Sunday, October 24, 2010

Things You Really Should Know About Cruising But No One Wants to Tell You

This, I believe, will be my final cruise post.

I know. Yay, right?

These are all things I wish I'd known about cruising before I went. Some good. Some bad. All truth as I experienced it.

1) Arriving to your port city the day before departure is a really good idea.

Air travel is stressful just on its own. I cannot imagine arriving the day of embarkation and worrying whether my luggage was going to make it and I was going to make it to the ship on time. Seriously. The extra expense of an added night in a hotel is worth the worry free embarkation.

2) You will be cruising with the People of Wal-Mart.

OK. Perhaps that's a bit harsh. Perhaps what I should say is that you will be cruising with 2000 typical Americans - and that, when you are not a typical American, can be a bit of a shock to your system.

3) Cruising is an awful lot like Las Vegas at sea.

And that has little to do with the casino although there is a casino on pretty much any ship that sails in international waters. If you've ever spent time in Vegas, which, clearly I have considering I lived there, you know it's crowded, sparkly, noisy, and geared toward getting people to spend money they probably don't really have.

4) While your meals (unless you opt to eat in one of the specialty restaurants or off the ship) and some of the entertainment is free, you will be charged for soda, specialty coffee drinks, internet access, and, most especially alcohol.

Not only will you be charged for these things, you will also be charged an automatic gratuity of 15-18%. You do not have a choice on the gratuity. It's worth it as the service is excellent. But, just know, someone has to really go way above and beyond excellent service to warrant an extra tip.

5) You will be automatically served alcohol in a souvenir glass that you are charged extra for unless you specifically ask for a regular glass.

We did not know this. So, our first night, our drinks were costing us about $10 apiece BEFORE gratuity. And we didn't keep our glasses - wouldn't have kept them anyway because they were stupid. And gratuity was added on top of the total cocktail price so we were paying gratuity on the cups in addition to the liquor. When we discovered this the next day, we were very careful to request regular glasses and the price went down considerably.

6) The food is really not that great.

I kept hearing from all these people that cruise food is SO GOOD. Uhm...no. Not really. It's, for lack of a better comparison, banquet food. I was prepared to be blown away. Instead, I felt like what we ate was adequate but nothing I'd remotely describe as write downable.

The exception to this was the meal we were served in Le Bistro - the one specialty restaurant we went to and paid an extra $40 for ($60 because I added an additional gratuity...the service was THAT good). This was the best onion soup I'd ever had. The coq au vin was extraordinary and the creme brulee was perfect.

To be fair, we did not go to the buffet as navigating a buffet with a person of limited sight is a nightmare for both the blind and the one leading the blind. I did, on the last day, go to the buffet and make a salad for each of us while Betsy waited in the room. The salad bar was nice. So is the salad bar at Pizza Hut. Just sayin'.

7) Room service is awesome.

We took advantage of the room service several times. It is 24/7 and it is good. We ordered coffee from room service each morning and dessert most nights. The last day, we ordered room service for both lunch and supper. They were fast, the food was palatable - if simple - and there were no crowds to endure.

8) Take advantage of the cocktail specials.

They run cocktail specials throughout the day. Brunch-like cocktails were $4.25 until noon. At the cocktail hour, there were 2 for 1 specials in several of the lounges. Our favorite lounge - The Plantation Club on deck 12 aft (duh) - ran martini specials every evening. We didn't want martinis most of the time but discovered that if you ordered a "very very very dry gin martini on the rocks with a tonic on the side", they'd actually bring you a gin and tonic for the 2 for 1 special. That tip earned an extra tip, if you know what I mean.

9) There is "free" stuff to do. And it's a high pressured pitch to get you to spend more money.

The spa, art auction/classes, shopping lectures all offered free stuff and/or raffle drawings for prizes just for attending. They were all high-pressured sales pitches to get you to buy services and products from the cruise line or vendors with whom they contract.

10) Take advantage of pre-paid packages.

The soda package saved me from being a drunkard during the day. It was $25 (gratuity included) and came with a souvenir hot/cold insulated mug that I actually did bring home. The price of one soda from the bar was $2.25. I got a lot of wear from that mug and from that package. We also purchased a wine pre-paid package on our first day and saved ourselves 20% off the list price. Which, now that I think of it, covered the gratuity quite nicely, and the wines were all very good. Even the chardonnays which I tend to steer clear of were lovely. They give you receipts for each of your bottles and any of the bar/restaurant staff will happily retrieve whatever bottle you'd like and allow you to take it to your stateroom.

We did this...a lot.

11) There are kids. No matter when you go.

We picked our vacation partly to avoid as many kids as possible. There were still some aboard. Luckily, most of them were European children with impeccable manners. Still...unless you're going on the gay cruise, there are kids. No way around it. I had a nice conversation with one of the waiters at the pool deck. He said he thought there were about 20-30 kids on our ship. He said that during vacation times there can be as many as 300 kids plus teenagers aboard and his job gets much much harder. I can imagine. Yuck.

12) The staff live on the ship and work 7 days a week for several months (10!) at a time. They then go home on vacation for 2-3 months before returning to work on the same or a different ship.

Almost all of our ship's service crew were from developing countries. They were all extraordinarily nice and served us happily. Many of the men I spoke to told me about their families - wives and children - they'd left back home and how excited they were to get to see them again after such a long time away. They deserve every ounce of respect and civility we can give them.

13) If you're on the back of the ship, expect soot.

I don't know what the fuel used for the ship is but it's sooty. We didn't have too much trouble but there were a couple of times where it seemed like our entire balcony was covered in sooty ash.

14) The balcony is worth every single extra cent.

The cheap staterooms for someone who is never planning to be in their stateroom is probably fine. But honestly? The balcony was hands down the best part of our vacation and we got a lot of use out of it. I would never do this again without that extra space.

15) Disembarkation, no matter how you slice it, sucks.

It's not an easy process. It's hectic and you're trying to find your way around customs and retrieve your luggage and figure out how you're supposed to be getting somewhere else. The cruise line does not help you do this. You are on your own. Which is an extremely jarring way to come back to reality. Just...be prepared.

I don't know if I'll cruise again.

I have absolutely no regrets and loved the time away with my mom. I also LOVED being out on the ocean. But it was not the vacation of a lifetime (I hope!). It was relaxing and it was beautiful. It was not particularly peaceful and there was little on the ship that held much of my attention having experienced all that in Las Vegas more than once.

I'm glad I did it. I'm glad I have more things in life that interest me that would keep me from selecting this kind of vacation again and again.

But I will say this...if you've never seen the sunset from the deck of a ship out to sea, you're really missing something good.

October 21, 2010 - Last Night on the Atlantic Ocean

1 comment:

teresa said...

I am so sorry you didn't find your trip to be fabulous! I went on a Royal Caribbean cruise - Navigator of the Seas and I had an incredible time. I think it depends on the cruise line as far as kids and food goes. I second what you said about the balcony. It was worth every extra penny. I want to go again.