As we sit in Miami preparing to board our plane home we are reflecting on our experiences on board. As a first time cruiser (second for Melissa), a few tips we thought we’d share for the non cruisers follow:
- Find your spots, be a regular and become a local. This goes for both communal spots like bars or poolside and private ones like little nooks where you can tuck away. It’s not really about establishing turf, it’s more about finding places you love and visiting them often because you will have a chance to really get to know people who will do the same.
- Be willing to try things you might not think you’d like. On our cruise, there were lots of programs we knew we would like (lectures on places we planned to stop, as a for instance) but there were also fun activities we stumbled upon (team trivia, the “broadway show” etc.).
- Be willing to engage. There can be a stereotypical view of “cruisers” that they only travel via cruise to tropical islands. We found this to be untrue (or at least only partially true on this cruise anyway) sure many of them mostly use cruises to vacation, however these were some of the most worldly and traveled people we’d ever met and they weren’t just hitting the Barbadoses, Mauis and Mazatlans.
- Talk to your booking consultant. Our agent with Viking hooked us up with an awesome room. We were on the sunset side and port side while at sea and in port and saw lots of interesting stuff. Ask them about the deals, included amenities etc. For instance, our package included laundry service of which we took well advantage. However, on an unrelated note, you can really unpack on a cruise. We typically only pack what we can carry on and easily schlep around on trains, etc but could have packed more here because once you arrive, you settle.
- Pre trip planning. Make sure you know which countries require visas. This is your responsibility. None we visited did, but it would be a bummer to get to port and be turned away over paperwork. Also, know what vaccines you might need and get them well in advance so if any require a booster you are set. The CDC has a good site to research.
- Pack your Dramamine. Maybe this is intuitive. We didn’t need it, fortunately, but not for lack of swells. Neither of us had an issue. Be prepared. Also bring a first aid kit, cold medicine, alka seltzer and Imodium. I mean, be prepared for anything, right?
- Wash your hands. I fell victim to those who don’t isolate, wash hands or cover coughs and was down for about a day and a half (and yes, I quarantined so as not to spread my sickness, and more should do that. Nobody wants you to ruin their vacation too, so if you get sick don’t be a jerk and stay in your room). Also, pack some hand sanitizer and wipes, especially for excursions so you can at least feel like your hands are clean out and about anyway.
- Excursions and dinner reservations. We planned ahead for side trips and dinner (hilariously so, as in we were choosing and booking our excursions at 6am local time the day they opened up for fear of not getting in to the ones we wanted, but we did hear about people who didn’t and got shut out). We found the included excursions to be well worth it. We also found that, while hopping on a bus to get to the locations was not something we looked forward to, they actually were pretty good, the guides were great at talking about their countries, cultures and things we were seeing and we got to see more than we expected we would from our bus. It also enabled us to make a call on if, when we return to any of these places, would we do it on our own or via a tour operator. One thing they always seemed to do in excursions is dump you into a shopping location which was of little or no interest to us because we are in decumulation mode, that said, if we had to do it again we probably would have engaged more there and bought some stuff to help support the locals a little.
- Befriend and tip the staff. These people work hard. I mean, really hard. And, more importantly they are interesting. We met people from Serbia, Macedonia, Mexico City, the Philippines and Nepal. We will miss them most of all. Also, bring enough cash to tip wait staff and bar staff who go above and beyond, room service and excursion guides and drivers. There was no ATM on board so you need to be prepared. Viking adds a gratuity to your onboard account, but we wanted to tip our favorite people and room cleaning crew in addition to the included tip.
- And last, when in cruise, be a cruiser. Enough said.
Our line was Viking and so these tips may or may not hold for other lines, but one thing’s for sure, we aren’t done cruising yet.