If you follow me on Instagram you’d know that I recently went on vacation to the Caribbean and Florida. It was a relaxing 2 weeks filled with sunshine (and sunburn) and lots of fun. I took a 5 night Western Caribbean trip on the Carnival Conquest and we visited Jamaica and the Grand Cayman islands. Cruises can be cheap ways to travel and see multiple countries, however there were a few things that I wish I knew before boarding. Are you planning to cruise soon? If so, keep reading for a list of things to know before cruising.
1. UNLIMITED food
If you plan on losing weight on board the cruise ship then think again. Food is EVERYWHERE on this boat. Yes, you can pick from the salad bar and choose the healthiest options, but what’s the fun in that? There are multiple food packages available but mostly you’ll have a choice of eating in the dining room or eating at the buffet. Note that the dining room is an ADD ON and even if you pick that option you can still eat at the buffet whenever you want.
The dining room has a preset menu each day (appetizer, meal, and dessert for each person) and you just show up to the dining room restaurant during your assigned dining time (see below for best times to pick). If you don’t like you meal you can always get a new one or if you’re still hungry you can request more food. Keep in mind that the dining room will have have assigned formal dining nights. So if you don’t feel like dressing up those nights (usually 1 or 2 nights during your cruise) then you can eat at one of the restaurants or the buffet.
Also select items on the room service menu are free 24/7.
2. Which Dining reservation to pick — Early or late dining?
If you choose to eat in the restaurant styled dining room then you’re going to have to select an eating time. My party selected the early dining time. You had to arrive to the dining room between 6-6:30pm. If not, then there was a chance that you wouldn’t be able to be seated. Truthfully, I preferred the earlier time, but because we had a large party with kids, sometimes we went over the allocated 1.5 hrs to eat and we were rushed away so they can prep for the next dining group. However, keep in mind that the next dining time (8pm) may overlap with some of the late night activities and shows available. So if you plan on attending shows it may be worthwhile to go with the earlier dining option.
3. The truth about beverages on cruise ships
ALCOHOL: It varies from cruise to cruise but for the most part you’ll be limited to 2-3 bottles of wine that you can bring with you and that’s all. If you’re trying to be drunk during your whole vacation, then your best bet is to get a drinking package. Keep in mind these packages are $45-65 PER DAY PER PERSON, which can get pretty pricey. Carnival has a rule that if one person in a room gets a drink package then every person over 21 on the boat has to get a drink package. Carnival also limits you to 15 drinks per day. Not that I’m encouraging you to drink more than 15 drinks, but I’m just trying to be as transparent as possible. Not all cruise ships have these limits, I’ve only cruised with Carnival so I only know their rules. There are stories of people “smuggling” alcohol on the boat. I mean it’s possible and people do it all the time. But I’m not going to talk about that here.
SODA: Soda is not free. Personally, I don’t drink soda unless I’m out or if it’s a special occasion but I was surprised to find that I’d be charged for some Coca-Cola if I wanted some. Everyone gets water and juice that’s served at the buffet. You are allowed to bring unopened cans of soda for free if you’d like but there’s a limit and you have to check with your cruise line/ travel agent for the limits regarding your cruise.
WATER: If you don’t drink anything but bottled water then get prepared to pay up. I’m pretty sure the water provided was filtered (it came from a special machine) and it tasted fine
JUICE: Juice is included for free on the boat
4. You’re not getting an authentic experience at port
When you get to your port, you have the morning and most of the afternoon to venture out. The cruise will provide excursions that you can pre-purchase. The good part is that they organize transportation and you can ensure that you will get back to the boat on time and not get left behind (the boat WILL LEAVE YOU if you’re not back on time). Depending on your purpose of the cruise, these excursions may or may not be enough for you. If you simply want to swim with dolphins, see a popular attraction, then you’ll be satisfied. But if you want to experience the culture, really engage with locals, have authentic food, or spend multiple days in a country then you’d be better off booking a trip to that destination for a few days. Although, some longer cruises will give you multiple days at port, which will allow you to stay overnight at a location.
