If you’re going on your first cruise this summer, you’re probably spending a lot of time dreaming about sitting on the deck with a pina colada. But even if you’ve read your cruise brochure a million times, you may not know exactly what to expect, which can make it hard to pack and know how to plan your time. Here are a few things you should know before going on your cruise.

Luggage Limits

First thing’s first: packing. Cruises are often aboard massive ships where you get your own cabin, making it seem like you should be able to bring a month’s worth of clothes, accessories, and whatever else you want with you (knowing what is included in a cruise can help you avoid overpacking). But cruises actually have pretty strict guidelines when it comes to what you can pack. While you can probably bring as many bags as you want, you’ll have a hard time getting it through the x-ray machines at security and into your room if it’s any larger than an average suitcase. Larger items, like coolers or bicycles, should be left at home. And, as usual, there are limits on items that can legally be brought on board, like drugs and weapons, and you may have to limit yourself to one bottle of champagne or wine.

Dining Flexibility

In movies, you’ve probably seen people gathering in large banquet halls to eat meals on cruise ships, being sat with strangers who you may or may not get along with. Because cruises fully understand how much eating can impact the enjoyment of a vacation, options for dining onboard have dramatically expanded. You’ll most likely be able to enjoy poolside food, room service, and buffets on your trip. Most food will be included in your cruise package, but you can dine in specialty restaurants onboard for a price. Dining in the main banquet area will still be an option and can be convenient as your seat is reserved for you during the entire trip. The best part? Your wait staff will be the same the entire time, meaning they’ll get to know you and your preferences – you’ll have the most individualized service possible on your cruise.

Dress Codes

While once upon a time cruises did have dress codes for indoor dining areas and events, most have left that tradition in the past. You will probably need to have a pair of closed-toe shoes and change out of your bathing suit before sitting down to eat, but jeans and a t-shirt are never going to get you kicked out of the banquet hall. If formality is appealing to you, many cruises do have formal evenings where men are required to have a suit and tie, while women opt for a cocktail dress. Formal evenings make for a nice change after days of Hawaiian shirts and pool shoes.

Gym Time

Particularly for longer cruises, being onboard even the biggest cruise ships can start to feel a little stuffy. If exercise is part of your regular routine, you can probably continue your fitness regimen on board. Most cruises come with a gym that can rival the size of your gym back home, complete with treadmills and weight equipment. You can jog around an outdoor track on the upper deck with a dazzling view of the ocean and jump in the pool to cool off afterward. For a fun exercise experience, you can sign up for classes like Zumba or kickboxing. Who knew you could come back from a cruise even fitter than when you left?

Hidden Costs

A feature of cruises that often trips up first-time cruisers is the fact that many things on board are not included in the cost of your ticket, including drinks at the bar or the onboard Starbucks, gratuities, etc. It can be a shock to get the bill at the end and realize the true cost of your cruise experience. Be wary of where you’re scanning your card and look into buying upgraded packages that come with onboard credits to spend. Going on your cruise with a little information under your belt is ultimately going to make the whole experience much more enjoyable.

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