. Really slow down and take it all in.

Promenade (Photo Credit: Jorge Chang)

People watch. Soak up the lively atmosphere. Again, this is an experience you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere on land (the only comparable experience that comes to mind is walking along the Vegas strip!).

However, don’t forget that many other major cruise ships have their own promenades, and these promenades aren’t quite the same thing, though the spirit is the same.

Read Also: How to Find Your Way Around a Cruise Ship

Promenade decks were very popular on cruise ships in centuries past and were simple — they were an open-air place to walk around, hang out on a lounger, and see or be seen, with a walkway encircling the entire ship, offering views of the sea beyond. No flashy lights or live entertainment, but still entertaining nonetheless.

Promenade on MSC Virtuosa
Promenade on MSC Virtuosa (Photo Credit: Sergey_Bogomyako)

Nowadays, on particular cruise lines, you can find these outdoor decks have received modern upgrades. They still offer an outdoor walking space and views of the sea, but also access to restaurants and similar venues. This is the case on Norwegian Cruise Line’s ships that feature The Waterfront promenade, for example.

So, whether you’re on a ship that features a flashy indoor promenade, like the Royal Promenade on Royal Caribbean, or you’re on a ship with a more old-school, outdoor promenade, be sure to take at least one turn around the space. It’s not just a walkway to get you to your destination. It’s a destination all on its own.  

3. Take a Swim

Don’t think of the cruise ship pool as something similar to your community public pool back home. No, these pools are entirely on another level, befitting a luxury resort.

Yes, some of them are crowded, and you might have to go out of your way to find a quieter cruise ship pool, but taking a swim during your cruise is simply an experience you don’t want to miss.

Whether you want to take a dip in a lively atmosphere with lots of games and activities, or you want to float in a tranquil environment, there’s a cruise ship pool out there with your name on it.

Carnival Cruise Ship Lido Deck Pool
Carnival Cruise Ship Lido Deck Pool (Photo Credit: Dennis MacDonald)

Some of the best cruise ship pools in the biz? Look for quieter, smaller pools in the VIP, suite guest-only areas available on certain ships, such as the Haven pool on Norwegian Cruise Line’s ships.

Even if you’re not a VIP, you can also look for the quieter, smaller pools that exist in the adults-only areas on some ships, as is the case in Royal Caribbean’s adults-only Solarium space (Celebrity Cruises’ likewise has an adults-only space dubbed the Solarium), or Disney Cruise Line’s Quiet Cove.

Some cruise ship pools aren’t necessarily the best due to their elite or exclusive status, but due to their location, like aft pools that provide great views, or infinity pools that provide the same (and which you can find on some Seabourn and Viking ships, respectively).

4. Watch a Show

A classic cruise ship experience includes heading to the theater for a show. Even if you’re not the type to go to the theater or a concert in your day-to-day life, you may just find that doing so while on a cruise is an entirely different experience than what you expected.

Most cruise ships feature Broadway-style shows in their main theaters. However, beyond classic musicals and plays, many also offer shows that incorporate acrobatics, or shows that are more music review than musical. Some cruise ships even offer ice skating shows, as is the case on Royal Caribbean cruises!

Theater (Photo Copyright: Robert McGillivray / Cruise Hive)

Plus, the majority of shows on cruise ships are entirely free to attend. All you need to do is reserve your ticket in advance, if there’s a show you really, really want to see, to ensure you get a seat. Even if you don’t, though, you can still try your luck getting a seat the day-of, and most cruisers report having no problem with this method.

Just trust us on this one — seeing a show during your cruise can be fun, something you totally wouldn’t do at home and a memorable experience that you and your fellow cruisers talk about for years to come.

5. Eat in the Dining Room

This is another classic cruise activity that hearkens back to the early days of cruising, well before we had all sorts of specialty dining options, ranging from food halls to teppanyaki. You need to eat in the cruise ship’s main dining room at least once. Don’t just stop by for breakfast, either. Make a point to go to dinner, for the full experience.

Worth Reading: Common Things to Eat on a Ship

The main dining room is often on the elegant side and offers a multi-course meal. Wait staff are trained to provide the utmost in luxury service. Many cruise lines require a dress code for main dining room dinners, too. This all adds up to a dinner that’s a bit posher than what you might find elsewhere on the ship, while also being entirely free.

