travel

'I've worked on cruise ships for over 20 years. These are the tips I always give passengers.'

The cruising industry is one of the fastest growing travel sectors, with an estimated global value of around AUD$14 billion. That number is expected to double over the next 10 years, meaning more and more people are opting to travel the high seas than ever before.

If you've been toying with the idea of booking a cruise, it's highly likely you've had questions alone the way. With so many players in the market, it can get a little overwhelming when trying to figure out the how, where, when and which of it all.

Natalie Kessell, founder of skincare brand Pink Hibiscus and event production consultant, knows a thing or two about cruising. For more than 24 years, she has been working in the industry — and has completely fallen in love with travelling the world by cruise liner.

ADVERTISEMENT

In 2000, Natalie got her first cruise ship job aboard P&O’s Fair Princess as a promotions host. She is now the producer of the Melbourne Cup Carnival Cruise for Carnival Cruise Line and is an avid cruiser in her spare time.

We chatted to Natalie about her top cruise ship hacks for passengers, plus her tips and tricks to get you well on your way to sipping a cocktail at sea in no time.

Kids vs. no kids.

If you're stumped on which cruise ship to choose, Natalie says a big deciding factor should be whether or not you'll be travelling with children. Amongst the different cruise lines, some cater better to families and others have a decidedly more adults-only vibe.

"If you don’t have kids and don't want kids surrounding you on your cruise vacation, then book a cruise line like Virgin Voyages, Princess, Holland America or Cunard," she suggests.

However, if you want to make a family vacation of it, "[cruise companies like] Carnival, P&O or Royal Caribbean" will provide the best onboard facilities to suit your needs.

Damien Hewitt, P&O Cruises Australia Cruise Director, adds that cruises aimed at accommodating families always go above and beyond providing plenty of entertainment.

ADVERTISEMENT

"For families, you want to look for a ship that offers you a great kids' program, water slides and parks, and adventure programs," he told Mamamia. "This is a great way for your kids to be brought together with other kids and make new friends. This will in turn give the parents the flexibility to do the same and get what they want from their holiday around the ship.

"You also want to go to destinations where you can keep the whole family excited and busy."

Onboard experience vs destination.

Once you've decided if this is going to be a child-free vacation or not, you can drill down further to figure out which cruise ship is going to deliver you the kind of experience you're after.

Natalie says it's important to think about what your ultimate goal is from the holiday — a fantastic onboard experience with all the bells and whistles? Or a means to travel to interesting destinations you've always wanted to visit?

"Determine whether you are cruising for the shipboard experience, destinations or a mix of both," she says. "There are so many amazing itineraries available."

Watch: Study shows that holidays help you live longer. Story continues below.


Video via Mamamia.
ADVERTISEMENT

Choose the right cabin.

When you think about it, a cruise ship really is a floating resort, and just like any other accommodation, there are different options available. Natalie says while a lot of this decision making will come down to budget, there are also some other hacks you can explore depending on your travel requirements.

"My husband and I love a balcony cabin, but we also don't mind an inside cabin as we're rarely in our cabin, and the darkness makes for amazing sleeps," she says. 

"You can get some amazing deals on inside cabins as they tend not to be the most popular, so if you're strapped for cash or want to save your holiday budget for shore or onboard experiences, then these are the way to go."

ADVERTISEMENT

And if you're prone to seasickness? Natalie has a cabin hack for that too.

"The most 'stable' position on the ship is midship and mid-deck," she says. "If you're concerned about seasickness, then be sure to request this positioning. On a ship that is 14 decks, for example, aim for decks five to seven, and in the middle of the ship."

Pack savvy.

Look, by now we all know that cabins on cruise liners aren't usually the most spacious of spaces. Which means a huge bag full of every single wardrobe item you own is probably not going to work.

Dan Hutchinson, Hotel Director for Celebrity Equinox Cruise, says that when packing for a cruise, try to keep it light on and casual.

"One of the best pieces of cruise advice for first-timers is not to overpack," he says. 

