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Using fresh eyes to enjoy your first ship cruise

YOU always remember your first time.

There's the promise of adventure, the allure of the unknown, the temptation of having all that you ever wanted laid bare before you.

And of course a merry old romp - however brief - is good for the soul.

Yes, first-time cruisers can be like kids in a lolly shop: so much fun, food, entertainment, and exotic destinations that they are overwhelmed with joy and don't know what to do next.

I love watching their eyes widen at the breakfast smorgasbord on the first morning.

I love seeing their jaws drop as they explore the ship on those first few days at sea.

I love seeing them finally relax with that good book and cocktail beside the sunlounge.

I love hearing their laughter at pre-dinner drinks with newfound friends.

I love their smiles as they willingly leave their comfort zone and try their hand at new activities.

And I love their gasps and "aahs" as they watch lavish costumes combine with velvet voices and energetic dance steps in the latest theatre production.

Being somewhat of a cruise-holiday convert, I decided to take my mother-in-law on her first cruise as an 80th birthday celebration - just the two of us.

And I think it's fair to say she had the time of her life.

She couldn't wait to get going each morning, absorb as much of the day's highlights as humanly possible at her age, maybe take a mid-afternoon nap before dressing up for dinner and a show, then finally hit the pillow around midnight.

The chance to see village life and meet our Pacific neighbours took her back to the little girl who dreamed of becoming a missionary. And she lapped up all the attention and fuss the crew made of her as a respected senior citizen.

What she didn't have to do also must take some credit for her holiday zest.

She didn't have to prepare meals for family and houseguests and clean up afterwards. No washing and ironing clothes or making beds, either.

She didn't have to look up a train and bus timetable to get where she was going.

The only shopping she did was for presents for family and souvenirs.

And she could take a well-deserved break from her church and charity work to simply enjoy her milestone.

What to order from the a-la-carte menus, what shoes to wear, and which necklace went best with her sparkly new dress were the hardest decisions she had to make over the seven days.

Seeing her first-time cruising thrills ignited a spark of excitement in me as well: I remembered why you should make an effort to watch the sun go down each afternoon and wake up early to photograph sunrise.

I remembered why you should spend time outside breathing in all that clean fresh air, no matter how breezy.

I remembered why any time spent in the spa is time well spent.

I remembered why staring out into glorious nothingness for hours on end is so exhilarating.

I remembered why we make the effort to discover new places, learn about new cultures, immerse ourselves in new experiences and chat with new people.

In the end, I remembered why I dearly love cruising, on vessels big and small.

I may have met my match in a woman wanting to preserve every moment in a photograph. But the joy on my mother-in-law's face each new morning and her "thank you for another lovely day" before we went to bed each night was worth every cent we spent.

Advice for first-time cruisers

It's a marathon, not a sprint. So while rich and calorie-laden food and alcoholic-drink temptations are everywhere, have everything in moderation.

Don't be shy. You'll have more fun when you get involved in the ship's activities and make the most of port visits.

Try everything once. Your cruise aims to broaden your horizons so try new spots around the ship such as various bars and restaurants or even deck chairs.

Take advantage of the local knowledge available in a shore tour for making the most of each new port but don't be afraid to try independent exploring as well.

Ask questions. If you don't understand or are confused by anything, seek the help of a crew member. They're there to make sure you enjoy your cruising experience. Also ask for expert recommendations from the sommeliers, waiters and hospitality stewards.

Take time to breathe. You've chosen a cruising holiday to relax and get away from the everyday. So watch the world go by as you soak up the Vitamin D from the sun and fill your lungs with fresh air on a deckchair or from your cabin balcony.

Be a smart packer. While casual clothing is expected for the carefree life onboard and comfortable walking shoes for the ports, consider you may also need something a little ritzier for dinner or special nights.

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