Dreams of Smooth Sailing: Cruising Tips

Given that I’ve only been on one true cruise, I fall easily into ‘amateur hour’ in terms of cruising tips. Even so, I picked up a few tips I feel will be helpful to get a first-time cruiser off on the right foot. If you have dreams of exploring a floating city while traversing the ocean to distant destinations, you’re in the right place!

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My cruise was in November, 2015 – side note: how has it already been more than a year?! – on the Carnival Conquest. We boarded in Fort Lauderdale, and our itinerary included stops in Key West, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel.

Although I enjoy spontaneous adventures during travel, I’m definitely more of a Plan of Action kind of traveler, so I researched like crazy before departing. Here are some tips!

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Review your cabin ahead of time

A handy site for any cruise-goer is Cruise Critic. It’s full of reviews, tips, horror stories (read them with a grain of salt), and advice for cruisers. It also has a handy tool to search your ship and cabin to discover any secrets or ‘buyer beware’ things to know. Of course, this is only applicable if you have the cabin number ahead of time, but the site is also useful regarding other aspects of your ship. If you do check out the site, just be sure not to believe all the negative reviews out there. In my experience, cruise snobs exist.

Save a little money on a window

I was hesitant to chance an interior cabin, in the event I felt too claustrophobic, but I was also figuratively dragging my feet about the extra cost of the cabin with a window. The perfect solution was a porthole cabin – it divided the fear of claustrophobia with the cost of the ocean view; pricier than an interior, but cheaper than a window. I can’t say for sure how it compares to other cabins, but we were perfectly content with the size of the room and the size of the portholes.

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Arrive early

We left fairly early, and arrived just before lunch time. Even so, the wait was long and mildly frustrating.

Don’t overpack

I don’t know what I was thinking trekking down to Florida with a massive suitcase. Granted, my entire trip was roughly 2 weeks long, but I easily could’ve managed with the help of laundry. I vastly overestimated the amount of clothing I would need for the cruise itself, and didn’t wear half the things I brought on board with me. I may be a self-admitted chronic over-packer, but this reached new levels even for me.

The early bird gets the pool chair

Seriously. If you want a pool chair, you better be out there at sunrise. Okay, maybe not sunrise, but get there ASAP, as the chairs fill up fast. The staff attempt to monitor how long chairs are occupied for – in an attempt to give passengers fair chance at them – but it’s nearly impossible with so many people. Your best bet is to return to the ship early on a port day, or partake in an evening swim.

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Early excursions

I’m sure there’s a lingering fear in the back of every cruiser’s mind about being late for a ship leaving port. Getting left behind at one of your destinations can be a costly mistake. It was this fear that made us decide to book our three excursions through the ship. Even so, I wouldn’t go that route again, unless planning a lengthy or late excursion – if the excursion is running late, they’ll delay ship departure until the excursion returns, but only if you booked through the ship. If your desired excursion is scheduled early enough in the day, you can save money by not booking through the cruise ship. There are pros and cons to each, but in the end we wished we had also explored cheaper alternatives.

Attend ship events

We had a blast at some of the events, from deck parties to Disney trivia, tea time to movies under the stars. Each day we were gifted with a full itinerary, which really helped us to make the most of our two full days at sea. The events are also a great way to befriend fellow passengers. We enjoyed exploring the ship, learning the layout by walking around, and spending oodles of cash at the arcade and casino. No matter what age or lifestyle you follow, there’s guaranteed to be something for you to enjoy.

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Skip ATM fees

If you’re legal age, you can avoid ATM fees by using casino machines to withdraw cash. You can also do this for the remainder of your ship’s prepaid on-board credit at the end of your voyage.

Paying down the balance

Since Carnival’s Sail & Sign card is attached to a credit card, it was easy to rack up quite a balance. Instead of paying it all off post-trip, however, you can pay down the balance owing using the on-board machines. Try to do this a day or two before the end of your cruise, however, as most people try to pay some of the balance right at the end of the cruise.

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Anytime dining

Dinner can be tough to pick a time for, particularly if your cruise is six days or longer. Some of our port days ended later than others, so we wanted the freedom to eat as we chose. With the anytime dining option, that enabled us to head to the main restaurant at the most convenient time for us. I wouldn’t do it any differently on future trips.

Special menu items

Carnival in particular is known in part for its weird and wacky specials on the menu. Each night a different item is featured and can add a bit of flair to your meal. Besides, when else can you try unusual things for free?

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This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it’s one I hope to expand in the future. I loved cruising, and definitely look forward to setting sail again, whenever that may be.

Have you been on a cruise? Did you pick up any useful tips?

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