To be honest, I feel much better about cruising now that I have actually been on a cruise ship and I am far more relaxed about the whole experience. After all, it’s a big financial commitment you make, and you don’t want to end up feeling trapped on a ship that you cannot escape. If you never cruised before, you might relate to these questions:
Questions that I had before embarking on my first ever cruise, and what I learned along the way
What if I don’t like the people? – From my experience, you can easily escape anybody as there are so many corners to explore on a big ship. Having said that, it helps to first check the reviews on your usual review sites to get a better understanding about the crowd that is attracted by a certain cruise ship brand. A good indicator is whether or not people make the effort to dress up for formal nights, which are a standard item on any cruise ship. If you find complaints that people don’t make the effort to get into a cocktail dress on one of the two, three nights of formal dinner, and if its not enforced by the crew, then you may want to look somewhere else.
Will there be many queues? – Queues can happen every time many people want the same thing at the same time. This might be the case for food or tender boats. A good solution is when the smorgasboard restaurant is serving food in an “island” setup, thus breaking up the queues into lots of smaller queues depending on food item, for example salad bar, ethnic food, drinks. I don’t think you can totally avoid queues on cruise ships; it’s a question of how well the crew is trained to deal with it. Check your reviews.
What are the hidden costs? – Gratuities is one major factor on cruise ships that might not be included in the initial costing. It can add up to a three-digit figure so it makes sense to double-check before you commit. The crew is working really hard, long hours and away from home, so I am all for gratuities, but transparency is key.
Also, drink packages I find are not necessarily needed. On cruise ships you will carry around a card at all times which will allow you to charge drinks to the room. I found that drinks packages often don’t include what I think I would drink over the day, and unless you have a drinking problem I don’t think you will come off better by prepaying in bulk. Cocktails are usually not included, so for me that doesn’t pay off at all. You will always get free tap water, if you don’t have an issue with the taste.
Won’t I get bored? – I doubt it, but I will explain this in more detail later on.
Are there many old people? – Yes. And they even come with oxygen tanks and wheelchairs. But they are usually really nice and unobtrusive, so don’t worry. You may even find that you prefer them to families with small kids.
Do I need to book land excursions and spend even more time on land with my fellow passengers? – This certainly depends on the destination and on how comfortable you feel about exploring on your own. When we went on our South Pacific cruise we arrived at destinations that didn’t offer any land excursions at all (you need to get a local to show you around), or you could easily explore the immediate area by foot, or you totally relied on booking yourself on a trip with your fellow passengers. I find cruise operated land excursions quite pricey, but they come with peace of mind. And: if the land excursion doesn’t return back to the ship on time the captain will wait for you, whereas on self-organised tours you will need to find a way to catch up with your ship at the next port.
What if I don’t like the food? – We had outstanding food at our cruise, but don’t bother with the coffee. I will explain in more detail what to expect on the Celebrity Solstice.
Why a cruise might be the perfect way of holidaying for you
If you are considering a cruise trip or if you are unsure if cruising is the right thing for you, then please read on as I will give you a couple of positive reasons for going on a cruise, from a strictly personal perspective of course. I have also some free cruising advice to offer, so if you are keen to know how to make the most out of your cruise experience, let me help you by giving you some tips on the way.
For us, a family of four with two small children, travelling by cruise ship worked out really well. Here’s a couple of reasons why.
- Parking the kids: We love our children dearly, but on holidays we really need a break. We never tried kids clubs in holiday resorts before, we never felt they were safe enough, but on our cruise this changed. The kids club on the Celebrity Solstice was a marvellous institution, looking after our kids from early mornings to late at night (if needed) and making sure that they would enjoy their vacation as much as we did. Of course there were plenty of entertainment options that varied from age group to age group, including toys, puzzles and games, video consoles and creative projects, excursions around the ship and slumber parties. What made it even better: we could leave the ship for land excursions and leave the kids behind in the air-conditioned quarters of the kids club. We knew there was not a chance in hell that they would have enjoyed their stay on a tiny island, not with all the heat and humidity and the lack of ice-cream and playgrounds. It would have been pretty boring for them, and living hell for us. Thanks to the kids club the kids had a great day and we had a great day as well exploring and snorkelling and tasting strange food.
