My husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary earlier this month. April is also a milestone birthday for him, so I decided that we should do something more substantial than the classic dinner out and eating cake encrusted in a year’s worth of frosting, we decided to take a cruise.
This was my fourth cruise, but a first for my husband. Since we were not sure how he would like it, we found a 5 day Western Caribbean voyage, leaving from Fort Lauderdale and stopping in Belize City and Cozumel. It was perfect…just long enough to really feel like we got away, but not too long in case hubby hated it. With some Dramamine and tips from this “veteran” cruiser, he did just fine and enjoyed himself. Plus, we were on a very large ship (approx. 4,000 pasengers and 1,500 crew).
When it’s your first cruise, there are always things you have to get used to. Despite having gone on several cruises, there are always things you forget about or learn.
First, you wait in line…a lot. It takes about 1 hour from the time you arrive at port until you set foot on the ship to get processed. Then, it takes about the same time to get off the ship. Frequent cruisers or those who book suites can bypass some of the lines.
Once you board, you will realize that there are bars everywhere. Seriously, it’s like Starbucks in D.C. While your food is included, the drinks are not, and the drinks are expensive (unless you get the drink packages, which are only economical if you plan to drink more than 5 drinks a day). We learned that for a 7 day cruise, they sell about 10,000 beers. Which means, on average, each passenger has about 1.5 brewskies a day. Plus Lord knows how many tropical drinks and wine…
Speaking of food, there is a lot of it. If you love to eat, this is the way to travel. There is so much food aboard the ship that you wonder where they put it all. A lot of the food is locally sourced, since cruise ships are often in the tropics and in the seas where fresh produce and seafood abound. There was a pizza parlor on the ship that was open from lunch time until 3 AM. Ironically, college kids and pot smokers are not the typical cruise clientele.
To prevent the spread of viruses, there are about 2 hand-sanitizing stations for every bar. So, this is important. There are crew who stand outside each dining room to make sure you “washy washy.” Just a little bit of Purell is better than spending your cruise with noro-virus.
There are lots of duty-free and souvenir shops on cruise ships, so people often stock up on cigarettes, perfume, alcohol, and rum cake. Since ours was one of the larger vessels, it had a “promenade” with stores and restaurants in the center of the ship. Generally, you don’t really save a ton on duty-free, but the best time to get deals on souvenirs is on the last 2 days, where they are trying to get rid of everything.
The cruise line also will have several excursions you can book. There will also be excursions you can book at the port of call that are cheaper. However, some of these can be dodgy. Also, if you book through the cruise line and your tour is late, then the ship will not leave without you. On our recent cruise, we took a riverboat tour on the Belize river to view wildlife. Well, the boat was supposed to leave at 4:00 PM and we missed our last ferry back to the cruise ship. Thankfully, they didn’t forget about us and they were able to send a ferry for us.
The cruise line may stop at a “private island.” These are anything but private. In fact, if 3 ships arrive and dump 3,000 passengers a piece on four square miles of land (of which a fraction is habitable), well…you get the drift.
I definitely recommend taking advantage of the port of calls when you arrive, even if it is just walking around the port city and exploring. I don’t recommend the city tours since they cost around $60 a person, plus I prefer being self-guided and not prodded to shop at the cruise line’s “recommended” stores.
On the days where we were not at a port of call, we did several of the ship’s on-board activities. We went to most of the evening shows. The comedy shows and the play production were our favorites. On our last day, we also did Big Bang Theory trivia and took a quick dance lesson, where we learned how to cha-cha. Ironically, we learned that we are not the most die-hard Big Bang Theory fans out there, and we can do a ballroom dance without tripping over each other. Also, they will have dance parties and activities well after midnight. Though we were so wiped out from the excursions that we ended up going to bed on the early side. Meanwhile, all the Boomer cruisers were partying hard at the midnight 70’s dance party.
It was a fun time. Cruises are an easy way to travel. While the initial cost is relatively cheap, the extras can add up quite a bit. On average, usually budget for 50% of your cruise fare for these add-ons. I know a lot of people are interested in cruising, but have hesitations, usually with regards to seasickness. You’ll hardly feel the boat moving, but you do feel it more on the upper decks. You may also feel a bit of “phantom” rocking a couple days after the cruise, but it goes away.
Please feel free to add in the comments any additional tips that might help future and first-time cruisers. And I hope you enjoyed the photos, taken with my new Canon Rebel. Additional photos will be added on the Photos page.