So you think you'd like to take a cruise...

Thursday, May 26, 2016

While we aren't overly experienced cruisers like some of our friends who have been on multiple cruise lines to multiple locations, but we have done a fair amount of cruising this year. This has prompted some questions from folks who haven't cruised but think they might like to. So we thought we'd do a post with some of those questions. Feel free to ask us more in the comments below.

On your first cruise, did you go with friends, or just you and Stu? Do you think going with friends makes it easier, or does going by yourself just make it that much more part of the adventure?

 We usually cruise alone, but did one cruise with a couple of firefighter buddies (and their wives). Stu and his late wife did cruise to Hawaii with friends. The secret, for us, when cruising with friends or family is to set boundaries. You don't have to do everything together. We usually just meet for dinner unless an excursion happens to suit us all. The more flexible you are, the more fun it will be. Don't lock yourself into being together 24/7. Relax!

 How do you normally book your cruises... Thru a travel agent or do you do it yourself by watching for cruise deals?

 We don't use a travel agent, at least right now. If we had a good friend in the business or if our travel plans were complicated, we might. Most cruise lines will assign you a personal planner to help you, if needed. When we have had to cancel/reschedule a cruise, we have used them. But typically we book online or we book while on a cruise (where we can get on-board credit for that cruise).

Some folks only book discount or last minute cruises through a variety of outlets. We subscribe to several newsletters but have never booked that way.
 Did seeing nothing but sea bother you?

 If that is a concern, I would get an inside/interior cabin or one with just an ocean view. When you go to sites like Cruise Critic, you can see deck plans and often even what the room would look like. Spend your days at sea away from the edges of the boat. There is plenty to do without walking on the outer decks. That might help any fears that could crop up.

 Have you ever gotten sea sick?

 I got close once. We were in the Bering Sea, coming back from our Alaska inside passage trip. I had eaten a lot of fruit that date (think citric acid), the sea was rough and after I ate an appetizer of more fruit...oops! I went to my cabin, drank ginger ale and rested that night and the next day.

Stu seems to never be bothered by the boat movement. Last January the seas were a bit rough. I just stayed in the cabin, resting as needed and ordering room service. Love their grilled cheese sandwiches with chips!

We see many folks wearing the patches to fight seasickness. We don't but we do carry a small zipper bag with medical things we might need. Seasickness pills, anti-diarrhea pills, allergy/sinus pills, pain pills, aloe with lidocaine (great for both sunburn and bug bites), hydrocortisone cream, triple-antibiotic cream and both daytime and nightime cold meds. We put this together after we spent almost $40 for Stu to get some cold meds in the ship store, a necessity so he could scuba dive the next port. They are all small containers and now that we have it, we may never need it. LOL!

 What about vaccinations? Have you had to get any?

 The only vaccination we have had to get for our cruises was because we had been in South America recently. We had to get the Yellow Fever vaccination before going to Barbados. The best thing to do is talk to your primary care physician about the countries you plan to visit.

 Which is best - a passport card or a full passport? It confuses me to figure out which I need when.

 We have both. We always carry our passport card, even in the US. It's a great means of  providing valid identification.

Here is what the State Department says:
  • Passport Book. $110 Valid for all international travel.
  • Passport Card. $30 Valid only for return to the U.S. by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean.
  • Passport Book & Card. $140 Apply for both documents at the same time.
Since we are cruising by sea with the US at both ends, we tend to carry both. Why? We can go ashore with just the card for ID. If something were to happen to us while on shore that would necessitate our flying home, the cruise line can get our passport(s) out of our stateroom safe (if our spouse wasn't available to do so).

And on your first cruise ever, did you feel a bit intimidated by 1) simply being on a humongous ship going out to sea, and 2) not knowing where anything was and the schedules? 

 The good news is every floor has a map of the ship with a YOU ARE HERE marker. It shows what is on each deck, where the elevators are (you will typically be in one of the elevator areas when looking at these), pretty much everything except the restrooms (we just ask a staff member). You also will often be handed a deck plan when you get your stateroom card. Carry that with you!

Speaking of stateroom cards, your cabin number will NOT be on it. That is for security reasons, so either mark it on your deck plan that you are carrying with you or better yet, memorize it. Yes, we have had to go to Guest Services and ask what our room number was when we forgot. LOL!

On both Princess and Carnival cruises, there is a daily flyer put in your room at bedtime turndown that outlines all the activities for the next day. This page shows a good example of what is in the Carnival Fun Times. You can also pick them up all over the ship during the day, just in case.

 Did you have any expenses shipboard in addition to the cruise cost? Did you do tips on board?

 First, tips. Most cruise lines have gone to pre-paid gratuities. Those will be added to your cruise cost right at the beginning of the cruise. This method allows them to pay a tip to the folks behind the scenes. Here is Carnival's schedule.

Often you may find that you would like to tip a little extra to staff that you feel have gone out of their way to help you during your vacation. For us it might be the head room steward, the head waiter and possibly a helper, the coffee bar waiter you saw the most or the server at your favorite bar.

Extra expenses not included when you initially pay for your cruise:
  • Tips
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Soft drinks 
  • Specialty coffees
  • Spa treatments
  • Specialty restaurants (or steak dinners in the main dining room)
  • Excursions
  • Casino gambling
  • Buying anything in the shops
  • Internet access
  • Deposits for future cruises you book while on board (credit card is best)
  • Anything in the daily planner with a $ beside it

But the food in the main dining room, all the buffets, the lido/pool area and most of room service items are all included (although a small tip is recommended for room service). Coffee, tea, iced tea, lemonade and in the morning, juices, are free all day. Same for the self-serve ice cream that is open 24 hours.

All the extra items are added to your room charge (all done with your stateroom card - no cash needed until last day if you cash tip as mentioned above). You can view your statement at any time via the TV in your room, kiosks located in several areas or by going to guest services. Typically you put your charges on a credit card, some folks will use a debit card and other put down cash. Obviously, if you exceed your limit - bank account - cash deposit, you will need to find a way to pay your balance on the last day.

So on a normal 6 to 7 day cruise, how much do you estimate expenses, aside from the original cruise cost?

We aren't heavy drinkers, we rarely gamble (I never do), we book our excursions in advance (and thus pay in advance for them when we book them). We allow for tips for staff, tips for Stu's diving guides, a little for drinks (valid prices as of Nov 2015), some shopping both on the ship and at ports (varies by what you want to do - for us, I used to allow $100-150 for shopping, now it's more like $50 and I don't usually spend that), tips for porters on either end of the trip (both land and air) plus one steakhouse visit ($35 each). The spa is pricey and I rarely use it but I have started paying the $60 for internet for the week.

Of all your cruises, which do you think you most enjoyed? 

 That's hard to say since they are all different. Because we winter in Florida, it's very easy for us to cruise the Caribbean. It works out well because we've been to all the ports, some multiple times. Stu scuba dives and I write!

We enjoy our partial transit Panama Canal out of Ft Lauderdale a few years back, we'd still like to do the full transit at some point. Alaska was amazing and we'd like to do it again. We'd also like to do a Scandinavian cruise, possibly on Princess or Royal Caribbean. We are doing a seven day Royal Caribbean next February, we'll see how we like them.

What do you like about cruising? 

 That's easy. You don't have to do ANYTHING - no cooking, no cleaning, no bed making, no cleanup, no laundry, NOTHING has to be done unless you want to! 

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I hope this has answered a few questions, feel free to post more in the comments below and we will do our best to answer them. 

Ciao for now!


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