I have been an avid cruiser for about a decade. I’ve stuck with one cruise line (Carnival) so my viewpoints may be biased and one sided, however in research and conversation with friends who have gone cruising with other companies – our experiences pretty much align.
I’m not exactly sure why I have stuck with one cruise line only (aside from maybe convenience). Carnival does have a loyalty program where you accumulate points for each night you cruise, but the perks are laughable (for example, Gold Level gets a complimentary DRINK – not DRINKS – on the last evening of a cruise of 5 or more days – boy, where do I sign up!). Aside from this, I love every aspect of cruising, and below I’ll explain why, what you can do to make yourself a better cruiser, and some things to be cognizant of.
Why cruising is the best
When considering a vacation of any kind, cruises offer the most value for your dollar. It is not uncommon to find cruises for around (or less than) $100 per day for all of this luxury. You would be hard pressed to find a decent hotel for the same price, and this would just include the lodging! While there is a misconception that cruises are all-inclusive – they definitely aren’t – it doesn’t mean that you cannot have an absolutely awesome time without spending a dime above your ticket price – food, lodging, some soft drinks, and plenty of onboard activities are included in the price. Things that cost extra include alcohol, some (most) soft beverages, spa treatments, certain “specialty” restaurants or meals, shore excursions, and some onboard activities (for example, evening babysitting service or captain’s dinner). Of course, as with anything, taxes, port fees, and gratuities are added on at the end, so make sure you don’t overlook that when budgeting for your cruise.
There is PLENTY to do on a ship. I promise, you will never be bored. And if you want to do nothing but soak up the sun while sipping on a libation of your choice, plenty of room to do that. My skin tone is paler than pale, so I am not one for laying out on the deck all day, but I am all about those libations. And my favorite activities are trivia games and comedy shows. There’s a trivia topic about just about anything – sports, general knowledge, Harry Potter… you name it. Typically the same nerds people go to all of the trivia games, so there’s a sense of friendly competition throughout the cruise. And often times you get to play on teams, so there’s camaraderie between you and people you’ve never even met before.
When it comes to comedy shows, depending on the length of the cruise there’s at least 2 comedians on the ship, and they have several performances, all with different material. There’s typically at least a couple of family friendly shows, and several, more raunchy, adult ones. They do tend to be late at night – so if you’re not a night owl, catch a nap at some point in the afternoon. And even if you don’t, still stay up late! After all, you ain’t got anywhere to be!
As “cruises to nowhere” have been cancelled in 2016; any cruise you now hop on will take you to exotic destinations and island paradises – you get to see multiple destinations, experience different cultures, soak up the Sun on many different beaches – all within a week, and only unpacking once! Sure, for some of the FL (or perhaps US in general) based cruises, it may feel like once you’ve seen one island – you’ve seen them all – all of the same trinkets, t-shirts, drinks… same Senor Frogs in every port – but I disagree. Each island has its own flavor and should be experienced (although – and as much as I hate saying this – some destinations are worth skipping out on). There are some cruises leaving from FL (Like this one from Holland America Line) that allow you to experience both Eastern and the Western Caribbean in the same trip; as well as European destinations when you get to visit many different countries (like this one from Carnival). And, when ships are scheduled to change home ports (for example, going from the US to Europe), they offer transatlantic cruises that start on one continent and end on another (like this Royal Caribbean one, in April 2017 – 14 nights starting at $499!!! Per person!!!). I remember, a few years ago, a ship with a home port in Tampa (my home port) was moving to Barcelona. As it was getting closer to the departure, I am assuming the ship was still fairly “vacant” because the 14 day adventure was priced somewhere around $700. While the timing for me wasn’t good and I wasn’t able to make this dream a reality, it is absolutely something I plan on doing at some point in the future!
Things you can do to optimize your cruising experience
1. Don’t be “that person”
First, and for me the most important rule of cruising is – be nice to crewmembers. They work extremely hard (in some instances, harder than you ever will) in order for you to have a vacation of your dreams. Your bed is made as frequently as you’d like, your water glass is never even close to being empty, and you’re never more than an ear shot away from a friendly face brining you over a drink. Give them a break. Be polite. Be welcoming. Don’t ignore them. Get to know them. You will be mesmerized by their depth, warmth, and knowledge they poses, and will be amazed at the things you can learn! And, don’t be afraid to tip. Yes, you have prepaid your gratuities (a whole $11 to $12 per day to be divided between the room stewards and the wait staff), but it is perfectly acceptable of you to leave an extra tip for your room steward or your dining room staff if they took amazing care of you all vacation long (and chances are, they did).
