Some tips for newbies….

Money, Money, Money

First off, let me say that a cruise is an exceptional bargain for your vacation dollar, and can truly be an unforgettable experience. Mine was. Just the same, the cost of the cruise itself is only a portion of what you will probably wind up spending. Everywhere you turn there will be nice things for sale, activities that cost money, and the cost of drinks alone can really add up. Due to the convenience of simply whipping out your “Sail and Sign” card, I will bet some people were shocked at the total when it came time to debark. Not to mention all the money spent in ports!

A common practice is to purchase a ‘soda card’, which was really just a sticker on your ‘Sail and Sign’ card which serves as your ‘credit card’, room key, and ticket on and off the ship. I was expecting this to be about $30, but in reality it was $50. This allows you to drink all the soda and juice you want without further expense. Sounds like a great deal, right? Maybe, but be realistic about how much you are going to drink. I got one for both my wife and I, and no way did we drink $100 worth of soda in 7 days, even at ship’s prices. I should have really just bought one soda sticker and one of us could have gotten sodas for both of us from different places. Carnival allows guests to bring a small quantity of their own (nonalcoholic) beverages aboard, and I did see a couple groups with a 12 pack of soda, but I couldn’t be bothered. It’s just more stuff to carry around.

The slot machines in the casino were really tight compared to ones I’ve played in Reno, Vegas, and even the Golden Nugget in Fallon. If you break even, God bless you.

Before you buy seasickness medicine, check the onboard dispensary. I bought some for my wife at the shop onboard and then saw that such medicine was available free right out of bins outside the dispensary; you didn’t even need to see the ship’s physician. Don’t underestimate the potential motion of the ship, especially if your cabin is all the way forward or aft. You can move quite a bit.

If you absolutely must have bottled water, remember that the water in your cabin may not be complimentary, ours would have cost $4.95 a bottle had we drank any. Not that this would have bankrupted us or anything, I’m just averse to paying five dollars for a bottle of water. Ice is free and we had cups so I just drank the water from the tap with the ice provided in our cabin each day. The ship takes on good potable water in port and also has an excellent desalinization system, so the water straight from the tap was just fine.

Keep an eye on your charges daily for peace of mind. On our ship it was not necessary to get a printout from Guest Services (or Purser) each day, you could pull it right up on your TV. Keep all your receipts, just in case you need to dispute an error. If you are the primary account holder, ALL charges from everyone in your party may appear on your account; in addition to duplicate expenses showing up on each individual’s account (what they spent). I almost had a heart attack. Don’t worry though, you won’t be charged twice; it’s just the way it’s displayed. I get the impression a lot of people wait until the last day when they get a printout and if they have any discrepancies will have to stand in a monstrous line at Guest Services before getting off. Save yourself the hassle and just keep an eye on it throughout your cruise and address any discrepancies as they come up. We didn’t have any…it was completely accurate.

Nearly from the time you set foot aboard, you will see things in the ship’s newspaper and hear things announced to the effect that if you only attend a presentation or swing by a place you will be handed free goodies. “Free” necklaces and bracelets, “welcome packets” with “gifts”, etc. And you get them, sort of, but you may be underwhelmed. The goodies may simply be coupons to buy more stuff, a cheesy little 8″ X 10″ print of a hideous painting, and the jewelry may be picked up when you go and receive a high-pressure sales spiel from a port store sponsored by the cruise line – they are NOT handed out at the presentation. We went to the shops ashore and got some of the little trinkets ‘cause the wife wanted them, but in my opinion it really wasn’t worth the time and hassle.

It seems obvious, but the cruise line’s purpose is of course to make money and they do so not only through their own shops but shops like Diamonds International, Silver International, Del Sol, etc. in the ports. You can get much better deals on jewelry and souvenirs at the less fancy shops further from the port. If you’re in a shop with no air conditioning, you are usually in a position to haggle yourself a good bargain. Start at about 50-60% of what they ask and work from there. You will be told that the quality is not the same, and this may or may not be true, but I got excellent pieces at a fraction of the cost of the ‘ship-approved’ stores.

Just the same, the shopping presentations on board were actually pretty interesting and enjoyable (though I must admit I was usually one of the only men in there). If you go, sit up front – sometimes the presenter will throw out some free T-shirts and stuff.

Packing

Luckily, although this was my first cruise aboard a cruise ship, I did have the benefit of transferable experience since I had spent nearly three years at sea before and numerous deployments in the military over the course of 20 years. So, what to pack? Here are some ideas:

  • Generally, try to pack as light as possible. If you can carry it all yourself, you may get to debark early when you arrive back in home port. Also, bear in mind you may be coming home with quite a few souvenirs so you need space for that stuff. But, it’s a trade-off. It sure is nice having plenty of clean clothes to wear so you don’t have to worry about laundry.
  • Bring a few small plastic garbage bags. These are invaluable for wet garments if you change while ashore. Also bring a small backpack for shore excursions, sightseeing, etc.
  • A few minor medical items can’t hurt. Aspirin/Tylenol/etc. and some band-aids can be a godsend if you need it.
  • A tiny sewing kit. With all the food you are going to eat, a popped button is not impossible. Seriously, it takes up next to no space and the ability to mend minor things like a button is good to have.
  • Footwear. Think of the type of activities you will be doing. Everybody seems to want to live in flip-flops, but ashore you may be doing a lot of walking around. Flops break easily, don’t protect your feet, and my arches hurt if I walk for a long way in something like that. A pair of comfortable walking shoes is indispensable.
  • You may only have a single electrical outlet in your cabin. If you have a lot to charge or plug in, a $1 three-way plug can be very useful.
  • My wife brought a gargantuan hair dryer, only to discover there was one already one in the room.
  • It may seem incompatible with visions of lazing in the tropical sun and sipping a drink with an umbrella sticking out of it, but when we went at the end of February I was very thankful to have a light jacket. There were a couple times it was downright chilly, particularly in the morning. Even that morning in Miami when we left.
  • I wish I would have brought a reasonably large travel mug for coffee. It would have saved me a trip or two to the coffee machine, which invariably has a line in the morning.
  • If you don’t plan on bringing a cell phone or some sort of PDA where you can store data, a little notebook and pen might be useful to write down activities, times, and notes if you plan on doing lots of activities or have various reservations and tours.

Conclusion

These are just a few things, and your mileage may vary. All in all there’s no rocket science to going on a cruise, and it’s easy to have the time of your life with only a little forethought. There are so many activities, shows, excursions and the like you should never be bored unless you choose to be, and you can do as much or as little as you like. If you like to stay busy, you may just be surprised how tired you can get in your quest to relax! But no matter what you like to do, there should always be something to suit your fancy. It is kind of a ‘canned fun’, but most enjoyable. Bon Voyage!

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