5. If you have kids they will love cruising
There are kids clubs and kids activities. All you do is drop your kids off and then the kids counselors have itineraries and activities planned to last them the whole day.
6. Check out the on-board activities BEFORE you book
My dad got pretty bored on the boat. On our way to Jamaica, we spent 2 days at sea and by day 2 he had cabin fever. He likes activities but unfortunately our boat didn’t have much to do during the day. There are cruise boats with race car simulations, sky diving simulations, rock climbing, IMAX theaters, ropes courses, and other activities. If those things don’t entice you, or if you like having the freedom to go wherever you want whenever you want, then maybe a cruise isn’t for you. I am typically very active and I’m always go, go go so personally I enjoyed the change of pace. I had several days of relaxation and I enjoyed at sea days because I had nothing better to do than lounge and read, which are things I rarely have time for with my hectic schedule. Although, next time I cruise I will definitely pick a boat with more activities and things to do.
7. Save money by planning your own excursions/ travel at port
When my group arrived to the Grand Cayman Islands we were bombarded with a plethora of excursions and travel/ tour groups. We were offered to ride for $20/ person to get to the beach and to the famous turtle sanctuary. We decided against it and discovered that the “buses” in the Grand Cayman were actually mini vans that traveled along the main routes of the island. We ended up riding for $2 per person to all of our destinations as well as back to the dock. Not every country is safe enough for you to hop on public transportation, so do some research online and see what previous cruisers did. Sometimes, it is better, safer and more affordable to travel with the cruise line. But other times, you may snag a great deal by researching beforehand.
8. The cruise isn’t a full “XYZ days”
This is how my cruise schedule went:
- DAY 1: get on the boat around 12pm (others were scheduled to board on as late as 3pm), cruise boat leaves around 5:00pm, required safety orientation for about 30-60 min. By the time that ended, we had to bring our suitcases into the cabins (they leave them in front of your cabin door) and go to dinner
- DAY 2: At Sea
- DAY 3: At Sea
- DAY 4: Jamaica (10am-3pm)
- DAY 5: Grand Cayman Islands (10am-3pm)
- DAY 6: At Sea (leave the boat at 8am)
As you can see Day 1 and Day 6 don’t count because you’re really not able to do much since they’re not full days. The cruise was advertised as a 5 night (6 day) cruise but I really only had 4 full days.
9. The cruise clubs and lounges are poppin’
So I actually didn’t go to the club. I was with family and that’s really not something I’m trying to do with them. But I walked by it and it looked like fun and the music sounded great. Although I don’t like clubs, I wouldn’t mind going if I was on board with a group of friends just so we can dance together or just people-watch (let’s be real, clubs are magnets for some serious characters).
I did hit up the comedy shows with my family though and those were hilarious. Just to let you know, when they say 18+ comedy they mean it. Maybe sit by the back so you have an easy exit if you’re easily offended or don’t like crude jokes. Don’t worry, they have family comedy shows that are just as entertaining and safe for kiddies!
I didn’t go to any of the other performances and shows, so I can’t comment on them, but my family members who did go, really enjoyed them.
10. Your trip is what you make it
I wish we had gotten on a bigger ship with more activities. But I took advantage of what was available to me. I also wish that I could have stayed in Grand Cayman and Jamaica longer but I decided to be positive and see it as a “taste” or preview of each country and added them to my must visit in the future list. It’s really easy to get bored or tired on a cruise but with the right attitude and an open mind you can definitely have lots of fun.
Personally, I plan on cruising again and I REALLY want to do a Disney cruise. After some research I’d also LOVE to go on the Norweigan Cruise Line Norweigan Escape (because of the attractions on that boat) and the Royal Caribbean Harmony of the Seas which is the largest cruise ship in the world. Have you gone on a cruise? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!