It’s been a year since we took our cruise but Iowa weather makes me always think about the sun and fun of our first at-sea vacation. As we led up to the trip, I did a lot of research about what to pack, things to do while at sea and at port, as well as general expectations and conduct.
I should say there’s only one thing you need to do and that’s relax. Alas, I can’t make it that easy on myself so I can’t expect anyone else to be able to either. Even when I’m well-prepared or things are out of my control I still worry. Even about the dumbest little things.
No matter the amount of research and preparation I did, I discovered there was always something I could have done differently. That’s what inspired me to write my own list of what to pack for a cruise and based on the feedback, I wasn’t alone in my feelings that there’s no such thing as too much information. So I’m at it again to help future travelers plan a little better about what they should expect. This time, I’m focusing on 10 things that can help prevent you from having regrets when you disembark.
10 Things to Make the Most Out of Your Cruise
(1) Research your ports. Sometimes you’ll be able to shop, snorkel or sun without paying for an excursion. In other cases, you are limited to a designated tourist shopping area and an excursion may have been the only way to see the country for what it really is. We opted not to do excursions on our first cruise and were able to see some of the activities. In one port, swimming with the dolphins was in a backwater area with farm-like pens. It wasn’t at all what I pictured. Knowing exactly what you’re getting ahead of time can mean the difference between disappointment and creating the memory of a lifetime.
(2) Plan to be unplugged. They have cellular at sea but it’s slow and pricey. Unless you are there to work, just plan to disconnect when you board and reconnect when you disembark.
(3) Arrive early to board. You won’t likely be able to get into your room for a few hours but the lines to get on are shorter and the chaos less. You can stake out a place on the rail or grab a bite to eat while you wait for your cabin to be available.
(4) Get to know the ship. If it is raining and you are dressed up, you’ll want to know the best way to the dining hall. If you can’t tolerate smoke, cutting through the casino isn’t an option. If you know alternate routes to the various portions of the ship, you’ll save yourself time and headaches.
(5) Don’t stress over time. There are multiple things going on simultaneously. You can’t be at all of them and many are duplicated (like comedy and stage shows). Pick where you want to be and enjoy it 100% THEN decide where to go next.
(6) Make the most of your meals. In the dining hall, the menu offers starter, entree and dessert but a lot of the items change. If you want to try something new (such as an appetizer) but aren’t sure if you’ll like it, then order two different things. One day before I realized this, I recall saying “I’ll try that tomorrow” only to discover that it never showed up on the menu again. Fortunately, of all the items I tried, the only thing I didn’t enjoy was the Caesar salad. And there was certainly no shortage of food. Ever.
(7) Think before you drink. If you aren’t a big pop drinker, don’t splurge on the soda pop option. The lemonade is delicious, as are the breakfast juices. These items are swapped out of the machines based on the time of day. Milk and chocolate milk are set out during breakfast and are on the dining hall menu. If you want it at lunch, simply ask a crew member. Tea, hot chocolate and coffee are always available and with a little creativity, those go a long way. More than once, the kids had hot chocolate mixed with ice cream while I was perfectly happy icing the coffee and adding a bit of hot chocolate for flavor. The shakes and coffee beverages from the shake spot on the Carnival Sunshine were actually very affordable and quite delicious.
(8) Don’t be lured in by the raffles, prizes and promotions. If you wouldn’t consider attending a time share in exchange for a free dinner, then chances are the “shopping extravaganza with chances to win prizes” isn’t a good use of your time. They offer coupon books to use at the ports but read the fine print before you invest in a savings booklet that might not have anything in it that you’re interested in.
(9) A picture is worth a thousand words. Ship photographers take a bajillion photos. At least buy one good photo as a souvenir. For the price of a drink or a t-shirt in port, you’ll have a keepsake that means a lot more than anything else. We were on ship a few days before we discovered the huge gallery of photos and in some cases, never found ours.
(10) Find a place to relax. The upper deck isn’t the only place to find a lounge chair. If you are fair skinned, want to be somewhat shaded, prefer a little solitude or simply can’t find a chair on the upper deck, head down a few levels. We found the 3rd deck on the Carnival Sunshine to be an ideal place to nap and read. On the first few days, we had the deck to ourselves. By the end of the cruise, others had discovered it.
Of all the things that I learned, I didn’t need to worry about being embarrassed asking a silly question. As an example, when we first arrived in our state room, we couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lights and the outlets didn’t work. We figured it was because we were still docked but it was actually because there’s a slot to put your room key when you walk in. That activates the lights and other features. It was the first of many questions that I had to ask. Just remember – You aren’t the first one and you won’t be the last. If you can’t get something to work, it probably isn’t broken, you just haven’t figured it out yet.
Now relax and enjoy your trip!