Have you booked your Caribbean cruise yet? There’s nothing like sailing away to a warm weather climate while the snow is piling up back home.
We’ve done our fair share of cruising over the years, usually southern Caribbean with a few in the Mediterranean. We wouldn’t be considered uber cruisers but we do have some experience, learning a thing or two (right and wrong) along the way. Here’s our collection of 19 tips, or better still ‘suggestions‘ that will help you take full advantage of your upcoming cruise holiday and make it the best vacation ever.
1. Save money on your stateroom
I’ll admit, this couple has a likeness for Junior Suites. It provides just the right amount of space for the two of us and we love having the balcony. But, here’s a suggestion: opting to stay in an inside cabin for example, is not limiting. Of course you’ll save money, but for the most part, you’ll enjoy the same on-board privileges as any Junior Suite. We’ve booked an inside cabin for an upcoming 15-day cruise throughout the orient, specifically to save money. We’ll have the same on-board privileges and opportunities as everyone else and we’ll use our savings to extend our holiday in Singapore. How much time do you spend in your stateroom anyway? It’s your call.
2. What cabins to avoid
Plan your cruise well in advance and you’ll have more stateroom options to choose from. I’m suggesting this because all staterooms are not created equal. Refer to the ship’s deck plans to make sure that you’re not going to check into a cabin that’s located near loud and late-night venues. Anything near a dance club, sports venue or an all-night eatery that could keep you awake until the wee hours of the morning. Not good.
3. Leave for your cruise a day early
Remember you can’t trust mother nature. If you’re heading south from a cold climate like northern U.S. or Canada, to join your cruise in Miami for example, eliminate the stress and leave home a full day in advance of your departure. I’ve heard horror stories of couples being stranded at airports due to severe weather conditions and missing their departure.
4. Don’t over pack
On our first cruise, we made the mistake of over packing by a long shot. But now, with many years of travel under our belt, we’ve learned to pack only what we know we’ll need. But that comes with experience, which brings me to my next piece of advice. Lay out all the clothes that you think you’ll need, then only pack half the clothing and take only three-quarters of the shoes. I don’t follow this practice but they say to roll your clothes rather than fold them, saving space. Mary will start packing a week ahead, and start eliminating clothes as the week goes by.
5. Avoid eating before you get on board
We always travel a day in advance so we can casually leave the hotel and head straight to the port, usually around lunchtime. We know that once we’re on board, we have plenty of restaurant options to choose from, so why eat before you board. After all you’ve already paid for it.
6. The breakfast buffet
All the big, big cruise ships offer massive buffets. And, most of the big, big cruise ships have massive amounts of people expecting breakfast around the same time as you. Know that you have other options which is your next tip. You can avoid fighting the line ups and crowds of people, (hey, grab that table before someone takes it) and head to the main dining room. It’s much quieter and you can order from a menu, which is nice for a change.
7. Pools can be crowded
Who doesn’t like to hang out by the pool during those hot ‘sea days’. But they’ll also be the busiest part of the ship, which is something that you may want to avoid. So, before you book your cruise, remember that size matters. Mega cruise ships all have several pools to choose from so you’ll likely find one that’s less crowded. We sail with Royal Caribbean and find that the Solarium Pool (although adults only) is a lot less crowded and much quieter.
8. Know your beach
If you’re cruising the Caribbean, every port offers you a choice of spectacular beaches. Here’s my advice: do some homework in advance so that you’ll know exactly which beach you’d like to visit, where it’s located, how long it will take you to get there, what facilities are there (like washrooms and lounge chairs) and more. It’s all online so plan ahead.
9. Choose shore excursions wisely
Want to swim with the dolphins, or do some snorkeling? There’s no shortage of shore excursions to choose from. Here’s your next tip: think twice about who you book your excursion through. Locals will offer their shore excursions usually for a lot less than what you’d pay with the cruise line. However, if you need to cancel for whatever reason, you’re likely not going to get your money back while your cruise ship will.
10. Watch your time
Once you’re off the ship, you’re on your own, so wherever you plan on going just make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to get back to port. If you book your shore excursion through the cruise ship they’ll wait for your group to get back. But, if you’ve booked an excursion through a local provider, you may be out of luck. If you’re heading to a beach or into town, most cabs will negotiate a fee to not only take you to where you’re going but they’ll also wait for you, or they’ll come back at a designated time to pick you up. And they have a pretty good idea as to how much time is needed to get back to port.