"Whatever the itinerary, destination, or occasion — when you pack, think casual chic. Each Celebrity Cruises itinerary features one to two 'Evening Chic' nights, where guests dress to impress, glamorous and sophisticated in their own way, but outside of this, smart-casual resort wear is the go-to."

ADVERTISEMENT

Natalie also has some handy packing tips to ensure your stay is as comfortable as possible.

"The walls are magnetic on a ship, so magnetic hooks always come in handy, [along with] a toiletries case that can hang from the back of the bathroom door," she says. 

"And [pack] an expandable washing basket so your room isn't overrun with dirty laundry."

Don't be late. No, seriously.

The ship waits for no one. We repeat: the ship waits for no one.

It's a no-brainer but something cruisers fall foul of each and every voyage, says Natalie. It's highly recommended to get to the port well before the cruise is set to depart, as timings are pretty set in stone.

Dan says that the best way to avoid queuing up while boarding is to avoid the peak traffic times. "Heads up — boarding lines are usually longest when check-in first opens in the morning and just after lunch," he says.

Natalie Kessell. Image: Supplied.

ADVERTISEMENT

In addition, remember that if your cruise is docking at various ports, it's important to always adhere to the schedule to avoid being left behind (even if you are an some idyllic island).

"The ship's departure time is promoted everywhere and you're reminded of it again with signage and via the crew when you disembark," says Kessell. "If you're not back in time by 'all aboard', you will be left behind — I've seen it happen!"

Damien Hewitt from P&O Cruises says the best way to ensure you make the most of your time on land and get back on board with plenty of time is to book tours through the ship's booking system.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Tours organised by us are great value and are the best experiences," he says. "Tried and tested by many before you, we know they are good. There is also the bonus that they will get you back to the ship in plenty of time before departure."

Avoid contraband.

Plenty of cruise ships have fairly strict contraband guidelines and these should be taken seriously. As much as it might sound tempting to decant some wine into a shampoo bottle to save a few pennies at the bar, you may risk getting turfed from the ship before you've even waved goodbye to the harbour.

"Remain mindful that each piece of luggage is scanned before it arrives to your room, so if you have any contraband items, your luggage will be delayed and you will need to meet with security onboard to collect it," says Natalie.

Take a small carry-on with necessities.

After checking in your luggage, you might not see your belongings for an hour or two while they go through security. If you're keen on kicking off the holiday asap, be sure to take a small carry-on bag with necessities you might need in case there is a delay.

"I always pack a small carry-on with items like a pair of swimmers, a change of clothes for the evening and some makeup, just in case," says Natalie. "I also carry my laptop or any valuable items with me onboard."

Book through a travel agent for special requirements.

When booking a cruise, securing things like cabins and onboard activities work a little differently. In order to not miss out on exactly what you want, Natalie suggests booking through a travel agent.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Don't assume that you're able to select your cabin like you can a seat on a plane," she says. "If you have any special requirements, I always recommend booking through a travel agent so that they can ensure you're in the cabin that you need/want."

Prepare for seasickness.

Ah yes, back to that dreaded sea sickness business. Whether you know you're prone or it sneaks up on you, be sure to have all bases covered ahead of time to ensure you don't spend the majority of your cruise in your cabin bathroom.

"Be sure to take your seasickness medication correctly," says Natalie. "Speak to your pharmacist but know that if you take a tablet once you're sick, it's too late. Two hours prior to the ship sailing is the ideal time for your first dose if you're concerned, and sometimes, two days before is when you need to start."

Lean into the 'cruise bubble'.

After all is said and done, Natalie's top cruising tip is to simply lean into the excitement of it all and enjoy the "cruise bubble".

"Get involved in the activities or don't… the choice is yours, but just have fun and know that the friends you meet onboard are friends you'll often have for a lifetime," she says. 

"I’ve sailed on hundreds of voyages over tens of cruise lines over the last 25 years and I'm still friends with those I've met on each of them."

Feature Image: Instagram/@natnatkessell

Calling all snack lovers! Complete this survey now to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher.