To cruise or not to cruise or not to cruise is definitely a question for a lot of people who have not done it before. In my opinion, cruising is one of the most cost effective ways to travel and visit several different vacation destinations on an all inclusive package.
I went on my first cruise with a friend and her church group for my 24th birthday. I had no clue what what I was getting myself into or how it would be with a church group, but there was no way that I was passing up a 7 day vacation to Puerto Rico, Aruba, St. Thomas/ St. John, Barbados and Dominica for $550! Yes people, $550… That made me a believer and I have been on 5 more cruises, including a Mediterranean cruise that I will save for another post, since then.
Back to my first cruise, there had to be at least 50 people in our group so we were able to get a great deal on Carnival for this Eastern Caribbean cruise. I only new two other people but that did not matter at all, we were on vacation! We had to fly into Puerto Rico that morning and we did not set sail unto about 10:30pm that night, so we were able to check in, get back off the boat and we had the whole day to take tours and explore the city. The flight to Puerto Rico was about $450. You cannot beat a vacation like that with food and drinks included for right at $1,000.
I lived in Orlando for a while after I got married and decided that I wanted to go on a cruise for my birthday one year. I had always wanted to visit the Cayman Islands. Tampa is a major port for cruise ships and Carnival had 4 day cruises going to the Grand Cayman and Cozumel (Tulum) for $350. It was an hour and a half drive for us and we paid to park while we were gone.
I was able to spend some much needed quality time with my mom on a Royal Caribbean cruise to Labadee Haiti and Ocho Rios Jamaica. I never imagined that I would ever visit Haiti. Royal Caribbean has its own private beach there and it is gorgeous! It is also home to the world’s longest zip line over water. You can relax on the beach for the day, shop at the straw market and enjoy lunch. You can also snorkel, explore surrounding Labadee with a shore excursion or relax on a sandbar. In Ocho Rios, there were so many excursions to choose from but we shopped, had jerk chicken and hung out at the beach. I really enjoyed the accommodations on Royal Caribbean. The rooms were big, the beds were super soft, there was a ben and jerry’s, johnny rocket’s, chop’s steakhouse and starbucks! The ship that we were on had a mall, and even an ice skating rink, but everything closed down at 9pm each night. This cruise was definitely meant for relaxation. We were able to get in on this trip with a group as well for $550 and we set sail out of Ft. Lauderdale. Our flights were $197. This is another great price for an all inclusive trip.
One year, we took a cruise out of Jacksonville, Fl during the month of December which is a great time to get cruise deals. We went with a group of about 10 (you see the group trend here also for those discounts) and we got the cruise for $250 each. We drove 5 hours from Atlanta to Jacksonville and paid to park at the port. We went on a 5 day cruise to Key West and the Bahamas on a Carnival cruise ship. We had a blast! You cannot beat that price when it comes to traveling with family and wanting everyone to be included.
The last cruise that I took was in February of this year. My Sorority line had an anniversary and we decided to take a last minute trip to celebrate. When I say last minute, I mean we decided within less that 60 days. Cruises are always the easiest route when it comes to pre- planned travel. I called an agent and she had us all booked and on our way to the Bahamas for a 4 day getaway by the end of the day for $350. We had a great time with no stress. Our plane tickets were about $200 each for an all include trip under $600.
For those of you on the fence about cruising…
Just do it at least once. Cruising is not just for the older retired crowd anymore, it is for singles, couples and families. There is a cruise for everyone. Don’t just take a cruise because it is a good deal. That is the best way to get turned off. If you are into high end luxury, look into Crystal Cruises, Oceania and Seabourn. There are over 500 theme cruises available such as the “Top Chef Cruise” for all of you foodies out there. There are singles cruises, Marvel Comic cruises, Jazz, Crafting, Poker, Photography and even swingers cruises available. Then, there are the regular “let’s just go on a fun vacation” cruises out there. The main cruise lines that people use in this category, along with first time cruisers are Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Disney, Celebrity and Holland America. Really do your research, look at the reviews, ask around and pick an itinerary that makes you happy. If there is something on the ship that you are not 100% happy with when you get there, you have the bright side of knowing that you are heading to a place where you have always wanted to visit.
A bit of advice for first time cruisers…
If you are a drinker, buy the all inclusive alcohol plan if your cruise is long enough to do so. Alcoholic beverages are not included with your cruise price and your taxes, gratuity and port fees are not either. You cannot be the only one in your stateroom to buy the all inclusive alcoholic beverage plan, your roommate must purchase it too. This will be something that you need to discuss before you decide who to room with if you are going with a large group. If you are visiting a place where you want to participate in an excursion that is in high demand, book it online before you go. I am usually not a fan of this, but in locations like Labadee, zip lining is in high demand and one of the only things to do there. The zip lining is owned and operated by the ship and it gets booked up really fast. In the Bahamas, if you want the Dolphin experience at the Atlantis, book it online in advance. There are only so many slots available for guests from the cruise ship since they still need to service guests that are staying at the resort. I am a fan of late seating for dinner each night. This gives you more time to spend on land at your port of call. You won’t feel the need to rush back to get ready for dinner. You will almost always make it by 8pm. If you don’t have a passport yet, get one. You do not need a passport if you set sail from the Unites States and will travel to the Caribbean, you may use your birth certificate. For long cruises on bigger ships, please take a carryon bag with toiletries and clothes to change into for that night and the next morning. On my very first cruise, my luggage did not show up until the next day at my door, 5 minutes before our first excursion. Pack some dramamine in case you get sea sick and a jacket. It tends to get a little cold on the ship.
I have not taken my kids on a cruise yet, but we have one booked on Norwegian for next year that includes airfare and we are taking them. This is Norwegian’s 50th anniversary and they are celebrating by allowing each person to book a cruise with a fifty dollar deposit. Norwegian also has a low price guarantee. If at anytime, I see that the price for our cruise has dropped between now and 60 days before we set sail, we will be refunded the difference. You can’t beat that! Norwegian also has a kids club that we plan on using while we are on board so that we can have some adult time during dinner.
I really enjoy cruising and feel that it was also the best way for us to see the Greek islands. I will talk about that on next week. Until next time, #LiveLoveTravel