11. Avoid tendering lineups
If your cruise ship is tendering at an island, there’s going to be a rush of anxious cruisers just dying to get off the boat. This results in a stream of passengers all exiting (or wishing to exit) the boat at the same time. When a port can’t provide a cruise ship with pier facilities, they use small boats or tenders to transport passengers to shore and they can only transport small numbers at a time. This results in lengthy line ups. But you can beat the rush if you’re willing to get up and get going early, like between 7:00 and 8:00am.
12. Don’t forget a carry-on bag
Have a small travel bag (carry-on size) that you can toss in a bathing suit, sunscreen, maybe a change of clothes and important meds and toiletries. This is separate from your main luggage that you can carry with you when you board. Your luggage may be a while before it finds its way to your stateroom and you may want to take advantage of the pool or do a quick change into your shorts.
13. Sea pass vs cash
There is no need for money on board a cruise ship. Each passenger has a sea pass that acts as an on-board credit card. Everything you purchase on the ship will be added to your account, (that you can watch grow everyday right on your television). So, you won’t need ‘cash’ until you go ashore. But that doesn’t mean you don’t bring enough cash with you. ATM fees charge between $5-8 per transaction, so it’s something you’ll want to avoid.
14. On-board internet
All the cruise ships offer internet and have a café available with computers that you can use. But on-board internet is expensive. If you decide to pay for internet usage, know that it’s totally unreliable in open seas, which can be very frustrating. Here’s my suggestion: wait until you go ashore where you’ll find a number of internet cafés right at port, that offer more reliable, faster service and it’s much cheaper.
15. No sneaking alcohol or irons
We learned this during our first cruise. We thought it would be nice to have a few bottles of wine that we could enjoy back in our stateroom, so we purchased some before we boarded. Those bottles never made it to our room. Cruise ships don’t allow you to bring any alcohol and by the way, clothes irons on board. And you won’t find a clothes iron in your cabin either. If you need to iron your tux before the big night, you’ll have to use the ship’s cleaning services instead. The missing wine leads me to my next suggestion.
16. Drink packages are they worth it?
We once made the mistake of purchasing our alcoholic beverages on an as needed basis. And at the end of the cruise we were sorry we did. Not taking advantage of drink packages that cruise lines offer can end up costing you big bucks at the end of your cruise (as we found out). But that of course depends on how much you’ll be enjoying those alcoholic beverages. For this couple our moderate use of the Martini Bar, wine at dinner and enjoying a drink or two around the pool was worth RC’s Premium Package. Check what drink packages your cruise offers, it may be worth it for you.
17. Laundry will not be top-of-mind
I get it. No one should be doing laundry while sailing through the Caribbean. But there may come a time when you need to rinse a few shirts and some underwear. Some cruise ships offer self-serve laundromats but not many, otherwise you can use the ship’s laundry services, but that can be pricey. So here’s your next tip, take a travel size of detergent with you so that you can do some light laundering right in your cabin’s bathroom. We did this often during a recent 4-week road trip through Italy.
18. You don’t have to feel queasy
Rough seas can bring on seasickness and ruin your holiday and who needs that. Unfortunately, there are no sure cures to prevent seasickness, but there are plenty of tips and tricks to stop it from ruining a good time. If you know you have a history of motion sickness or even if you’re not sure, err on the side caution by choosing any one of these nine ways to beat seasickness. You can read about them here.
19. Room service anyone
Most cruise lines offer free room service, which this couple takes advantage of. Just check with your cruise before you leave to see if your cabin qualifies. We love having coffee delivered to our room first thing in the morning. That way, we can enjoy a coffee on the balcony before heading out.
Back to you
Regardless of where you’re cruising or for how long, knowing some of these ‘insider’ tips are bound to make your next cruise the best cruise ever! Do you have any tips that we can add to this list? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll share them with our readers. Bon voyage.
Photographs by Murray Sye: The top featured image was shot on board Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas. All other images are a random collection shot on board and throughout the Caribbean.