This is the third and last blog entry about our cruising experience. Check out previous entries about what we did and vacation vs travel. Here is some quick and simple advice – some of which I wish I knew before going!
View from Port in St Thomas
The setting sun
Get a room with a balcony: This is our top advice. Spend the extra money, it is worth it! We sat on our balcony to watch the sun rise and set, arrive and leave ports, to read, to drink, and just sit in the quiet of the night looking at the stars. Your balcony is your direct connection to the beauty around you.
Ditch the smart phone: Depending where you go, it might not work on the boat. We didn’t pay for wifi and it was sort of amazingly freeing to have no internet access for 11 days. Take a digital detox. I enjoyed my phone as just a time-telling camera.
Bring a watch: This way, you don’t have to carry your valuable phone everywhere. And you do need to know the time to get to activities on time (like the hairy chest contest or your boat’s departure).
Bring booze! Check out your ship’s alcohol policy. We could each bring on a bottle of wine but nothing else was allowed. We snuck on a coconut water box filled with rum and buried it in our suitcase. They didn’t look too closely. Drinks were very expensive on board so it was nice to have our own stuff. From talking to other people on the boat, it seemed that everyone brought their own booze, ranging from putting a bunch of nips in their pockets to just putting a bottle in the suitcase to buying unused shampoo bottles and filling those up. We also enjoyed cheap local beer while in port.
Watch the stars: Find a quiet place at night to sit and looking at the ocean and watch the stars. We passed a lot of time doing this.
Pick your room carefully: They say that the further back in the boat and the higher up, the better. I’m not sure, but being higher up is good because that’s where the activities are and your balcony will have a better view. Also look at the ship floor plan and see what is above and below you to avoid getting a room above the disco that goes til 2am, which is what we had.
Take the stairs: There was all-you-can-eat soft serve iceceam 24 hours a day. Really, take the stairs.
Choose late dinner: Our boat had early seating dinner (6:00) and late seating (8:15). The late seating was good for us because we ate a late lunch every day and it left time to swim, workout, nap, and shower before dinner and “going out” for the night.
Don’t worry about cash: On the boat, there is no money exchanging unless you go to the casino. You are automatically charged a daily rate for tips and anything you buy gets charged to your room account. We do recommend getting some $1 bills and smaller bills from the service desk to have them for tipping and spending in port.
Plan ahead (activities): Before your trip, take out a guidebook from the library and learn a little about where you are going and what you might want to do while there. Look on TripAdvisor or other travel websites about tours and activities. Book these activities before you go so you don’t have to stress about it while on your trip. The activities offered through the cruiseline were a little on the pricey side, but also so easy. Our dinner tablemates booked daily tours and activities independently ahead of time – a lot of work up front but makes the vacation smooth sailing.
Prioritize what you do: The cruise ship and options of things to do in ports are completely overwhelming. Decide what you really want to make sure you do and prioritize that. Everything else is bonus – you will go crazy if you try to do it all!
Try not to be overwhelmed when entering port: Exiting the port “village” that had restricted access and entering into where touts were was really overwhelming. There are a bunch of taxi drivers and tour guides offering you their services. This is their job – they make their living on tourism. They aren’t begging or necessarily trying to rip you off – it’s just how things work. If you have an idea what you want to do or where you want a cab to, ask at the tourism desk ahead of time how much you should expect to pay so that you don’t get taken advantage of.
Appreciate the people: We had several interactions with people (taxis, buses, restaurants, etc) in which local people expressed genuine happiness that we were there and love of their island. They want you to enjoy your time and have a good experience so that you will come back and tell others good things about their island. For the most part, their economies as based on tourism.
If you choose to go on a cruise, are considering going on a cruise, or use this information to help you plan a trip, let me know in the comments! If you have your own advice to give, leave it in the comments for others!