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


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.


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.

  • 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.

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…