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On January 25th CA and I went on our 6th cruise together! I’ve been wanting to start a blog post series about travel. Focusing first on cruising, second on places I’ve been to and third just traveling in general. I’ll also be sharing about local travel, New York, Long Island, etc. I’m really excited about this, I’ve been wanting to start it for so long but never planned it out, but now I have!
I went on my first cruise with Carnival in 2015. We flew to Puerto Rico on a Saturday and the following day we set sail on the Carnival Valor. We went to five islands during that cruise, and it is my second favorite cruise to this day! Our Honeymoon was number one of course!.
So, without further ado, here’s what I wish I knew before my first cruise, and I hope that you’re able to find something helpful! One thing to remember, I’ve only been on Carnival cruises, so this entire list pertains to Carnival cruises only. Every cruise differs in how the cabins are set up, restaurants, perks, and etc!
- Pack a cruise carry on, aka, Embarkation bag. When you first board the ship, you leave your luggage with the porters and won’t have access to your luggage until it’s delivered to your room. Which is usually a few hours after you first get on board.
We usually pack extra clothes, sunscreen, medicine, any tech gear, valuables, and a phone charger. We wear our bathing suits while board (if the weather is appropriate), and wear comfortable shoes since you walk around the ship the first day.
- Seasickness – If you’re unsure if you’ll get seasick, it’s best to be prepared. I take non-drowsy Dramamine, and it works great for me. I’ve heard that the seasick bands also help, but I’ve never tried them.
I usually take one pill when I board the ship, and another one before I go to sleep. On sea days I’ll take it in the morning since the ship is moving, or if we’re in a port that requires a tender (that is when a ship can’t pull into port and needs a smaller boat to go back and forth to the dock).
- Bring refillable water bottles – Not a lot is free on a cruise ship, but water, lemonade and iced tea are. We usually fill up the bottles in the morning at breakfast or the night before if we’re going on an excursion. It’s nice to have the cold water without paying a hefty water bottle fee.
- Absolute darkness (interior cabin)/ no clock (any cabin) – One thing that is weird, but kind of good about cruise cabins, is how dark they can get with the lights off and curtains closed. Since there’s no light from an LED clock to illuminate the cabin, it’s total darkness. Usually CA and I will have the TV on (I need some noise when I sleep), or leave the curtain slightly open, since the lights from the ship can let in some light. I’ve heard that people bring in a noise machine or clock to help bring some light. People with kids will bring in a night lamp, because those night trips to the bathroom can be hazardous!
- Don’t overpack – It’s super easy to overpack, but try not to! If you’re going on a Caribbean cruise, remember you’ll be in a bathing suit and coverup most days. At night, you’ll need sundresses and then maybe one or two formal dresses. You can do your laundry on the ship, but if you do decide to do your that, try not to on a seaday and definitely don’t wait until nighttime.
- Electronics – There’s usually two standard US outlets, a European outlet, and they recently have been fitted with two USB plugs. So for CA and I, between the two of us, we have two cell phones, two kindles, a GoPro, an external charger, and my mini fan (plus my hair straightener). We’ve learned that we need a multi-USB port plug so we can plug a few devices in at once instead of waiting. If you do use the European plug, make sure you only use devices that can be used with the voltage that the European plug will allow.
- Plenty of food options! There is the buffet area that’s open for BLD. You also have Guy’s Burger Joint & Blue Iguana Cantina that are available poolside. Specialty dining options include the 555 Fahrenheit Steakhouse, Bonsai Tepanaki (Spell check) & Sushi restaurants, all located on Deck 5. Also, on Deck 11 you have the JiJi Asian Kitchen & Cucina del Capitan Italian restaurant (hint: both are free for lunch!). On Deck 10 Aft, there is Pizza which is open 24 hours and included at no cost. Seafood Shack is open for lunch for an additional fee. There’s also room service that’s 24 hours, and you can get breakfast delivered for you in the morning before you get ready for your day.
- Room service (Late night and/or Continental breakfast) – This is my favorite thing to grab at night. After the comedy club or after watching a sporting event at the bar, we have some late night cravings. The room service has a few free options, but there are also items that cost a small fee. We love getting the wings, french fries, and whatever else we’re craving. They also have pizza open 24 hours, but depending on the time, the line could be super crowded! They make the pizza fresh right there, the white cheese is my go to.
