5 Things I Learned On My First Cruise
|The Norwegian Cruise Line Getaway docked in Cozumel|
I spend 6 days floating and porting through the western Caribbean on this lovely ship, called the Getaway. Now, I will admit, while I was enthused for this first trip out of the country I was extremely leery of the idea of living at sea for such a long period of time. Will I get seasick? Would I get bored? What if my roommate and I have a disagreement? Will the food be good? Will everything have pork or shellfish in it? Will my allergies be going crazy? Will there be a lot of loud children? Do I have enough books to keep me occupied? Will they play trap music? Will there be cute men on board? Will this be the beginning of a whimsical fairy tale romance?
To answer all
I ended up really enjoying the trip and officially down to attend any and every cruise (invite me places! i'm a great & stress-free travel companion!). I quickly learned that cruising is a lifestyle and picked up some life-saving tips as soon as I landed at the port. Some of these things where ideas that never crossed my mind before boarding or questions I asked but couldn't really find answers for when I searched the interwebs before my trip. I think they'd be really useful to everyone so check out this quick list. If you have any other suggestions, leave them in the comments box!
|I've always about how mountainous Haiti is but never thought that the same could be found on other Caribbean countries. For some reason I assumed they were all flat. Hence why the lush, alpine coastline of Ocho Rios took my breath away.|
1. Negotiate everything. Before booking your ticket, regardless if you book directly from the cruise line website or through a travel agent, try to negotiate free add-ons such as wifi, drinks, or on-board credit. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line currently has a promotion for four free offers when booking a trip, something that travel agents aren't providing. If booking through agents, know they will get their commission for booking your trip so make them prove to you why you should book through them as opposed to directly from the cruise line. If you notice any deals within 1-2 weeks of booking, you can probably call your travel agent or the cruise line to negotiate that special onto your vacation package. Make sure you know what fees are associated with cancellation or changing reservations in order to better leverage your power. Pro Tip: while the 'free wifi' deal sounds tempting, being disconnected really allows you to live in the moment and enjoy the trip that much more. You can always find free wifi at the ports if you really need to check-in.
|Towel bunnies (and, occasionally, crabs and kittens) were my favorite part of turn down service|
2. Pack Light. I brought three swimsuits, 2 cover ups, one pair of shorts, one pair of jeans, five shirts, one crop top, two dresses, one skirt, one unitard, one bodysuit, one pair of sneakers, one pair of sandals, and one pair of heels (I thought I had to dress up for a Captain's Dinner). I didn't wear the majority of those things and soon realized that packing a bunch of dresses would have taken less space and made getting dressed 89% easier. Ladies, all you need is ONE pair of sandals and a sundress for each day. Bring 2-3 swimsuits and ONE cover up. Beach towels are provided on the ship so don't worry about packing any. Wear a pair of jeans and sneakers on your travel day on and off the ship to allow more space in your luggage for what really matters (see #4). Bathrooms can be kind of small without much counter space - bring an over-the-door pocket organizer for your toiletries and you'll be good to go. Pro Tip: avoid pants and shorts at all costs, ladies. who wants to deal with that hassle on vacation?!
3. Don't forget gratuity and bring cash. For those of you who are not familiar with cruises, when you check-in they will ask for a credit card to put on file (Pro Tip: make sure you tell your bank you will be traveling abroad). They'll put a hold for $300 on that card. When on the ship, anytime you purchase something, you'll swipe your room key and everything will be placed on your tab. All expenses made during the trip will be charged to your card on the final day at sea and you'll receive the receipt to your room on that last night on the boat. If you prefer to pay cash or with a separate card that you initially put on file, you can always go to guest services the day before de-boarding and pay your tab. Norwegian Cruise Line was pretty awesome because they had a free app so you can keep track of all charges to your account. Guest Services was open 24/7 so you can discuss things whenever you are free. There is a daily gratuity charge which covers the effort of all staff (i.e. cooks, wait staff, stewards, etc) that all passengers over the age of 3 must pay. It was $13.50 on our ship but I've seen it as $16.45 on other cruise lines. Keep that in consideration when budgeting for your adventure. Also, cash is useful for the day trips on land. Use it to pay for cabs, beach chairs, beach umbrellas, tipping servers, going to museums, etc. Most places take USD but you can convert currency if you're feeling fancy. Pro Tip: keep your bills on the small side.
