There she is! That’s the Ship I went on!
Before we begin, let me just say I’m actually NOT a cruise expert, but that’s exactly why you want to read my post. The cruise experts have different expectations than us “normal” vacationers do and they have a different way of looking at a cruise. I’ve been on 1 cruise. I planned and planned and planned and I loved every single second of it. So while I may have not taken 10 cruises (yet), I can offer you the advantage of NOT having taken 10 cruises (yet).
Also like to quickly point out that I sailed on the Norwegian Gem so while this is not a review (nor is Norwegian paying me for my opinions) my ship comments and my ship experience is on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL from now on). If you’re cruising on a different line? Let me know how you like it! But, be aware that some of my insider information may not apply to you!
Some quick back ground so you know what kind of vacation I was on. My husband and I set sail out of NYC to head to the Caribbean in December of 2014. We were on our own for the first time since having 3 kids and we were celebrating our 10 year anniversary. So it was exciting to us in a lot of ways – no kids, no cooking dinner, no alarm clocks, no committments. We sailed on a 12 day Caribbean Cruise and stopped at 6 islands (more later).
Here’s the long and short of it. When you sail out of a port like NYC you have 3 sea days down to the Caribbean and 3 back. I LOVED THAT. You know how you always say you need a vacation from your vacation? Not when you have 3 days to relax on your way home. It was totally perfect. Even when you’re sailing out of Miami, Tampa, New Orleans or Texas you have at least 1 day to relax on your way back to port. This put the cruising vacation up one notch in my life. I want to explore, do things, see things, but I also came on vacation to get away and relax. Cruising is an excellent way to do both.
Are you booking yours yet?
Here’s the biggest question I saw on forums all over the internet while I was doing my homework “How much should I pack”. The cruise experts tell you to bring 1/2 as many clothes and twice as much money. It’s not horrible advice. However, I’m a sweaty girl my shirts for during the day were only going to not smell one day. So I tried to pack my neutral stuff. I could wear 2 shirts with those shorts so pack them, and that matches 5 things so options are open. I also brought 4 dressier outfits (remember I had 12 nights). NCL is a casual cruise line with relaxed dress codes for dinner (and always a casual buffet or pub option). I didn’t mind if I had to wear my dressed up clothes twice (It was just at night). So here’s a rough shot list of what to pack for clothes.
- Bathing Suit – Even if you’re going to Alaska you’ll use the hot tubs! If you are in the water A LOT? Bring 2. (don’t need to bring a towel IMO the ships provide them)
- A shirt for every day trip. If you’re like me? I’m not re-wearing a shirt that I have been active in 🙂
- Pants/Shorts/Capris for every other day (I will re-wear those once unless I spill!)
- Check your cruises dress codes for dinner and pack accordingly. Like I said – NCL I didn’t have to be dressed up. But I still brought enough dressier outfits to get me through most of the cruise. The other nights we had more casual nights.
- You don’t need to change your clothes every 5 minutes, but I packed for daytime and night time – night time outfits could be re-worn (and were)
- Try to consolidate your shoes. One good pair for walking, one for evenings (come on ladies we can do it) and I had to have flip flops 🙂
Miscellaneous items you’re going to want?
- Sunscreen – it’s expensive on board
- Motion Sickness medicine. We never needed it (thankfully) but do you want to be on the high seas without it?
- All other medicines you might need. Bring something for upset tummies, headaches, aloe for the sunburn. Hopefully you will need none of it but again do you want to be caught without it?
- If you have a room with a fridge I loved having bottled water (Check your Cruise lines policy but bringing on your own water/soda was no problem at NCL). Water on the ship is FINE to drink but I like having a portable bottle of water. You could also just bring your own refillable cup.
- Cash – yes the ship is mostly cash free – but the ports are not. If you have American Dollars in most of the Caribbean? You’re golden. If you use your credit card? You get charged an international conversion fee. PS I am also a believer in tips. I tipped our cabin steward several times (hey it was a long cruise and he was AWESOME), I tipped waiters when I felt they deserved it, and I tipped bartenders (I know how to get an amazing drink on a cruise ship).
- Books if you’re a reader I ran out of books and there wasn’t a great selection on board or in ports
- Magnets if you like. Your whole room is a magnet (weird right?). Some people love hanging the cruise ships Daily Activities on their wall. I didn’t bother.
- If keeping time is your thing? Bring your own Alarm Clock. There are NONE – no clocks of any kind – in your room. I just used my phone.
- If you have a lot of things to plug in? You need a power strip – there are VERY FEW plugs in a cabin.
- Camera/phone charger. I used my phone as my camera a lot. And I used it to text home (texts are not free but they aren’t bad priced either. Calls? No NO NO ;))
- An extra SD card (just in case)
It’s not horrible right? I mean the list isn’t 10 feet long.
Ready to get onboard? Cruises are known for their entertainments 10 miles long. They have an activity ALL THE TIME. My husband and I did a few, but after getting over the feeling that we should be doing something? We’d sit on our balcony and read, talk, have a cocktail and relax the way we wanted. We’d wander the ship taking our time. We made it our vacation – which is what I’m suggesting. Really love Bingo? They have it. Want to play trivia? It’s in there. Want to be in a best arms/legs contest? You sure can. Want to watch shows every evening? Of course. Want to have a quiet place to read? You can find one. Want to get the best tan of your life? There are lounge chairs EVERYWHERE for you to do it. The gym is open. Some ships have water slides/arcades/golf/basketball. The possibilities are ENDLESS. Decide what kind of vacation YOU WANT before you leave your house. (I did love love love the martini tasting as an activity just FYI).
Rooms: You have a few things to ask yourself. 1 do you want to be able to sit on a balcony outside? (this was a must for me). If yes book a balcony room or above. If no ask yourself this – do you need to see daylight? If yes book a porthole room/ocean view if no – go ahead book that cheap interior cabin. Rooms are small on most cruise lines unless you book a suite. BUT I found the balcony room had plenty of space for my husband and I. I loved reading on the balcony on sea days and loved having a cocktail out there on well, every night. Decide what’s important to you. Some people are totally happy to take that money they saved by booking an interior room and book more excursions.
Ports of Call: I am not going to give you a blow by blow, but I am going to tell you to do your homework before you go. Some of the islands we felt totally comfortable just taking a cab or a cab island tour. Others we did not. If you feel unsafe it’s not a bad idea to book excursions through the cruise line. Yes, booking through the cruise ship? It’s a lot more expensive than getting off of the ship and heading to the taxi/tour lines (by the way when you get off there are TONS of taxi’s waiting – it was so nice). Anyways yes it’s more expensive, but yes you are also completely aware of what you are getting. Here’s a good guide:
- When to book through the cruise line
- You are worried about safety of the area
- You are worried about time (cruise ships wait for excursions that they booked. If you do your own they will not wait and yes they will leave you)
- You have found a tour that fits your needs perfectly
- You’re afraid of a language barrier
- You’re nervous that you won’t be able to find your way around
- When to explore on your own
- You know exactly what you want to do so you can order a taxi to take you to xyz
- You want to go to the beach. Again taxi can take you to xyz beach
- You don’t have a specific plan but would love to see some of the islands. Walk up and ask for a taxi/tour. Usually it’s not a problem
- You want to save money and not book an expensive excursion
There are pro’s and con’s. Try going on a cruising forum (there are a lot of them out there). Don’t believe all the horrible press, don’t believe every praise. The truth is usually in the middle!
The best piece of advice I have for people? Enjoy. Relax. Have Fun.