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What to Expect on Your First Ocean Cruise

  • What to expect on your first ocean cruise – from learning about the ships to discovering more about life on board
  • Your frequently asked questions answered, including dining, entertainment, excursions, and socialising
  • Make the most of your first ocean cruise with our insider’s tips including what to pack, tipping, Wi-Fi and currency

The Black Sea, South Africa, Norway’s fjords, the South of France – these are just some of the destinations you can visit on our ocean cruises. If you’re new to this type of holiday, read on to discover more about what to expect on your first ocean cruise. We’ve included lots of cruise advice and tips so that you can enjoy every moment of your maiden ocean cruise adventure.

Ready for your first ocean cruise? We have an exciting range of fascinating ocean cruises, from sailing through an incredible seven countries on our Cruising the Black Sea on the Azamara Journey to witnessing the rugged majesty of Norway’s fjords on our Cruising Norway’s Fjords on the Azamara Pursuit.

What should you expect on an ocean cruise ship?

Being on an ocean cruise is akin to staying in a luxurious floating hotel that visits multiple destinations, yet you need unpack only once. First-class restaurants are on your doorstep, spas and pools a stroll away, and there are excellent entertainment venues to enjoy every evening. Accommodation is in well-appointed, comfortable cabins, with modern amenities and stylish en suites with showers. What can you expect on a cruise? A wonderful time!

So how big is a cruise ship? The three Azamara ships are mid-sized, catering for around 690 passengers. They’re intimate but never feel crowded, and there’s a superb crew of over 400 on hand to ensure your cruise goes smoothly no matter which ocean you sail. At the other end of the scale is the magnificent Queen Mary 2, with over 2,600 passengers. This elegant luxury liner has six world-class restaurants, a champagne bar, casino, and five swimming and splash pools for a truly opulent voyage.

best cruises queen mary 2

Queen Mary 2

What is life like on an ocean cruise?

Ocean cruises are not just about exploring one fascinating destination after another. When the ship is not in port, there are plenty of onboard facilities to keep passengers occupied. Whether you want to join a fitness or dance class, use the well-equipped gym, or take a dip in a freshwater pool there are plenty of activities for all tastes.

Alternatively, you could indulge in a spot of pampering either in the ship’s beauty salon or spa. Take advantage of $50 onboard credit per person included on all Azamara cruises, such as our Cruising South Africa voyage, to treat yourself to a facial or massage.

What is dining is like on an ocean cruise?

When it comes to food and drink, our advice for first-time cruisers is to make the most of your ship’s world-class dining options. An ocean cruise is full board, with delicious, varied menus that cater to all tastes. Depending on the size of your ship, there may be between six and ten restaurants to enjoy. Some will offer nightly themed buffets; others will have à la carte menus serving dishes that reflect tantalising local flavours, made with the finest ingredients.

It’s worth reserving a table in one of the ship’s speciality restaurants. If you’re celebrating a special occasion, this is an ideal opportunity to dress up. Note that while some ocean cruises will include one or more speciality restaurant meals in the price, a surcharge may apply at other times.

what to expect on a cruise buffet restaurant

Delicious food in every restaurant

What is entertainment like on an ocean cruise?

There is never a dull moment on board an ocean cruise as ships provide a wealth of entertainment. From live classical music performances to movie nights screened open air under starlight skies, there’s something for everyone. Cabaret shows, guest singers, stage productions – passengers can expect a parade of evenings to remember. Some of our cruises on Azamara ships also host a fun White Night party, so remember to pack a white outfit to join in the fun.

Prepare to be amazed as some entertainment options confound expectations. A memorable transatlantic crossing to New York on our unforgettable Queen Mary 2 & New York City cruise, for example, includes a truly unique entertainment highlight – the first planetarium at sea!

You may also find a sports bar on board your ship, or a casino where you can try your luck at games of blackjack or poker. Alternatively, you may prefer to attend an insightful lecture, watch a cookery demonstration, or learn more about wine pairing. You certainly won’t be stuck for things to do.

what to expect on a cruise entertainment

On-board entertainment

What are other passengers like on an ocean cruise?

It’s easy to get to know other passengers on your cruise. You’ll have the opportunity to chat to others while dining, enjoying a relaxing drink in one of the ship’s bars, or exploring during onshore excursions. Everyone is on holiday and having a good time, so conversations tend to flow naturally. If it’s your first cruise, seasoned travellers will be only too happy to share their experiences and pass on a few cruise tips. Within no time, you’ll be gathering several new-found friends to attend a quiz night or arranging a sightseeing jaunt together. You may even all choose to book another cruise together in the future.

If you usually holiday alone, don’t dismiss ocean cruises for solo travellers. There’ll be chances to socialise with others, if that’s your wish, on tours ashore and while onboard the ship. However, it’s also a relaxing, safe environment for you to do your own thing.

What to expect on ocean cruise excursions

Shore excursions showing you the very best of the local culture, history, art, architecture, flora, and fauna are included in our ocean cruises, and there are further optional tours you can choose to join to personalise your holiday. Go on a game drive through Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa or learn more about Croatia’s past on a guided walk around Dubrovnik – experts await at every port. At most destinations, the ship will moor up at a quay. If the water is shallow and the ship anchors further away, you may need to transfer ashore by smaller tenders.

Some excursions take you on once-in-a-lifetime adventures. Our Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer & Alaska Cruise includes a 7-night, full-board Alaskan cruise, after a 7-night hotel stay. The cruise visits the natural beauty of Glacier Bay National Park, complete with calving glaciers and humpback whales, as well as other natural wonders. Optional excursions include opportunities for dog sledding, bear watching, and helicopter flights.

At most destinations, there will also be time for you to explore by yourself. Just note when you need to be back on board. The tide will often dictate a departure time, so a ship is unable to wait for passengers – and no one wants to be left behind!

what to expect on a cruise Addo Elephant National Park south africa

Visit the Addo Elephant National Park on our cruise to South Afirca onboard the Azamara Journey

Five good-to-know ocean cruise tips

  • When it comes to tipping, check whether daily onboard gratuities are included in the cruise price. If not, you’ll often find a recommendation of how much you should tip per day.
  • If wondering what to take on a cruise, pack for comfort. There are opportunities to dress up on ocean cruises, but there are no hard and fast rules. Some passengers will opt for more formal wear; others will dress more casually – it’s up to you.
  • Make the most of your dedicated Riviera Travel tour manager. They are on hand to ensure you enjoy every minute of your cruise, so if you have any queries, they are the person to ask.
  • You will need local currency for payments ashore, but the currency on most ships will usually be US dollars. It is easy, however, to use your credit card for any purchases, drinks, or snacks.
  • While there will be Wi-Fi available on your ship (generally for an additional cost), note that the internet at sea isn’t as reliable or as fast as the service you have at home. Take the time to unplug, digitally detox, and get some serious relaxing in.

Ready for your first ocean cruise?

There’s so much to choose from with incredible ocean cruises that suit all tastes that your first ocean cruise is unlikely to be your last! Start exploring with our ocean cruise collection and set sail on a wonderful holiday. From the eternal elegance of our Queen Mary 2 & New York City cruise to the adventure of our Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer & Alaska Cruise, there’s an ocean cruise for everyone.


If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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