Around the world,  TDM,  Tips

Taking a cruise: how does it work?

Anh has already told you about our cruise in Norway, it was really a great experience!

I realized that a lot of people were wondering about what happens on a cruise on a big ship

So I decided to write this article trying to compile all the useful information if you are planning to go on a cruise for the first time

This article is based on a unique experience, a cruise in the Norwegian fjords with the MSC Orchestra in August 2014. I imagine that the operation at MSC, Costa or any other cruiser is very similar but there are surely some specificities in each of them

Is it possible to negotiate the price of the trip?

Yes, yes and yes.
To book your trip, you have two options

  • Book live via the cruise line
  • Go through a travel agency

There is a double advantage to go through a travel agency:

  • They have discounts compared to “direct cruise” prices and can therefore offer you more interesting rates.
  • They can organize your transfer to the port of embarkation. In our case, the cruise departed from Kiel, Germany. The travel agency organized our flight from Paris to Hamburg and then the bus to the port in Kiel.

The next thing you need to know is that several travel agencies will market strictly the same product. They have the possibility to reduce their margin to lower the price. So it’s in your best interest to make the competition play

For my part, I contacted 3 or 4 agencies that proposed the cruise we were interested in, I simply explained to them that I would leave with the one that would offer me the best price

In the end, there was still a 300 euro gap between the most interesting and the most expensive proposal

Having specified that my birthday would take place during the trip (which was true), I was even entitled to a “birthday pack” package offered 🙂

What are the different types of cabins?

Excluding luxury suites, there are generally three categories

  • Interior cabins
  • Cabins with porthole
  • Cabins with balcony

Obviously, there is a significant price difference between each category

We had hesitated for a long time in the choice

We had eliminated the interior cabin option for fear of “claustrophobia”. I don’t think it’s very embarrassing in the end. The boats are so big that you can go into your cabin just to lie down

We had initially left to take a cabin with a porthole but the agency warned us that the only remaining cabins with portholes had the view obstructed by lifeboats. This is clearly a point to check, we don’t necessarily think about it intuitively and it would have been a very bad surprise to pay for a cabin with a half-masked porthole. Note that in any case, you will not be able to open the porthole.

So we ended up with a cabin with a balcony. It’s more expensive but we didn’t regret it, it’s really nice to wake up every morning with an incredible new view while lounging in bed. It is also possible to have breakfast quietly on the balcony avoiding the crowds of the restaurant

How is the boarding process?

When boarding, your identity is checked and you must leave a “deposit” to cover your expenses during the trip as well as the service charge (which we will discuss later).
This deposit is usually in the form of a credit card imprint but can also be paid in cash if you prefer (ask beforehand how much you will need).
Once these formalities are done, you will get a magnetic card that will be used

  • To pass the controls each time you enter or leave the boat.
  • To enter your cabin
  • To pay for your drinks during the cruise

During boarding, you also leave your suitcases, which you will find later directly in front of your cabin door

Service fees

In addition to the amount of the cruise charged by your agency, you will have to pay a “service charge”.

These service charges correspond to the tips that will be paid to the staff (maid, waiter, cook, …).

These service charges will be billed to you at the end of the cruise, deducted from the deposit you will have left at the beginning of your stay. Depending on the cruise, the service charges are around 5 to 10 € per night and per person which isn’t negligible, it is really to be taken into account in the budget.

I have read on some forums that the legality of these “mandatory tips” is questionable and that some people refuse to pay them, arguing that they will leave tips as they wish (what can be understood is the principle of tips).

It’s up to you to see if you want to pass for an arrogant, grumpy and stingy Frenchman 🙂

Drink packages

In the basic formula, no drinks are included in the price. You will therefore have to pay for each drink you consume knowing that it is forbidden to bring your own drinks on board.

