My husband and I just returned home from our first cruise!
We have talked about it for many years, but with younger kids, busy schedules, deployments, and his Physician Assistant school, it just couldn’t be a high priority in the grand scheme of things.
Now that our kids are young adults, one married and on his own, and my husband’s medical career has been established, we have found that there are more opportunities in our life to slow down and take more vacations.
We planned this first cruise to celebrate our 25th Anniversary.
This first cruise taught us a lot about traveling by boat. During the cruise, we jokingly started a mental list of all the things we learned to do differently the next time around.
Today I decided to share our list, the good and the bad, in hopes that it helps out someone else planning their first cruise and provide some entertainment from the mistakes of two novice sea travelers.
1. Pack with as few bags as possible.
I tried very hard to pack as light as I thought I needed to, even buying small bottles of aspirin and beauty products. My husband and I packed with one large piece of luggage each, a small carry on size bag for me and a garment bag for our more dressy clothes.
We should have tried even harder. Not only was there limited space in the boat cabin, but getting off the ship with those four bags and anything new we had purchased in Nassau was just too much to think about carrying them off. So we had to check them in to leave the boat on the last day – which lead to a whole other set of problems – see item number 10 for that lesson
2. The importance of Scopolamine patches, soft drinks, and saltine crackers.
I have trouble with motion sickness so I brought along my sea sickness wrist bands and a non-drowsy formula bottle of Dramamine. I thought that should cover me.
I can see you smirking at that and hear you giggle.
Nope, not even close to being prepared for the motion on the boat. My husband tried to prescribe me the Scopolamine patches for behind my ear, and since I wasn’t sure what they were I said no – twice. Big mistake.
For most of the trip it was exactly what I expected and I could handle it, until the last day at sea. We ran into the storms around Florida and the waves and wind were ruthless. There were sick people all over that boat. In fact, they had to put some of the elevators in Medical Mode so the staff could get to the passengers asap. Thankfully I didn’t need medical attention but I certainly felt lousy. Even my husband who used to jump with the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg and nothing usually bothers him was fighting the seasickness that day.
Which brings me to the part about the soft drinks (this is what we called them in Eastern NC growing up) and saltine crackers. My go-to remedy for nausea is a cold Coca-Cola and saltine crackers. On Sunday when the waves were so bad, you couldn’t find a Coke anywhere on the ship and it was a constant scavenger hunt for the saltine crackers. Twice we had to ask for the crackers personally since as soon as they were put back on the buffet bar they were gone! When we first arrived at the port last week I saw many many families carrying on 12 packs of soft-drinks. Since I don’t drink them every day I thought that was a little extreme at the time but whatever. On Sunday though I would have gladly paid any one of them for a Coke. And considering soft-drinks were $2.25 each on the ship, it would have saved me money too.
3. Don’t go to the Caribbean in June if you don’t like the heat.
Okay, this one is a no-brainer I’m sure for most people. I knew it was going to be hot, but wasn’t expecting that HOT! Of course we were very limited on the time frame in which we could take this trip, but my next trip to the Caribbean Islands will definitely be in a spring or fall month. Just saying.
4. Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!
I can’t say this one enough. Sunscreen, the highest SPF you can get will come in handy. With the winds on the boat, you may not notice how hot and damaging the sun is and I learned that lesson on the last day while sitting on the back decks of the boat. I felt my mistake later that night though. Sunburn and seasickness combined are not fun.
5. Cabin location and ear plugs.
Since we had never gone on a cruise before, we didn’t have a clue about cabin locations compared to where the entertainment areas were. Our cabin was on Deck 7, Cabin number 52 – right smack dab in the middle of the ship and just a few feet away from the elevators and the main atrium. Good location for getting to other areas of the ship but not good if you like to go to sleep at a normal time.
Each night the main atrium usually housed the after-party music competitions and trivia games and was the main bar location. The theater was not far behind the atrium. Don’t get me wrong, the music shows were fabulous and the trivia games were a lot of fun, but if we didn’t participate in them that night, we heard them anyway, every single note, from our cabin.
Fortunately my husband and I take these things in stride and just made another mental note to bring ear plugs next time if we wanted to get some sleep.
6. Read the daily itinerary and don ‘t get lost on the boat.
Every night we would be delivered a new daily agenda for the next day’s activities. We learned quickly by the second day to take that printout with us everywhere on the ship. We sailed with Carnival and our ship was huge! At least to me it was until I saw the Disney ship docked next to it in Nassau. Wow – ours looked like a tug boat next to that ship. Either way, without that agenda with times and locations, we would have missed out on most of the activities we wanted to do. Even though they made announcements all day, it was still so much easier to plan your day around the list and to find your way around the ship.
