Cruises

Full Review of our 5 day cruise:

Welcome back blog readers,

Yes, I know it’s been a while since my last post.

This post will be done a bit differently as it will contain daily updates and reviews from each day of my journey.

I’ll continue this series as one post just to make it easier. You’ll see ***** at the end of each post to indicate the end of day.

Let’s get started.

Sunday December 8, 2019

I’m traveling with my husband, we arrived at the Ottawa Airport to start our journey. My husband was able to check in online, there was a message stating that I had to check in at the airport. A bit odd, that’s the first time that’s happened.

The agent at the kiosk let me know that I was randomly selected for extra security for this trip. If the inability to check in online wasn’t a giveaway, the stamped SSSS on your boarding pass is.

My extra security didn’t take place in Ottawa, it would be during the connecting process in Toronto. I was curious as to what I should expect, probably shouldn’t have done that as it only caused emotional distress.

From what I’ve read and witnessed some travellers going through SSSS don’t get the same treatment.

I can only speculate based on each travellers past experience. Some may be completely random, some might have a history of packing items that go against TSA policy.

Once you’re identified as a SSSS, you will be going through the line that has the body scanner. Your belongings get tagged and separated from the other travellers. I was given a pat down right after coming out of the scanner, then waited to be processed further.

There was a guy, early 20’s being processed before I got there. Seems the agents took more time with him and they also had a report to fill out and asked him what he did for work.

While I was waiting my turn, I was making myself helpful by stacking the empty bins. Figured I may as well keep the process flowing. If I make their jobs easier, maybe they’ll go easy on me.

They verified that the two bins waiting were mine, they were. I was asked if there was anything sharp, pointy, or liquids exceeding the carry on allotment. There was not. I was asked to take my cell phone out from the case, turn it on and open an app. They opened my carry-on bag, sifted through things and checked the pockets of my sweater. My boarding pass was stamped, my guess to indicate that I was processed and I was able to proceed with the other passengers.

Normally we book our vacation s through Air Canada, this time we got a better deal through WestJet. The layover flight offered free drinks. The longer flight offered free snacks and no meal service because it was just shy of the 4 hours.

We were disappointed because we didn’t have enough time during the layover, thanks to the extra security to grab a bite to eat beforehand. Snacks for dinner it is.

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Monday December 9

We checked out of the hotel and arrived at the cruise port early. It’s currently 10:57am as I’m writing this at the cruise port terminal. We won’t start boarding until noon.

As luck would have it, we were able to board early. This was the most efficient boarding process we encountered thus far.

Most passengers head right to the buffet once they figure out which deck it’s on. We are no different. Once we finished refueling, we did a bit of exploring. Most passengers find the nearest bar and enjoy the sun while they wait for their rooms to be ready.

Day One on all cruise ships entails spending most of the day at the port as the ship is getting restocked, passengers are getting on, luggage is being loaded on and most passengers are navigating their way around.

Before each cruise ship leaves the port, all passengers and crew members must take part in the Muster Drill. Your stateroom key card has bits of information on it, one being your Muster station. In your stateroom on or near the door will be a visual aid to help direct you to your Muster station. Once you arrive, seek a crew member for further instruction.

These drills are to help prepare all passengers in case of an emergency if we have to leave the ship. The best thing you can do is know where to go, have your key card with you, follow the instructions and be patient. All passengers must be accounted for before you will be allowed to leave not only the muster station but the port as well.

Now that I’ve had time to experience some aspects of the Majesty of the Seas, here are my thoughts.

Normally we book a balcony room, this trip we booked an ocean view, no balcony to save a few hundred dollars. One thing we’re missing is the mini fridge, not necessarily for the mini bar, but simply to keep our drinks cold. You are allowed to bring alcohol onboard, we don’t, but if you, do don’t book any room that isn’t a balcony or better.

This ship is an older cruise ship from the Royal Caribbean line. It’s still very nice, not overly outdated like the Carnival Legend. This ship still allows smoking onboard. There are several designated areas and until January 1, 2020 you can still smoke in your room and on balconies. Going forward for those non-smoking passengers, book your room on the Port side/ left (odd numbered room). All of the designated outdoor areas are on the Starboard/ right (even numbered) side. If you have a balcony you will not be able to enjoy it.

While booking this cruise online, we talked to an agent from the cruise line that assured us that we could book a table for two during our My Time Dining in the dining room.

Apparently that request didn’t go through, not just for us, but many guests as well. We showed up at 5:30 expecting a private table only to be directed to a large table of 10. We were directed to the manager outside of the dining room and the line up started. Most people had the same concern, while others were following the herd and assuming they were in line to get seated.

Seems all of the seating was reserved, no tables for two were available, but we could come down at 6pm and hope that a table opens up/ guests don’t arrive. That was the suggestion to all guests the requested a table for two, or we could wait and reserve a table during the 8pm seating. PASS. In most cases they serve the same dinner at the buffet and you can easily sit by yourself. The bonus, I don’t have to dress up to eat. 😛

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Tuesday December 10

Day at Sea, heading to Key West, Florida.

Here are a few pictures.

We are still at sea, making our way to Key West. We don’t have any excursions planned, we’re just going to wing it. More than likely we’ll walk around the touristy area, check out the shops and I’ll pick up a Christmas ornament to add to our collection.

We did manage to get some people watching in. It’s not as creepy as it sounds.

I had a daily budget in reference to the onboard spending. I’ve exceeded my budget in one day.😒 All I have to say in my defense is that the casino is not cooperating. I seem to have a knack for playing on a machine next to one that pays out. So much for my Irish Luck.

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Wednesday, December 11, Key West

*

Today we had the chance to explore Key West, Florida. I had been here 20 years ago and I remembered there was Ripley’s Believe it or not attraction.

My husband had never been there so we made a point to check it out. If you are ever out that way, I highly recommend it.

There is so much to see and do at this port, it’s really worth getting off and exploring.

I’ve been told there is a bar called Garden of Eden, a clothing optional bar. It’s not my thing, but for those that are curious, check it out.

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Thursday, December 12. Day at sea.

There’s not much to tell. Above are pictures of the daily itinerary that gets delivered to your stateroom and a visual of the ship’s layout.

I left two copies of my book at the reading nook onboard. One book is signed, the other was not.

One fellow cruiser took the unsigned copy and never returned it. No complaints. Hopefully, they liked it enough to leave a review.

On this day we were on our way to Nassau, Bahama. It was quite windy and the seasickness was getting the best of me, as well as many other guests.

Getting yourself to any midship location helps. I’ve been told to focus on the horizon to help get a visual and the inner ear to work together.

That bit of advice doesn’t help me. Getting to midship helps, focusing on the horizon, not so much. I got myself back to our room in case I get sick. Closing the curtains and laying down helps me. After a few hours, I started feeling better.

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Friday, December 13 Nassau

The first thing I noticed looking out from our window was the tourist area was fully gated.

In our experience from places like Haiti, Jamaica, and Mexico is that security is heavy because the locals are heavy on haggling.

As soon as you get through the security checkpoint you are bombarded with locals wanting your attention to sell you their services and goods. It can be a little overwhelming.

On another note, if you enjoy gambling you may want to check out Atlantis. Just set an alarm, don’t lose track of time. Atlantis is shown in the picture above with the two very large buildings in the distance.

