Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cruising 101: Helpful Tips & Advice

After our cruise, there were a few things we decided we'd do differently and some things we'd do the same.  And I thought I'd share them here for anyone who hasn't sailed before and might be interested in some pointers.  (Note: We cruised on a Carnival ship, so our advice  follows with our Carnival experience.  Other cruise lines may differ.)

So here we go!

Soda/Bottled Water - If you're a soda drinker, it's worth it to bring a 12 pack of your favorite.  I read that somewhere before we left but ignored it thinking I wouldn't care that much.  But, as it turns out, we wanted soda more often than not.  So we did the unlimited option, which cost us way more than what we would have preferred (upwards of $60 per person for a 5 night cruise - the total was based on a certain amount per day).  In retrospect, I could have made a 12 pack last through our cruise and bought one or two more on board when I ran out, if I wanted them.  I would have spent probably more like $10 total per person, versus what we paid.

Trip Length - Five nights were perfect for us.  At the end of the cruise, we were ready to be back on land and were getting slightly bored on board (see what I did there).  When we were booking our cruise, I thought we'd really like to have more days, but in reality we didn't.  

Almost exactly what our room was like
Balcony - The balcony is worth it.  At least, to us.  I realized that if we hadn't had the balcony, we would have had to go to the fresh air instead of opening our cabin door, which would have been irritating.  It was nice to know what the weather was like before we walked out of our cabin and got ready for the day.  Plus, it was nice to have some outside privacy.  If you don't get the balcony, private outside time is very limited.

Onboard Shows - Go to the shows.  We really enjoyed going to the shows because they were fun, relaxing, and a way to kill some time before dinner.  It was worth it.  Plus, they're good, and you don't have to pay extra to see them. 

Dining Time - In normal life, we eat dinner pretty early, like 4 pm early.  On board, we were super glad that we had the late dining at 8:15.  Our stomachs were ready to eat by the time 8:15 came around.  Had our dinner been at 6:15, we would have enjoyed it a lot less.  Another note - get to know you're wait staff because they're generally pretty neat and have cool stories.  Almost all of ours were from foreign countries, and we had a really good time chatting with them every night.  My suggestion is to take a joke to share with them every night.  It sounds cheesy, but it'll generate a convo.  

Formal Night(s) - For formal night, some people will go super extravagant.  Some people will go super toned down.  We were a little in between.  I wore nice dress pants with a blouse and sweater, and Chewie wore dress slacks with a nice sweater.  And that worked perfectly for us.  We didn't care to get any of the pictures done on the formal night and were ready to change out of our nice clothes for the evening events.  So if you're not interested in any big picture moments, scaling it down a bit is perfectly acceptable.  

Our personal favorite
Wine - If you're a wine drinker, you're allowed to bring 2 bottles with you - take this option.  We didn't think we'd care (kind of like how we felt about the soda), but there was a night or two that we wanted to enjoy a glass or two of wine and class up our dinner.  We ended up buying a $30 bottle of wine one night that we saw later was only $8 at Walmart.  You'll save money this way.  Unfortunately, there really is no way to save money on the cocktails or other mixed drinks (unless you smuggle stuff for it on board, which I don't recommend).  

On our lazy, non-excursion, beach day.
Excursions - We chose to do an excursion at one of the ports, and we decided that it was a good option for us considering the type of excursion it was (a guided tour of the Mayan ruins, including the bus ride over there).  For the day we planned to linger on the beach all day, we didn't do an excursion, and I think that turned out well for us.  So our advice is to book an excursion if it's going to be money-saving for you or if it's an unusual outing (like our ruins trip).  For a day at the beach, you'll probably save money and have just as good a time taking a taxi to a free-access beach with a restaurant/bar.  

Snacks - We discovered on board there were several times we just wanted a candy bar or a simple snack (like a bag of chips) that wasn't available at the buffet or dinner.  If you like munchy type foods, I suggest bringing some snacks with you on board.  I caved in eventually and bought a Kit-Kat bar in the gift shop for $1.75 (sheesh!).  You'll save money this way and won't have to leave your room for a snack, either.

