I absolutely love to travel. I love the beach. And I LOVE cruising! I love cruising so much that I have my TiVo set to record Mighty Cruise Ships. I love seeing the behind the scenes of what it takes to build and run those beautiful, massive works of art. Any time I'm thinking about getting away I'm usually thinking about planning a cruise vacation.
With warm weather quickly approaching, my anniversary coming up at the beginning of June, and knowing that my kids will be out of school in about 3 months my mind has been wandering. I'm thinking about sunshine, sand, and waves. I thinking about visiting places that I've never been before. I'm thinking about disconnecting, getting away, and relaxing.
My favorite way to travel is definitely a cruise vacation. There is so much to see, so much to do, and it's just a one of a kind experience. Plus, leaving your phone on will cost an arm and a leg, so you have no choice but to disconnect. I have been on 6 cruises so far and I am looking forward to many more. Now I am no cruise expert… yet. I am working on getting there. Did I mention that I love cruising??
Cruises are pretty much all-inclusive. The price of your cruise includes your stateroom, meals, and entertainment, and maybe even other onboard incentives. It's a huge floating, all-inclusive hotel. Of course you can opt for extras, but for the most part, you are covered. And by floating hotel, I mean that you have the freedom to roam the ship, enjoy multiple restaurants, parties, activities, multiple pools, and hot tubs. There is plenty to see and do. Plus there is something super peaceful about floating across the ocean, watching the sunrise and sunset, and knowing that you are cut off from technology. Cruising is a great way to see 1-3 different destinations on one trip.
Which Cruise Line Should I Take?
There are many cruise lines. Some very well known, others not so much. I have tried both. I have cruised with Royal Caribbean, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, and Disney. I enjoyed them all. Of course, each line is a bit different, and within each line each ship is different. So far my favorite ship was the Disney Magic (totally because of the food!). I got a chance to check it out when the ship relaunched. This is a great option if you are cruising with children. There's tons for kids to do while the parents relax or party.
The line and ship that you choose to take will depend on many things… price, preferred port, preferred destination, and whether or not you are traveling with kids among other things. There are many ships on my bucket list, including the newer ships from Carnival. So far my favorite for traveling as a couple has been Royal Caribbean. Love their ships! We have sailed on the Majesty of the Seas and the Enchantment of the Seas. And I think I took an RC sailing way back in 2001, but I cannot remember the ship! Actually, I cannot remember much anything about that trip. I was sick and stuck in my stateroom almost the whole time. Ugh. Thankfully, I seemed to have gotten over my motion sickness issues. I have not had a problem since.
Will I Like the Food?
As mentioned above cruise ships are all-inclusive. This usually means that you can eat all day… and all night! However, depending on the ship what you can eat at certain times may be limited. I've been on one ship where all we could get if we got the midnight munchies was cheese pizza. Blah.
Of the cruises that I have taken the Disney Magic had the BEST cruise lunch *buffet* that I have seen. We dined in the Cabana. And it was delicious. It was not your run of the mill buffet items like pizza, pasta, and salad. It was much, much more. Items on the buffet included smashed baked potatoes, ribeye steak, lamb chops, roast turkey, rock crab, mac and cheese, grilled asparagus, shrimp, salad, grilled chicken, and more. I could not believe that there was so much! Also, there was plenty of soda (pop for my midwest folks), lemonade, coffee, and tea to quench our thirsts which were included. Cruise ships definitely have enough of a variety for even the pickiest eater in your family to enjoy.
It's also worth mentioning that some cruise lines require that you pay extra for beverage packages if you want to drink something other than water, watered down juice, and lemonade. You can usually add these packages when you book your cruise. There are packages for non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages. Depending on how much you drink it may be worth it to you. And look out for the deals that allow may include a free beverage package with your booking.
Royal Caribbean also has very good food. Each ship has different options and a different number of restaurants. You can find this info on the cruise lines website.
What Type of Stateroom Should I Book?
I have a cruising rule. I will never book an inside stateroom. I always book an ocean view. I must have a porthole or window. Being able to look out and see the ocean go by is incredible. And in my opinion, it just doesn't feel like a vacation if there are no windows! And if you care about the view, when you choose your room ask for an unobstructed view. And keep in mind that upper decks may cost a bit more, as do suites.
However, it's a cruise… other than sleeping you may not spend much time in your room, so if a lower, windowless room doesn't bother you, you can save some money.
I've also had the pleasure of staying in a stateroom with a veranda onboard the Disney Magic. That room was huge. I did not expect such a great room on a cruise. I did not feel like I was on a ship at all. Most ships have rooms that will fit a family of up to 4 if needed. You can browse the cruise site beforehand to check the sizes and prices of the different staterooms.
Check out the video below to see an interview that I conducted while on board the Disney Magic. You may get some valuable info for booking.