Shortly after leaving the Port of Nassau we were alerted that one of the engines was not functioning at full capacity. We were expected to arrive at Fort Lauderdale at 6am, the new ETA was 10:30am

After an hour, a slight adjustment was made and a new ETA was 9am. Just one more reason to consider booking a later flight home. I suggest anytime after noon just to be safe.

Overall, I rate this cruise a 7.5 out of 10.

The Majesty of the Seas is an older ship from the 1990s and some aspects show.

Key West was the better port. Nassau made me feel anxious and less friendly.

We gave up on the My Time Dining and ate at the Windjammer for every meal. Here’s a tip. Once you get your food, take your plate upstairs where there is extra seating and more food options.

Sorrento’s pizza is up there, FREE and the Compass Deli also FREE. We met Alfonso from Mexico, he works the lunch shift. Super nice guy, very polite and friendly.

Well, that concludes this blog post. I’m happy to answer any cruising questions.

I hope you enjoyed my five-day cruising recap and review.😎

One last thing.

Here are the Christmas ornaments that I picked up on this cruise. Yes, I know one is a keychain, but I will turn that into an ornament.

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Cruises, Speaking from Experience, Vacation

Why do I Cruise?

Why do I cruise? It’s a matter of preference really. While there is nothing wrong with spending your vacation time at a resort with a swim-up bar, laying in the sun with endless cold drinks in your hand.

Due to my Irish heritage, I don’t tan, I burn. So laying out in the sun is not my best option. I’m also not a strong confident swimmer, so activities that include spending all day in a pool, lake, or ocean swimming doesn’t appeal to me either.

On a cruise, you’re not just sailing around aimlessly, there are several destinations to get off and explore. Each port offers tours, excursions, shopping, dining, and other cultural experiences should you choose to venture off the ship.

On all three Holland America cruises, we traveled through the Eastern Caribbean and visited Half Moon Cay (one of my favorite ports), Grand Turk, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and San Juan. On the Allure of the Seas, we visited Jamaica, Haiti, Cozumel, (Punta Cana) was canceled due to the weather. On the Carnival Legend, we went to Alaska (Inside Passage) and stopped at Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Glacier Bay. On this last cruise on the Norwegian Epic, we stopped at Ocho Rios in Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Belize, Costa Maya and Cozumel in Mexico.

I find it nice to wake up each morning with a new exciting view. There are plenty of activities, demonstrations, entertainment to keep you busy onboard. Just off the top of my head, here are some activities that I have seen (most cruise lines offer similar options).

  • Early morning fitness class, yoga, cardio, Zumba, spin cycle… Yes, there is a fitness center onboard, it wasn’t mentioned earlier as I don’t (but probably should) use it. There is a fitness instructor for private lessons or to help you use the equipment safely.
  • Cooking demonstrations from the chefs onboard.
  • Wine Tasting, Wine Pairing
  • Tournaments in the Casino, Blackjack, Poker, Slot Machine, Texas Holdem
  • Towelgomi, learn to fold the towels into animals
  • Digital classes, Learn to use Microsoft programs, learn to transfer your pictures from A to B
  • Dancing, learn Ballroom, Salsa, Cha-Cha, Country Line dancing from the trained professional crew members onboard
  • Single cruisers can meet up
  • LGBTQ cruisers can meet up
  • Friends of Bill W.
  • Sunday Religious services
  • Art Auctions hosted by Park West, usually includes a free glass of champagne
  • Bingo for cash prizes or win another cruise
  • Movies, recent blockbusters shown in the theater
  • Shopping onboard
  • Short lectures on the different Ports of Call, the various excursions and what to expect when you visit the ports
  • Visit the Spa for a massage, facial, acupuncture, or just to get pampered
  • Card Games, Shuffleboard, Ping Pong
  • Walk around the Deck for a Cause, small donations to raise awareness for Cancer, participants get a t-shirt and walk around the ship (jogging track) a few laps.
  • Learn about jewelry and watches, where to buy them, which ports give you the free charm, get your coupons for freebies.

There is much more, but this is all that comes to mind at the moment.

While I don’t collect charms for a bracelet, I do pick up an ornament from each port that I visit. Each year at Christmas it’s like looking at a scrapbook as we pull out each ornament and reminisce about the time we spent there.

White Pass OrnamentSt.Thomas ornamentSt.Maarten ornamentOcho Rios OrnamentMs.Nieuw Amesterdam ornamentCruise Port OrnamentsBelize OrnamentAlaska and Costa Maya ornamentAlaska 2017 Ornament

Eventually the cruise ornaments will be the only ones on the tree, that’s the plan anyway.

If you collect shot glasses, tiny spoons, T-shirts, playing cards, key chains, magnets, coffee mugs or anything else, chances are that you will find it at one of the gift shops. While I don’t have an ornament from Haiti, I have a few pieces of art hanging on the wall. We kind of went nuts buying local artwork on the Allure cruise.

For me, Holland America is the best cruise line for the food, service from the crew and cleanliness. The ports in the Eastern Caribbean are beautiful, no haggling and the best part/port is Half Moon Cay. A private island owned/run by Holland America.

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That picture was taken by me at Half Moon Cay during our last visit in November 2017.

What I remember most about the Allure of the Seas… WOW! This ship is huge! My husband claims that the best internet connection was on the Allure. We obtained many pieces of artwork on this cruise and we met by many vendors that wanted to haggle and tell you their story about how their mother, blind with one hand makes everything you see. That is what you can expect when getting off in Jamaica, Haiti (by far the worse) and Mexico (to a lesser degree).

If your traveling with your family and kids, the Allure or any Royal Caribbean ship will WOW the pants off of you. Of the four cruise lines, this ship was the largest with the smoothest ride. It’s so easy to forget that you’re even at sea. If you suffer from motion sickness, you may have better luck on the larger ships.

Just a few things to mention, assuming that you’ve watched the video. Don’t be fooled at how empty the Promenade, Boardwalk, Restaurants are. This will not be the case once all 4,000 passengers arrive. I’m glad he pointed out how small the venues are and how they can’t seat a quarter of the guests. One place not shown in the video was the Samba Grill, a specialty dining option I recommend (unless you don’t eat meat). But overall, a great ship for families with kids with lots of things to do, something onboard for everyone.

The Carnival Legend… It’s not the ship I remember most, it’s the destination. We traveled to Alaska and the views were amazing. Typically we don’t do much for excursions, but in Alaska, how could you not want to see the wildlife and breath-taking views.

Margerie Glacier
Margerie Glacier at Glacier Bay.
Skagway, Alaska
WhitePass peaks

Here’s a tip if you are considering a cruise to Alaska: First, BOOK IT you can thank me later. Second, Booking in late April into the middle of May is your best bet to avoid pesky mosquitoes and lots of them. We were warned by a few tour guides of this issue, yes the weather is warmer and the whales have all come back from Hawaii and the bears are out of hibernation. Take from this what you will. We booked our cruise at the end of April into early May, sure it was a bit chilly, we did see porpoises, whales, sea lions, eagles, goats, bears, otters in their natural habitat all while not getting eaten alive. So far my favorite destination was Alaska and we look forward to going again.

Since I’ve already covered the most recent cruise on the Norwegian Epic, I will refrain from sounding like a broken record. I think I’ve covered everything a first-time cruiser needs to know before booking a cruise. I’m happy to answer questions if you have any. There are so many resources available to find out which ship is best for you. I encourage you to do a bit of research and look into your options.