Luggage - we generally do everything possible to take just a carry-on when we fly because we don't like checking our bags.  We were able to pack everything we needed into carry-ons for the trip, which was pretty cool.  However, for the cruise, we wished we had bigger bags for the sake of taking things like soda, snacks, souvenirs, etc.  I also didn't get to take my normal skin care products with me because they're over 3 oz., and I suffered the consequences of that over the two weeks we were gone.  Even though we're cheap, we probably should have just sucked it up and checked our bags for the sake of taking bigger bags with more room to include extra items - it would have been worth it.

Hair dryer - I didn't take my hair dryer because I saw there would be one on board, and I figured it would be like the ones in hotels - not the best quality but still manageable.  No.  Not. Even. Close.  If you're going to want to dry your hair at all, take your hair dryer with you or even a compact travel dryer.  Take it from me and don't even bother with the one on board.  Trust me.

We took this exact kind and size.  It was perfect.
Dramamine/other meds - We almost didn't take Dramamine (motion sickness meds) with us, but I'm really glad we did.  There was one day that I had a headache from a little too much sun, and the rocking of the boat intensified it a million times.  I took some Dramamine (the less drowsy kind so I didn't wipe out) and felt better in half an hour - it was very worth it.  Even if you don't anticipate using it (like I didn't), do yourself a favor and take some with you, especially so you don't have to go looking for the on board doctor.  

Also, I highly suggest taking other meds that you might need and don't want to pay a million dollars for in the ports.  Things like pain medicine (I took my trusty Excedrin Migraine), Neosporin, a simple first aid kit, itch cream (like Benadryl cream), cold medicine (just in case), hand sanitizer, and tums are really great to take with you.  We took all of those things and didn't use most of them, but if we had needed them we would have been glad we brought them.  Just put them in a Ziploc baggie and stow them away somewhere - it doesn't take much space, and it may come in super handy.

Highlighter - One of the best pieces of advice I read before cruising was to take a highlighter or two (diff colors) to highlight the things you'd like to do on your itinerary.  So each night, the hubs and I would go through the next day's itinerary highlighting the things we really wanted to do, insuring we wouldn't accidentally miss something exciting because we didn't notice it.  It was totally helpful.  And consider using a different color for each person so that you can prioritize what you want to do together and what you want to do separately.  

Two-Way Radios - Even if you decide you don't mind paying the international roaming charges for cell phone use, odds are you won't have cell service anyway, which means reaching other people in your party can be difficult.  Many people on board had two-way radios for reaching others in their party - brilliant.  We wish we had done the same thing.  That way, if hubs was at the casino and decided he wanted to grab some food while I'm lounging by the pool for a few hours, he could let me know where he was so that I wouldn't go on a wild goose chase trying to find him if I needed him (and vice versa).  I promise that you won't regret taking these - just be sure to bring extra batteries!

We took this exact camera,
which took the picture at the very top of this post,
as well as all the other pictures from our vacation posts.
Camera(s) - We have a small, nice Nikon digital camera, and a really nice, larger Nikon camera.  We opted to take the smaller one for the sake of space, and we don't regret it a bit.  Granted, if we'd had the space, I would have definitely preferred the nicer, bigger camera, but our pictures from the smaller camera turned out just fine, and it was a lot easier to carry around.  So if you're trying to make the decision over what kind to take, go for the smaller option (unless you don't mind lugging around a big one), and don't forget to bring extra batteries or your camera's battery charger.

Hope these tips come in handy for your next cruise, especially for those first-time cruisers like us who had no idea what we were doing!

Happy sailing!


Annette Douglas said...

Thank you very much for sharing, even though you had already been on the cruise!!

Canadians, Annette, Bill, Dalton and Jay

candice maroney said...

Great advice! We are sailing on our first Carnival cruise at the end of Feb. I've read lots of articles but I really like how you pulled it all together. Thanks.