I hoped you have enjoyed the recaps of our Eastern Caribbean Cruise with Carnival. It truly was a beautiful, wonderful experience.
Since I’ve been on three cruises now, I’ve definitely gathered tons of helpful hints and tips along the way. I thought I would combine those tips into today’s post and give you my top 5 tips for the perfect cruise. I hope they provide some insight for you newbie cruisers. And of course don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions.
1. Book Your Own Excursions
No matter what company you cruise with, they will try to convince you that you are only safe on their sponsored excursions. I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true.
While there maybe some places where timing, security, or traffic would prevent you from doing your own excursion (I believe Belize is one of them), a majority of places are completely safe for you to explore on your own.
If you book through the cruise company, you will pay more for the exact same experience and you will be placed with a huge group of people.
Take for example, Carnival’s excursion to Pisa. I remember vividly walking back from the Leaning Tower of Pisa seeing hundreds and hundreds of Carnival’s Pisa Excursion groups rushing towards the tower. My private tour group and I got to Pisa early enough to have the whole place to ourselves. Those poor Carnival excursionees were shoved on a bus with 50 some people, herded up to the Tower, only to have the square swarmed by the hundreds of other Carnival people shoved onto other buses. On top of that they paid $180/person to be bustled around with hundreds of people, while I paid 87 Euro ($117) to leisurely tour the same sites with a small group of 15 people.
So if at all possible, save yourself some money and book your own excursions with private companies. If they are reputable (aka have good reviews on Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic), they will get you back to the ship on time. Trust me their reputations depend on it. They know if they get one person back late their business is over so they take it very seriously. Besides, private tours allow you to customize your itinerary and enjoy locations in a more intimate, personal atmosphere.
2. Join Cruise Critic
Cruise Critic is a online message board dedicated solely to people who are going to cruise or have cruised. The boards provide you a wealth of information about cruising, company policies, ship layouts and food as well as great port reviews.
A majority of our private tours for this cruise and our last were found based on reviews of people from Cruise Critic. Also, many of the posters will provide hints and tips for exploring a port on your own. From their advice, I was able to develop an itinerary for me and the hubs to explore Monaco on our own. It’s a great way to save money and experience the culture and town firsthand.
Cruise Critic also has an amazing feature called Roll Call, where people can find a message board dedicated specifically to their ship sailing. This allows you to find other people cruising on your ship before you ever step foot on board. It also gives you a chance to find other people who might be interested in private tours. For our Mediterranean cruise, private tours would only be cost effective if we could find other couples to join in. The Roll Call allowed us to join other people’s existing tour groups and saved us a boatload of money.
If you are going on a cruise, you HAVE to check out Cruise Critic.
3. Bring Refillable Bottles
Although you can get free refills of water, juice, tea and coffee aboard any cruise, their cups in the Lido deck leave a lot to be desired. Exhibit A.
Yeah, as you can imagine, all breakfasts and lunches on the Lido deck required like a hundred trips to the drink station.
This scenario can be easily avoided by bringing on your own refillable bottle. The bottles are also great to carry ashore so that you don’t have to spend $5 on bottled water when you inevitably get thirsty.
Carnival has started cracking down on these bottles due to health regulations. You can no longer fill a refillable bottle directly under a drink spout. Instead you have to get the drink from the machine in their small plastic cup and transfer it to your refillable bottle. If this is too annoying, the ship has water fountains on the Lido deck that have no restrictions. Either way, it’s cheaper and easier than buy tons of bottled water.
4. Figure Out If You Are A Sea Day Person
The only downside to cruising is that you can be stuck on a boat for long periods of time. Some other people would argue that this is the best part of cruising. It really just depends on your personality.
Are you the kind of person that would mind sitting out by a pool all day? Then you won’t mind days at sea. If you get squeamish about the idea of doing the same activities for three days, booking a cruise with multiple days at sea probably won’t work for you.
After this cruise (which had 3 days at sea), we’ve decided we aren’t days at sea people. We like the pool and all but we would much rather be exploring on land. This doesn’t mean that cruising is out for us. It just means that we need to find itineraries where almost every day is spent in a new port (which is semi difficult in the Caribbean and not so difficult in other locales).
Cruise lines definitely have cruises that cater to both audiences so you just need to figure out where you stand. Mr. A and I really want to be the kind of people that enjoy relaxing at sea but we can’t help it, we would just rather be at a port (and there’s nothing wrong with that).
5. Make Sure to Pack the Miscellaneous
This probably sounds like a really dumb tip but you have no idea how much those “extra” things cost on a cruise ship. Things like camera batteries, sunscreen and medicine are hot commodities on cruise ships and trust me they will cost you.
The last cruise I ended up with a cold and spent $15 on a pack of medicine that probably would have cost me $5 on land. But I didn’t have a choice. We were in the middle of a sea day with no port of call in site.
There are so many other tips I could suggest to make your cruise even better but you’d probably fall asleep. I hope these were helpful. Please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or leave a comment if you have any questions.
What are your tips for a perfect cruise?