Happy Cruising…

Cruises, Reviews, Speaking from Experience, Vacation

Holland America

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Welcome back blog readers,

In this post I will share why I prefer the Holland America Cruise Line over Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian.

The ships in the Holland America line all look very similar on the outside and can be distinguished from the dark blue color that is painted on the lower half of the ships. During one of the “Talk with the Captain” lectures, it was mentioned that Holland America has this shade of blue specially made for their ships. There is a name to the color, but it escapes me.

The layout of their ships is also very similar, which is probably great for crew members that work 9 months on one ship then starts a new contract on another ship, it takes less time to get to know. I found this to be true as a passenger having been on 3 of their ships and feeling familiar when you leave one and get on another.

Holland America does many things that really stand out, lots of little touches or attention to detail that I have not noticed/experienced on the other cruise lines. While my experiences are subjective, it’s still worth mentioning.

Things like:

  • The crew member to passenger ratio is pretty darn close to 1:1 which is great considering that Holland America ships are smaller. Roughly there are 2,000 passengers with 2,000 crew members onboard. Larger cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have roughly 4,000 passengers with 1,800-2,000 crew members onboard. To me it shows that Holland America cares about not over working their room attendants as they assign 2 per room, where as the larger lines assign 1 per room with more rooms to cover. Assigning 2 room attendants also provides their guests with better, more efficient service as many times we have left our room in the morning to get breakfast on the Lido deck/buffet and when we arrive 30-35 minutes later our room was made up. We tend to refer to the room attendants as Cleaning Ninjas. Where as on the larger cruise ships, if we weren’t out of the room while they were making their early morning rounds, our room would be made up later on in the afternoon on their way back or not until the evening turn down service. This certainly isn’t a deal breaker, just sharing my experience.
  • While the Holland America ships are smaller, their common areas and theaters are much larger which can accommodate more of their passengers that want to attend the headlining shows. No reservations needed no extra fees, plenty of seats for everyone. One good thing Holland America offers is 2 showings on the same night, one between the 7-8 pm and one again later at 10pm. Not just one time slot where you make it or miss out. Here’s a tip: When attending a show in the theater, go to the upper seating level and snag a front corner balcony seat, one of the best seats in a private section. This is also a great meeting place if your cruising as a group.
  • Happy Hour! I’ve touched up on this in a previous Cruising 101 post. Holland America offers a Happy Hour that two of their bars participate in from 4pm-5pm. One ship offered a Buy one get the same drink FREE, while the other two ships offered a Buy one get the other 50% off. Their regular mixed drink prices are cheaper than the other cruise lines. The best place to enjoy your Happy Hour is at the Crows Nest located on an upper deck at the front of the ship. Such a great panoramic view, often there is live music playing or a trivia game taking place, sometimes it’s low key and quite, just a great place to watch the sunset.
  • The overall interior design and decor, pure elegance and high class. If you are a fan of art, you will not be disappointed in all of the great pieces located throughout the ship. The common restrooms are the cleanest, the stalls are very private with floor to ceiling coverage. The elevators are more spacious, well lit and even have a floor mat that reminds you of which day it is. My husband likes to joke that he knows which underwear to wear today.
  • The sundeck where the outdoor pools are located also has a retractable roof. This feature is great on the days when the sun is shining while also raining. You can still lounge outside, get some sun, enjoy the pool without the effects of the rain. Yes, I know that a little rain won’t matter if you’re already wet, but most people don’t want rain in their adult beverage or while they are trying to read.
  • Your stateroom comes with nice robes, no other line that I have experienced offers that. I love those robes, they do offer to sell them and I think I will splurge the next time I’m onboard. I use the robe every morning just to sit out on the balcony, watch the sunrise, enjoying some quiet time listening to the waves. The robes come in handy as many passengers use them at the pool.
  • Your stateroom has a fruit bowl with a card to fill out should you want your room attendant to fill it. Apples red or green, Oranges, Pears and Bananas are your options. I take advantage of this service, because I wake up before my husband 99% of the time (unless he’s dealing with acid reflux/indigestive issues), so it’s nice to have a small bite to eat, put on the robe and sit out on the balcony until he wakes up, which is usually me waking him up somewhere around 9:30am. Just another thing the other cruise lines don’t offer. It’s not to say that you can’t bring food back to your room, you can. It’s just nice to have it already in the room in case you forget to grab a nibble before the buffet closes.
  • Turn Down Service comes complete with towelgomi (all lines do), but only Holland America places chocolates on your pillow. If you don’t want them, just let your room attendant know, or bring them to me, I’ll give them a good home. Especially the dark chocolate ones.
  • The Buffet, the best tasting food so far. The best options that include Gluten Free, Turkey bacon (as my husband doesn’t eat pork), the best Salad bar with big bowls to make a decent salad. Another great thing about the buffet here, is that they offer premade, wrapped sandwiches that you can grab/go bring back to your room and put in the mini fridge for later. They have a wide variety of hot/bagged teas. Small jars of baby food are also located at the buffet, no other line seems to offer that. The best part of the buffet is that the crew serves you instead of all passengers handling the tongs and spreading germs like the bigger cruise lines that make sure they lather you in Purel “Washy Washy” before entering. This is not to say that you shouldn’t wash your hands before eating, because you absolutely should. Wash your hands and wash them often, encourage your kids to do the same. Nobody wants to spend their cruise with a norovirus.
  • The dining room: If the food at the buffet is great, the food from the dining is even better if you can imagine that. As I mentioned in the Cruising 101 post, you can order as many appetizers, dinners, desserts and if you know to ask, the Cheese Platter/ Chartissarie too.
  • The best tasting water, Holland America takes pride in their water filtration system. I found the water on the Norwegian had a bit of a metallic taste. You won’t get that on Holland America.

Holland America does tend to be known for being the cruise line for older people, that isn’t entirely true. While they don’t have the water slides, ziplines, rock climbing walls or character parades; there are families with small kids, there are younger couples and younger singles as well.

If you are like my husband and I that are introverted, not a fan of big crowds, not using the cruise to drink ourselves silly, not high energy but still want to get out and enjoy what the ship has to offer, visiting beautiful ports and just wanting to relax on your vacation… If this all sounds like a great way to spend your vacation, then you won’t be disappointed with Holland America. After reading that back, I can see where we might sound boring or would be compared to an older couple. If anything, they have raised the bar and the other cruise lines won’t compare to the level of service, cleanliness and friendliness. At least that has been my experience. Now that we have cruised with Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian, to gain experience we will only cruise with Holland America going forward.

One very noticable thing about cruising on a smaller ship like Holland America and the Carnival Legend is that you tend to notice the motion of the ocean a bit more. If the water is choppy, lots of white caps are visible, you will feel the sway. My earlier recommendation if you suffer from motion sickness is to made your way mid-ship. On one occasion we were walking from one end of a deck to the other and you felt like you were walking through a fun house, which some people find fun and normally I would too. Not in an aggressive swaying from left to right motion, but slower gradual motion.

On the bigger ships like the Allure of the Seas you barely felt anything at all. The Norwegian Epic was similar, I tend to notice the movement when I’m sitting. If you find the motion getting to you, try not to focus on the movement, or get to mid-ship and look out from a window. You can always pack pills for motion sickness, just in case. The medical center on board can also assist you if you haven’t got your sea legs yet. It happens to the best of us, including me especially if I’m sitting and my equilibrium is trying to figure out which way we’re moving. Luckily the icky feeling is short lived and passes in a few hours and the rest of the cruise is fine.

