Welcome back blog readers,
Today’s topic is all about cruising and what you need to know or should consider before booking your vacation. As mentioned in a previous post, I don’t use notes or draft outlines, all posts are written as my inner monologue thinks it.
With cruising there is much to consider:
- What’s your budget for your entire vacation? Including airfare, hotel, shuttle to/from the cruise port plus actual cash for tips.
- Do you have a passport or require a passport for where you are going? Make sure you have at least 3 months left before it expires from the date you plan to travel.
- Do any of the ports (countries) require vaccinations for Malaria, Typhoid and are you up to date on your Hep A, Hep B, Tetanus? If you require any of these or a booster this should be started 3 months before you plan to leave as some vaccines are given in stages.
- Do a bit of research on the ports (cities in those countries) that you are visiting. Some may prohibit civilians from wearing camouflage (like Belize) because that is what their military wears. We didn’t know until we were on our excursion in Belize, better safe than sorry so leave your camo clothes at home.
- Are you traveling alone, as a couple, a family with kids? There are cruises to accommodate every scenario.
- Do I need to bring cash? YES! Bring at least $100 USD if you are traveling to the Caribbean, down the East/West coast of the United States, Mexico, Canada/New England and Central America. Most ports will accept Visa and Mastercard if you don’t have cash or they don’t accept US currency.
Now that you’ve decided on taking a cruise, where do you want to go? Which cruise line should I consider? The where and for how long is up to you. I can help with the Pros & Cons for various cruise lines.
- Cruising solo, no expectations, just want to get away on an all-inclusive vacation. Any cruise line will work for you.
- Cruising Solo or with friends: Maybe a Theme Cruise is something to consider, like the Walking Dead cruise or a Star Trek cruise, what about a celebrity cruise filled with heavy metal/ rock n’ roll/ country music played by the actual artist or meeting your favorite wrestler? Definitely a 21 and over crowd with lots of drinking and partying! Search Themed Cruises to find one that interests you. Here are a few links to get you started.
- Cruising as a family with kids: There are so many options available as most cruise lines offer a separate kids only area/section and members of the crew will look after the kids onboard and offer many activities to keep them busy while you relax by the pool with a cold drink in your hand.
Most cruise lines are kid-friendly and offer many family activities onboard like:
Water slides, wave pools, ziplining, rock wall climbing, bowling, wave riding, mini golf, arcade games, basketball, character parades and much more. Look into Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Disney as they tend to be the better family friendly/kid friendly options.
As a side note: Holland America is a great cruise line, my favorite in fact. While they do offer Club HAL for the kids, their ships don’t have character parades, ziplining, wave pools, or water slides but the one thing Holland America does offer and the most other’s don’t are jars of baby food at the buffet. So if you’re traveling with an infant or toddler, then Holland America may be an option for you. Just something to consider as airport security has tightened up.
I have cruised on the Norwegian Epic (most recently), the Allure of the Seas from Royal Caribbean, The Carnival Legend and 3 ships from Holland America, the Westerdam, the Nieuw Amsterdam and the Eurodam. With that said my reviews/opinions are based on my experiences on these ships. Keep in mind that I have traveled with my husband, no kids and we are introverts in our early to late ’30s (non-smokers).
Norwegian Epic: Stateroom with balcony cruising the Western Caribbean/Central America on a 10 day cruise during early December 2018. A great ship for families with kids of any age. The outdoor deck had two pool areas, one with the waterslides and kiddie pool with lots of places to sunbathe. The other was an adult only area (until 6pm) with 2 hot tubs and a very large projector screen where movies and sports games could be watched. This section also served as a designated smoking section. There is so much to list, so here’s a link to give you a better idea.
The ports were beautiful, lots of great shopping and excursion options. The food quality at the buffet was good, not great. The food options at the buffet again, good not great. Many hand sanitizer stations were available throughout the ship, especially at the buffet where there is a crew member at each entrance ready to greet you with “Washy Washy, Happy, Happy” as they are ready to squirt all those that enter with Purel. At the buffet you pretty much serve yourself, hence the need for the constant “washy washy”. Finding seats were like playing musical chairs, although you could take your food outside to the pool area or back to your room. I suggest if you are traveling with someone, one of you find a table while the other gets their food and returns to hold the table.
The internet package for 250 minutes (as a Canadian not having an international plan), hardly worth the money as it was more aggravating as we spent more time trying to log in/log out than we did actually having a good connection to do anything. The only place in our stateroom that had a decent connection was just behind the door next to the shower. Public areas were better for a connection, Port days were great as most people we off of the ship not sucking back the bandwidth. Early mornings and late evening were also better, less people awake. Days at sea were near impossible.
My husband trying to get on to the ships’ internet as per his morning routine before breakfast. Like a kid being sent to the corner for punishment.
As for the shows and entertainment, half of the shows were not FREE (inclusive) and you have to reserve your seat and pay extra. The number of seats in the theater(s) are not enough to accommodate the guests that wanted to attend (the FREE shows). Many were left standing. Make sure you arrive 30 minutes before the FREE shows start to ensure you get a seat or can save enough seats for your party. Not impressed.