- The perfect symbiosis of adventure and relaxation: What attracted us most to our first cruise was the mix of relaxation and adventure. You see, my husband has a very stressful working life and enjoys his quiet time, and I am more of an explorer and want to taste, see, feel and explore as much as possible. Book a holiday in a resort and I will get bored, book a city trip and my husband can’t find the relaxation he needs to recharge his batteries. On a cruise however, you have days at sea and port days. Days at sea are perfect for relaxation. You can go for a swim and a jog, you can start drinking from 4pm, you can watch a show or read a book. No-one harasses you, and the choice is yours. On port days you embark on your adventures, you make trips and discover different cultures, you hear other languages and buy your souvenirs. I am ok with relaxation days when I know that there are also exploration days, so this way we have the best of both worlds and everybody is happy.
- Freedom comes with safety: In fact, what I really liked as a woman is that I can walk around the ship on my own and feel safe all the time. It would not be the same if my husband would stay back in our hotel in, say, Phuket and I would go out to see a late-night show on my own. My husband wants to work on his projects or read a book? That’s fine with me because I go for a lecture or join a tour to look behind the scenes of the ship’s operation. I want to catch the musical but my husband cringes – no worries, I just go on my own. Cruising offers a freedom I rarely experience.
- So much to do! You think that you might get bored on a ship? Well, I guess… it depends. For one, it depends on the ship. Every ship is different, they all offer different perks, and they are different in size. Choose carefully what ship you want to embark upon. The Celebrity Solstice for example is known for its living lawn on the top deck, which is perfect for twilight picnics with live music and a game of boccia. There is also a glassblowing workshop on board, where you can catch demonstrations on mouth blowing and adding colour and forming the liquid glass in real masterpieces. Most ships will also have swimming pools, a health club, a theatre for performances and movies, several bars and restaurants, a casino, a library, smaller function spaces for lectures or workshops, and a varied daily program consisting of bingo, trivia, poker tournaments and so forth. So if there is nothing in this list that tickles your fancy then cruising might not be for you. I won’t judge you. But let me tell you what else I really love about cruising:
- Food. Yes, food. And plenty of it. I read mixed reviews about cruising and food on the internet, it seems there are real differences in quality, but let me assure you that the food on the Solstice was top-notch and absolutely perfect. Cruising includes the board, and we made sure we would visit the grand dining room as many times as possible. We had stuff we never tried before or which we would rarely order because of the cost such as frog legs, lobster, and good quality steak. We tried scallop sashimi and mango salad with popcorn. We had wonderful service and fantastic wines (but these were not included!). And if by any chance we didn’t make it to the grand dining room during the session times, we could still fall back on the other eateries, canteen-style or bar food. There was a non-stop supply of complimentary food (not during the whole day but at certain time slots) including pizza, pasta, burgers, sushi, curries, Mexican, and desserts. Your kids want some ice-cream? Sure… here, have some. And some more. And some more.
- Here’s something surprising: Staterooms can be much roomier than you think. You will find that you have actually more space than in a campervan, and facilities should also be top-notch. Think about investing in a stateroom with balcony, and stay clear from staterooms with no window. You may not plan on spending a lot of time in your room, but there are still port days where it’s nice to sit in the privacy of your own balcony and sip a glass of wine. On the Solstice, some room service items were also included in your itinerary, so breakfast in bed was a very reasonable option.
- Experience the world in a different way: Cruise ships are wonderful tools to visit places you wouldn’t normally be able to see. They reach remote places and visit small islands that wouldn’t have an airport to begin with. It’s the perfect way of travelling in regions that are dominated by water and small landmasses, such as the Caribbean, the South Pacific, the Mediterranean and Hawaii. Yes, a small island may look overrun on days that a cruise ships is mooring, but cruise companies these days are a vital factor in the local economy and help communities earn hard dollars. Island hopping cannot be done in an easier way than on a cruise, so if you want to visit many different places in a convenient way then this is the way to go. If you want to meet genuine people that are not living in communities that are interacting daily with tourists, then cruising is a good way of doing so.