Cruise line loyaly offers perks after your second cruise or after you’ve cruised 10-14 days. Each line varies in what they offer for loyaly perk. The perks alone may sway you to cruise with one line over another. I can only share my experiences, share tips and advice so that you can make the best choice for you and your family.

Happy Cruising!

 

Cruises, Need to prepare, Speaking from Experience, Vacation

Cruising 101, Part 3

Welcome back blog readers,

Here is a recap from yesterday’s post, Cruising 101, Part 2.

  • You’ve booked your flight, hotel stay the day BEFORE to cruise leaves the port.
  • You’ve made your way on the ship and explore what it has to offer and where the buffet is located.
  • You know about Drink Packages, Specialty Dining Packages, Excursions and Gratuities.
  • You know to get cash from the slot machines to avoid more petty fees/service charges.
  • You know to be aware of the time, any time changes due to time zones, and getting back to the ship on time to avoid being left behind.
  • You know which aspects are “Inclusive” and where you can expect additional charges onboard.

 

First time cruisers may be unsure as to what to pack as we see many passengers that over pack and bring way too much stuff. Here are my tips and suggestions for packing a cruise to a warmer climate like the Caribbean (even in December) and to Alaska.

First the Caribbean:

  • Clothes: Shorts, T-shirts, sun dresses, sleep wear, undergarments, socks, sandals/water shoes, dress shoes and comfortable walking shoes/sneakers, bathing suits/swim trunks, a fancy outfit/suit if you want to dress up for the Gala night, a light sweater as the theaters, dining areas tend to be cooler. Oh, and sunglasses. I tend to forget as I wear glasses with transitional lenses. If you are traveling from a much colder climate like Canada in December, then you will want a jacket to leave in and return in. Don’t worry about the scarf, gloves, clunky winter boots as they will take up too much space.
  • Travel sized toiletries: toothbrush/tooth paste, floss, shampoo, conditioner, body wash is recommended (while most cruise lines do offer them in the bathroom, Royal Caribbean did not, that was a lesson learned). Any medications for you and your family; make sure the prescription label shows your name and bring enough to cover you for the length of the cruise. Hairbrush/comb, razors, sunscreen, deodorant, feminine products should you be expecting a visit from “Aunt Flo” on your vacation. If you want to bring makeup or jewelry, keep it to a minimum.  Remember that you are on a cruise, you are a tourist that doesn’t want to attract attention from thieves/con artists/pick pockets at the ports with wearing flashy jewelry. All liquids should be placed in a ziplock bag. Hair dryers are available in your stateroom.
  • Cameras, Binoculars, iPads, Tablets, Kindle readers or other e-book readers are nice to have, but completely optional. If you do bring them, make sure you bring the charger/power cord. As for your smartphone, keep them set to AIRPLANE mode to avoid ridiculous roaming charges (unless you have an international plan).
  • Power strip, not to be confused with an extension cord. A power strip is a MUST HAVE as most staterooms lack enough outlets, especially if you are not traveling alone. There is typically one standard (120V) outlet and one European outlet in each stateroom.
  • Walkie Talkies, if you are traveling as a group of with kids that can use them. Yes there is a phone in the staterooms to get in touch or leave a message to meet up. Kids are often having fun at the kids only area, they may lose track of time or find it easy to get lost on the huge ship. It’s possible that parents may lose track of time as they lay out on the sundeck having a few drinks. Totally optional, but worth considering if you’re not using an app or other means to stay in touch while onboard. Norwegian does have an app *$10 per user that acts as a messenger for you and your party as long as you have a smartphone or device that can use it.
  • If you are travelling with small kids that still wear diapers/pull-ups you should look into the “Packages” that are offered, not only can you order strawberries and champagne to your room, but I’ve seen where you can have diapers sent to your room. Just one less thing to pack, considering how many you’d have to bring for the duration of the cruise, or incase you start running low.

Packing for Alaska: Pretty much the same except you’ll want warmer clothes and a windbreaker. We took our cruise at the end of April/early May, while the temperatures were averaging 50F-60F/10C-15C the Arctic air made it feel colder. The pools onboard were rarely used, the sundeck had plenty of seating as it was too cold to sit out for very long. What Alaska lacks in warmer temperature it makes up for in beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife.

Hannah

Welcome To Alaska
Sign at Alaska/British Columbia border

On our first cruise, we over packed like many first time cruisers do. My husband and I each packed a full sized suitcase with our clothes, toiletries and to ensure we had extra space to bring home any souvenirs. In reality, we didn’t wear half of what we packed. There is laundry service onboard *for a fee, which is great to take advantage of by day 4 especially if you are traveling with kids. Honestly, we tend to wear the same 2 or 3 pairs of shorts mixed with the same 3 or 4 T-shirts throughout the cruise. Keep in mind that you will probably buy a few T-shirts or articles of clothing while you stop at the ports or browse the gift shop onboard.

The more luggage you bring means the more likely you are to be charged for your “Checked” bags (for larger suitcases) especially if they weigh more than 50 pounds. My only experience is with Air Canada, so please look into the airline that you are using to find out their fine print and what they will allow per passenger before charging extra.

My husband and I now travel with one full sized suitcase that we divide half for his stuff, half for mine. We each have one carry on, he brings his laptop and I pack an oversized “purse” that carries our passports, confirmations receipts for hotels, flights, cruise embarking details, cruise baggage tags and anything we might need like over the counter pain reliever, Pepto Bismol, hand sanitizer, tissue, earbuds for the flight. We never use the overhead bins to store our carry on, we stow them under the seat in front of us.

Here’s a tip for your carry on luggage: I know some of you don’t want to part with your carry on luggage and want to keep it with you. Carry on only what you absolutely need while you are in flight. Once you check your big luggage, you’ve cleared security and customs and you arrive at your gate chances are you will hear an announcement for passengers to voluntarily check their carry on bags. This doesn’t mean your laptops, your purses, your backpack. This means your carry-on travel suitcase with wheels, oversized duffle bags, or your luggage that is carrying your snorkel gear which will go directly on the plane for no extra charge.

Please for the love of god, take advantage of this if it applies to you. Your lap must be free/clear before take off and landing. This suggestion is made assuming that your flight is a DIRECT flight and you are not dealing with a connecting flight that departs in less than 90 minutes. If you have an immediate connecting flight, then I completely understand your situation.

While we are talking about airports, this scenario is something that happens when common sense is lacking. For first time fliers, please allow yourself to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight is scheduled to leave. Why? Because every passenger has to clear Security and most have to also clear Customs after they’ve checked in, receive their boarding pass and checked their large suitcase. What if I have an early morning flight? Arrive at least 2 hours before your flight is scheduled to leave. What if I have a red-eye flight? Arrive at least 2 hours before your flight is schedule to leave.

If you have never had to clear security at an airport, here’s what you need to know.