7. Get to know the staff – they are invaluable and special people.
I can’t say this enough,you meet some of the most interesting people who chose to work on a cruise ship. Our staff was so courteous and attentive, from our cabin steward Danet, to the dining staff each night who graciously waited on us with a smile and provided entertainment each night by singing in unison or dancing to the Mocarana. Within an hour of checking in we realized that our bathroom sink wasn’t draining properly, we told Danet, and he had someone there within 30 minutes.
On our second night of the cruise, our dining staff surprised us with a cake for our Anniversary and sang to us. When we got back to our cabin that same night, Danet had written a sweet message on our mirror and left us gift cards for free spa treatments, discounts on wine, and discounts to the gift shops.
It was so nice to be pampered and to encounter smiles everywhere you went on the ship.
8. Enjoy the shopping specials.
One of the staff members we got to know was Holly, the shopping specialist. Not only was she great to talk with, her fiance was currently deployed to Iraq so she loved hearing stories from my husband about his time in the service. She also directed us to some fabulous deals in Nassau. And free stuff!
I’m not much of a shopper, just too practical to spend money on some things, but I love free stuff every day! We were able to score two free charm bracelets and lots of charms just by attending a seminar, purchasing a coupon book, and participating in a scavenger hunt. If you are going to walk the shops of Nassau anyway, why not earn free stuff along the journey. We also got two free tote bags that change color in the sun, and free water wallets for our beach day. Not only that, we scored some great prices on t-shirts with our coupons, and color changing nail polish for our daughter as well as a great deal on color changing sunglasses.
Shopping is not for everyone I know, but if you are going to window shop anyway, earn the free stuff!
9. For peace and quiet – find the adult only spaces on board.
Cruise ships are loud. Especially in the more common open decks with the pools and hot tubs, kids running around and the loud music. They are great places though if you want to people watch and see some of the more entertaining activities like the hairiest chest competition (it was hilarious).
On the last day of the cruise when we were fighting the wind and nausea, my husband discovered a back deck on the ship that was called the Serenity Deck and anyone under 21 was not allowed. It was a great spot to get some fresh air, read a book or sleep in the reclining chairs for hours. In fact, if you held a conversation too loudly the other passengers would give you some stern frowns or ask you to be quiet. It was fabulous and just what I needed at the time.
10. Make sure you know everything about docking and getting off the boat.
Have you ever traveled with those people who get in a hurry, don’t listen to instructions, and cause delays and extra work for people – Brian and I were those people during the debarkation.
We missed the presentation of the debarkation procedures the first time around so we had to watch it on the ship’s TV station. Since the port of Charleston will not allow announcements made over the speakers in the port, we were told to rely on a Powerpoint presentation on the TV to know when to leave the boat. Unfortunately we couldn’t read the fine print either. We really needed to read the fine print.
Since we felt like we had too many bags to carry off ourselves we decided to check them the night before. No problem, lots of other people did the same thing. The next morning when we saw our deck name come up on the screen – we were the first deck released – we got in line with hundreds of other people and headed to the customs authority.
It didn’t take us long to realize we were part of only a few people without their luggage but we couldn’t get out of line. So we cleared customs, walked back on American territory and asked about getting our luggage. And got laughed at and told “once you come over you can’t get it back now!” What??? Actually he was kidding but it took over an hour to wait to have the dogs sniff out the bags, two men to find it for us, then we had to explain to their superiors why we crossed back over without our luggage -again for like the third time, watch while four men opened and inspected every piece of luggage we had including what we crossed over with, answer several embarrassing questions about our personal items – and then we got our luggage back.
Everyone at the port authority was actually very nice to us (I’m sure we were not the first silly couple to do this) but we did get the “I bet you have never cruised before!” comments with the shake of the head and smirk with it. Next time we will definitely pay more attention.
And a bonus tip I want to let you know…
Take advantage of the shore excursions offered while on the ship. We enjoyed a bus tour of Nassau and Paradise Island and I even got to try kayaking for the first time while visiting the private island of Half Moon Cay. I was not very good at it but at least I can say I tried it.
So even with the sunburn and seasickness, we had a fabulous time and will be planning another cruise in the next couple of years.