The Druidess and I took a cruise earlier this month, departing from New Orleans aboard the Carnival Elation. We stopped in Cozumel and Progresso, got to tour Mayan ruins, and generally had an awesome time. It was my first cruise, first time in Mexico, and my first vacation as an adult.
If anyone is considering taking a cruise or is just curious, I'll be happy to try to answer any questions .....
Mrs. DrumBum is keen to try a cruise as am I, but just looking at the size of the ships it appears they must have an enormous number of passengers. I am not crazy about crowds and hate waiting in long lines. Were crowds and long lines a problem for you guys ?
Nope. Elation holds about 2000 passengers and didn’t really feel crowded. I think part of it is that activities are scattered all around the ship across multiple decks, so there is no real reason for everyone on board to be in the same place at the same time, other than boarding and debarking.
Speaking of which, we paid an extra $50 for something called “Faster to the Fun”. This let us bypass all the lines for boarding, using special agents to check us in, get on the boat first, have immediate access to our cabin, have our luggage delivered first, and leave the ship first when the cruise was over. Highly recommended. Well worth the $50.
Dinner is a big deal, and is served in two shifts beginning at 6:00 and 8:15 PM, in two large formal dining rooms. That’s probably the biggest crowd you’ll encounter each day, but it’s not bad. Dinner typically takes about an hour and a half, unless you want to linger over coffee/dessert–which we did because our table mates were good company.
I apologize beforehand to Oakminister, but having about a dozen cruises under my belt, I’ll take this one and then butt out of his thread unless asked.
Most dining areas have tables for 8-10 people; with 2,000-3,000 people to serve and having to carry wait-staff on the ship with them, it’s just not feasible to have smaller tables. You can get room service, or some ships have ‘specialty’ restaurants that may have tables for two, but are not included in the fare (you pay extra to eat at the ‘specialty’ places).
I went to a tasting on the first night, right before dinner. I was given two thimble sized “shots” of high end Scotch–got to choose from about a half dozen or so bottles, including rum, but no bourbon. The whole thing was mostly a gimmick to showcase the liquor store.
I also had a free glass of champagne at the art auction, but all the other alcohol was on a pay as you go basis, and expensive–like $9 a drink.
There was a martini tasting thing, where you got 4 flavors or martini for $20, but I did not try it.
I was not pleased with the soft drink arrangements–I bought the unlimited package, but could only get a coke from the bars, served in a smallish glass with mostly ice. Room service was not included in the soda package, so I had to pay like $2 for a coke with room service.
You are allowed to bring a 12 pack of beverages per person in your luggage. I’ll do that next time.
We actually asked for a table for two, and some are available, but we did not get one for dinner. At breakfast or brunch (on sea days), there was no assigned seating. We were asked our preference, and opted for the private table.
At dinner, we were assigned to a table for 4 couples. One couple never showed up together, the woman showed up once by herself. The other two couples were very friendly, and dinner became a highlight of the day. The Druidess really hit it off with one of the women, and they are now Facebook friends.
We also did not get our choice for dinner seating. We wanted the early seating at 6:00, but were assigned to the 8:15. We learned about halfway through the cruise that we could have requested a change but by then we were looking forward to seeing our dining companions.
Feel free to participate as much as you like. I don’t claim any monopoly on cruise information/experiences.
Back to the eating arrangements–dinner was the only meal with assigned seating and times. Breakfast/brunch was available at certain hours, and you could have it either in one of the formal dining rooms, or from the buffet area. Anything from cereal/muffins up to eggs benedict was available. There was also room service breakfast available, but I never tried it.
Lunch/whenever food was typically burgers/hot dogs/pizza/ribs/chicken tenders style fare available in the buffet area. there was also a Mongolian Wok, but we never got around to trying it.
Room service was available 24/7, with a selection of free stuff as well as “premium” items available for an upcharge.
That’s going to vary widely by company and possibly by ship. When I was on a Disney cruise a couple years ago, we had as assigned dinner time with an assigned table, and it was a table for 4, so the two of us sat with another couple every night.
When I was on a Norwegian Cruise Line cruise in Hawaii a couple months ago, we did not have any sort of set time or table, you just showed up sometime when the dining rooms were open, they asked if you wanted to be seated with other people, and if not, you got your own table. Presumably if they were full, you might have to wait, or maybe you’d be required to sit with someone else, not sure.