  • Your shoes have to come off (in most cases). So wear something that can easily be slipped on/off.
  • Your belt has to be removed. Better to not wear one or suspenders either for that matter.
  • You will go through a metal detector, so don’t arrive with your entire jewelry collection on, as everything will have to be removed, scanned through the x-ray and you’re just holding up the line as you put it all back on. Wedding rings are fine, simple stud earrings are fine. Don’t forget about toe rings, belly button rings, tongue rings, wear plastic ones until you arrive at your destination to avoid an uncomfortable pat down.
  • Cell phones, keys, wallets, loose change, watches, everything in your pockets has to come out, put in a bin to be scanned through the x-ray. Prepare for this while you are waiting in line, or better yet, wear pants without pockets.
  • Your jackets, sweaters, sweatshirts and hats need to be taken off and put in a bin to be scanned. While you’re in line place all of the above items in the pockets of your jacket and send it through together.
  • Laptops and C-Pap machines go through the scanner separately and out of the bag/packaging.
  • Everyone has to be processed, including infants, toddlers in strollers, people in wheelchairs or other mobility devices.
  • Food and Drinks are not permitted through security, including baby food, snacks, open packages. Chances are you will be asked to consume it before going through; otherwise the food/drink will be thrown out. Not to worry, once you clear security there are many food options available as you walk to your gate.
  • Keep your boarding pass and passport accessible as you will need both at this time. Have your passport ready to open on your picture page.
  • Be patient when you are coming up to the bins/emptying your pockets. Wait for the person in front of you to finish taking their things off and loading the bins. If you are traveling together, that is fine, you can share a bin for your shoes, jackets, hats. What I mean is, don’t jump in front of a stranger and push a bin of your things through before the person ahead of you is finished pushing their stuff through. Let them finish before snatching bins for your stuff. For one thing, it’s RUDE and two, it may look suspicious to the security crew as you jump ahead while the person in front of you has yet to be fully processed and cleared. We all want to get through as quickly as possible, these tips will assist in getting you processed efficiently.
  • While this tip has nothing to do with airport security, it’s about consideration. Please refrain from bathing in perfume/cologne or wearing heavy scented lotions before arriving to the airport. Yes, I know you want to smell great, but the truth is, nobody wants to smell you. You don’t know who you’re sitting in front of, behind of or may share a row with. Heavy scents can trigger a migraine which I can’t imagine is fun to deal with on a flight when you can’t escape the smell. Just be considerate, wear your perfume/cologne once you get to your destination.

As far as packing goes, try packing as light as you can if at all possible. If you and your spouse can share one full-sized suitcase and have minimal carry-on, great! If you require more than that, that’s okay too. You should be able to store a full sized suitcase under the bed in your stateroom and maybe another full-sized in the armoire/closet. Just keep in mind that the size of the average stateroom is equivalent to a 9′ x 9′ bedroom furnished like a studio apartment with an ensuite bathroom, so space really is limited when it comes to larger/bulky items.

There are baggage carts available at the airports and cruise ports to help carry your multiple bags. Don’t forget to tip the baggage porters, shuttle drivers, taxi drivers, uber drivers and your room attendant on the last day of the cruise.

This is all that I have time for today. I feel that is more to share about cruising to help you with deciding whether or not a cruise is the best way to spend your vacation.

If you’ve found my tips to be helpful in making your decision, please leave a comment and let me know. If I’ve mentioned something that doesn’t make sense or you have any questions, please inquire by leaving a comment and I’ll do my best to clarify or answer your concern. 🙂

 

Cruises, Need to prepare, Speaking from Experience, Vacation

Cruising 101, Part 2

On deck, Leaving Skagway

Welcome back blog readers,

Here is a recap from yesterday’s blog post, Cruising 101.

  • You are considering a cruise for your next vacation
  • What you need to consider before booking your cruise: Passport is up to date, Vaccinations (travel vaccinations) are up to date, You know to carry cash to pay for tips.
  • You know to research the various cruise lines, theme cruises, excursion options, and destinations to ensure that you make the most of your cruising experience.
  • First time cruisers are advised to book a cabin/stateroom Mid-Ship to avoid motion sickness.
  • Once you’ve settled on the ship, you are encouraged to find videos on Youtube to ensure you see the stateroom and consider any feedback left from former passengers.

 

There is so much information that I want to (and will) share, so let’s get started.

Let’s start at the beginning…

Before you book your cruise:

  • Do you need to go through a travel agent? No. If you find the process overwhelming, you certainly can book through a travel agent. This is at your discretion.  If you have a family member that is a travel agent or works for a particular airline or hotel chain, look into getting a discount. Don’t forget to take advantage of AirMiles, Reward Points, AAA/CAA or other Customer Loyalty perks if you have them.
  • If you don’t live near a cruise port (specifically the cruise port your ship is leaving from) let’s assume that you will require transportation to/from the cruise port from the airport. Consider the added cost for airfare roundtrip.

Here’s what I do and highly recommend. Since most of our cruises have left from Fort Lauderdale, Florida we book a flight that arrives the DAY BEFORE for cruise ship leaves port. Why? We are traveling from Canada where there is often snow/ice and risk of delays. We have been booking through Air Canada vacations (to save on the bundle of flight/hotel) and we know that there are only 2 flights from Ottawa to Fort Lauderdale. It’s really for peace of mind, to ensure we arrive at the cruise port before the ship leaves because it will not wait for you, unless they know you have entered the terminal. Most times we arrive at our hotel around 8pm (the night before) and we book a shuttle from the hotel to the cruise port in the morning. First time cruisers, you really don’t have to arrive before noon at the cruise port (unless your ship leaves earlier). All of ours have never left before 4pm. Now don’t wait until 4pm to show up as once you arrive at the cruise port you still have to go through security, customs and wait in the long line to get your key card for your stateroom (also acts as your ID onboard).

I’ve jumped a little ahead, back to the bullet points.

  • You’ve booked your flight, you’ve google mapped the long list of hotels near the airport, so now you look for hotels that participate in your Rewards/Perks program and consider staying at one that offers FREE shuttle to the cruise port. Feel free to book an Uber, Taxi or make your own arrangements as long as you get to the cruise port on time.
  • Don’t forget to book a hotel and transportation once the cruise arrives back at the port. This may not apply to all first time cruisers, depending on where you are going after the ship arrives or how early your flight home leaves. Allow yourself to arrive 2 hours before your flight is scheduled to leave.
  • When booking your flight home, I highly recommend you book a later flight anytime after 1pm or even book the flight the day after if you can. The ship usually arrives back at the port as early as 6am. The ship needs to be cleared from the local authorities and the several hundred suitcases need to be unloaded and sorted in the terminal before any passenger is allowed to leave (unless you opt for walking all of your luggage off of the ship). If your budget permits, book a hotel for the day as it serves as a place to store your luggage and book a sight seeing tour, spend the day at the beach or just take the extra day to relax before your flight. From my experience, spending the whole day (10:15am to 9:45pm) at the airport SUCKS.
  • If you are unsure about booking a shuttle from the cruise port to your next destination (hotel/airport), not to worry, you don’t have to sort it out now. Most cruise lines (Not Norwegian) will offer to help arrange transportation if you decide to book an excursion as to avoid sitting at the airport all day. Expect to pay a fee per person.

Ok, now that we covered getting to/from the cruise port, let’s talk about what to expect once you finally get onboard the ship.

The most important tip, KEEP YOUR ROOM KEY CARD ON YOU. Once you arrive you may feel a little overwhelmed as the ships are huge and most people spend the first day exploring, getting to know the layout, that is after you locate the Lido Deck (where the buffet is). Don’t expect to be able to access your room right away. Remember that there are at least 2000 maybe 4000 passengers waiting to have their luggage sent to their stateroom. Of the four cruise lines, Holland America has been the best for getting passengers on/off and the stateroom was ready immediately. I suspect that is the case because their ships are smaller and they assign 2 room attendants where the other ships are larger and only have 1 attendant.

