It’s Our First Cruise…and I have Questions

Travelers, I’m hoping you can help! We’re less than a week away from our first cruise, on board Holland America’s Oosterdam…and as it’s our first time, I have all the questions.

I’ve read the info the cruise line sent our way, and still, I need your help.

Treasure Junk cruise in Halong Bay, Vietnam
Our trip aboard the Treasure Junk in Halong Bay, Vietnam was unbelievable. It may have given me enough of a taste of cruising and luxury to whet my appetite. Photo By Charish Badzinski.

Please share your personal experiences and help us know what to expect on our first cruise!

Here are the top 10 questions I have about cruising.

Will I get motion sick on the cruise? How much does a cruise ship typically rock?

The closest I’ve been to a “cruise” is being on board the Treasure Junk in Halong Bay, Vietnam and the overnight ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm on Viking Cruise Line. The boat was rocking throughout the trip, and I especially noticed it in the middle of the night. My stomach didn’t love it, but I got by. How have you fared on cruises? If you felt a little sick on board, did it get better the longer you were on the boat?

I have bought all the cruising motion things, just in case – the acupressure wrist thing, the pill things, and the behind the ear thing. If there is a thing that can stop the urp, I think I’ve got it. But let me know, am I missing anything? 

On board the Viking overnight ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm, I got my first sample of what it’s like to sleep on a cruise ship. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Will I feel like I’m being herded along with the other cruise passengers?

I HATE feeling herded. I don’t love crowds, but more than that I despise the pack mentality. The way at the breakfast buffets that people in hotels clamor for the food and walk away with mountains of food they can’t or shouldn’t eat. The pushing. The cutting in line. The disregard for other people. The overall “me first” mentality.

I’m really, really afraid that we’ll run into this. It’s a big reason why I haven’t cruised to date.

More, how do we bypass the herd hustle once we are in port? I know touts and taxi drivers can be pushy at times. Have you learned ways to avoid this?

Please tell me: do I need to brace myself for herd mentality and actually being herded? How do I work around it? 

How much cash should I bring?

I have heard on YouTube videos and read online that I should bring cash for those days in port, and possibly for tipping.

How much should each person have on hand? I’m assuming it should be in smaller bills? 

Should we tip our steward? And if so, how much?

I’ve read in some places that a person should tip their steward, and maybe some other key staff. How much? When? Others have suggested bringing a gift bag, since staff essentially live at sea. Has anyone done this? What did you include?

The fare on board the overnight ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm was luxurious, indeed. This is the start to brunch. Photo by Charish Badzinki. 

How much should we budget for drinks?

Okay, I know this is relative. We are no longer the high-flying partiers we used to be. That said, I could see us having a few drinks a day on board the ship. Having some days in port, I am finding it hard to figure out what our bar bill might be. But maybe I won’t care after a few margaritas.

How much have you spent on drinks on a cruise?

With my food intolerance/allergies will it be clear what food is safe for me to eat at restaurants and the buffet?

Anyone with food allergies or intolerance knows, it’s a minefield out there.

For me, dairy is a real problem, and it’s gotten worse over time–to the point where even those “enzyme” pills don’t help, and cross-contamination can leave me sick for two days. And dairy is in everything these days–from bread and tortillas to vinaigrette dressings to injections put into meat, to taco seasoning packets and so much more. And often restaurants fry non-dairy foods with dairy foods in the same grease, which can also make me sick.

I’m absolutely DREADING the food. And I know this should be one of the most fun things about cruising, so that makes me really sad.

I’ve alerted staff to my intolerance and they said a menu will be delivered daily. But what if I want to eat at the buffet? Or poolside? Or what if I want to partake in the tea they offer? Will there be options for me? Most importantly, will the food signs tell me whether there is dairy in an item?

I have visions of myself pressing my nose against the desert case sneeze screen, crying.

Does anyone have experience with food allergies and Holland America’s catering? 

How much clothing should I pack?

Yeah, I’m a Rollerbag Goddess, but I tend to pack super light, especially when traveling to economically depressed countries. I’m a budget traveler, not a luxury traveler. We’re talking bare bones, people–just enough to fit into a 40L backpack or small rollerbag. That has always been sufficient for my needs.

Packing for a cruise is an entirely different beast. I need jewelry, heels, hair implements…and the clothes! Dresses for evening, pool wear, casual clothing for in port…upscale casual for evenings outside of the fancy restaurants. This seems crazy to me. I’m even considering bringing my fascinator!