The Manhattan Dining Room: The food was good, not great definitely expected better. What typically happens with the dining rooms (My Time Dining/ inclusive meals) is that you can either reserve a table/time and show up each night, get to know the waitstaff or show up when you’re hungry, wait 20 minutes (sometimes longer) and get seated in a different section each time or with other guests if you don’t mind mingling.
- One thing to note about dining anywhere that is not the buffet, is that 9 times out of 10 there is a dress code which is usually stated on the daily activity list that gets delivered to your stateroom each night to prepare you for the next day. Normally, the first day you arrive is a freebie and the dining room (may) allow you to wear very casual attire. This applies to all cruise lines that I have experienced.
- Second thing to note about the dining room is that if you or anyone you are dining with has a food allergy, food sensitivity or any sort of food restriction, it is best to let the waiter know (as they don’t always ask). If there is something they should know, you are better off asking for a copy of the menu for the next day, picking out what you want, make substitutions if needed and have the waiter turn in your request to the chef (especially if you have a reserved time/table). This applies to all cruise lines that I have experienced.
Room Service, NOT INCLUSIVE on the Norwegian Epic. You are better off going to deck 15, getting what you want, hoping not to spill your drink or get bumped in the elevator as you stop at each floor and juggling for your room key card if you don’t want to pay the $7.95 fee. The only exception was ordering breakfast using the door hanger that you fill out the night before.
In fact most things on this ship had a *FEE attached including band-aids that can be purchased via vending maching on Deck 10. We were traveling with my sister in-law and her husband who had a Drink Package (free soda which is not inclusive and free alcohol with exceptions). Coffee is FREE, a shot of Bailey’s (for them) was FREE, ordering an Irish coffee, NOT FREE. They had to get their coffee from one to the drink stations, go to one of the bars or flag a server down for a shot of Bailey’s to then add to their coffee in order for it to be FREE. Be sure to read the fine print before buying any drink package from any cruise line.
The stateroom on this ship (The Epic), not a fan and so far our least favorite as far as the overall layout. While there is ample storage space; both shower and bathroom doors are loud to open/close and the curtain to pull across offers nothing to dampen the sound. If you are traveling alone, no worries. If you are traveling with someone, I hope you are not too shy to pee, poop, and fart in front of them. The Do Not Disturb sign will be your saving grace from being walked in on by housekeeping. Our room was set up exactly like the room in the video. From what I understand this ship was designed to appeal to the European cruisers (hence why the guy in the video doesn’t mind the layout). Since the European cruising market had too many ships/not enough passengers to fill them, the Epic was brought to North America. Many North Americans are not too keen on the set up.
In reality how much time do you anticipate spending in your stateroom? Hopefully not much since the TV has 18 channels, one for TV shows, one for movies (the same 3 that play over and over), Two news channels and the rest are ship related, Shopping at Port, Shopping onboard, Excursions, Navigation, What to do/Where to go in the event of an emergency, Onboard game shows playing on repeat that you watched on your first night, The view from the Bridge which is great until the sun goes down then it’s a view of pitch blackness outside, The onboard Pay-per-View movies ($9.95 each) be warned that some of those same movies are shown for FREE on the big screen outside or in the theater.
Compared to the Balcony Stateroom on Holland America (my favorite). Why is Holland America my favorite? It’s due to the many little things that this cruise line offers that the others don’t. Robes in your stateroom, I love them and wear mine every morning on the balcony. A fruit bowl that you can get refilled with fresh fruit, also a nice touch as I am the first one to wake up, sometimes 2 hours before my husband, so it’s a great start to my day. Put on the robe, grab an apple or pear and sit out on the balcony watching the sunrise. The turn down service includes chocolates on your pillow. Holland America is the only line (of the 4) that offers a Happy Hour (at 2 bars) buy one get one free from 4pm to 5pm.
Compared to Allure of the Seas… We had an actual balcony over looking the sea, not overlooking the Boardwalk. Something to note when considering an interior balcony, the balconies are not soundproof. You will hear the music playing until 1am. One thing to consider of you decide to go with the Allure of the Seas, the interior balcony over the boardwalk will give you a great view of the Aqua theater shows that the rest of us chumps had to reserve seating. Just something to keep in mind. If you prefer a quieter room with a view, go with an exterior view of the sea instead. It’s ironic that the largest ship had the smallest bathroom in the stateroom and they don’t come with complimentary shampoo, conditioner, body wash. So pack our own or opt to spend $14 USD on a regular sized bottle of shampoo at the gift shop.
It wouldn’t be fair to compare the Ocean view room on the Carnival Legend as we opted not to go with a balcony for our Alaskan cruise. We figured it would be too cold to spend time out there at the end of April/early May and we were right. The room had a good sized window to which I was able to get some amazing picture from. Like the picture below, notice how close to the water we are? Not too shabby from the ocean view window.
Tip for first time cruisers: Research the ship, the layout and the rooms before booking. Many rooms appear in a Youtube video to give you a better idea. If you are unsure as to whether or not you might suffer from motion sickness, I suggest a room mid-ship. Rooms at the very front (forward) or back (aft) lower than the balconies tend to be noisy when docking at ports when the anchors are dropped/pulled up. You are more likely to feel the motion of the ocean as well.
To be continued…