Every cruise ship will go through a Muster Drill before the ship leaves port. You will be notified (the TV in your stateroom will already be on to guide you) as to what time it will start. Your key card will indicate where you are to meet the emergency crew (sometimes it’s out on deck, sometimes it’s a dining room or lounge). Please make sure your kids are with you, everyone HAS to be present, your key card may be scanned or your room number may be called as proof that you attended. Once this drill is complete, the ship will leave the port. Even past guests have to attend, it is mandatory, no exceptions.

Here are a few nautical terms that will help you navigate your way around the ship.

  • Forward, should be self-explanatory, Forward is referring to the Front of the ship
  • Mid-Ship, the Middle of the ship
  • Aft, the Back of the ship
  • Port (side), LEFT assuming that you are facing foward. I use word association to help me remember, PORT and LEFT have the same amount of letters. PORT and LEFT also have an EVEN amount of letters and the Staterooms that end in an EVEN number tend to be on the PORT side.
  • Starboard (side), RIGHT. Odd amount of letters in both words, Staterooms that end in an ODD number will be on the Starboard side.
  • Lido, not so much a nautical term as it tends to refer to the name of the deck that the buffet is located.
  • Gangway, The narrow walkway that allows passengers to walk on/off the ship while it’s docked at a pier. An announcement will be made as to where the Gangway(s) are located and signage will be posted to remind you what the All Aboard Time is.
  • Tender, A small ferry style boat that may be used to transport several passengers to/from the ship to the port. Often used when the ship is too large to tie up to the dock/pier. These tenders make several trips and they usually make their last trip 30-45 minutes before all passengers are to scheduled to be back onboard.

What does the All-Inclusive cover? Once you’ve book the cruise, your credit card is on file and attached to your stateroom in the event that you tack on any additional charges. The All-Inclusive covers:

  • All meals at the buffet, as many meals as you want including coffee, tea, milk, water and the juice, lemonade, iced tea from the drink dispensers.
  • All meals at the Dining Room (listed on your key card). Again you can order as many appetizers, dinners, desserts in one sitting as you’d like.
  • Entertainment/Shows/Demonstrations- for the most part they are FREE. Norwegian likes to charge for some of the entertainment. Norwegian and Royal Caribbean ask that you reserve seats, which I didn’t like. By the end of the first day everything was booked, so we missed out (or at least made to feel that we missed out as many guests booked but never attended). Holland America and Carnival were inclusive and had ample seating, ironic how the smaller ships can accomodate larger crowds and the larger ships don’t have ample seating. In any case, check your daily Itinerary that gets delivered to your stateroom as it should be mentioned there, otherwise contact Guest Services to be sure.
  • Room Service on Holland America and maybe Carnival were FREE, the other lines asked for a minimum order or want to charge a small fee for delivery or stopped delivery after a certain time. A menu will be in your stateroom, read the fine print.

That’s about it, your basic breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and most of the entertainment are inclusive.

Alcoholic drinks and Soda are EXTRA unless you purchase a Drink Package. The ships vary in price and some offer tiered packages, so it’s at your discretion to choose which is best for you.

Happy Hours: Holland America seems to be the only line that offers a Happy Hour. One of their ships offered a Buy one Get (the same drink) FREE. Worth mentioning as my husband and I wanted two different drinks thinking we’d buy one and get the other free, we ended up getting 4 drinks. A happy little mistake 🙂 The other 2 ships offered a buy one get one 50% off. There are 2 bars that participate in Happy Hour, the one at the Crows Nest is the one you should seek out.

As far as drink pricing (if you don’t buy the drink package), Holland America has the best pricing with a range of $5, $6 ,$7, $8 for mixed drinks and their drink of the day was discounted as well. The other cruise lines don’t offer a Happy Hour, just a drink of the day that costs $7 or $8 dollars. The most expensive drinks were on the Norwegian Epic that started around $8 and went up to $14

Gambling onboard, naturally will cost extra and all money spent goes right onto your onboard account. This includes the Casino, Bingo games, Deal or No Deal, Slot Tournaments, Poker Tournaments, BlackJack Tournaments (anything that offers a chance to win Cash probably has a fee attached). The casino is only open on Sea days and once the ship reaches international waters on Port days. The same thing is true for the onboard shops. No cash needed, just charge it to your room with your key card.

Casino Tip: Assuming that you have a credit card attached to your onboard account (most common, but not everyone does, they pay cash at the end). It’s very easy to swipe your key card at the slot machines or tables to charge $10 here, $20 there, another $10 here. Yes there are ATM’s, which charges a fee to process and your bank might charge for not using one of their machines, and don’t forget about the currancy exchange rate. You can get cash from the teller in the casino, for a fee. You can also get cash from Guest Services, for a fee. So where’s the tip? The tip is to swipe your key card at any slot machine, follow the prompts to Charge to your room give it a few seconds to process the transaction, once you see the CREDITS appear you press CASHOUT and take the voucher to a machine to cash in or to the teller to avoid extra fees (except Norwegian that charges 3%) the other cruise lines don’t charge if you use their slot machines to bypass the handling fee/exchange rate. Why is this helpful? Most ports will take cash, many vendors don’t accept credit card or debit so it’s a great way to ensure that you have cash to do your shopping just in case you need it. Also it’s nice to tip your tour guides on your excursions.

This brings me to my next point, Gratuities. You will notice when you check your onboard account that each day you will be charged a Service Fee/Gratuity Fee that averages $14.50 per day per person. What are these fees for? Basically the accumulated fees will be divided among the buffet crew that clears the tables, the room attendants, the crew members that put together the daily activities and provide the daily printout that gets delivered to your stateroom. Can I get this fee removed? YES! Go to Guest services and let them know that you want to remove the gratuity fees as you indend to tip in cash.

You will see automatic gratuities being charged for all drinks at the bars (unless you have a drink package). Extra Gratuities added for specialty coffee drinks and specialty dining and in some cases extra fees for Room Service. Let’s not forget about any services that you might get at the Spa like a massage, facial, getting your hair/nails done, acupuncture and even filler injections. This may not be a complete list, just what I can recall at the moment.

Dining: The buffet and Dining Room are not your only options (just the free options). Most cruise ships will offer options like Teppanyaki, Sushi, Italian, Brazilian, Steakhouse, French, Asian Noodle Bar if you’re looking to experience more of a fine dining experience. Don’t assume that you can just walk in when you’re ready to eat, in most cases you have to reserve a day/time in advance. If you’ve decided on a ship, then I encourage you to check out Youtube videos of the specialty dining to see if it’s something that interests you, especially if you are considering buying a Specialty Dining package.

When it comes to fine dining, it’s safe to assume that there is a dress code. Most ships do have a Gala night in all dining areas except the buffet. Typically this is the same night that you will see several crew members in the public areas available to take professional pictures. Taking the picture is FREE, buying a copy, not so much. The exception was Norwegian, they didn’t have a Gala night. They offered professional picture taking on several days of that cruise.

