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Celebrity Cruises: We find out what every first time cruiser needs to know

Celebrity Cruises: We find out what every first time cruiser needs to know

First time guests Scott and Tris with Celebrity Reflection in the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean

What should all first time cruisers know before they travel? My partner and I took our first cruise with Celebrity Cruises this summer to find out the answers.

While on board we asked cruise veterans – including the ship’s senior officers and most experienced guests – for their tips. What should you pack? How do you make the most of your time? What are the unmissable onboard experiences? And how are LGBTI guests welcomed?

We found all of them – crew and guests alike – to be cruising and Celebrity Cruises ambassadors. This is our pick of the best friendly advice they offered and what we learned for ourselves.

Explore the ship

If you are a first time cruiser, you may not know what to expect from your ship. Celebrity Cruises ships are vast. Ours, Celebrity Reflection, was 15 decks high.

It boasts three pools, a theatre, a shopping mall, a casino, a spa, a library and a basketball court. And that’s not to mention all the bars and restaurants. There’s even a large lawn with real grass and an outdoor cinema.

So take a bit of time to research the ship before you board. Look at the deck plans and find out where your stateroom will be. You don’t have to memorise everything, but it’s exciting as you look forward to your holiday to know what to expect on board.

It’s also a good idea to arrive in plenty of time before sailing on your first day. That gives you the chance to explore the ship and settle in, so you are refreshed and relaxed when you sail away.

The luxurious Sky Observation Lounge on Celebrity Reflection.
The luxurious Sky Observation Lounge on Celebrity Reflection. | Photo: GSN

Book speciality restaurants and excursions in advance

One of the attractions of Celebrity Cruises is the quality of the food. Even in the main dining room, you’ll find the same quality you’d expect of a superior restaurant.

But it’s worth splashing out on at least a few meals in the speciality restaurants, for a truly memorable experience. From stunning sushi to the flavors of Tuscany to the best steaks, there’s plenty to choose from.

But these smaller restaurants do book up. And you can make the most of your time on board by pre-booking online. It’s much better than dashing around to book them when you first arrive on the ship.

You can make your speciality restaurant upgrades cheaper by booking a pack of them in advance.

Likewise, it’s a good idea to book any organised shore excursions you want to take. These take the hassle out of the destinations you visit and expose you to experiences you may not be able to fix up for yourself.

Once you’ve decided and pre-booked any organised excursions, you can take the time to research other destinations for yourself, so you arrive in port prepared.

Get the app before you board

It’s got a useful guide to the facilities on board, including the restaurants, services, shops, spa and other services.

You can find out what entertainment is on and what excursions are available. And there’s a day-by-day planner, listing the landing and disembarkation times at all the ports as well as all the activities on board. You’ll always know what’s going on.

Put sunscreen and a pair of swim trunks in your hand luggage

One great way to take the hassle out of the start of your cruise is to book a transfer from the airport.

Celebrity Cruises picked us up from the arrivals lounge, relieved us of our luggage and soon had us on our way to the ship.

But when you get on board, you may find it’s a few hours before your stateroom is ready or your bags arrive in your room.

So experienced cruisers pack a pair of swim trunks and a bottle of sunscreen in their hand luggage. That way, they can jump straight in the pool or jacuzzi or relax on the loungers – a perfect way to unwind after your journey.

Main pool deck on Celebrity Reflection.
Just some of the hot tubs and pools on Celebrity Reflection. | Photo: GSN

Don’t feel you have to hide

We already knew how LGBTI-friendly Celebrity Cruises is. After all, they are headline sponsors of Pride in their headquarters city of Miami.

But I admit I thought we might encounter an old-fashioned crowd and some outdated attitudes from our fellow cruisers.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. All the guests we spoke to were very open and friendly. We never felt judged or disapproved of as a same-sex couple. And we were quite comfortable holding hands around the ship.

I also met trans people and lesbian couples who found the same. So, while this is not a ‘gay cruise’ that doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be straight.

Pack some smart-casual clothes, alongside the beachwear

Around most of the ship, it’s fine to wear shorts, t-shirts, vests and have bear arms. Obviously, swimwear on the sun deck and around the pool is the standard.

On the other hand, people do make an effort for dinner. But you don’t have to go overboard.