How much do you pack for a cruise?

When are these “Gala Nights” they keep telling me about?

It seems every cruise has formal nights. At Holland America they’re called Gala Nights. But I don’t see any indication of when those are scheduled during our cruise. How many are there? We’ve already made reservations at some of the fancier restaurants on board, at a cost. I wouldn’t want to miss out on the fun of a Gala Night just because we’ve made reservations.

Where can I get this information? I don’t see it in any of the materials.

Will it be an old crowd on the boat?

Holland America is known for drawing an older crowd. And I’m cool with that. We’re all about sedate snoozes by the pool, versus splashing and squealing.

But how old is the crowd on Holland America cruises? Will there be anyone in our age group? (Which is the best age group of all, BTW.) Will there be anyone as cool as us?

Will I feel like I am selling out as a traveler?

This is a legit fear of mine. I want to be a real traveler. Cruising seems like something entirely different, like it’s too easy and too posh for the likes of me. What? I get to shower every day? I get clean towels? And laundry service?

Will I feel like I’m selling out? 

And after I have a great time (hopefully), will I care? 

To all of you in the Rollerbag Community, thanks for any help you can provide for my first cruise aboard Holland America’s Oosterdam. All aboard!

Charish Badzinski
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.

Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.

Find Charish on Twitter: @rollrbaggoddess and on Instagram at @rollerbaggoddess. You can also read more about Charish Badzinski’s professional experience in marketing, public relations and writing.

Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

2 thoughts on “It’s Our First Cruise…and I have Questions

  1. Stan and I had always taken hiking exploring vacations. We thought we should cruise at least once before we die. So we took an Alaskan cruise five yrs ago. Loved it! Then we took a Caribbean cruise. Not so much because we’re not rum punch lay in the sun folks. Both of those with Princess (2500 people). Last year we took a Viking cruise up the coast of Norway. 900 people. Much better.
    Motion sickness
    I suffer from motion sickness although it seems to be better as I’ve aged. Yes there are advantages to aging. I took a Bonine first thing every morning and was fine.
    That’s the one thing I didn’t like about the bigger ships and the excursions. You are part of the herd. Wasn’t so much a problem on the smaller ship. We took the stairs a lot to avoid the elevator and stayed away from the stores. I basically accepted that was the price to pay.
    We took $300 for the whole trip with lots of $5 bills.
    Steward tip
    We were advised to tip a percentage which ended up being $400.
    Drink budget
    Can’t help you there since we don’t drink. Mine was a $5 latte every day.
    Stan loved the buffet during the Princess cruises because he was a glutton at that time and would come back with platters piled high. I have eaten paleo and this last trip no sugar no flour and was able to eat lightly and with care. Viking had lots of gluten free options. Didn’t notice on Princess.
    This last trip which was close to three weeks we both packed a carry-on size bag and a small backpack each. I tend to dress fairly simply nowadays. Black pants and a couple of pretty tops for dinners. Sandals. The rest casual according to the climate. Laundries are on the ships. Scarves and jewelry to dress up an outfit.
    “Gala Nights”
    We didn’t do formal nights. For the Princess cruises Stan had a sport coat. For Viking he didn’t even bring that. Stan did wear khakis for restaurants.
    Old crowd
    Of course, there will be an old crowd. We’re in our 70s so cruising is more appealing although we take fairly strenuous excursions. Many of these folks have been cruising probably for much of their adult lives. Many seemed really old to us. On the larger ships you’ll see folks your age. Just be kind to the old folks. Someday that might be you!
    Selling out
    You will feel like that a bit given your usual mode of travel. I often have felt we wimped out. However, we focused on what we could learn about the area we visited. Also, Stan reads a lot of naval novels so we also focused on the workings of the ship. On the Caribbean cruise and the Viking cruise we hit some bad weather so that made the at sea days exciting and fun!


    1. Thank you, Rosalie! These tips were SO HELPFUL in the days leading up to our trip! There is a lot to think about before your first cruise, and having your input made all the difference. We enjoyed our experience on Holland America! The stops felt superficial, not the deep travel we normally like to do, but I’m okay with enjoying travel for the sake of relaxation too! We enjoyed formal nights, and the food was good. I had a significant amount of stress over my dietary needs–dairy is in everything these days. But they took such excellent care of me, I couldn’t believe it. And I’m glad we upgraded our room. We had a nice place to go back to and recharge our introvert batteries when needed. It was an awesome, if expensive experience, and I will be writing about it soon. Thank you for all of your help!


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