Shore Excursions: On days that you will be in Port, there are many activities for you to consider while you are off the ship. Snorkeling (bring your own gear if you have it), Kayaking, Scuba, various tours, Swimming with dolphins, hiking, tubing through a lazy river, Exploring caves, Ziplining, Parasailing, Train rides, honestly just too many activities to mention. You’ll be well informed as to what is available at the various ports. Equipment rentals are available, don’t worry. All excursions come with a fee, per person in most cases. Some activites require you to be fit and in shape, others not so much. Just something to keep in mind before booking a beautiful nature hike with strollers and grandma in tow 😛

Port Days: What to expect on port days… Expect the buffet to be chaos between 7am-9:30am. Those passengers that have booked an excursion want (need) to get off the ship to meet their tour guide. Do you have to get off the ship? NOPE. In fact some of the best days are port days where you stay on while half of the passengers get off. More chairs at the pool are available, the best time to book a spa treatment in on port days. There are still activities onboard, so there things to pass the time.

If you are getting off, BRING YOUR KEY CARD AND PASSPORT or ID. Make sure you know when the ship is leaving and please for the love of god, make sure you are back 30 minutes before that time. If the ship states that the ALL ABOARD time is 4:30pm, that doesn’t mean dilly dally, take your sweet ass time and show up at 4:45pm, 4:50pm, 5pm. The ports run on a schedule and other ships may be waiting or are enroute to use the dock/pier. If your ship is late leaving the captain gets fined big bucks and the ship will leave you behind (hence taking your passport as you will have to make arrangements to get home from there). Please schedule your excursions and allow yourself time to get back. If you are on an excursion that is running late, the captain knows and may make the exception to wait as he/she knows it is not your fault. Chances are it’s not just you the ship is waiting on, it’s a group of you.

This has happened on one of the cruises I was on, a group was out on an excursion in St.Marteen, all aboard was 4pm. The tour was running late the shuttle broke down on the way back. The captain received word and we watched several taxis leave the tourist area to retreive the guests. The captain wasn’t pleased as he had to stay an hour longer than he was scheduled, which means he had to make up time to the next port. It was this same cruise that some guests that got off were also late getting back on and were almost left behind. The ship does not sound the horn when it’s time to get back, so bring your watch, bring your phone, make sure you know what time it is.

Ship Time: It is very likely that while you are on a cruise, you may enter into a different time zone. Be mindful of the time the SHIP is on as this may impact your excursions and the time you need to get back. The SHIP time may vary from where you are and what the local time is. Typically an announcement will be made and you’ll be notified the evening before the time change happens so you can set your watches, phones and alarms accordingly.

Speaking of time, it’s time to end this post and continue tomorrow….

Cruises, Need to prepare, Speaking from Experience, Vacation, What to consider

Cruising 101

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.

http://www.walkerstalkercruise.com/

https://www.celebritycruises.com/specialty-cruises/music-and-themed-cruises

  • 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.

https://disneycruise.disney.go.com/

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.

https://www.hollandamerica.com/en_US/cruise-ships.html

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.

https://www.ncl.com/ca/en/cruise-ship/epic

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.

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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.

Jaw Drop Point
Jaw Drop Point, a scenic view as we slowly cruised through Glacier Bay.

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…

Cruises

Ten days on the Norwegian Epic

Welcome back blog readers,

I had hoped that with the purchase of the internet package onboard the Norwegian Epic that I might have been able to post more frequently. That simply was not the case at all.

The connection was spotty at best and the only place we received a signal in our stateroom was just behind the door. Even then our plan was for 250 minutes over the course of 10 days (which isn’t horrible), but what is horrible is the fact that it took several minutes to log in, get a connection and log out so we wasted more time doing that than we did actually using the internet. I wish I was exagerating, but I’m not. The other morning I used the last 14 minutes logging on to the ships’ internet, signing into Facebook to post an update (two short sentences no pictures) watched it load to  99% before asking me to retry (I declined) and logging off right after.

There is much that I want to share about cruising for those first-time cruisers, but I’ll save that for another post. For now, I’ll just share the highlights and other memorable moments from this cruise.

Our first day is probably going to be the most memorable as it was December 5th, 2018 and we had arrived early enough to board the Norwegian Epic on the day NASA had a scheduled rocket launch.

https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/launches-and-events/events-calendar/2018/december/rocket-launch-spacex-crs-16

I was able to get a few pictures and a short video, surprisingly as there was such a glare on my screen that I wasn’t sure I caught anything at all. Still, pretty cool and great timing and positioning to witness such an event.

Since we were celebrating our 10 year anniversary, I decided to buy the “Anniversary” Package which ensured that your stateroom will be decorated with streamers/balloons and you’ll have a fancy cake waiting for you as you enter your stateroom.

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The cake was HUGE at least 10 inches in diameter and the streamers/balloons were a nice touch, they were Dollar store quality so it’s hard to justify spending $54.00 (USD) which is more like $63.00 CAD for a cake meant for two but could have easily have fed 12 generously. By day 3 we still had half the cake left before we asked our room attendant to dispose of it. While it was a nice touch and my heart was in the right place, it’s something I won’t do again. There was zero foresight with the cake as far as providing extra clean plates/forks after we used the ones provided and there wasn’t a cover of any sort to keep it moist (sorry, I know that word bothers some folks), or any container to store the leftovers in. The cake and plate was so large that it would not fit in the mini fridge. First world problems, I know, right?

The majority of day one is usually spent getting acclimated to the layout of the ship and getting familiar with where things are (Forward, Aft, Mid-ship and which Deck), when/if they open/close and scoping out the casino before it opens. I did however leave the last copy of my book in the casino for a lucky reader to find.

Bookcrossing

The ship did have a Library, which was my first place to leave it, but since the Library wasn’t easy to find on the first day. The Library is shown to be on Deck 5, I looked and found a door that had a sign “Library/Meeting Room” so I opened the door to find it was just a meeting room, no books. I asked a crew member to which they pointed me back to the direction that I came from, which wasn’t helpful. We stumbled upon the Game room which was off of the Photo Gallery and inside of the Game room was another door that lead to the Library. No sign on the door, no indication that the Library was to be accessed through the Game Room. Just another slight annoyance that I found on this ship (hidden/misleading signage).

Day 2 and 3 We were scheduled to stop at Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas,  which is owed by the Norwegian Cruise Line. While the weather was beautiful, it was too windy for the tenders to safely transport the passengers to/from the island. One less day at port means you get your port fees refunded.

 

 

 

 

 

  • This is not my video, I don’t own any rights to it. Just wanting to show you the port that we missed. The guy narrating makes some good points.

The shops and casino onboard are only open once the ship enters international waters (Sea Days and 30 minutes after we leave a port). Which sounds like fun, but can also be dangerous as it is so easy to keep swiping your room card at the slot machines. For those of you that have not been on a cruise, your room card key is typically how you pay for most things on the ship, this same card key allows you to enter your stateroom, pay for drinks at the various bars, pay for any excursions, pay for specialty dining onboard and buy souveniers at some ports and on this ship it’s also used to turn your lights in the stateroom on (although any credit card sized card seemed to work just as well, which I recommend as you are likely to forget your room card key in the fixture and risk locking yourself out). Also, your room card is what gets scanned each time you want to leave the ship on the port days and acts as identification when trying to leave the port and get back onto the ship.

Day 4 Ocho Rios Jamaica

Ocho Rios Jamaica

Here is the view from our stateroom. For whatever reason, this cruise ship has their life boats that extend beyond the balconies which means most of the staterooms with a balcony will have an obstructed view. Here I’ll show you what I mean.