My wife and I occasionally do all-inclusive resorts. I like them because you can put your wallet and watch away for the duration of your time there, and not have to worry about a large credit card bill at the end of your stay. Everything is paid up front.
So, we have discussed trying a cruise one day but are put off by the possible add-on charges that we hear passengers on cruise get stuck with: tips, alcohol, etc.
I would be concerned abut charges for alcohol drinks. I enjoy many different types of drinks, and even though I only have one, or maybe two drinks a day at home, at an A-I I usually have four to six drinks a day.
The last resort we were at, there were no additional charges and tipping was at the discretion of the guest.
What size of credit card bill did you have at the end of your cruise, and what were the different charges for?
We didn’t get a bill. We actually got a check refunding the balance on our ship account. We put about $200 on our ship account, and got a $50 credit for some promotion (I don’t remember what, exactly, something about the way we booked/paid for the trip) to cover incidentals like alcohol, etc, and did not use it all. Almost everything on board had to be purchased via the ship account. I think only the casino allowed you to use cash.
Carnival has an option to pre-pay tips, figured at about $12/day, divided among the cabin steward, wait staff, and whoever else gets tipped, so we did that. i ended up slipping our head waiter a little extra to divide among his team, because those guys did a great job. And a little extra to the cabin steward as well.
We also pre-paid for our shore excursions, which are purely optional, but fun. We chose a Mayan ruin tour in Progresso, and a walk on the bottom of the ocean thing in Cozumel, but there were all sorts of other options.
Bottom line, we pre-paid almost everything and spent about $1500 for the two of us for the week…plus another $100 to cover parking while we were gone, plus whatever we spent on shore.
Things that were available but not included in the cost of the trip–“premium” meals like fillets, lobster etc, alcohol (there was an all inclusive package available, but it was expensive…and we just don’t drink enough to justify it), spa services, canned soft drinks (I did buy that package, but was disappointed as detailed above). On board purchases in the gift shops–t-shirts, booze, tobacco, jewelry, assorted crap, gambling ( didn’t play any of the tables, but did lose $20 in a slot machine).
Not really–it was a gift from my parents. We got married on September 7, 2011, and I think The Druidess is plotting some mysterious excursion around our anniversary this fall…hopefully one that will allow for football watching. But thanks anyway.
Dinner was a highlight of the day. There was an “everyday” menu with basic fare…a flat iron steak being my favorite, and a “daily theme” with various fancy-ass Gordon Ramsey style stuff that isn’t really my thing, but I did make an effort to try to sample either an appetizer or an entree from the fancy menu each day. Twice I got seafood–Japanese sea bass (not very good-strong fishy taste, but edible) and a fried fish (maybe cod, maybe something else, not great). Other times I went with the steak/potatoes which was consistently good.
For apps, I tried some kind of Thai dish with duck and noodles. Did not expect the duck to be cold. Meh. Had frog legs one night. Meh. Also had a fried shrimp with a plum sauce that was surprisingly good. The other apps I had didn’t make a strong impression either way, and I’ve forgotten what they were.
Dessert for me was always a chocolate lava cake with ice cream. Usually ordered two of those.
The experience was an overall positive–factoring in generally decent if not exceptional food, excellent service and pleasant company. The wait staff also provided some entertainment–usually a song and dance bit during dessert. One night a magician came by and did tricks at the table.
Breakfast/brunch in the dining room was excellent. I got steak & eggs, grits, waffles, bacon, etc. Fruit was available for those so inclined. I usually had a few grapes, or some orange slices.
Other food–ie, the buffet–was unremarkable. Almost nothing was awful*, but nothing was outstanding, either. Room service was pretty generic. There was plenty of food available, at all hours of the day and night, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. The pizza was…maybe a notch below high end frozen pizza from the grocery store.
*There were two truly dreadful items. The Druidess ordered a lobster bisque appetizer that was absolutely inedible. Three people at our table ordered it, and everybody sent it back. It was…brown…and vile looking. Not sure what was up with that.
The other really bad item, surprisingly enough, was fried chicken. They fried the hell out of it, rendering it dry, hard, and inedible. I can only guess that whoever was in charge of cooking it had no idea of what fried chicken should actually taste like.