Cruise Control

If you’re considering an alternative to an urban city vacation, a cruise might be a great vacation choice for you.

My husband and I recently went on our first cruise.  I had long been a cruise skeptic.  I didn’t understand how hopping from port to port each day, spending an average of 6 hours at each port, was enough time to see and do everything…to really get to know a place!  I spent 5 days in Rome and still didn’t see everything.

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The Celebrity Summit at Port

So we went jumped in head first and went on a 7-night cruise throughout the Southern Caribbean.  It was definitely one of the best and most stress-free vacations I’ve ever been on!  With over 2,000 guests on board, we never felt like the ship was crowded.  We didn’t have to worry about packing, unpacking and changing hotel rooms while waking up in a different city/port of call each morning.

We were kept very busy by the variety of on-board amenities, activities, and entertainment options.  After spending all day at port sightseeing on our own or as part of an organized excursion, we would freshen up and enjoy a coffee or beer while watching our favorite singer/songwriter on board in the late afternoon before dinner. Others would lounge by the pool.  Some would nap.  The beauty of cruising is you can do whatever you want whenever you want.

Before we cruised, we gathered some GREAT tips from a variety of sources, including websites such as cruisecritic.com and from veteran cruisers.  All of this greatly enhanced our experience and helped us make the most of our time at sea.

TIPS FOR FIRST TIME CRUISERS

Spend a little time learning about what to do at Port — No matter how big or small the port of call is (say, Dominica vs Venice) you want to make the most of your time.  A little research ahead of time will help you learn if there are any must-see attractions and what shore excursions are offered (and if they’re offered within the time the ship docks and departs). Waiting until the last minute could result in an excursion being sold out.

Gratuity is expected — Tipping is expected for almost everything on a cruise.  If you didn’t upgrade to a premium drink package (the most basic of which usually includes soft drinks and alcohol up to a certain dollar threshold), your drink bills will automatically include tips. If you don’t pre-pay your dining and room tips up front when you book your cruise, you will be asked to leave cash on the last day before you disembark.

The suggested tip rate is about $12/day/person.

Anytime Dining/My Time Dining May Require Reservations for Prime Time Seating — Not hungry at 6pm, but don’t want to wait until 8pm?  Most cruise ships today offer some version of “anytime dining” which allows you to dine at your leisure typically between 6pm-10pm.  But there’s a catch.  With more cruise guests opting for freedom from fixed dining times and dinner companions they could do without, you will find yourself waiting for a table if you haven’t reserved a table for your preferred dining time.

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Typical Oceanview Stateroom

Mind the Dress Code — Most ships have an evening dress code.  While it’s beach casual during the day throughout the ship, dinner in the dining rooms or ship restaurants will be more “resort casual.”  Flip flops and shorts are often not allowed.  For those that opt not to participate in the formal nights, guests can head to the buffet and enjoy a meal there. We opted to forgo the formal nights, but there were those on board that truly enjoyed the formality of the evening.  Don’t ruin it for them.

Bring Cash — Even though most of your on-ship purchases will be settled using a common card (and linked back to a credit card), cash will come in handy to pay for services or souvenirs at port.  Some places may not accept credit card, and there are some places where you might not want to hand over a credit card.  Use discretion and be prepared.

Post-Cruise Motion Sickness — It wasn’t until after the cruise that I experience motion sickness.  Apparently, it’s very common for your brain to still think it’s on the ship.  It took a few days for my body to regain its equilibrium.

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Lobster and Champagne Lunch during our Catamaran Excursion in Grenada

As first time cruisers, we were amused and amazed at everything, particularly how relaxing it was to not be on a schedule, not feel bound to museum opening times, and not feel pressured to see famous monuments if we didn’t want to.  I can’t wait until our next one!

Do you cruise?
What are some of your favorite tips?

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