Our First Cruise--Any Advice?

Mrs. Know and I are taking our very first cruise in September. Nothing fancy–Royal Caribbean mid-week 4-nighter to Catalina, San Diego and Ensenada.

I know that you have to pay extra for a lot of things on a ship–so what’s worth it?

We plan on getting off the ship at Catalina to look around–what’s to see? And is it worth disembarking in Ensenada?

I’ve checked out the options on RC’s website, but I’d like some objective opinions.

We’re both 50-ish, if that helps.

Bring a power strip. There’s never enough plugs in the stateroom.

What’s worth it to pay for. Tips - cruise employees get paid almost nothing, get room and board, but really live off tips (or - in a lot of cases - send them home - cruises are generally internationally staffed).

If you drink, budget for your bar bill. They may have a soda program - pay once, free refills - that may be worthwhile if you drink a lot of pop. If you gamble, budget for that. And they’ll have a lot of photos taken by the ships photographers - up to you - I’d budget something for that.

There may be add on restaurants. I only have cruised with Disney, but their add on restaurant is $10 a person and is a MUCH better meal than what you get in their regular dining room.

We did that same cruise a few years ago. Catalina is a cute little town with lots of shops; if you like shopping, it’s great. There’s also glass-bottom boat tours of the harbor that can be fun if you like looking at fish and kelp and rocks and other stuff under water.

In Ensenada, I would NOT recommend going to see the blow hole. It’s a long, long (three hours one-way, if I remember) hot, dusty bus ride, then at the destination it’s a huge tourist-trap market place and you get absolutely mobbed by children and women trying to sell you their wares. The blow hole itself is not very impressive, just a place on the rocky shore where, when the waves come in, the rocks channel the water up into a vertical spray. You watch it for two minutes, take some pictures to prove you were there, and then have to run the gauntlet of the market place back to your bus for another three hour ride. The town of Ensenada itself is ok, but I personally found it a bit depressing; it seems to exist soley to service the cruise ships.

[Nitpick] Catalina is the name of the island, the town is Avalon[/nitpick].

You do know there was a big fire on Catalina recently? I don’t know how much changed it will be from what you would normally see and do there.

If you do sign up for the premium restaurants, as Dangerosa suggested, do it as soon as you board the ship. They fill up quickly.

Do EVERYTHING the ship has to offer, I mean it. My first (also 50ish) I won their game show, sang Kaeroke (sp), danced til midnight went to the shows and talked to dozens of crew members from all over the world.

Its not like anyone knew me anyway, but I was on the ships TV every night and had an absolute blast.

Us too. Agreed. The blowhole is not worth it. The smells you get on the bus ride are beyond belief! You get way out there only to find the same crap you left in town that you didn’t want to buy.

I advise: Bring your own booze, and lots of it! After seeing what they wanted for a beer on the ship, I smuggled on a case from Avalon and another two from Ensenada. Made it bearable, it did!

We were traveling with a 15 mo. old, so that kept us out of the nightclub pretty much. I had a good time wheeling him around the deck in his stroller, however. It was fun. The food was good, and plenty of it.

Have fun.

Have fun, and enjoy the opportunities aboard ship. My inclination would be to stay aboard ship, if they aren’t actually tying up at any of the docks for the intermediary ports - sightseeing, or landing, launches are crowded, small, and a hassle to get on and off. And most of your fellow travellers will be going ashore - leaving the facilities aboard ship rather more open than they might be otherwise.

Do yourself a favor though, the first day you’re aboard, make sure you can find your way to your lifeboat station, before doing anything else. I know that the cruise ship is supposed to show you all that - but an ounce of prevention and all that…

If you’re going to smuggle booze on board, and you should, it’s easier to get on board at the beginning of the cruise rather than at ports of call.

Usually a few events (like at the casino or during sales presentations) will have free drinks like champagne or rum punch. Go in, slam down your drinks (they’ll run out fast), and don’t buy anything. :slight_smile:

Our ship had a newsletter with activities every day. That was helpful.

Bring books, eventually you will want some downtime.

Never do the buffet. Always formal dine. You will avoid the gaggle of kids and the food is much better. There is often MORE choice (and fewer of yesterday’s leftovers).