EPIC

This was taken the same day as we finished shopping in Ocho Rios. We did have a stateroom with a balcony, as you can see most rooms (not interior) do. Our room was on Deck 8, Starboard side which is what we are looking at. Our room was located between the third and fourth lifeboat (left to right which is actually #13 & #15), first row of balcony rooms. At the first glance we were excited because it does extend farther out than most balconies above us, but we quickly realized that other passengers could look down and we didn’t have any privacy. Not that we planned on sunbathing nude, but you can kind of see that the balconies above are set inside while the first level are pushed out. Not only was there a lack of privacy, but we also had guests smoking on their balconies (NOT ALLOWED by the way) because there are designated areas onboard plus the casino to smoke in.

The first morning I woke up to finding that a guest from an above deck spit a loogie (also not allowed to spit or throw anything over the side of the deck) which landed on our chair. The second morning I found a cigarette butt on the floor of our balcony. We didn’t have the same interest to spend time out there, especially after hearing people above clear their throat and sounding like they were getting ready to spit again. Which is unfortunate because we love spending time out there, it’s how I start my mornings until my husband wakes up.

As for Ocho Rios, it’s a lovely port with lots of local vendors looking to sell their goods. For those first-time cruisers, here’s a tip when it comes to shopping at the ports. As far as the basic souvenirs, you will see them in ALL of the shops, so don’t buy from the vendors closest to the port. Walk around, window shop, check the prices because in most cases what you wanted to buy for $20 can be found for less if you walk further from the port entrance/exit. Expect to be harassed by the taxi drivers, private excursions/tour guides and forced to haggle on pricing in Jamaica. Not all shops, but a majority of them. You can easily spot which ones they are because none of their items are priced, nor are there signs with pricing. Again, these shops that haggle also carry the same things as those that clearly price their goods. Enter at your own risk. The key is to not make eye contact or touch anything, that is seen as an invite to start haggling and price negotiating. If you don’t mind a bit of bargaining, you’ll be in heaven. If you’re like me and don’t want to be harassed or pressured into offering a fair price for a trinket they ask $35 USD for, but you know that’s way too much and you feel that offering $10 is reasonable but you don’t want to insult them, then stick to the shops that have prices on everything. Don’t get me wrong, I could spend all day admiring the work from the locals, there is so much artistic talent that I can appreciate, but I’m not a haggler. Just know that ALL SALES ARE FINAL, so make sure it fits and it’s not damaged before leaving the shop.

 Day 5, Grand Cayman Island

 

 

 

Grand Cayman, another lovely port, very historical with lots of shops, restaurants with Wi-Fi, and local vendors that set up in the marketplace as you arrive. This port also requires a tender for transporting guests to/from the port. We spent a good two hours walking around, window shopping and taking it all in. The only downside (as a tourist) is that we arrived on Sunday when many of the shops were closed. Just a few things to note, be careful crossing the streets, they drive like Europeans (nothing wrong with that, just might catch the North American tourists off guard) and don’t be alarmed to see chickens and roosters walking about. The advice I gave about not buying from the first vendor also applies here. We talked to a shop owner a few blocks away that mentioned that he supplies the vendors with the trinkets to sell, which those vendors mark them up knowing many tourists may not venture a few blocks to find the same thing for cheaper. The best thing (in my opinion) no high-pressure sales, all items are priced. Feel free to explore, as there are many hidden gems located upstairs and in courtyards. Take advantage of the various stores/restaurants that promote each other by offering coupons for discounts on your meals/purchases at nearby shops.

Day 6 was a Sea Day.

Day 7, Harvest Cay, Belize

Belize

To this point, this was my favorite port. We did opt to go on an excursion through the mangroves in hopes to see local wildlife (MANATEES). This picture was taken at the Marina were many of the excursions were meeting up and leaving from. We had a great tour with Captain Curtis and Sue who was very friendly and bubbly. Before we got started they offered all their guests Rum Punch, once everyone had a cup in hand, we started our search for wildlife. We did see a manatee as it kept coming to the surface to breath. As the boat stayed still with the engine off, it grew more curious and ventured a bit closer. Sadly, I wasn’t able to capture our manatee sighting as they are quick to stick their nose up and go back down. We also saw jelly fish, oysters on the trunks of the mangroves, two termite nests and what Sue called a bamboo chicken (Iguana). This island is well maintained, the locals are friendly, there are local vendors as well as big named stores like Del Sol, Cariloha, Harley Davidson. There was a little haggling but not as pushy as Jamaica. There is also a local chocolate making shop, MOHO, If you love chocolate as much as I do, stop in for a free sample. There is so much to see and do, so check out this video

 

 

 

 

 

Day 8, Costa Maya in Mexico

 

Costa Maya, Mexico another great port and by far the most entertaining as the locals really love to show off their culture. Great bargains in many of the shops, some haggling, but not as high pressured as Jamaica. My husband was looking for a button down Hawaiian shirt, most shops are geared toward women shoppers. I did catch a men’s shirt hanging up in a doorway to one of the shops just before we left, and as I mentioned, once you touch an item, you’ve just initiated the haggling process. My husband touched the shirt to gauge the quality and without missing a beat the vendor notices and pounces. He was trying to reel us in with an opening line of “Oh, you like that shirt sir, for you it’s practically FREE”! My husband has played this game before, so he knows the opening offer isn’t going to be close to FREE, the opening offer after showing him a few styles in various colors was $135 USD. There is no way my husband was going to pay anything close to that, as he only had a little over $40 USD on him at that time. My husband declined, the offer went down to $85 to which my husband said no thank you, I just don’t have that much on me. The vendor asked how much he wanted to pay for the shirt, my husband said he didn’t want to insult him offering a low amount considering he had dropped the price from $135 to $85. The vendor is hell-bent on making a sale, he places the shirt into a shopping bag, places it in my husband’s hands and lowers the price to $45. Still not having enough money, my husband declines but counters with $35. The vendor was less than thrilled, or at least he made it look that way, but agreed to that price of $35, SOLD! With bag in hand we were quick to leave before the vendor could change his mind. Haggling does work if you appear less interested and let them drive the price down.

 Day 9, Cozumel Mexico

Another great port for shopping, snorkeling, laying out in the sun and enjoying the local cuisine and cheap drinks. You walk off from the pier right into an outdoor shopping plaza with local vendors, big named stores and recognizable restaurant chains like Starbucks and Hooters. Some vendors will invite you in to haggle, most have their items priced. If you’ve noticed that you’ve got quite a bit of sun, stop into the drugstore for some aloe as it will be much cheaper to buy in Mexico than on the ship, the same goes for snacks or travel sized toiletries. Just be careful not to bring food (veggies, fruits, meats) off from the ship or back onto the ship. They will check your bags, backpacks, diaper bags and pass them in front of a dog. So finish your breakfast before you leave the ship, don’t walk off with a banana because it will get taken from you.

Overall I give this cruise experience a 6.5 out of 10. The score has nothing to do with the ports/destinations and everything to do with the Cruise ship and some of the crew members. You’ve heard my grievance with the balcony location, here’s a video to give you an idea as to what most of the rooms look like (ours was reversed, but the same awkward set up).

 

 

I’ll come back with another post that compares Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Holland America and Norwegian. As it is I’ve spent all day (since I got back home from the airport) putting this post together… To be continued….

* I don’t have any rights to these videos, I do own the pictures that were taken by me on this cruise.