10 lessons for skeptical first-time cruisers

CNN  — 

Sailing into a new era of ultimate getaways, cruising has never been more on the pulse of what vacationers want: adventure, relaxation and Instagram-worthy food.

For skeptics who maintain that cruising isn’t for them, the industry has heard you loud and clear, making huge changes over the past decade.

Cruising has seen great advancements in the comfort and style of their ships – so much so that nonbelievers may discover it’s the perfect vacation they’ve been avoiding.

Here’s a handy travel guide to assessing whether you’re fit to join the ranks of millions of happy cruisers.

1. There is a cruise line to fit your personality

So much more than getting from point A to point B, cruise lines create distinct atmospheres on board – and you get to choose your own adventure, based on which one is right for you.

From sophisticated white glove service to retro hamburger joint Johnny Rockets, the offerings on cruise ships vary to suit many different ideas about comfort and budget.

The most important aspect to consider when assessing a cruise line is its culture, whether it’s the party scene aboard Norwegian, the family-oriented Carnival ships or the art history lecture-leaning Viking Ocean Cruises.

Smaller ships tend to offer more personalized, relaxed sailing experiences, while the larger, behemoth ocean liners echo a Vegas-style extravagance.

2. You won’t feel claustrophobic on the right ship

Many of today’s ships are floating cities, with sprawling lobbies, spacious pool decks and distinct areas meant to vary your day at sea.

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class ships feature seven neighborhoods, allowing you plenty of room to leisurely stroll through a five-deck high Central Park atrium on your way to an elaborately themed Boardwalk, where a grand carousel takes passengers for a spin.

Typical seven-day cruises spend more than two thirds of the week in ports, allowing ample time for excursions, walks along the beach or lunch at a local favorite.

Cruises offer the convenience of visiting multiple destinations in one trip while only having to unpack once, paired with the ease of waking up docked at your next destination.

3. Cruises can be a great value

All-inclusive by design, cruises offer great savings by bundling a majority of your trip expenses into one rate.

When considering the value of a cruise, know that your ticket generally includes: 3+ meals per day, twice-daily serviced cabins, a fathoms-deep list of shipboard activities and nightly entertainment.

With week-long cruises starting around $50 per person per day, few other value vacation options can compete.

Even on the higher-end luxury lines, the quality of service, dining experiences from renowned chefs and cabin accommodations far outweigh the value of a night’s stay in a five star hotel.

Still, there are add-ons like excursions and alcoholic beverages that are generally not included, so take those items and other extras into account.

Pro tip: CruiseCalculator.com can help with budgeting

4. Great food is available

Going on a cruise does not mean sacrificing premium food experiences.

Historically known for endless buffets, awkward group dining experiences and the inedible Baked Alaska dessert, cruise dining is not what it used to to be. Celebrity chefs have revamped tired dining traditions with exciting new takes on casual and fine dining at sea.

Seabourn Cruise Line touts a collaboration with Michelin three-star chef Thomas Keller, while Crystal Cruises features fresh sushi from Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa.

When it comes to comfort food, Carnival Cruise Line hits the spot with Food Network mainstay Guy Fieri’s indulgent “Guy’s Burger Joint” on its fleet.

Buffets still attract the most crowds for breakfast and lunch, and main dining rooms are now more commonly configured with fewer group tables and flexible timing for a more casual repast. Or you can skip the hubbub of the dining room and order in. Room service is available on all cruise lines with select lines now charging a nominal fee per order. Everything tastes better in a robe.

Pro tip: Plan ahead each night with a custom breakfast order. Set your delivery time window to coincide with the time you’d like to be woken up. You’ll begin the morning with a fresh cup of coffee and an omelet cooked to your liking.

5. The entertainment has evolved

Acrobatic wonders, full-scale Broadway musicals and comedians straight from TV – cruise lines deliver quality entertainment options on board nightly.

There’s plenty to look forward to as the sun sets when beloved TV brands come to life with shows like “Deal or No Deal” on Norwegian Cruise Lines, “Lip Sync Battle” on Carnival and “The Voice of the Ocean” (professional mentors, iconic spinning chairs and all).

Smaller ships welcome more sophisticated and intimate shows, as with Azamara Club Cruises’ Feinstein’s/54 Below, Broadway’s Supper Club and Cunard Line’s impressive National Symphony Orchestra music concerts.

Pro tip: Reservations for the headlining shows are often required ahead of time.

6. It’s tough to be bored on board

From bow to stern, cruises are packed with cutting-edge fun. Modern fleets have successfully antiquated the game of shuffleboard, and then some.

In the new era of cruising, the day begins with fitness classes, followed by hours of continuous programming, including pick up games on expanded sport decks, arts and crafts, lectures, behind-the-scenes tours and much more.

Industry-first attractions like a 1,000-foot go kart track on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Joy and “indoor” skydiving by way of RipCord by iFly® on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum-class deliver some of the most thrilling moments at sea.

Every day on the ship, you’ll receive a comprehensive planner that details the activities, dining hours and late-night bar options that helps to make the most of your day.

7. Cruising doesn’t mean you have to disconnect

To connect or disconnect; the choice is finally yours. No longer beholden to subpar internet access, cruise lines are prioritizing high-speed, ship-wide Wi-Fi networks that can provide the bandwidth to stream Netflix poolside.

Research the internet packages prior to boarding, as you’ll likely save by purchasing ahead of time. Regardless of the internet package you choose, you’ll still want to bring your phone along throughout the day, as most lines offer free, resourceful apps that help with passenger-to-passenger communication, daily activity schedules and tracking account charges.

8. Ships also provide serenity

As much of an emphasis as there is on fun at sea, every cruise ship dedicates areas of quiet relaxation.

Spa amenities and facilities continue to expand as cruise lines invest in partnerships with spa brands including The Canyon Ranch SpaClub on Celebrity’s Solstice-class ships, Dr. Andrew Weil on Seabourn Cruise Line and Liv Nordic Spa on Viking Ocean Cruises.

If peace and quiet is a priority, a balcony is a must for the perfect view of the endless horizon. There are also plenty of cozy chairs that line the edge of each cruise deck with the same view.

Pro tip: Plan ahead for your first day on the ship by bringing a day bag. When boarding the ship, your luggage is whisked away, usually appearing at your cabin a few hours later.

If your first instinct is to head straight for the spa, pack your day bag with a swimsuit and a change of clothes.

9. You don’t have to be a slave to seasickness

The ship can and will sway, but new ships minimize the effects of the ocean’s motion with high-tech stabilizers.

Maintaining your wellness at sea begins with staying hydrated, making sure you counter each alcoholic beverage with a glass of water, and applying and re-applying sunscreen throughout the day.

Non-drowsy Dramamine or Bonine can help seasickness symptoms, or opt for ginger chews for a natural aid.

Pro tip: If you are anxious about getting seasick, consider a cabin in the lower, center ship areas.

10. Norovirus is rare

According to the Cruise Lines International Association, “you’re 750 times more likely to contract norovirus on land than on a cruise ship.” Still, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to forget some of the unnerving headlines from incidents in recent years.

The CDC keeps a record of cruise ships and their history of shipborne illness online.

To stay healthy on the ship, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 30 seconds continuously numerous times throughout the day, use the stairs when you can to stay active and be mindful of drinking the water (and ice!) in ports where water quality is an issue.

Zach Laks is a New York City-based travel writer whose work has been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure and Departures.