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



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.

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

Cunard's Queen Elizabeth ship in Amsterdam

Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth ship in Amsterdam. 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.

2. 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 (the popular British cruise line owned by Carnival) is one of Britain’s most formal cruise lines. It 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.

3. I didn’t realize guests were 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.

4. 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.

5. There were certain areas of the ship where you didn’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 trousers with a collared shirt for men, or blouses and skirts, dresses, or stylish trousers 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.

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

mikhaila and her steward on cruise

With my cabin steward Bert. Mikhaila Friel/Insider

I wasn’t told that I would be given a service charge at the end of my voyage, which came to $57.50 for five nights.

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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