Cruising 101. Dispelling common myths.
Cruising was never top of mind when considering travel. Like many of you, I believed the three common myths often associated with cruising.
1. It’s expensive.
2. It’s for the "geriatric" class
3. You’ll be sea-sick the entire time.
So when my husband and I were planning a trip to Greece last summer and trying to figure out how to get from island to island, someone had suggested looking into a cruise. So I put on my travel-agent hat and started researching to see if maybe cruising could be a possibility.
I quickly quashed fallacy number one. Cruising does not have to be expensive! Here’s the thing about cruises - there are options upon options which allow you the flexibility to plan your vacation in a way that works for you. Interior room versus suites. Scheduled dining versus anytime dining. Internet packages, beverage packages, shore excursions, oh my.
I’ll be honest, if you’re one of those people who like their vacations neatly packaged up in an all-inclusive/chartered flight kind of way, cruising may not be for you. Planning an affordable cruise requires a ton of research. Lucky for you, I’ve done all the research, and am now an experienced cruiser. Last summer we did book that Greek islands cruise. This past winter we went on a Caribbean islands cruise. And guess what we’re doing in September? Cruising through Spain and Portugal.
Cruising is such a unique way to travel. You get to see so many different parts of the world without having to unpack every few days. You get to know the incredible staff, and the best part - you'll easily make new friends. Once you take your first cruise I guarantee you, you’ll be hooked.
So sit back, grab your margarita (hey, we are talking about cruising) and learn why cruising should be your next vacation.
Number One - Selecting a cruise line. With cost being our top priority we quickly weeded out Princess, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas and other high-end luxury cruise lines. These cruise lines were WAY out of our price range and generally catered to an older (ahem) more affluent crowd. While we’re not the type of people to stay out partying all night, we weren’t really interested in going to sleep at 9:00 p.m. either (not every night, anyway).
Holland America and Norwegian, though more affordable, also seemed to attract an older clientele.
We weren’t interested in Carnival who cater more to younger party-goers (think spring break foam parties), or Disney who obviously cater to families.
We narrowed it down to the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, who coincidentally are owned by the same company. Reviews on both cruise lines highlighted great food and service, a good mix of clientele, and no shortage of activities and entertainment.
Now let’s throw in another curve ball. All cruise lines have many different classes of ships. The larger, more extravagant ships tend to come with a higher price tag. So we focused on the smaller, generally older ships.
Let me tell you something about Royal Caribbean and Celebrity’s “older ships”. Our first cruise was aboard the Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas and our second cruise was aboard the Celebrity Summit. Both cruise ships were equipped with a full-size casino, a two storey theatre offering a variety of shows and entertainment, two large pools, mini-golf courses, rock climbing walls, discos, multiple lounges, numerous restaurants, a spa, a large fitness centre, an art gallery and a shopping mall. Remember myth two – cruise ships are only for seniors? This could not be further from the truth.
Number Two - How to choose a stateroom. Generally, your options are an inside room, an ocean view room, a veranda room and then a series of suites. The suites generally include perks like your own private butler, and exclusive access to specialty restaurants (some where the “commoners” are not allowed). The fancier the room, the higher the cost.
On both of our previous cruises we selected an ocean view stateroom on the main lobby deck. The cost was slightly higher than an interior room, but as someone who experiences motion-sickness, I was a tad worried about not being able to see outside.
Speaking of motion sickness – this was the number one cruising myth I was most worried about. I’m someone who experiences motion sickness riding in the backseat of a car. If you’re worried about getting sick on your cruise I highly recommend an ocean view stateroom in the middle section of the ship, preferably on a lower deck. You barely feel any movement! Now I also took 6 Gravols a day for nausea prevention, but hey, you have to be prepared!
Number 3 - Options, options and more options. Here’s the thing. As nice as it sounds to have your own butler, access to all of the restaurants, and a VERY large suite with a hot tub on your VERY large balcony, these options quickly add up. A couple could EASILY spend 10 times more money on a cruise than another couple on the exact same ship sitting on the exact same pool deck, stopping at the exact same ports. It’s mind-blowing.
After two cruises and a third one planned, here is our list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to cruise options.
DO get the beverage package. Drinks are astronomically expensive ($15/cocktail) on the cruise ship. Your beverage package will also include specialty coffees and bottled water (which is a MUST as you’re most likely cruising to hot destinations).
DON’T spend extra on “specialty” restaurants. Access to the main dining room is included in your package and in my experience, it’s phenomenal. Fine dining at its very best with different options every evening. You don’t need to spend the extra cash dining at the other restaurants. We’ve done it and it wasn’t worth the extra cash.
DO participate in the gratuity package. All cruise ships have an optional gratuity package where you pay around $13 per day per person which gets divided among the entire crew. You do have the ability to forego this option and tip as you wish, but in our experience, you don’t always get to see the staff who work behind the scenes. The chefs and the cleaning staff work equally as hard as your servers and bartenders, and I think it’s only fair that they deserve a fair piece of the pie.
DON’T book the Wi-Fi package. It’s like $100 a day. If you’re desperate, you can find Wi-Fi when you get into port. Put your phones away (unless you’re taking pictures, of course) and enjoy your time on the ship.
DON’T book all of your shore excursions through the ship. Do your research and first determine how you want to spend your day in port. Then look for options. Shore excursions booked through the ship are much more expensive, unless you find a sale ahead of time.
Number four – wait for deals. Do not, I repeat, do not book anything on your cruise that is full price. Once you decide on a few cruise lines you’re interested in, sign up for their emails, and start following them on social media. I’m continually bombarded with emails and posts advertising sales for 50% off the second guest and special offers for free “perks” (which could include beverage packages and pre-paid gratuities).
Once you do book your cruise you will have access to your very own cruise planner which is an online resource for all of your extra “options”. Once I’ve booked a cruise, I generally check out my cruise planner every few days to see if anything is on sale. A week ago, I jumped on the beverage package for our September cruise which was buy one get one half off. Once you're aboard your cruise, NOTHING is on sale.
When it comes to cruising, research and patience pays off. Cruising has allowed us to see so many different places that we would never see otherwise. The new experiences, the memories, and the lifelong friends we’ve made are well worth it.