I’ll be honest. Cruising isn’t my favorite way to vacation. Cruising with family and kids probably doesn’t help either. But, there are ways to do it, things to know, stuff to bring and expectations to set that will help you have a successful, and even delightful, cruise experience. Even if you’re not the cruising type, like me.
Use TripAdvisor or Google to find blog posts about each of the ports you’ll be cruising to, so you can decide what you’d like to do once ashore. Get all that nailed down before you board. That way, there’s no pressure or stress to decide while you’re cruising.
After you’ve done all your research ahead of time, you’ll know which excursions you want to buy. Then, and only then, should you purchase them, if you’re sure. You’ll save by booking before you get on the boat (sometimes 30%). We didn’t do any, but opted rather to taxi to beaches at each port and pay minimums when required to chill, eat, drink and splish-splash around. Scuba wasn’t on the to-do list with toddlers in tow.
We didn’t. That was a mistake.
If you’re addicted to internetting like I am, tread lightly here. Paying for internet access on the ships is expensive and will keep you connected, if you consider that a good thing. Maybe disconnecting is a better idea? But my family all stayed in contact via Google Chat, so we knew where to find each other on the boat, which was useful because we didn’t have a walkie talkie or anything like that. Which brings me to…
Our ship was the Liberty. It had a coffee bar where you could get a large latte virtually any time of the day. Thus, a coffee punch card that got me 15 coffees of my choice over the 8-day cruise for like $34 was well worth it.
Easier said than done, right? Well, maybe just one beach hat. Perhaps only two extra cover-ups. Not four like I brought. Decide your formalwear in advance; nobody needs to lug around extra formalwear, ladies. There are lots of great blog posts to be found on cruise packing so I won’t bore you with my version, but comfy on the way in and out, dresses, shorts, bathing suits, tees and linen pants, PJ’s, underwear, makeup, sunscreen, flip flops and really not much else.
I could make a whole post about just this topic. But I won’t because I’m no mommy blogger. Suffice it to say, kids love cruising, and Royal Caribbean has lots of activities for kids of all ages. Unfortunately, my twins are three but not quite potty trained so they were in a toddler purgatory of sorts when it came to kids camp and most of the pools, but like I said, they had a blast anyway. Oh. And the Dreamworks characters on the ship were the highlight of my kids’ lives I think.
Be prepared to be charged an automatic per-person charge for staff gratuities per day. This can add up. To hundreds, easily, depending on cruise length and number of guests in your party. So just be prepared.
There are a few strategies for drinking on a cruise. They range from all-out (buying a spendy all-you-can-drink package and doing your best to make it worth your while) to abstaining completely. You can also bring a bottle of wine per person on board from home (Pro tip!), so that’s a good start. There are also designated drinks of the day that will cost a few bucks less than the average bevvy, but they tend to be the kind that come in rainbow colors and an umbrella, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re a sophisticated drinker, you may be disappointed, but you might want to let your alcoholic pretense slide during your cruise vacay and just drink when-in-Rome-style.
Let’s get real for a second. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that cruise food is sooooo good. There are thousands of people to feed on a modern cruise ship, unless you’re sailing uber-fancy-style on some cruise line I wish I could afford right now. Feeding thousands of people for days and days isn’t easy and if you’re looking for gourmet food you just won’t find it on a boat, I’m afraid. But you will find plenty to eat, lots of choices, tons of ethnic food (which I was particularly happy to discover) and you’ll probably never be hungry. My favorite parts, food-wise? First, a little taste of home at SABOR, the Mexican restaurant on board where (for a per-person upcharge), we ate dinner one night that included ceviche, queso fundido, tableside guac and short ribs. Secondly, I loved dining al fresco at Johnny Rockets, believe-it-or-not, because the burger was grilled on a flat top rather than the way they make the burgers for massive consumption in the dining rooms and buffet, the onion rings were excellent, and they gave us Oreo milkshakes! The kids had a fabulous time goofing around while the adults hung out casual-style. Lastly, I enjoyed several vanilla and chocolate soft serve cones by the pool. Simple pleasures are my bag.
I hope this helped a bit, if you’re thinking about making your next vacation a cruise. It’s so plug-and-play-easy it’s crazy. And that can be exactly what you need sometimes. If you’ve got comments or cruise stories of your own (points for hilarity!), leave them below in the comments. Big thanks to Royal Caribbean for spotting me some sweet cruise credit to try out some fine dining and spa treatments (a much needed massage/facial package was top notch!), as well as covering my ZOOM Internet so I could upload my vacay pics from the high seas.