If you dress as a guy, pack trousers, chinos or unripped jeans to wear in the main restaurants. T-shirts are banned for formal dining but short-sleeved button shirts are fine. Alternatively you can pack long-sleeved shirts and light jumpers for the evening. Of course, you can get away with any kind of top, if it’s covered by a jacket.

If you wear feminine clothes, you can dress for dinner in a blouse and skirt or dress. Again, you can cover bare shoulders with a jacket or shawl. So there’s plenty of choice.

On the other hand, if you enjoy dressing up, evening dresses and black tie are definitely in vogue. So pack something special for one or two stylish evenings on board.

Gay couple dressed for dinner on a Celebrity Cruise.
Enjoying the evening sun before dinner. | Photo: GSN

Get a drinks package

I’m not that heavy a drinker in day-to-day life. But I admit I have a bit of a ‘well, I’m on my holidays’ attitude when I’m travelling.

So if you’re like me, you should definitely think about pre-booking a drinks package. This allows you to have a range of cocktails, wines by the glass, beers and a choice of spirits for no extra charge.

I loved having a pre-dinner gin martini in the Sky Bar, watching the sea. During dinner, I found having wine by the glass preferable as I could match my food to my drink. In fact, the sommeliers on board are excellent, and will definitely help you.

There are three tiers of drinks package to choose from on Celebrity Cruises and they can represent a big saving. Moreover, you won’t have to worry about an unexpected bill at the end of your trip. Look out for special offers online, which sometimes include drinks packages.

A cocktail onboard Celebrity Cruises.
The drinks packages include a wide range of cocktails, beers and wines by the glass. | Photo: GSN

Keep your hands clean

Cruises bring together large groups of people from all around the world. But there are some simple things you can do to stay healthy.

First off, wash your hands with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Celebrity Cruises also has hand sanitiser dispensers all over the ship, including at the entrance to all the restaurants. It makes it easy.

It’s also important to stay hydrated, particularly if you’ve followed my advice about getting a drinks package. Take bottled water when you head on shore, as it’s not safe to drink tap water in every destination.

A bit of exercise can help you work off the extra calories from all the good food on board. So use the gym and the onboard running track. Or, at very least, take the stairs rather than the elevators between decks.

Meanwhile, to keep your diet healthy, pace yourself at the buffet. Make sure you eat plenty of fruit and vegetables alongside the rich treats.

And of course, like on all hot-weather holidays, wear sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen.

Of course, most cruise passengers stay perfectly healthy on board. We certainly finished our holiday more ship-shape than when we began it.

Relax and unwind with breakfast in bed

You want to make the most of your time, but that also means taking time to relax.

Room service is free on Celebrity Cruises between 6am and 11pm. So pick up the breakfast order leaflet in your room, fill it in and hang it on your door before you turn in for the night. You can choose your timeslot and they will call you to tell you when it’s on the way.

Sitting on your veranda enjoying a morning coffee and a good breakfast is a great way to start the day.

Consider a digital detox

I admit, we stayed connected on our trip. But we were working as well holidaying.

And if keeping the internet is essential to you, there are wifi packages for one or more devices, and for an hour or the whole cruise.

But perhaps this is the holiday to do a digital detox. Out at sea, you are unlikely to get a phone signal. So you could just lock your smartphone in the safe in your room and forget it.

Alternatively, take your phone when you are in port, so you can search for sights, cafés, and use maps. And just do your digital detox at sea.

Go mix with other LGBTIs

Celebrity Cruises has a long commitment to LGBTI guests. On the first night of every cruise, they organise an informal gathering where you can pop along and meet other LGBTIs on board.

Of course, it’s far from compulsory. But it’s a nice way to get to know a few people so you have some friendly faces on board.

You can find out where and when it’s happening on the app, the daily newsletter delivered to your stateroom, the ship’s noticeboards – or just ask.

Throw yourself into it

From water polo matches to a silent disco and from theatre shows to networking drinks, there’s always something happening.

We thought the two days when we were at sea without docking at a port would pass slowly. In fact, the opposite was the case. The crew put on a packed schedule of activities from a Swarovski jewelry-making class to port tasting to karaoke.

Keep track of what’s going on in the daily newsletter and throw yourself into it.

Start your cruise journey

Find out more about Celebrity Cruises, with departures and itineraries around the world, here.

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