- Oh so comfortable! One thing that you shouldn’t underestimate is the advantage of slow travelling. Nowadays, we are so used to hopping on planes, and all the side effects that come with it. It’s speed versus comfort. If you live in Australia like me then you know that travelling by plane to another country involves at least three hours on a plane, plus the time spend at the airport for clearing customs and safety procedures. And then you have to face the pain of jet lag. Travel on a cruise ship that departs in your home town and all you need to worry about is catching a taxi to the terminal. Arriving back home from the trip, you are well rested and relaxed, and home within an hour. Perfect!
- Romance: And let’s not forget the starry nights and perfect sunsets that you can catch on board a ship!
So what’s next?
By no means I am trying to convince you to book a cruise trip now. You may still have your doubts or you may realise after reading this that cruising is not for you. That’s fine. But if you do want to go on a cruise for the very first time, here is some sound advice that can improve your experience tremendously.
1. Read reviews before you book. There are many different ships out there and many brands, and they all cater for different needs and audiences. You may want to avoid cruises that are timed during the school holidays if you want to avoid kids, and you may want to invest a bit more to escape the great unwashed. Read carefully and check for food quality, service, and facilities on board. Make up your own mind and remember that people that were utterly dissatisfied are most likely to vent.
2. Don’t fall into the trap of buying drink packages. You will find yourself consuming way too much alcohol in order to make up for the money you already spend in advance. Paying for drinks is really easy with your plastic card, so don’t commit to something you may not need.
3. Pack formal clothes. It’s the great tradition of cruising – at least one formal night per cruise is obligatory. Formal clothes means cocktail dresses or smart clothes and suits, not necessarily a tuxedo. I find that this is a wonderful part of the cruising experience, dressing for occasion and feeling a bit royal. You cruise company will advise you at time of booking how many formal nights will be included on your particular trip.
4. Weigh your options carefully whether or not you need to book land excursions. The cruise ship companies will want to sell these to you at time of booking, but I found that there is still plenty of time once you are on the cruise to decide about excursion options. Generally, I find they are overpriced and you might get away much cheaper with a tour that you organise yourself or with a taxi ride. Have a chat to the hostess while on board to get a better understanding of what you get for your money and what is involved on the selected tour before making a booking.
5. If you travel to snorkelling destinations don’t forget to pack your own snorkelling gear. While there may be gear for hire at the destination I found that the locals would run out quickly, and since you are only visiting on that particular day it would be a shame to miss out. Since you are travelling by ship you have unlimited baggage allowance, so it’s really easy to also pack your snorkel mask and fins.
6. Wash your hands. This is a no-brainer but some people need to be reminded. Cruise ships, unfortunately, are the perfect breeding ground for intestinal bacteria, and that can really mess with your system. If you don’t want to be confined to your stateroom with nasty diarrhoea, make sure you don’t lick your fingers. Wash your hands more often that at home and make use of the hand sanitisers whenever you walk past them, in particular before entering a food related area like a restaurant. This helps prevent bad outbreaks that can really ruin your holidays.
And now that you read all the way to the bottom, here’s a good way to start
Cruisable is a “cruise discovery engine” which is perfect for planning your next cruise.
Cruise discovery: Cruiseable lets you browse through thousands of beautiful images of ships and destinations — accompanied by trustworthy travel journalism instead of marketing hype.
Technology: The website’s filters atop any page help you zero in on the cruise that fits your style and budget. Coming in early March: the Cruiseable mobile app for iOS.
Photo sharing: Their team downloaded, organized and optimized more than 10,000 photos from the cruise lines and tourism organizations — and made them available to travelers to use or share through the Cruiseable Galleria. Any traveler can add her own images to the mix.
Travel guides: Cruiseable’s travel writers and editors have put together dozens of smart travel guides, port guides and ship overviews. “In creating these, we’ve drawn inspiration from Trip Advisor, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet and Pinterest,” Lasica said. Check out their guides on Fiji, Tahiti, Auckland or Hawaii.
Safe travels! xox