Cruising was absolutely one of the best adventures I embarked on last year. It gave me the opportunity to explore new destinations on my bucket list, savor new cultures and get a glimpse into countries I want to take my time exploring. Not a better way to get our feet wet with new countries. This cruise created an appetite for new travels. I was able to make the most out my budget and splurge where it counted.
I have put together a recap of how to cruise like a pro and stay within your determined budget. It is easy to get lost in the vacation mode but if you plan ahead and consider your options you will not go overboard. No one wants to remember a vacation by the hole it burned into their budget.
Location, Location Location
Knowing where to book your cabin is just as important as choosing your sailing destination. You should always keep in mind that a cruise ship is huge in itself. Sure walking seems to be the last thing from your mind but when you start to count your steps from your cabin to the restaurant for each meal, to the pool, back to the cabin to change, catch a show, stop by the casino or head out to a tour. All those steps will add up pretty quickly without even realizing it. Walking will take a toll on your feet no matter how comfortable your shoes are.
The ideal cabin is located near the middle of the ship on higher floors because they are closer to the main attractions on board. Avoid the floor beneath the pool deck because the scraping of the chairs when the chairs get moved around will get pretty old quick. No one wants to wake up to the sound of screeching chairs that get moved. The front and back of the ship can easily become a nightmare for those that suffer seasickness as these parts of the ship tend to sway more the waves. Also, they can get quite noisy during your voyage. You may be startled by the crashing waves if you stay in the cabins located at the front of the ship while the back may get loud when the anchors are in motion.
Make sure you choose cabins located near the elevator since these also have stairs nearby. These will help you avoid the traffic jams during peak times such as meal times, arriving or departing a port. Consider the stairs a quick and effective cardio session to elevate your heart rate. Also, opt for cabins that are not near a closet since these will get plenty of movement when the housekeeping crew will stock up on needed items.
Coffee lovers should consider the coffee package available on board. Baristas over regular drip coffee any day! Not a coffee snob but I would rather not have any coffee if it is a watered-down version of the real thing. This was my biggest mistake but quickly learned it was well worth the price to savor at least one espresso each day. I am fueled by coffee, not by the need for caffeine, but to me, it is an experience to be savored. Our ship had several baristas available on board, and in the buffet dining hall and the main lobby. This was perfect to enjoy with breakfast or just as the perfect compliment to a conversation.
Traditional vs Flexible Dining
Dinner by far is the most important meal on the cruise. All cruise ships offer 2 types of dining experiences that you need to commit to either traditional or flexible. Once you choose your experience you will not able to change your mind. The traditional dining plan provides routine for those that prefer to dine at the same time, same table and the same waiter. This can be tricky if you do not have any chemistry with the folks at your table since arrangements are random. The flexible dining plan is perfect for those that want to enjoy time on their terms without having to sacrifice time at the ports, tours or enjoying the entertainment on the ship.
If you are feeling adventurous you can most certainly try different dishes and discover a new favorite. The dining menu is typically inspired by the port or country so the guests can get an authentic meal and unique memory. Don’t be afraid to ask the waiters for recommendations. I definitely enjoyed all the dishes the crew suggested I try out.
For many, the most difficult part is choosing which dining they want to adhere to but for me, it was a no-brainer. I chose the flexible dining plan which allowed me to eat when I was hungry, explore the destinations and relax on the ship. No need to rush down from the pool to make the strict dining time. The intimate dining experience with my husband was also a perfect conduit to appreciate his company. We learned the hard way that sharing a table with other guests was not for us. It could not have been a more awkward dinner. All the waiters were attentive and took amazing care of us each night.
Beverages are typically not included in the actual cruise package which focuses on the room, food, and fun. Alcohol is the root of all expenses which tends to surprise many at the end of the cruise but soda can also take a toll on that bill. Be smart and analyze your options truthfully so you can use your money wisely. Fun is the main objective but it is vital to not get carried away while you enjoy yourself on board.
Drink packages are the ideal option for those who plan on consuming a lot of alcohol instead of paying as you go. It is easy to lose count of the rounds when lounging by the pool or while hanging out at the bar. Leverage the happy hours If you plan to enjoy a few rounds but not go all in on the alcohol. The cruise line we chose had special happy hours where you could get a second item for just $1 when you purchased 1 item at regular price. Yes, $1! Great for stocking up on beers and small sparkling wine bottles for our mini fridge that could be easily accessible when wanted. Stay tuned to the daily itineraries provided for they are full of events and special happy hours you can make the most of.
Save yourself the hassle and double check the alcohol policy to avoid any embarrassing moments. Your cruise ship may allow you to bring 1 bottle of wine per person while other cruise ships may have strict alcohol policies that will confiscate any alcohol you bring aboard. Other beverages such as a soda can also rack up the bill quite easily. If you are heavy soda drinker then consider the different packages to see what works best for you.
Take your time to choose the ideal tour for you in the moment. No need to feel pressured to make these decisions before sailing out because you can book a tour the night before at the latest. Unexpected situations, such as an illness, may arise preventing you from stepping outside the ship that day. Book as you go!
Most cruise lines offer daily destination conferences where a seasoned tour guide provides highlights on the upcoming port and tour options. These presentations are then broadcasted on an ongoing loop on the cruise tv channel. They are informative and can help decide what tour if any is best for you. Seasoned tour guides are on hand to help answer any questions that may not have been discussed in the general conference.
Tours are a great way to explore each destination with a seasoned tour guide. They can provide a great look into a certain aspect of a culture or sightseeing while taking care of transportation, applicable fees and sail out times. When you go exploring solo you need to handle all these details. No need to fear missing out the last call at the dock when you are on a tour that is handled by the cruise ship. Passengers that don’t make it back on time are responsible for their transportation to the next port so they can board the ship there. Not a situation I would like to find myself in. We got to witness a passenger who almost got left behind. The majority of the ship’s passengers cheered on the last passenger who had to run to the ship at the port in Naples. He basically ran for his life. It was epic!
Do you have a favorite cruise memory? If so, I would love to hear all about it.