Sunday, April 7, 2013

Love Birds' Cruising 101 Guide

I'm doing a bonus post this weekend to wrap up our first cruise recap with a Cruising 101 Guide - the things I think you'll want to know as a first time cruiser!

Our ship: Mariner of the Seas
Research the cruise lines - I mentioned how I was familiar with the Royal Caribbean brand prior to cruising, and it's well worth researching the various cruise lines to find which appeals best to your personality (ex. more laid back vs. party cruise etc.) as well as the demographics (ex. the longer cruises - more than 5 days - tend to have older cruisers); a helpful resource is Cruise Critic

Know the eating system - the travel agency originally booked us a standard dining time, but after reading on RC's website I found that there was a more flexible eating option (My Time Dining) which worked out great for us; we liked being able to switch up each night's schedule vs. having to work around our set dining time; also know that you can order more than one thing on the menu - we are not greedy by nature and this didn't even cross our minds that this was even an option! Once we found out from more seasoned cruisers, we ordered a few things to sample, which was fun, but wore off after a few times because we simply couldn't eat all that food, and we felt so bad wasting it

Do the math before purchasing beverage packages - I'm not a drinker, but I do like juice so we ordered a package of juices and found it worthwhile to do the math on the per beverage price; looking back while it was convenient to have juice in the room, I mostly did it because it was unclear to me if anything besides water, tea and coffee was available at breakfast; turns out there was juice in addition to those basic beverages (the juice tasted more like powdered drink mix, but it was sufficient and fresh squeezed juice was available at an additional cost); the only thing I may do differently next time, especially after how sick I got, was opting for bottled water 

CashLESS is king - our cruise operated with a Sea Pass system tied to a credit or debit card which virtually eliminated the need for cash onboard; this was a good and bad thing because it made it easy to swipe and spend being twice removed from your $ (meaning first level being cash, second your credit card and third your Sea Pass card); we used cash during excursions - I'd say depending on the length of your cruise about $200-$500 should be fine; our room had a safe in it too which was great; also you can pre-pay your gratuities which is what the travel agent arranged for us - I'd recommend this so it's one less thing to worry about the last day of the cruise

Mr. Love Bird's "Watch out!" face
Watch out for hidden charges - be very vigilant when your statement is rung up; we had a bogus pool towel charge of $25 although we were very vigilant about returning our towels; it was a little time consuming to get taken off (waiting in one line to talk to someone before being sent somewhere else to have it removed), but worth doing so. Imagine if that happened to a few hundred people each cruise? That would add up to some nice "bonus" money for the cruise line!

Getting to/on/off the ship takes serious time - even if you live relatively close to the port, the security lines and logistics of getting on and off the ship takes a while and is complicated! This was something I thought about prior to the trip (exactly how do thousands of people get on and off the ship with ease?), but come prepared with snacks, water, meds - whatever you need to be comfortable and prepared for delays; for us we had to take a taxi to the airport, arrive in TX, take the 1 1/2 hour shuttle to the port, then go through security there to get onboard. Going back was twice as long as due to delays through customs at the port followed by airport security delays, and it just didn't seem as organized as getting onboard

Take advice with a grain of salt - of course that even goes for this post! We had been advised not to book excursions with the cruise line, but ended up doing so anyway and it worked out great (although we agree it was expensive, but as first time cruisers we wanted to play it safe); we had also been advised to bring an extension cord, which our cruiseline prohibited, but we found more than enough outlets in our cabin; we had been advised to bring rolling duffles instead of standard luggage, but again we found sufficient space in our cabin closet for both our large suitcases to stand upright with room to spare

What do you wish you knew before your first cruise? Or if you've never gone, what do you want to know?

P.S. Our excursion pics I took with my disposable camera didn't come out at all - even the ones in daylight outside of the caves; I think next time I'll bring a waterproof digital camera instead