6 things I wish I'd known before going on a luxury cruise for the first time

·5 min read
Mikhaila on the Queen Elizabeth
Mikhaila on the Queen Elizabeth. Mikhaila Friel/Insider
  • I was on Cunard's 5-night Western Europe cruise, its first international voyage since the pandemic.

  • The vaccinated voyage in October marked my first experience on a cruise ship.

  • From tipping etiquette to dining, there were many things I didn't know about cruising.

I was one of 1,248 vaccinated guests on Cunard's five-night Western Europe cruise in October.

I'm currently on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth.
Mikhaila in front of Cunard's Queen Elizabeth ship in Amsterdam. Mikhaila Friel/Insider

The sold-out voyage to Amsterdam on the Queen Elizabeth ship marked Cunard's first cruise to leave the UK since the pandemic. Cunard is owned by Carnival Cruises in the US and is known as one of Britain's most formal cruise lines.

All passengers were double-vaccinated and the ship operated at 60% capacity, a spokesperson informed me via email ahead of the cruise.

I was especially excited for the trip because I had never been on a cruise before.

Cunard's Queen Elizabeth ship in Amsterdam
Cunard's Queen Elizabeth ship in Amsterdam. Mikhaila Friel/Insider

There were many things I had prepared ahead of the trip, such as packing evening wear for the formal nights.

However, there were also aspects of cruise life I hadn't anticipated. From tipping etiquette to dining, I learned a lot about cruising that will definitely come in handy next time I book a trip.

My seasickness could have been prevented by choosing a cabin in a different area of the ship.

mikhaila room cruise
My room. Mikhaila Friel/Insider

I stayed in an $856 standard inside stateroom on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth ship.

The room, which was located on Deck 6 at the back of the ship, had everything I needed. The only thing I didn't enjoy was seasickness, which I mostly experienced at night when I went to bed.

Mike, a member of the entertainment team, later told me that this can be prevented by choosing a cabin in the middle of the ship on a lower level, where you will be less likely to feel the ship swaying.

I didn't know that I would be one of the youngest people on board.

Mikhaila with cruise passengers amsterdam
Mikhaila with fellow passengers Celia Steele, 78, and Jannet Russell, 70 in Amsterdam. Mikhaila Friel/Insider

Cunard mostly caters to guests who are older than myself, something I wasn't aware of until stepping on board.

At 25 years old, I was one of the youngest guests. (I was later informed by Cunard's press team that the average passenger age is 61.)

Throughout my time on the voyage, I was asked by other guests why I hadn't chosen another cruise line, such as P&O or Royal Caribbean, which they said had a younger audience.

However, I didn't mind the age gap with my new friends.

mikhaila friends cruise
I met two new friends on board. Mikhaila Friel/Insider

I met Jannet Russell, 70, and Celia Steele, 78, at a solo traveler meet-up organized by Cunard. We swiftly became friends, and attended several events together both on the ship and in Amsterdam.

I enjoyed spending time with people who I otherwise wouldn't encounter in my everyday life, and both Russell and Steele were happy to share their life advice, travel tips, and funny stories with me during our time together.

At one point, Russell even referred to herself and Steele as my "surrogate grandmothers."

I didn't realize guests would be seated at the same table in the restaurant each night.

cruise restaurant gala night mikhaila
Mikhaila at the Britannia restaurant during the ship's black-and-white themed Gala Night. Mikhaila Friel/Insider

Cunard made a reservation in my name at the ship's Britannia restaurant on the first evening, something which is done for all guests at the start of the voyage.

When I arrived, I was asked by a staff member if I'd like to sit alone or with a group. I said alone, assuming that I'd be given the option to sit in a group the following night — but I was never asked again.

I didn't realize that guests were seated at the same table every evening. Luckily, the couples at the tables next to me were more than happy to chat.

There are hidden freebies on board if you know where to look for them.

tea and pastries
Complimentary tea and pastries. Mikhaila Friel/Insider

I knew that the meals on board were included in the price, however, I wasn't aware of the different freebies on offer.

A fellow passenger informed me that there were complimentary pastries on board in the late morning, which aren't served with the usual breakfast buffet.

I also learned that the Lido Buffet has a "late night" service, where guests can pick up a complimentary cup of tea or coffee with a sweet treat after dinner.

There were certain areas of the ship where you don't have to follow the dress code.

mikhaila cruise buffet selfie
Afternoon tea at the Lido Buffet. Mikhaila Friel/Insider

I had researched Cunard's formal dress code before my journey, and made sure to pack suitable evening wear to adhere to the rules.

A pamphlet I was given on board reiterated "smart attire," which meant pants with a collared shirt for men, or blouses and skirts, dresses, or stylish pants for women.

However, the pamphlet also said there were parts of the ship where you didn't have to adhere to the dress code, which included the Lido Buffet, the Golden Lion pub, the Casino, Café Carinthia, the Garden Lounge, and Yacht Club.

You can opt to remove the service charge at the end of the voyage in favor of tipping a select few crew members.

mikhaila and her steward on cruise
With my cabin steward Bert. Mikhaila Friel/Insider

In the booking process, I wasn't told that there would be a $57.50 service fee at the end of my five-night voyage.

A fellow passenger who has been on multiple cruises told me that the charge is optional and that she always asks the company to remove it from her final bill. She said she does this because she believes the charge is too high, and that she prefers to personally tip a select number of employees, such as her steward.

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