- Cash – Cruises are mostly cashless. Buying drinks, specialty restaurants, or anything at the shop will go on your cruise card. Cash is only used in the Casino: either on the slot machines or give it to the dealers. We also have cash for embarkation/debarkation days for the porters. When you’re in port, depending on what you’re doing, you’ll need cash for tips (excursions or taxis) and to buy any souvenirs. You can also leave tips for the Room Steward and bartenders, but usually the gratuity is included when you finalized the payments.
- All inclusive– So this was the question friends have asked us, “are cruises all inclusive like certain resorts are?” Yes and No. When you pay for your cruise, your cabin, port fees, the buffet food area, and the dining area for dinner are included. The drinks that are included are water, lemonade and iced tea.
What’s not included- speciality dining restaurants, soda, and alcohol.
We love the speciality restaurants, especially the steakhouse, you basically get a 5 course meal and it’s so GOOD. We get the Cheers package, which gives you 15 alcoholic beverages per day. As long as you drink between 5-6 alcoholic drinks you will be meeting the “minimum” of money you spent.
- Research the ports you’re visiting – You can either use the cruise for excursions or go out on your own. Depending on the port, or what’s close everything is up to you. For instance, when we went to St. Maarten, we went to Airport Beach ourselves. CA had previously been to St Maarten so he knew this beach was a taxi ride from the port and we could spend a few hours there and then go back to the ship.
Also, search Facebook for a cruise group that is going at the same time as you. You can learn of different excursions people are doing themselves or with your cruise and make friends. You can also learn of companies other people are using and hear first hand what people think of them. We’re also using my aunt and uncle as a reference, they go to Aruba every year and recommended a beach that they love and we’re going there!
- Read the daily reports – it’s a mini newspaper – There will be a daily report when you arrive in your cabin on Embarkation day. It’ll welcome you to the ship, letting you know what will be happening during the first day.
It starts with arriving on board, then the Muster Drill, which is mandatory in case of emergency, and don’t try to hide they scan every card upon entry and they WILL page you if you don’t go to your assigned area (which is located on your card). It’s 30 minutes, where you just need to sit and listen because just in case you need to know what to do.
After the Muster Drill it’s time to party!!!! There’s a sailaway party as you leave the dock and start your vacation! They’ll also have the movies that are playing and any shows that will be going on. Every night when your Steward comes around they will leave the report for the following day.
- Room size – On their website, they’ll show you a layout and the square footage, but you don’t realize the size of the room until you’re in it. My first cruise we had an Oceanview room, and it felt very small, but since going on our honeymoon, we have been getting a room with a balcony. This is to each their own, some people are okay in an interior room, no windows (usually), and some others like the ability to open up the balcony door and step out.
I LOVE having a balcony, being able to open the door and get some fresh air without stepping foot outside my room, is sooooo nice. But it also makes the room appear larger, since the balcony has floor to ceiling window/door you get so much more natural light.
- Debarkation breakfast in the main dining room – The day you leave, the ship can be a little bit crazy. And since the breakfast room service isn’t available you’ll need to find a spot to have breakfast before leaving the ship. There’s a time you need to be out of your room, so if you’re awake early enough you can leave your luggage and grab breakfast then go back to your room and get the bags.
- Expect the unexpected Leave room for error while traveling- When we go on cruises we always leave at least one day prior to the cruise leaving port, just incase. Especially since we tend to go on cruises in the winter time. You can also arrive at the port early if you want to explore the city, like we did in New Orleans and Spain!
We’ve been to Miami already and since the ship is leaving on Saturday we’re arriving on Friday, since there could be so many things that could happen we have a full day to get down to Florida before we leave on our ship. The ship is on a strict time constraint, so arriving at the port EARLY is key. With Carnival we have a set window of when we can board the ship, I’m sure other cruise lines are similar but there’s always the fine print. Usually it says that you need to arrive at port between one hour or one and a half hours before 4 PM, because that’s when the ship is sailing.This also goes for debarkation, just because a ship says it’ll arrive back in the “home” port at 6 am doesn’t mean you should book a 10:00 am flight. Because once the ship docks, federal institutions have to come on the ship and clear it to dock. And if there’s any kind of weather delaying the ship returning to port it can throw a lot of things off. So follow the guidelines, usually they recommend booking flights after 12 noon. Leaving a buffer of time for the what ifs will help you have the best vacation!
WHEW! That was a lot of information right?! There is so much that goes into cruising that it can be a bit overwhelming. This is a list of things I wish I knew, and I am hoping that this can help you if you want to go on a cruise! I am an open book for cruising so if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to DM me!