I took my first cruise over spring break this March-and I am really glad I did. It was a completely new experience for me and I wanted to write an article about some of the things I learned that a new cruiser might find helpful.

Do I need a passport? This is probably the biggest question that people have when taking a cruise. It was something I needed to know because before the cruies I didn't have one. In fact, I still don't. The truth of the matter is that if your cruise arrives back at the same port it departed from you don't need a passport. My cruise left out of Miami and returned to the Port of Miami 5 days later. I was able to board with just a copy of my drivers license and birth certificate.

That being said, even if you don't need a passport there are times when you find you will be happy that you have it. When the cruise I took stopped in Jamacia over 75% of the people onboard went on a shore excursion. Among the tourists was a group of college students in their late teens and early twenties who decided to go on a "booze cruise". Unfortunately for them their partying went late and they missed reboarding the ship and were left in Ocho Rios, Jamacia-a very scary thing. Without a passport they were screwed, with a passport they were able to prove their American citizenship and secure passage to our cruise ship's next stop in Grand Cayman and reboard.

Can I take my own beverages on board the ship? The only beverages that are free on a cruise ship are: tap water, coffee, tea, milk, and some fruit juices. You have to pay for bottled water, sodas, and all alcoholic beverages-and boy are they expensive. You will pay in upwards of $4 for a can of pop while alcoholic beverages range in price from $9-$15. So to offset the cost of the cruise can you take your own beverages on board? Yes and No. The cruise line will let you take your own pop and water on board as long as you are just taking enough for personal consumption. The next time I cruise with my family we are going to take a case of water or a case of soda per person. What about alcoholic beverages? Most cruise lines will let each cruiser over 18 have 1 bottle of alcohol in their checked bag, and many of the cruisers I spoke with had more than that. The cruise line lets you know that when you check your bag they have the right to search it and cut your locks off if they deem necessary. Instead of locks I put zip ties on my luggage and when it arrived at my room the zip ties were intact and my bag had not been searched. If the line finds more than 1 bottle of alcohol in your bag they will simply seize it and return it to you before you disembark.

What's the most important thing to take with you on the ship? The answer to this question is obvious. The most important thing to take with you on a cruise is money. You may think that your fare includes all of the food and drinks you want, and it does as long as you want to eat only what is offered onboard and drink only the free drinks. Everything else takes cold hard cash. If you want to go on an excursion you have to pay for it along with anything else you want to purchase while on the excursion. The shore trips themselves can cost anywhere from $50-$400 and most do not provide you with snacks or drinks. There are lots of free things to do onboard the ship but if you want to visit the casino, play bingo, visit the spa, or purchase pictures and other keepsakes you need to have a pocket full of dollars because it gets pretty expensive.

Those are just three important things you need to know when you take your first cruise. I hope you find it helpful and are able to use the information when you take your first trip.