This rule applies to your fellow cruisers as well. Don’t cut anyone off in the buffet line, don’t be “that” belligerent drunk person hackling the comedian, and by golly don’t yell out your trivia answers out loud for the other team to hear (guess which one is my worst pet peeve!).
2. Room location
I have cruised in interior rooms, ocean view rooms, and balcony rooms. And can unequivocally say, save your dollars, go with the cheaper option (with a caveat). Especially if you’re cruising with friends (as opposed to with a couple); interior rooms make sense because you spend so little time in the room – you are really not missing any breathtaking views. The ocean view room was actually the worst in my opinion; it was somewhere on the lower level and the angle of the window seemed to magnify the motion of the waves, which made me very nauseated – so we kept the curtains drawn at all times. The balcony room was nice (and utilized); but it was definitely not a must. Depending on the price difference between interior and balcony room, you decide if it makes sense for you. If you are going on a romantic cruise with a partner, it is nice to sit out there and watch the sunset while drinking a glass of wine. It is also nice to step out on the balcony first thing in the morning and get your bearings – because it is easy to lose track of time and direction when on a ship. However, there are plenty of secluded areas on the deck where you can have some privacy without having to deal with the crowds.
Here’s the caveat: the few times I would strongly recommend getting a balcony room is if you are travelling with children – you don’t want to be tied to a dark room after they go to sleep, and a balcony would be a perfect way to enjoy the serenity, while staying on top of your parenting obligations; and also when cruising to Alaska – the views are absolutely mesmerizing and you would be able to enjoy them at all times – even the short time you spend in your room.
But if you are not a fan of cruising with children and would rather travel by air – this is what you need to know before boarding a plane.
3. Be aware of the price of alcohol
I feel like this is one of those items where “they get you”. Price of alcoholic drinks on the ship is anything but cheap; and since everything on the ship is cashless and your room key is also your charge card, I can easily understand how one can get him or herself into some trouble. Most (if not all) cruise lines now offer an all you can drink packages, so if you really plan letting loose on your cruise – consider purchasing this ahead of time. With Carnival, the price of the drink package is $50 per day plus 15% gratuity. Considering that one “drink of the day” in the souvenir cup costs around $15, you might want to consider purchasing the package. Typical price of cocktails (without the souvenir cup) is around $9, beer is around $7, and wine is around $8 per glass. The catch with the alcohol package is that you are “only” allowed 15 drinks per day per person (once you reach this limit, you cannot even charge them to your card – you are simply cut off – don’t ask me how I know this) and everyone of legal drinking age in your stateroom must purchase the plan. So, if you are cruising with your partner, and you are going on a 4 day cruise, this will cost you around $460. This seems an excessive amount to spend on alcohol, but given the points above – it might be the right option for you. You should also consider how long you plan to stay at port of call – for example, if the ship docks at 8 AM and doesn’t leave until 7 PM, and you plan on roaming around the island all day; you will not get much utilization of your drink package on this day.
4. Consider additional costs
We’ve written before about expenses we seem to forget when we travel and a lot of the items on that list apply to cruising as well. For instance – parking. I am fortunate enough to live in Florida and I don’t have to worry about a plane ticket or a hotel stay in addition to the price of the cruise ticket; but I do have to consider parking, as I often travel from ports 3 or 4 hours away from home so taxi is not always an option. Parking at the port is perhaps the most convenient and most secure option, but it is also the most expensive one. Parking fees are typically $20 per day, so a 5 day cruise will cost you $100. There are plenty of less expensive parking options available around the port, with majority of them offering shuttle services to the port and back. This may be the right option for you so definitely do your research, taking into consideration things like distance, frequency of shuttles, is the parking lot security patrolled, etc.
If you are a person that likes to gamble, I caution you because cruise ships have casinos with Vegas Style slots and tables, and because you can do everything cashless, it is easy to get carried away considering how much money you’ve put into the slot machine. So, make a budget. Casino machines do accept cash, so make it a point not to gamble with your key card, only with the cash you’ve brought, and stick to your budget. This will allow you not to have any unpleasant surprises considering your charges before you leave the ship!
Have you cruised before? What about it do you like, and what would you like to see cruise industry do differently? Do you have a favorite cruise-line? We would love to hear from you in the comments!
Author & Photos: Sanja H