It can quickly be quantified since you will find more or less the same rates as in a restaurant, the bottle of water is sold 3.5 euros for example

It is therefore advisable to take a drink package. There are many of them (package for X bottles of water, package for drink during the meals, package for unlimited drink, …)

Not wanting to restrict ourselves, we had taken a rather large unlimited drink package (including alcoholic cocktails). This package cost about thirty euros per day and per person

In hindsight, I don’t think it’s profitable unless you plan to drink more than you need to. If we had to do it all over again, I think we would choose a cheaper package, even if it meant buying a drink on the side once in a while

In any case, it is advisable to choose your drink package before departure. There will always be time to take one on board but it will be a bit more expensive

Whether you have a package or not, it is thanks to your magnetic card that you will be able to ask for drinks, whether at the bar or the restaurant.

You will need to sign a receipt each time to confirm your order.


Just like the drink package, there are internet packages

Quite frankly, we advise against it, these are sold at exorbitant rates for very low data volumes.

Travelling on the open sea, it is about sattelite connections which moreover have a rather variable quality

So take advantage of your cruise to disconnect and enjoy life on board 🙂

It will always be possible to connect when you are on a stopover by taking advantage of the WiFi in a café or restaurant. If your cruise is in Europe, you will naturally be able to take advantage of your French mobile subscription at no extra cost

The food

Don’t worry, you won’t starve to death! With MSC, a “buffet” restaurant is open and available 20 hours a day! (from 6am to 2am).

The day begins with breakfast open from 7am to 10am. It is also possible to have a cabin delivered for an extra charge. To be done at least once if you have a balcony in your cabin

For lunch, you can choose to eat in the buffet restaurant or in a restaurant with table service (at no extra charge). It is best to book in advance to make sure you have a seat

For dinner, we are entitled to a real gastronomic service, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by the quality at MSC. You will be at table with the same passengers throughout the cruise, normally with passengers speaking your language. We were with a French couple and a French-speaking Swiss couple.

You should know that there are two services for dinner: the first at 6:30 pm and the second at 9 pm. I strongly encourage you to ask to be at the second service. We tend to eat a lot so 6:30 pm is a bit early. Also, most families with children choose the first service.

The program and activities

Every evening, you will find the logbook in your cabin. This diary will explain the next day’s program: city of arrival, time of disembarkation and embarkation, proposed excursions, shows, activities, ..

Even on non-stop sailing days, you won’t be bored, depending on the ships, you will find multiple bars, swimming pools, casinos, cinemas, gyms, … there’s plenty to do!

Every evening, you will be treated to a show: dancers, magicians, acrobats, … it is generally of high quality

Once a week, the Captain’s evening is held during which you will have the opportunity to meet the captain and take a picture with him.

Traditionally, an elegant dress code should be adopted. As I had no costume, I did as I could with what I had ^^


At each stopover, one or more excursions will be proposed to you to discover the city. This is the easy solution: you are 100% taken care of and you don’t have to worry about coming back late when the boat has already left

You can choose these excursions when you book your trip or book during the cruise at the excursion office… if there is still availability

You can also choose to manage by yourself. Either by visiting the city on your own or by booking an excursion on the spot

During our cruise in Norway, we got off as soon as possible. A tourist office is generally present at the feet of the boat and proposes… exactly the same excursions for half the price!

However, this requires a certain ability to improvise and there is no guarantee of being able to do what one would like to do

If there is an excursion that you absolutely want to do, it is surely preferable to book via the cruise line. For the rest, don’t hesitate to do without, you will save a lot of money

In some cases, the landing site is quite far from the city. In such cases, the company offers to buy specially chartered bus tickets that will shuttle throughout the duration of the stopover. In these cases, there is unfortunately not much alternative, you could take one of the cabs that will be present but often at very high fares.

How is the disembarkation going?

The day before disembarkation, you will find in your cabin the final bill as well as tags for your luggage.

Check the invoice carefully, this is the amount that will be deducted from your departure deposit. If there is an error, do not hesitate to report it.

You must also tag your baggage and leave it outside your cabin by a specified time. You will then be able to retrieve your luggage ashore.

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