|Hanging at the docks in Grand Cayman|
4. Don't buy any drink packages. Cruise ships often have Ultimate Drink Packages (unlimited wine, soda, beer, and cocktails) which cost about $64 a day which adds up to about $450 for a 7-day cruise. I didn't really care to pay that much for libations and was, initially, a bit stressed by the potential drought situation. In addition, I was worried about where I could get regular drinking water since they were selling bottles on the cruise ship site (and they were selling them for something ridiculous like 12 bottles for $35). But, I learned a few things upon boarding the ship.
- Guests are allowed to bring water and soda on board in their original sealed containers. As I waited to check-in, families carried 24-bottle cases and 2-Liter bottles of soda and juices as carry-on in plastic bags or piled on top of their wheeled luggage.
- Water and several juices are provided for free in all dining halls and restaurants. Water is provided at every meal. Orange juice and cranberry juice is provided in the morning and lemonade, cranberry juice, iced tea, and flavored waters are available during lunch and dinner. If you bring your own bottles, you can refill your supply whenever. I'd suggest refilling at the dining halls where there is more autonomy as opposed to the sit-down restaurants.
- Wine and champagne are allowed on the ship. They will usually charge you, at minimum, a $15 cork fee. If you carry your wine/champagne as part of carry-on luggage, you have to pre-pay that cork fee. If you check your luggage, you will not be charged unless you bring the bottle to lunch or dinner on the ship. So, basically, check your bags (you can check 2 bags for free) and keep your wine and champagne in there. We had stemless wineglasses in our room and I am assuming this is standard on all cruise lines - so finding an appropriate cup should not be an issue.
- Similar to airline rules, you can carry bottles of liquid on ships as carry-on as so long as they are less than 4oz in size. Fun fact: mini bottles of liquor are often 2-3oz. They vary in price from $0.99 to $4.99 depending on brand and place of purchase. You can bring as many mini bottles you want onto the ship. I know a gentleman who brought in 26 bottles via cargo shorts - 13 in each pocket. He walked straight through the body scanner and had no issues. You can also mix in some bottles in your toiletries bag, makeup bag, messenger bag, travel tote, and/or purse. Strategically place them everywhere and don't just throw in a grocery bag filled with bottles (that's too obvious). Bring a tumbler with you and you can make your own cocktails to go!
- Drink prices on board the ship were quite reasonable - about the same price you'd pay at any bar. So, if you do want to purchase on board, it isn't too bad and the selection is fairly decent. Just remember to be mindful of your consumption because you are on the ship for several days and the tab at the end will add up.
|Mason jar margaritas in Cozumel (lemon-mint and passion fruit)|
5. Buying the "duty and tax-free" liquor on the ship isn't a steal. Considering there is an increasing amount of airports that have tax- and duty-free shops these days, purchasing liquor on board the ship isn't anything to write home about. If you're going to buy vacation spirits, I'd suggest purchasing liquors that are native to the countries visited and cannot be bought in the United States. That's the only way the baggage fees and stress of "will the airport staff break or steal the bottle in my checked luggage?" be worth it. Orrrr, if negotiation is one of your spiritual gifts, use your knowledge of tax- and duty-free prices found in airports to haggle the price you pay on ship for the bottles. Because, trust me, they really want you to buy bottles on the ship.
|Sunset on the Gulf of Mexico on the way home|
One final suggestion: get a room with a balcony. There is no greater way to end a day than by reading a book with a glass of wine while enjoying the quiet breeze of ocean air. Also, falling asleep to the sound of the ocean is pretty damn spectacular.