Cruising Guide

What to know before departure

Our cruising guide offers general advice and information which you may find useful, especially if you haven’t cruised before. Whilst we strive to update this page as new information becomes available, policies and rules vary between cruise lines and may change without notice. You’re advised to check with the relevant cruise line if you require definitive answers to your questions.

You may also like to check out our Packing Guide for hints and tips on what to bring and what to leave at home.

Currency used on board

During your cruise there are some things you may want to purchase that aren’t included in your fare. These include drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), snacks in between the complimentary main meals, souvenirs and shore excursions. Cruise lines incorporate a cashless system on board their ships. During check-in on embarkation day, your photo is taken and you’re issued a plastic card (similar in look and size to a credit card) and this is linked to your own credit card (you can usually top it up with cash if you prefer). Everything purchased on board is done so with this card and every passenger receives one, including children. The card also doubles as your room key, and as your security identification when embarking and disembarking the ship. If you lose your card, report it to the customer service desk immediately, so they can cancel it and reissue you a new one.

Cruise ships generally use either U.S. currency or Australian currency for their pricing on board. Below is a guide indicating the currency used on various cruise lines and ships:

Australian Currency:

  • P&O Cruises Australia (all ships)
  • Carnival Cruise Line (Carnival Spirit, Carnival Splendor)
  • Princess Cruises (Golden Princess, Emerald Princess, Diamond Princess, Sun Princess and Sea Princess)


US Currency:

  • Carnival Cruise Line (all other Carnival ships not listed above)
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Holland America Line
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Princess Cruises (all other Princess ships not listed above)
  • Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

Beverage Packages

Drinks packages are often promoted by cruise lines and they may be a cost-effective way of buying beverages during your cruise. There are a few things to consider as drinks packages differ between cruise lines. Packages may specify only soft-drinks or water, or alcoholic beverages (sometimes with different tier levels such as ‘standard’ or ‘premium’). Prices also vary between the cruise lines and some are in Australian dollars and others in US dollars.

When considering a drinks package, calculate how many drinks you’ll need to consume during the entire cruise to make it worthwhile. You’ll probably use the drinks package less during port days as you’ll most likely be ashore for a good part of the day. Drinks packages are also only to be used by the person who has purchased it; your cruise line may cancel your drinks package with no refund if you’re found to be using it to buy beverages for other passengers.

Be aware that when deciding on a drinks package, it is sometimes mandated that if one person in your cabin purchases one, every other person in your cabin must also do so.

Shore Excursions

Unless you’re on a ‘cruise to nowhere’, you’ll be visiting at least one port during your cruise and it may be the first time you’ve been there. Ships offer shore excursions at almost all ports and sometimes the list of excursions on offer can be quite long and varied. Typical shore excursions offered may include: panorama-style bus tours that take you to the main highlights of the area, walking or bicycling tours, snorkelling trips and city tours. Tour descriptions are often labelled with icons or numbers that indicate the degree of activity anticipated on the tour (such ‘low’, ‘moderate’ or ‘high’). On some trips, a snack or lunch is included and this will be indicated in the description of the tour.

Some guests prefer to arrange their own shore excursions with private companies ashore either prior to the cruise or after disembarking. There are a few advantages and disadvantages of doing so. If you book a shore excursion from the cruise line, they guarantee to wait for you in case the group is late on the way back (for example if the bus breaks down, or there’s unexpected traffic). Guests who book independent tours aren’t afforded this guarantee and there’s a risk the ship will leave without you if you’re not back on board in time (it has happened!). You’ll pay a premium when booking a ship-arranged shore excursion but if the ship misses the port for any reason, your tour costs will be refunded. You may not be entitled to a refund by independent operators if the ship misses the port.

Ship-organised tours sometimes do sell out prior to the cruise departure date, so it’s a good idea to have a look at the cruise line’s website and pre-book your preferred tours prior to sailing. If you prefer to book your tours on board, there is a dedicated shore excursion desk and on some ships you can also book them from your cabin using your TV.


Ships have comprehensive 24-hour medical services that consist of a doctor and at least one nurse. Please note that your Medicare card is not valid on board a cruise ship (including Australian coastal cruises) and fees for medical services are higher than ashore. For this reason, you are strongly advised to take out comprehensive travel insurance in case you require the ship’s medical services. This can be for something as simple as requiring sea-sickness medication however accidents can happen and extensive medical treatment and services will be expensive.

If you’re prone to motion sickness, colds, upset stomach or sore throats, you may wish to bring medications to help with these ailments as it will be cheaper than buying them on board. Ensure you bring enough of any prescribed medications with you and these should not be packed in your main luggage before embarkation. Instead, carry them with you as you board the ship in case you need them.

Some people are more prone to motion sickness than others. If you’ve never cruised before you may wish to bring medications with you to help prevent motion sickness. Your pharmacist may recommend products such as tablets, patches or pressure bands for your wrists. Other options that many people believe helps with motion sickness include ginger-based lollies (often sold on board) and green apples.

Travel Insurance

It is strongly advised that each guest travelling on a cruise (including Australian coastal cruises) takes out comprehensive travel insurance. The cost of travel insurance is incidental compared to the potential financial losses that could be incurred in case of a serious medical emergency or injury. Be aware that most companies offering travel insurance do not automatically cover some activities such as riding of mopeds/motorbikes/quad bikes and so on. Ensure that you’re familiar with what your policy covers and what it does not cover (or available for an additional fee).

Disclaimer: Whilst we have taken great care to ensure accuracy of this page, Education at Sea are not responsible for any inaccuracies, omissions or policy changes by cruise lines. You are advised to check with the relevant cruise line before booking if you have any questions.