My family really enjoys cruising. Among my typical travel companions, we have folks over 80 years old and under 16. We have a toddler and a gambler. We have a workout fanatic and a foodie. We have an early riser and a party animal. So, it’s really impressive that one cruise can satisfy us all, both together and on our own.
Overall, we usually select a cruise based on the itinerary over the ship. So far, after cruising on several different brands, I would say that Celebrity has the best and most abundant food (to the point where I gained 8 pounds). It is the most upscale of the inexpensive large ships. Princess is more middle of the road and some nearby destinations attract mostly middle class folks that like to eat, party and gamble. Their small ships are fantastic though (around 700 pp). Norwegian has “anytime dining” which just means you don’t sign up for a certain time each night to go to the dining room. Norwegian is a little more casual, and in my experience, they also have the best shows–like Cirque de Soleil style performances, comedy troupes and great little musicals. However, despite the convenience of anytime dining, it’s sometimes difficult to get a reservation at the time you would like to eat. Plus, there is an upside to going to the same dining session in the same dining room every night, because the wait staff gets to know you and your personal preferences. They make you feel very special!
I prefer to steer away from ships larger than 2500, because above 3000 passengers, you start getting into big lines at the buffet, and often have long waits to take tenders to the dock (small boats that take you from the ship to the port). Overall, it’s important to try to sign up for some kind of excursion. You can pay for the excursions the ship offers, or you can often go onto Trip Advisor and find a comparable tour from a private operator for usually substantially less money, less crowded and equally good if not better experience.This is true even in foreign countries so don’t be afraid to investigate your options.
It’s rather dull to just get off the ship and walk around the port. The ports are mostly cheesy places with tacky food and tacky stores. You can’t experience a destination unless you explore the place beyond the port, so avoid just getting off with no plans. Or look for a cab to take you somewhere specific. My brother always rents a small boat (usually with a captain) or car at every port and tools around in it. But we sometimes take buses or get private tours to try new things.
Another option is taking one of the very upscale small ships. They rarely have kids, so we don’t go on them, but what you see for the cruise price includes so many extras that you have to pay for otherwise–like excursions and drinks. My parents have taken Silversea–which mostly serves seniors, but the ship’s food, cabins, spa are all incredibly posh. If your group likes traditional cruising, I hear good things about Holland America–classy, traditional, older crowd.
Getting a cabin with a balcony is really nice, especially if you’re going someplace very warm. If it’s cold or windy there, don’t bother because you will never use it.
The “obstructed windows” are truly claustrophobic, and it’s better to have a window that you can actually see through. One trick I recommend is to have one person rent a larger cabin so you can get the group together in a cabin for pre dinner cocktails (by sneaking a bottle of wine on the boat of course).
I like going for a minimum of a week. For a shorter trip, you’re just getting your groove on the third day, and then you’re thinking about leaving. Time goes by very very fast on a ship, and you can also enjoy a day at sea with all the fun activities, spa and great gyms on board.
Sometimes you need to chill out and read in your cabin. It’s especially convenient to be sleeping in the same bed every night, while going to new places almost every day. You’ll probably sleep better on a ship, in comparison to a hotel, because the gentle moving motion at night is very soothing even for insomniacs. And best of all, I’ve never been seasick, and I get carsick easily. Even in a rough sea, the large ships are stable. Small ships are another story. If you’re on a ship with around a hundred of so, you’re going to notice the waves.
So there you have it, my advice for you cruise newbies and hopefully a few new tricks for the experienced cruiser. Write me if you have any questions, and Bon Voyage!