Every time we take a cruise, we learn something new. Each cruise line is different and finding your favorite may take a few trips. They all seem to have a different culture and targeted sales market. Some are after the families and just burst at the seams in the summer. Others are after senior citizens with calmer music preferences, more elegance, and activities geared toward that population. Here’s a couple of cruise ship insights from a veteran cruiser and feel free to comment with your experiences in the space below.
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SIZE MATTERS! When you pick a ship, be sure to note the total passenger capacity. We like the 1,800 to 2,000 range. There are enough activities to keep us entertained and the crowds (lines) are manageable. We just returned from a trip with 3,800 people and that was way to many people. The wait staff could not keep up with the breakfast and luncheon crowds and I often had to bus a table myself in order to have a place to eat. The quietest place on the whole ship was in our stateroom.
TARGETED MARKET Cruise lines target different segments of the population and you don’t want to get on the wrong type of ship. Holland America and Norwegian go after the adult crowds with elegant artwork, sedate settings, retro music, and educational tours. Princess Cruises seem to be after the 30-50 year old crowd. Carnival and Celebrity are after the families. While all these lines will tell you they welcome children and all ages, do some research before you book. On embarkation day, we found ourselves on the Lido deck with warp 10 rap music playing and while this may really get the kids revved up, the retired crowd took one look and went to find someplace else to hang out. If you are not interested in being on a cruise with children and teenagers, book in the off season when school is in session.
ELEGANT OR CASUAL? Every cruise line we’ve been on have several options for dining. You can always eat on the Lido Deck (where you have breakfasts and lunches) or you can eat in the formal dining rooms at either scheduled or unscheduled times. You can sit at a private table for two or at a large table with other passengers. While this may seem odd, its a great place to meet people and hear about their lives, adventures and other cruises. The ship often has an “elegant” night or two where passengers are expected to dress up a bit. Women wear cocktail dresses or dressier pants suits and men wear sports coats, suits and some even bring a tux. Dressy clothes take up a lot of room in your suitcase, so if you are not interested in doing those night, by all means eat in the buffet dining and skip the elegant nights. We think the very best food is in the formal dining room and the service is beyond compare. Make sure you hit the gym or the promenade deck to walk off some of your new poundage!
DAYS AT SEA Your boat will take you to one or many ports of call, but you have to get there first. If your port of call is a long distance from your destination, you may spend a good deal of your time at sea in transit. There are lots of things to do on a ship so don’t think you will be bored. You can always check out the ships library, take a class, sun by the pool, gamble, have a spa day, or just hang out in your room and watch TV. If you want more port time and less sea time, pick a home port that is closer to your destination.
PHOTOS Never let it be said that the cruise lines are there to take you on vacation! They are in business to make money and will use every opportunity to do so. You will be asked many many times to stop and pose for pictures. The photos will be developed and sold back to you at exorbitant prices. (Two 5x7s set me back $29!) We usually get one formal picture and then ask other passengers to take a snapshot of us using a camera or the phone. How many pictures do you need anyway? When you do pose, make sure you note what the backdrop is so you can easily find your printed photo amid the thousands they have taken.
SPA See above. After your $159 one hour massage using hot stones and sea salt rub, they will pressure you into buying lotions, creams and more treatments. My recent facial came with a sales pitch for a $589 box of all the beauty products used on me today. And that’s the sales price!
SHORE EXCURSIONS The ship goes to a great deal of effort to check out their recommended excursions which they buy at a discount and resell to you at a profit. These are safe, well conducted, interesting, and you are promised to be back before ship sailing. But the big advantage is that the boat will only wait for you (in an emergency) if you are on one of their approved excursions! If you have made arrangements on your own and you get a flat tire, lost, or otherwise delayed, you may be flying to your next port of call to catch up with the ship. Try something new! Swim with dolphins, ride a Segway, visit the dog sled camp in Alaska. We like half day tours so we have time to walk around the port of call a bit and see other sights.
TIPPING When you sign up for the cruise, you are expected to spend an additional amount of money each day – usually $10 per person per day – that will be divided up among the entire crew. Then you are pressured to tip your room staff and your dining room staff on top of the $10 per day. Then there are the drink and bartender staff. There is probably a better way to do this (please let me know) but we tip our room steward $100 for the two of us for the week. Same for the dining room staff to divide among themselves. During the week, we’ve had a relationship with those people and they work really hard for us. We buy soft drink cards so the drinks are “free” and add from nothing to $1 per drink, depending if we feel like it and how nice they are. The cruise ship recruits workers from all over the world (mostly Indonesia and the Philippines. They work long hours and rarely get to go home to see their families. They count on your generosity. We are so lucky to be able to take these kinds of trips – share the wealth.
WHAT TO TAKE ON BOARD Sunscreen, powder for stinky shoes, lots of $1 and $5 for tipping when ashore, water shoes for the pools and beaches. We bring something to tape to our door – they all look the same in the long hallways! We bring Seattle Seahawk posters and scotch tape. Others bring signs that may say BOB AND LINDA – PHOENIX ARIZONA. Bring 2 or 3 one-gallon zip lock bags to store your wallet, passport, camera, etc. when you are doing anything near the water. Why do people bring bottled water on the ship? Bring your kindle or something to read. Sunglasses. Anything else you forgot, you can buy on shore. A word on clothing: I always bring too much. After unpacking, I usually find that only half of my items were used. Pick your absolute favorite things and buy anything you forgot. PS: All the ships have laundry rooms where you can run and dry a load and do your ironing.
“WHERE” MATTERS If you get to pick your stateroom, we have some great insights. Decide on what type of room you want, and yes, a balcony is definitely worth the extra money! With a balcony, you have extra chairs, more room, a place to hang your wet bathing attire and the view is what you came for. So you need a balcony room ON THE LOWEST DECK POSSIBLE and IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SHIP. This is the most stable part of the boat. The back of the ship is over the propeller and gets not only the wave action, but the vibration from the propeller. The front gets all the rise and fall of the bow. Higher up (near the fun stuff) gets the noise and the side to side motion. Also, even if you have to walk a bit, try to stay away from the elevator lobbies. They play music 24/7, the stupid things “ding” all night long, and face it, some of our new friends stay in the bar until the wee hours of the morning.
Cruising is a great ‘bang for the buck’ for a vacation. They do all the driving, cooking, cleaning, and entertaining. You can easily get a cruise for $100 per person per day and go someplace you would never have gone. In spite of recent news stories, we think the ships are safer than driving. Your ports of call depend on tourist dollars and are well policed.
Take and use your hand sanitizers at every opportunity.
What insights do you have about cruising? Where have you been? Any learning experiences you’d like to share? Please feel free to comment in the section below!