Shore excursions are nice but I actually had more fun on board – I love to travel to new places, but the port areas are usually overly touristy and with no real local flavor.

The chocolate buffet that they always seem to have is incredibly overrated. The food quality is really pretty awful (far lower than the normal desserts because people shove stuff into their craws so fast). We waited in a huge line for a long time, it was completely not worth it. Pretty, but not worth it.

The food’s free; be adventurous, and be nice to your waiters. You will see them every day after all!

They don’t give you that much food, so after a long day of physical activity, we would always order appetizer, salad, dinner, and dessert to be satisfied when at formal dining. Portion sizes are much smaller than typical American restaurants. They will actually bring you two entrees or salads or whatever if you ask. We laughed a lot when my sister accidentally ordered – and received to her surprise – two entrees, but towards the end of the cruise, many in our party would order double appetizers or desserts just to get to try everything (some things are VERY small).

The lifeboat station thing is generally done as a shipwide drill on the first day. We had to go out in our lifejackets and all.

Onboard stuff is usually overly expensive, but I actually picked up a few things “on sale” toward the end of the cruise - a nice wallet for example, that I still use, was $5, and an inexpensive beach hat when I realized I didn’t want to burn so badly.

If there is anything by reservation - decide quickly and reserve! We missed the chance for the small additional charge ($10) restaurants.

I’m not sure if this applies to your situation, but a friend of mine went on a honeymoon cruise and they told the matire d’ that it was their honeymoon the first night. Instead of being seated with weirdos that they didn’t know, they were actually given their own private table apart from the group tables. You may be able to request something like this if you’re not keen on taking the chance of being seated next to a creep for the week.

Usually I’d recommend booking good excursions early, but I’m not sure for this one. You might be able to do everything on your own more cheaply. Have you been to San Diego? There is lots to do within walking distance of the piers, and the zoo and the museums are not far.

Plan to spend time on the deck. The last cruise I was on had a library with some comfy chairs looking out a big window with built in CD players. I had bought some in Victoria before I left, so I had a good time listening while watching the shore.

Definitely agree about the formal dining. I enjoyed the trivia contests, but that may not be for everyone. Every ship has a newsletter, so look at it every morning and plan.

It sounds like you booked a good starter cruise. Have fun.

Some companies are harder on people who smuggle booze on board than others. It’s easy enough to have a drink on shore if that’s what you want to do.

There is a required lifeboat drill. I’ve been on 6 cruises (4 companies) and there is always a lifeboat drill.

Some people on board will have done this cruise before–ask them about the ports of call and excursions, including what they liked about what they’ve done. You may want to be on a bus tour, or you may want to hike up a mountainside, or you may want to arrange your own day. Explore the options.

If you’re seated with creeps, speak to the maitre d and ask moved. We’ve only had to do so once, when we were seated with a guy who kept making anti-semitic remarks.

I have also been on this same cruise and 1 thing I would suggest is getting the motion sickness patches from your doctor that you put behind your ear, otherwise you could get seasick :eek:

We just booked our first cruise as well, and I was coming here to start a thread about it. We’re doing a Tampa-Western Caribbean-Cozumel cruise in February, aboard Carnival Cruiseline’s Inspiration.

What’s included? What’s extra?

Included: Food in the regular dining areas and possibly in some of the smaller ones, beverages other than soda and alcohol, entertainment, swimming pools, hot tubs, possibly some talks and tours (if they offer a kitchen tour, absolutely go), in-room TV, services such as room-cleaning, some games/sports. Dependin on the line, there may be other amenities. Even if they charge a fixed daily service charge, it is customary to include an additional tip for the maitre d, your room steward, or anyone who does you special services.

Not included: Alcohol, soda, some restaurants, possibly specialty ice cream, phone, internet, services such as the spa, shore excursions, medical visits, stores onboard, photos, and some others.

You can look at a list online at their website, and there will be a nice big manual in your room as well as a daily newsletter with highlights.

You’ll be in an area where your cell phone may show that you have service. Don’t be fooled; look for information stating what the mobile-to-shore rates are.

Do turn the room television to the ship’s camera; you’ll be able to see whatever is in front of the ship (typically water, but sometimes other ships, coastlines, etc.).