MSC Cruises Dining Room
MSC Cruises Dining (Photo Credit: Solarisys / Shutterstock)

Yes, you may have to eat at set times — but what can we say? It’s a classic for a reason.

And don’t even worry about selection. Royal Caribbean’s main dining room sample menu, for example, includes 10 starter options for your first course, nine main course options and nine dessert options.

You can also pay to upgrade to three premium entrée options that include lobster, steak and surf and turf. Additionally, there’s a nice range of menu options that are gluten-free, lactose-free and/or vegetarian.

In short, go to the main dining room for an elegant evening, a great variety of food and no extra fees.

6. Join in On the Daily Activities

During your cruise, check out the cruise ship’s daily schedule (which you can often find on the cruise line’s app) and see what kind of daily activities are on the docket.

Best Party Cruises
Photo Credit: vvoe / Shutterstock

Cruises often plan a wealth of activities for each sea day, with something for every interest. From trivia and bingo to dance classes and wine tastings, there’s always something going on.

See what catches your fancy and be sure to participate in some of this daily fun. The enthusiastic crew members make sure that vibe is always lively and entertaining, and you’ll get to know your fellow cruisers in the process.

7. Attend a Deck Party

From the very first moment you set foot on your cruise ship, the deck parties keep things bumping, with live music, fun themes and free-flowing drinks. So, practice your dance steps and get out there and have some fun.

Carnival Panorama Deck Party
Carnival Panorama Deck Party (Photo Credit: Ritu Manoj Jethani)

Depending on your cruise line, you can expect the deck parties to really range, and to fit the feel of the overall cruise ship and line. For example, Disney’s cruises offer family-friendly deck parties that the kiddos will enjoy (and you might even spot some classic Disney characters in attendance).

If you’re on a Carnival cruise ship, you might find that the parties are a bit more rambunctious, from the Sail Away Party that includes DJs, dancing and drinks, to the 80s Night Deck Party that features dance contests and plenty of glow sticks.

8. Participate in Formal Night

Depending on your cruise line and the length of your cruise, your cruise ship may host one or multiple formal nights during the cruise itinerary. Whatever the case, if your cruise ship does host a formal night, break out your best attire and strut your stuff. After all, how often do you really get the chance to wear that floor-length dress or a tux?

Cruise Elegant Night
Cruise Elegant Night (Photo Credit: Ally Lee)

Some cruisers take their formal nights very seriously, dressing to the nines, going to the salon ahead of time, and then spending the night dining and drinking in the main dining room, enjoying what is often a fancier menu.

And there are plenty of photographers at the ready to snap photos of you and your group in your finest! Others go a little more low-key and dress up a smidge (think no shorts and t-shirts), but don’t go all out.

Whatever your level of comfort, consider participating in this cruise ship tradition. Just be sure to check your cruise line’s “formal night” policy ahead of time, so you pack and plan correctly.

For example, Carnival’s formal nights, which are called “Cruise Elegant evenings,” ask that you wear at least dress slacks, shirts and a sport coat for the men, and a cocktail dress, pantsuit or “elegant” blouse and skirt for the ladies. Royal Caribbean, meanwhile, asks for diners to wear black tie apparel, including tuxes, suits and ties, evening gowns and cocktail dresses.

9. Schedule in a Shore Excursion

Yes, the shore excursions can be a bit expensive at times, but if you’ve never visited a destination, a shore excursion can be the perfect opportunity to see a new place with the help of a guide that will ensure you make it back to the ship in time for your departure. Plus, some shore excursions feature activities that you simply can’t book on your own, without the cruise line’s help.

Cruise Shore Excursion
Cruise Shore Excursion

If you’re trying to save on your travel budget, don’t feel like you need to spring for a shore excursion in every single stop along your itinerary — but definitely don’t pass up a bucket list opportunity.

Read Also: Unusual Things Passengers Do on Cruise Ships

You never know when you’ll be back, and the cruise line makes these experiences easy and convenient, even if they’re not always budget-friendly.

Want to take a lot of shore excursions, but worried about your budget? Consider booking a cruise with a cruise line that includes all your shore excursions in the price of your cruise fare, such as Viking or Silversea Cruises.

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