Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ten Tips for First Time Cruisers

Vacations are such a needed thing.  Everyone needs a break from the stresses and burdens of everyday life.  We've taken road trips and other kinds of vacations to the mountains and other places, but the best vacations we ever take are cruises.  We recently returned from our 14th cruise and I just have to say, cruising is just about my favorite vacation ever!  People cook and clean for you and you just feel pampered every step of the way.  For the price, it's a wonderful vacation option for couples or families with children.

Here's a list of some of the tips I've picked up along the way:

1.  Book your cruise early and use a trusted Travel Agent.  When we cruise, we will usually book our cruise about 1 year before.  This is very helpful because you only need to pay the deposits for each person up front and then you have several months to completely pay for the cruise ahead of time and be ready to go.  Make your cruise payoff be one of your monthly bills until it is paid for.   Using a Travel Agent can be good because he may know of a better rate or room that would fit your family better.   The first few times we cruised, we booked directly through the cruise line and ended up in rooms that weren't in the best of locations.  Travel Agents will know which locations are the best.

2.  Pack light! - Every cruise, I always see people who have way over packed for their cruise.  It is so much easier and less stressful to pack much lighter and have your experience getting on and off the ship go easier.  My family will only take 1 small carry on size luggage per person.  Regardless of the number of days we will be gone.  The rooms on the ships are super small and there isn't much closet or drawer space, so bringing a ton of clothes and other items just simply isn't necessary or practical.  As a perk for cruise loyalty, we now get free laundry service when we cruise which is really awesome!   But even before we got this perk, we still only took about 3 changes of clothes per person.  I bought some of those laundry detergent sheets and brought along a coin purse full of quarters and one night (usually during the middle of the cruise), I would head over to one of the laundrettes on the ship and do a couple of loads of laundry.  When you debark the ship at the end of your cruise, you are given options on how you want to get off.  Self assist (which means you roll your luggage off yourself), or the traditional way where they take your luggage the night before and have it in a big warehouse for you to search for the next day.  Self assist is the best way to go, but only when you have minimal luggage to take off.  

3. Unpack! -  When you get to your room on the ship, and you get your luggage delivered to the room, go ahead and unpack.  Don't live out of your suitcase all week!  Hang things up in the closets, put away things in the drawers and in the bathroom.  It's much  more relaxing to have your luggage put away and just enjoy being on vacation.

4.  Main Dining Room - Take advantage of the Main Dining Room for dinner each evening.  I always see lots of people avoid the main dining room for dinner because they think they have to dress up or feel awkward about people serving them.  You're on vacation!  Don't spend every meal at the buffet getting your own food.  The food there is amazing too, but there is just something about the Main Dining Room food that is a little more special.  The waiters there really take time to remember things you like and don't like.  They remember your name and are wonderful at anticipating your needs.  Other than "elegant night", you don't have to dress up in the Main Dining Room.  They only ask that you not wear shorts.  

5.  Photos - take lots of them!  You are going to see some amazing sunsets at sea and the sunrises are even better!  There are plenty of opportunities to have your photo taken by the ship's professional photography staff.  Take advantage of each one.  There is no cost for them to take your picture.  Once the photos are up in the photo gallery, take a look at them.  If you like them, you can purchase them.  If not, you can discard them in the provided bins.  There is no obligation to purchase them.  My family usually has our pictures made by many photographers at different backdrops around the ship and then we check them out to see if any turned out great. 

6.  Ports of call - Get off the ship at each of the ports of call on your cruise.  I hear people talking about how they've heard certain ports of call are not safe and there is no way they would get off the ship there.  That is just ridiculous!  The places the cruise ships go usually only even exist because of the cruise industry.  Their economy heavily relies on cruise ships coming to their country.  If the area was not safe, the cruise lines would not even consider them as a port of call.  As with anywhere, you should always be aware of your surroundings and be cautious, but the ports are very safe.  I remember being scared to get off the ship on our first cruise.  We finally did and were so shocked that it was so completely safe!  It's very interesting to see and experience a different culture.  Don't miss the opportunity!

7.  Excursions - The cruise line excursions are pretty expensive compared to what you can do on your own.  If you want to purchase a particular excursion from the cruise line, do your research first and find out what you can get the excursion for if your book it with a private company.  There are lots of tour companies that can save you about half or more.  Just be aware of the timing and make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get back to the ship before it leaves the port.  You don't want to get left behind.  Another option is to just get off the ship, find the taxi stand and get in one.  Once you're in the taxi, you can ask him how much per person he would charge to drive you around the city or island for several hours.  Usually, we can get a driver to accompany us for about $20 per person for about 4 to 5 hours.  This gives you a chance to really see the port or call, ask the driver questions about everyday life there, etc.  And this is way cheaper than other excursions.

8.  Tipping - The cruise line will automatically add tips to your account during the cruise so you don't have to go around tipping your room steward or wait staff throughout the cruise.  These automatic tips are spread out to the different people who made your cruise enjoyable.  It's really not very much considering all they do.  The cruise ship employees don't make very much money, and a lot of times, they send most of what they make back home to their families.  So, don't try to remove the tips from your account unless there is just something major that was wrong.  They work very hard and do a wonderful job.  In 14 cruises, we've never had a bad experience.  We've always had very attentive room stewards and waitstaff. 

9.  Kids programs.  Take advantage of the onboard kids programs for your children.  They are free (up until a certain time at night) and included in the cruise fare you paid for your child.  They have a ton of safe activities that your child will love!  

10.  Be open to try new foods and different things to do.  The cruise ships are full of foods that you've never had before.  Don't be afraid to try something new!  You just  might like it!  The cruise ship has a ton of activities onboard.  Try to participate in some things you don't normally do.  Go watch karaoke, take part in the photo scavenger hunt, go down the water slide, relax in a hot tub, and many other things.  Every cruise you take will be different from the last one.  Have fun!  Enjoy the pampering!  It will end soon enough and you'll be back to daily life in reality.

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