ETA: What countries will you be visiting?

Definitely go into Ensenada. If you are adventurous in dining, go down to the fish market and eat fish tacos. The record in my circle of friends is about 22. There are some very tasty shrimp cocktail types of things (I like the one with mysterious crustaceans). Next go to some bar (Hussong’s is the classic old tourist bar, but will be packed with obnoxious cruise boat patrons) and drink about 10 shots of tequila to kill all the bacteria in the crustacean cocktail.

I would choose the bar with the most dangerous environment. I’ve seen ones with fireman poles, all kinds of creaky stairways with no hand rails, balconies that you can walk off of, huge ankle breaking holes in the walkways, the hot chick with the bandeleros selling shots of tequila, and the crazy asshole with the whistle that mixes margaritas in your mouth and tries to rip your head off shaking it around.

If I’m right, you’re sailing on the Monarch of the Seas, one of RRCL’s older ships (Sovereign Class). It doesn’t appear to have any of the specialty restaurants (those became available on the Vision Class ships), but in case they did add one, I do recommend it. It is nice to get away from the noise of the main dining rooms and have a private diner together.

I don’t know the locations you are going to, but I do know that if you choose to stay on board the ship while in a port of call, you will practically have the ship to yourself!

Keep in mind that your last day will be incomplete… they do what they can to get everyone off the ship early in the morning to be able to clean, reload, and have it totally turned around and ready to go for the next sailing within a few hours, so don’t wait until the day you return to home port to try and get pictures, souvenirs or do any activities! They will give you the option of disembarking by yourself, or having their luggage service take your luggage down for you, so you can get through customs without having to drag it around (you will need to go through customs when you return!). Personally, I prefer doing it myself… you’re first off the boat, first out of the parking lot, and it’s kind of nice to walk right past all the impatient people waiting in line or at the carousels for their stuff.

Within the first few hours of boarding, and likely before the ship even sets sail, you will have to pass muster… you will be instructed (by the TV in your room that is already turned onto the right channel) to grab your life vests, put them on, and proceed to your muster station. It’s boring and crowded, but it is 100% mandatory, so do it! If you’re lucky, later in the week you can watch your crew practise an evacuation; complete with lowering the emergency boats to the water!

If you haven’t already, see if you can upgrade to a balcony stateroom. They are more expensive, but few things on a cruise are as nice as getting up in the morning, having your breakfast on the balcony, watching the sun rise and the ship pull into port.

And the tender boats to get you to port aren’t so bad… on cruises of 3200+ people, we never had to wait more than 20 minutes (though we do tend to leave a bit later rather than be first off the boat)

I’m sure there’s more, but I can’t think of it right now!

-mnemosyne, 2-time cruiser on the Mariner of the Seas

We cruised on the Caribean Princess in Jan for 7 days, had a wonderful time.

Unless you’re filthy, stinkin rich, avoid the spa and their high pressure sales BS.
Get your hair cut at home before you leave.

I didn’t sign us up for any excusrsions because they were a big rip (IMHO)
In St Maarten, I hired a private taxi for my wife and I, and took a personal 3 hour tour of the island for $90.

The excursion wanted like $55 pp and we were supposed to do it with 30 other people, bleh.

Internet rates are very expensive, and if you can do without, I say pass (the service is sketchy at the best of times)

They will also try to sell you pictures everytime you turn around.
My wife bought a couple, I wouldnt budge, too expensive.
I would’ve bought a DVD of the week on board, but they wanted $49.
Screw that. I know they have to make a profit, but cmon, lets be real.

I’ve heard from others the buffet can be crappy sometimes, but it was real good on ours. Since we signed up for the anytime dining, the buffet was better suited for us.

It was frustrating sometimes to find a seat though. Sometimes we just took the food back to our rooms and ate on the balcony.

The ship was filled with “PSeudo westerner” type of employees. Mainly people from Romainia and Bulgaria, and a handful of other eastern european countries.

They were a little off-putting in the casinio, borderline begging for tips, I found it kind of irritating.

We are going to make it a yearly thing, just use common sense, don’t blow your cash foolishly and you will have a lot of fun.