Welcome to another edition of Friday Favourites. Last time, I talked all about my favourite destinations within North America, and was all ready to think about going down under for my next post. Between then and now, I went on a cruise, and thought it would be fun (and hopefully) useful to do a post on all my favourite cruise tips that I collected and found helpful when I was away.
Friday favourites is a fortnightly post featuring travel tips, guides, advice, and thoughts based on my travel experiences!
I do really quite like the idea of cruising, it appeals to the traveller in me. The idea of closing your eyes in one place and waking up in another, while living in luxury should surely appeal to us all right? While cruising can be very relaxing, with most of the amenities we could want and friendly staff ready to help with any enquiry, there are some things that we need to know more about and look into.
Before I went on my cruise earlier this month (on RCCL’s Serenade of the Seas, pictured above), I read up on different tips and tricks for general cruising, my ships in particular, and also for the excursions that were available in the ports we docked in. Some tips and tricks were quite useless, but some were both revolutionary.
- Research and pre-book excursions: OK, this sounds like a given, right? The reason this is on here is mainly cost. The excursions offered onboard cruise ships, while often great-sounding, are nothing short of exorbitant in cost. There are many independent tour operators that you can find that are highly recommended and reputable that offer better options at a fraction of the price. Some of these you can pre-book in advance, and some are available from retailers at the port itself. Cruise critic and trip advisor are both great sources of information and ideas, and provide honest advice and recommendations.
- Use the Stairs: Cruise ships feed you, they have food available everywhere at all hours, and it is easy to start piling on the pounds. So, if you don’t want to cut back, or you want to minimise the negative effects of the binging, walk around the ship and use the stairs, not lift. Cruise ships are really large, and the main attractions are often spread far and wide over 10+ decks, so if you walk everywhere, and up and down the decks using the stairs, you will maximise the exercise that you do on board without putting a huge amount of effort in.
- Booze on Board: OK, you’re on holiday, you like a drink, you see a drinks pass and think great. I am not going to say whether you should or shouldn’t get a drinks pass. I have always purchased a soft drinks pass, because I drink a lot of cold drinks and don’t drink much alcohol. Alcohol drink passes usually start at around $55/$60 per day, per person, and must be bought by anyone in the cabin over the applicable legal drinking age. Yes, a glass of wine, beer, cocktail is between $6 and $12 a go, but just think, will you drink enough everyday to make it worth it. If the answer is yes, great, get buying, if not, think carefully before buying. You can usually take a bottle of wine on board per person on many liners, and if you buy booze in port, you often are able to get it back for the final night, so it is worth bearing this in mind when you weigh up the drinks pass offer.
- Internet access: Internet access on board a cruise ship is poor at best. Many of the WiFi access packages are from $15 per device, per day, and as you can imagine, the access isn’t always the strongest, with streaming packages exceeding $25 per device per day. If you need internet, think carefully about cruising, or make sure that you plan a good WiFi stop at every port you visit. If you ask the staff on board, they often know the best WiFi spots near the ship!
- Takeaway pots: As I briefly mentioned before, cruise ships feed. So, why not take advantage of this. Many ships offer a sandwich, or bread roll and cold meat option at breakfast, as well as salad bars and fresh fruit and snacks throughout the day. If you don’t want to have to buy food off the ship, why not take a little something for later. If you pack aluminium foil, or small take away pots into you luggage before you board, you can securely wrap some food to take off on you day trips and excursions. Just remember, there are restrictions about what you can and can’t bring back on board!
- Cruise Line Loyalty Programmes: It is always, I repeat, ALWAYS worth joining the loyalty program of any cruise line with which you cruise. Many cruise lines offer preferential embarkation and disembarkation procedures for regular cruisers. If you are a regular cruiser, the benefits as you climb the ladder within the program can you get you some great benefits. The offers and perks for loyalty members and returning guests who are less frequent cruisers are also worth joining for, from Buy One Get One Free drink offers to shop discounts.
- Daily Activities: Every night, most cruise lines will leave a daily itinerary for the following day on the ship. This will often include any maps that are relevant for the day in port, and will have a breakdown of the day’s events. It is really worth having a good look at them and planning your day. There are shows in the evening on my cruises in the theatre, and more and more ships show films in both an on board cinema and poolside under the stars. There are often events from aqua aerobics to poker tournaments, dance classes to art auctions, and towel folding masterclasses to lectures. Most are included in the price of your cruise, so you may as well make the most of it.
- Get up early: If you want a good spot to bask in the sun, or like me, you want a shaded location in the solarium, you probably have to become that annoying person who is up at the crack of dawn with their towel. I’m not going to lie, the best spots are gone by 8am, and I quickly began to get up before that, and then have a nap on my lounger once I had located a good spot. Many cruise lines state that they will remove your things from a lounger if you leave it unattended for more than 30 mins, and I agree with the idea, no-one likes a hogger.
- Tendering or coaches: For some ports, the ship is too big to actually get into the port itself, and it anchors a little off shore. When this happens, tender services are offered (often a lifeboat is launched to do this) to get passengers to and from the port. When this happens, there is an inevitable amount of waiting around, so it is good to try and get up and into the queue for the tender as early as possible to maximise your time in the destination. Sometimes, the ship docks in commericial ports, or the disembarkation point is miles from the port entrance, and so shuttles bus services are offered to get you to the entrance or town. Once again, it is a big help to get on, or in a queue, as early as possible, to avoid lost time in port.
- Bathrobes and towels: Bathrobes don’t tend to be offered as standard on any cruise lines, and are often not available for first time cruisers. However, if you have a loyalty membership and have cruised with the liner before, or have made friends with your room attendant, it is always worth asking if they can obtain one for you. You can often use the towels in the pool area for excursion days and in your room if the ones in there are too small, or not practical to take off with you to the beach.
- Sea-pass: I don’t know if all cruise lines call your electronic card a sea-pass, but it is the key that you use to track your purchases and access your cabin. A few tips, don’t lose it as it is your life on the ship. Don’t put it too close to your phone as it can wipe the access to your room and you will constantly be at the guest services desk asking them for a new one!
- Library: If you are struggling with space or weight in your suitcase, or you are a fast reader like me, most cruise ships have some form of library. Often it consists of the disposable reads that people have left behind from previous trips, or books the ship has provided, so it’s not usually over large. It is the first place that I went to on my cruise, before everyone else boarded. I managed to get a book that I have been meaning to read for ages, and my Mum also managed to get a useful Caribbean destination guidebook.
- Embarkation time: I know this is a given, well for most of you anyway, but, the time that the cruise says it will leave is the time that the cruise will leave. Make sure you leave enough time to get on board, especially if you have to get a tender or shuttle service once you arrive at board to get back onto the ship. There are many stories about cruise ships leaving with passengers still on land, so, to avoid this happening, make sure you are back on board with time to spare to avoid booking a flight and meeting everyone else in the next port.
So, there we are, some little things to help you with your future trips. Happy Cruising!
Do you have any tips or helpful hints to add?
Next time: Australia