Flight Centre Manager Kara Harris, recently embarked on her first ‘big ship’ cruise on Royal Caribbean‘s “Independence of the Seas”. Kara gives us a fantastic overview on a first timer’s guide to cruising and what to know before you set sail:
I recently embarked on my first ‘big ship’ cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas. It was my first cruise and to be honest I really was not sure that cruising was my thing. I like to think of myself as more of an adventurous traveller, enjoying the open road rather than the confines of a ship. Despite my hesitations, I did have a great time and discovered many valuable tips to share with first time cruisers.
What should I expect when I board the ship?
When you arrive at the ship’s cruise terminal, you will drop off your bag and then proceed through security – just like an airport. You are then checked in with a cruise representative and you will receive your ship card. Your ship card is the most important thing you will carry during the cruise, so buy yourself a lanyard so you don’t lose it. It will act as your room key, your expense account and your ID to get on and off the ship in port.
What do I pay for onboard? How do I pay onboard?
You can buy anything and everything you want to onboard…well almost!
If you like to have a drink (or four) then this may be your biggest expense. Expect to pay the same price for drinks that you would in any North American big city. Your regular vodka and cranberry will run around $7 to $8. While all your meals are included on a cruise, most lines continue to add specialty restaurants to the menu for the more exquisite dining experience. Depending on the level of service and food selection, expect to pay an extra $10 to $75 per person. The spa was by far my favourite expense. The services are top-notch and range from massages, facials, hair treatments, pedicures, teeth whitening and even Botox. Expect to pay what you would at a mid-high end spa. My one hour Swedish massage with the tip included came to $148 USD.
What is there to do during sea days? Won’t I get bored?
Never! You can do as much or a little as you like. You can spend the day lounging around the pool soaking in the sunshine. Make sure to get there earlier so you don’t miss out on a chair.
If you are more adventurous, then Royal Caribbean’s ships are fitted with some pretty cool features. Why not try out rock climbing, surf on the wave rider, ice skate, do laps on the running track or play a game of basketball. There are also many organized classes such as Zumba or dancing. Or perhaps you want to get lost in a romance novel from the ship’s library.
What’s the difference between the ships excursions and taking a local excursion?
The main difference is quality and safety. While the local taxi guy may be cheaper, you never know what you are getting. The ship’s excursions are regularly assessed to ensure that they are of a high standard. With Royal Caribbean’s excursions, you get an extra insurance benefit that if things go wrong – you will be looked after. So if your bus happens to get stuck in traffic, the ship will wait for you.
Can I bring my own alcohol?
Most cruise lines are now allowing you to take 1 or 2 bottles of wine per person (over the age of 21) on board the ship on embarkation day. You can keep your wine in your cabin and drink it during the cruise, or if you choose to, you can take it to a restaurant you will be charged a corkage fee.
If you buy alcohol at port, the alcohol will be taken off you and stored until the last night when it is delivered to your room. I took advantage of the duty free deals in St Maarten and was able to bring home a 2 litre of Grey Goose of Vodka for $40USD – amazing!
What happens on the last day?
This is the least fun day of any vacation, but Royal Caribbean makes the process seamless. You will receive instructions in your cabin on the different ways you can disembark; depending on your flight time, pre-arranged transfers or post excursions. You can choose to take off your own luggage, or have it delivered to the terminal. If you choose to have it delivered then you will have your luggage picked up on the last night, so keep some clothes and toiletries with you.