Tips I learned from my first cruise
I just returned from my very first cruise on board the Carnival Liberty. We left from Miami, FL and made stops in the Bahamas, St. Thomas, San Juan, and Grand Turk. After doing a few beach vacations, trips to Ireland, and vacations in other cities in the US, I really did not know what to expect, or if I would even like being on a cruise. There were a few instances where I would catch myself thinking, "What if I hate the feeling of being on a boat?" or, "What if I feel trapped or become nervous because I can't see land?" I continued to brush these fears off and reminded myself to just "go with the flow." I was traveling with 14 other friends, most of who had cruised before, and I was unsure on how the whole dynamics of being on a huge boat (with no cell phone service) would work. How do we know where everyone is? What if we change our plans, how do we tell them? These were all of course just fears and concerns that were blocking out the major one, "What do I pack?"!
I was advised by friends to “just bathing suits, cover-ups, and dresses”. And for the most part they were right. I of course threw in a few pairs of shorts, a jean skirt, some tank tops, few extra tops – I didn’t wear any of them. Every day was bathing suit & cover-up and then dress for dinner (varied between formal and casual).
Here are few things that I wish I had packed and may be helpful for you:
- A long sleeve t-shirt to throw on over bathing suit or cover-up for around sunset when it gets windy and a little cooler
- Yoga or sweat pants to wear on the plane rides; I was cold in leggings and a zip up sweatshirt
- Your most comfortable hooded sweatshirt; for two reasons. When you’re outside on the upper decks and its windy or cooler and again, for the plane ride. Any extra comfort goes a long way while traveling!
- Shawl or sweater to wear with your dresses. I ended up buying one onboard to wear at night to dinner and in the casino/theater/comedy show/etc. It was chilly each night after being in the sun all day. This was my best purchase on the trip!
Here are a few additional items you may want to remember to pack:
- Shampoo and Conditioner. Yes, the cruise line will supply you some, but after 3 or 4 days of using their products, your hair will miss your regular stuff! I know this will be a huge problem for the guys! J
- Face wash or toner. I forgot mine and my face felt slimy all week, I reapplied sunscreen to my face at least 4 or 5 times a day and the soap that was supplied just didn’t do the trick. First thing I did when I got home was scrub the residue off.
- Hats. I had a fedora and a baseball hat with me which I used at least one of them daily, especially the days at sea. I am not a fan of raccoon eyes from my sunglasses so switching between the hat and sunglasses made a difference. Also, while I was reading it helped to keep from squinting.
- A book or two. I did not ever think I would read 3 books on a weeklong Caribbean cruise, but I did! I was surprised at how much (welcomed) relaxation time I had during the week and finishing a book helped make me feel like I did actually relax.
…but not that big.
Since there were 15 of us we couldn’t, and I don’t think wanted to, spend every waking moment together in a big group. We booked one snorkeling excursion in St. Thomas together. Other than that, everyone did their own thing. One day there would be 4 or 5 of us relaxing by one of the pools, the next day 3 of us walking around in San Juan, or maybe by sunset 6 or 8 of us reading and relaxing together. I enjoy relaxing outside and reading, so I did that. One day it was just two of us, another day there was 6 of us. Just walking around the decks we would bump into each other and sometimes would stay and hang with them, or continue on and do your own thing. This was something that I loved about doing a cruise with a group of friends, the ship had something for everyone and everyone could find their thing. Whether it was sunbathing, or miniature golf, or trivia games, or basketball contests, or the casino – the ship catered to all interests.
Whatever you like to eat you can find it on the ship. I enjoyed the salad bar for lunch every day and then either a burger or fish taco, or burrito, or pizza as a snack in the afternoon. Dinner was a whole event of its own! As many salads, appetizers, entrees, and desserts as you want! Our ship also had a coffee bar, sushi bar, fish & chips buffet, and a whole dessert buffet. The pizza station was open 24 hours and was situated next to a bar that stayed open until 3:30am; coincidence?
Here’s my one main tip: eat in moderation! Don’t overdo it on lunch because a few short hours later you’re going to see something else you want! I tried to keep myself below the “I’m full, but I could eat again” line. This worked out pretty well, except for dinner!
Here’s one minor tip regarding breakfast. I really enjoy room service breakfast. Waking up and having your breakfast right there without having to change or wash your face really makes me happy. In our cabins each night were forms to fill out and hang on the door by 5am. This also made the mornings much easier, in my opinion. Wake up, coffee, cereal, bagel, juice, bathing suit, sunblock, cover-up, and out to the pool or off to one of the ports. My kind of morning!
..and if they have a specialty steakhouse, try it. You can thank me later! J
If you’re a first time cruiser and have asked other cruisers, “Does it feel like you’re on a boat?” and they told you, “No, not at all!”, they’re lying. You’re on a gigantic ship; if you’re moving you can tell, but not all the time. During the day it’s less noticeable than at night, granted the waters are calm. Our dining room table was at the very back of the ship and each night we could feel the motors below us going, not strongly, but you could tell. I also believe they started going faster right before our 8:15pm dinnertime. Most of the time I forgot we were on a ship, that is until I would do a short two step as I was walking; yes, it was the ship, not the martinis!
I felt it more when I got HOME! In the shower, getting out of my desk chair, and getting dressed were all times I felt like I was moving for a few days. It's day 5 of being home and I felt it once today. So crazy what your body can do to adjust to its environment!
If you use your room key/sign & sail card in the casino at the slot machines or video games you do not get charged the 3% fee that you would if you went to the cashier to use your card for cash.
Make friends with the bar staff and learn their names; they learn yours very quickly. They took care of us, and we took care of them (wink, wink)!
Use a waterproof beach bag. The decks and bars near any of the pools can get wet and you want to be sure everything stays dry!
Don’t be alarmed by an $80 charge to your account, it’s most likely your tips you pay for the waiters, cabin steward, etc.
Make sure you know where you have to go in case of an emergency aka don’t have too many of their special drinks before you have to go to the muster!
Be prepared to "catch the bug". You will start thinking of where and when you want to go on your next cruise! We returned a week later and few emails started being spread around about where we were going next!
Take lots of pictures and share them! I am now in the process of cropping and organizing about 50 - 75 pictures I took to create a photobook on shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com). I have done this for a few trips I have been on and they're great keepsakes and coffee table books.