7 tips for Booking the Perfect Cruise
Know When to Book
While the general rule when booking travel is that you should book early, there are exceptions. A cruise might be one. Cruise prices may drop significantly 60-90 days before the sailing date. However, if you booked early don't fret. Some cruise lines are nice and will work with you since cruise prices change often. I learned this not too long ago. The prices may change every day. Once you book check back often to see if the cruise price drops. You may be able to get the difference as a onboard credit, or even a stateroom upgrade. If you book using an agent, they may even alert you when the price drops. On our last Royal Caribbean cruise, I was able to get the difference as an onboard credit thanks to my booking agent.
Research the Best Cruises for Quiet Time
Cruises are going to be filled with family. This means kids, kids, and more kids. If you and your honey are hoping to get away on a cruise for some quiet time make sure that you find one that has provisions and options for adult only spaces. Most cruise lines are great about this. There are plenty of adults-only areas of the ship as well as places to drop off your kids when you need some quiet time. Higher-end luxury cruises such as Azamara Club Cruises are usually geared towards adults. And once you look at the prices you will understand why. Celebrity Cruises is another that I hear is a great cruise for romance.
Consider the Departure Port
It's easier and more reasonable to leave from some ports. Florida is a popular cruise port destination. Airline tickets to this region are a lot more reasonable, and you can usually find a great deal. And cruises that leave from Miami, Port Canaveral, Tampa, or Ft. Lauderdale are much cheaper than cruises that leave from New York City or the West Coast. If cost is a factor, this is something to consider. Check airfare to the area BEFORE you book your cruise. Or consider driving to the cruise port. But remember, you will have to pay a parking fee to leave your car at the port. This is usually around $14/day.
Check the Destination
Most cruises go to a port for only 8 hours and then you reboard the cruise ship and move on. If you are hoping to see more of the destination you will not have much time to do so. There is usually time to lay out on the beach, have lunch, and do some shopping.
However, there are some cruises that you can take that will allow you to stay at a destination for a couple of days rather than just a few hours. We have now experienced this a couple of times through Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line. The first time we stayed on Grand Bahamas Island for 3 days at the Grand Lucayan Resort. It was awesome. We were walking distance from town and got to experience the many restaurants and shops. And we had an absolutely incredible view from our room.
The second cruise & stay trip was also on Grand Bahama Island, but at the Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach all-inclusive resort. There was plenty of food, drinks, parties, and of course, more time to relax on the beach! We even had salsa lessons.
Check with your cruise line to see if they offer a cruise & stay package. It's a great way to experience the best of both worlds.
Consider Booking an Excursion
As mentioned above, when taking a regular cruise you may not get much time at your destination. The ship will usually dock near a local run shopping area where you can buy jewelry, handcrafted gifts, and food. But if you want to do more than just shop or lay on the beach, you can book an excursion. The excursion can be booked when you first book your cruise, or you can do it onboard. Here's a tip… sometimes it pays to wait until the last minute! They will sometimes offer deals onboard once the cruise is in motion to fill empty spots on excursions.
We enjoyed a glass bottom boat tour excursion in Nassau, Bahamas. As part of this, the tour guide jumped in and retrieved live sea creatures for us to touch and explore. It was awesome!
If staying at your destination as part of a cruise & stay package you can book a longer excursion. My favorite was a Jeep Excursion that we participated in while on Grand Bahamas Island.
It consisted of so much! We drove Jeeps through forests of trees, across narrow passageways that extended out into the ocean, took some time to play on a remote beach, met some friendly Bahamian racoons, met a local chef that jumped in to find a conch from which we had fresh ceviche, and visited beautiful island spots that made me think that I was on the set of LOST.
Check Discount Sites
If your travel dates are flexible, or you are lucky enough to just be able to get up and go on a week's notice then you may be able to get the deal of a lifetime. One site to check is Vacations to Go. While you can certainly use the site to compare many different cruise lines, dates, prices, and destinations at one time, the big plus is finding last minute deals. Use the 90-day Ticker to see prices for deeply discounted trips as the cruise lines work to fill empty cabins. Right now a 3-day cruise on Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas, which I have had the pleasure of cruising on, can be purchased for only $259 if you can leave on April 15th. What a deal!
Check the Weather & Time of Year
This one is two-fold. First, cruise ships rarely stay in one port. At different times of the year, they sail from different ports around the world. For example, if you have dreams of cruising on the new Quantum of the Seas in June, you would have to go to China to make that work. That ship won't be sailing from the US anytime soon. And ships like the Norwegian Dawn alternate between departure ports in Canada and New England.
Also, consider the time of year and the weather! Last January we caught a cruise from Tampa to Cozumel, Mexico. The weather was quite chilly in Tampa at the time. I believe our first day in town it was in the 40s. It was weird to board a ship in a jacket! And once the ship sailed the wind made it worse. The first night of the cruise was quite cold so we stayed inside. Of course, once we got closer to Mexico we were able to shed our layers and relax since it was 80 degrees. However, I probably won't do anymore January cruises that start in the cold! 🙂
Also, you probably don't want to be on a cruise during hurricane season. Be sure to check the weather for the region and make sure that all is well.
These are just some of my tips based on what I have learned. Now I'm off to browse sites and book another cruise. 😉
Do you enjoy cruises? What are your travel tips? And if you haven't gone yet, what are you waiting for?