Tell Me How to Get the Most out of a Cruise

MammaHomie recently came into some money and she’s wanting to take me and Mrs. Homie on a Carnival Cruise with her and my stepdad. Mrs. Homie and I are both pretty excited about it. She’s never been on a cruise, and I went on one (Carnival to Cozumel/Playa del Carmen, Grand Cayman, and Ocho Rios) back in 1995 - it was a college graduation gift.

I had a great time on the 1995 cruise and I’ve been itching to go on a cruise ever since. Having said that, however, there were some aspects of the cruise that I didn’t fully enjoy. That, and I feel like I missed out on some things simply for not knowing about all that was available to me.

I didn’t enjoy:
[ul]
[li]The ship smelled terrible. Just about everywhere I went reeked of stale cigarette smoke, and there wasn’t a bar, lounge, or dance club anywhere on the ship where there weren’t people smoking. I understand that cruise lines are tightening up on where they allow smoking on-board, but Carnival’s website is vague about their smoking policy. Does anyone here know specifics of Carnival’s current smoking policy? And didn’t I read somewhere that a couple of their ships are entirely non-smoking?[/li][li]Ocho Rios, Jamaica. While I thought Dunn’s River Falls was beautiful, if our itinerary this time calls for a stop at Ocho Rios, I won’t even be getting off the ship. From the moment I stepped off the ship last time, I was constantly swarmed with people aggressively trying to sell me things. It got so bad that at one point I thought I was going to get into a fistfight with a local when he tried to grab me and pull me into his shop. Is Jamaica still like this?[/li][li]I was actually kind of bored when the ship was at sea. Other than the casino and the library, there wasn’t really much in the way of shipboard activities. Everything seemed to be kind-of at my leisure, and there was nothing scheduled (that I was aware of).[/li][/ul]

I did enjoy:
[ul]
[li]I’ll never forget the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum for as long as I live. Definitely a highlight not only of my cruise, but of my life in general.[/li][li]The food was exquisite. Can’t wait to get me some more![/li][li]Renting a waverunner at Seven Mile Beach in Georgetown, Grand Cayman.[/li][/ul]

Othere than the questions posted above, here are some more specific questions for the veteran cruisers amongst the Teeming Millions™:
[ul]
[li]What have Carnival curises been like recently? Are there more scheduled daytime activities and things to do on-board the ship than just the casino and lounging by the pool?[/li][li]Is there any particular island, destination or shore excursion in the Caribbean that is an abosultely must-see?[/li][li]Are The Baths at Virgin Gorda worth the 40-minute trip from Tortola? I see a few Carnival itineraries that go to Tortola and offer The Baths as a shore excursion, and I must say it looks pretty cool.[/li][li]Any other advice for someone who is relatively new to cruising?[/li][/ul]

Thanks!

I’ve only been on one but I remember being hungry when there wasn’t food out… If I were to go on another, I’d pack some snacks!

I didn’t love cruising, truth be told. Something about the feeling of being trapped, like I can’t end this vacation if I’m not having fun!

Hope you have a great time!

We just returned from a Carnival cruise, Tampa-Cozumel. The smoking restrictions have been tightened up, and I think you can only smoke in the Casino and one of the lounges on that same deck, as well as the outdoor decks.

There seemed to be stuff going on all day long. Bingo - hairy chest contests - newlywed games - trivia - karaoke, everything. Every evening at turn-down service they leave “Carnival Capers”, their daily newsletter, in your room. It details all of the next day’s activities.

There is an Adults-Only area now called Serenity. Two hot tubs, no children. At least, on our ship there was (Inspiration).

This time around, we rented a car for the day ($45 cash including liability insurance) and drove around the island of Cozumel. Take cash - there’s no electricity on the other side of the island, so you can’t pay with your credit card. That’s where the beaches are. Our last cruise to Cozumel, we did the Race Fantastique, which is an Amazing Race-style excursion. There’s only one physical thing (snorkelling!), the rest is mini-golf, getting a little henna tattoo, that sort of thing. We had an excellent time doing that with just myself and my husband, but this year we took the children with us.

And children - the ship has “Camp Carnival” for kids 2-5, then activities for older kids up to 17. I hardly saw our 15 year-old except for meals.

Take sunscreen! I look like a lizard woman right now, even after using sunscreen I burn.

EDIT: We were in Jamaica a few years ago and I felt the same way. I didn’t want to be one of those travellers who stays in the resort, but if we ever go there again I certainly will be. I felt unsafe in the town (Montego Bay).

www.cruisecritic.com may help

What kind of cruise were you on where they didn’t have some kind of food available any time you wanted? I’ve been on three cruises (one each of Carnival, Princess, and Holland America), and on each of them some kind of food is available 24/7.

Ed

My first reaction to the OP was “Donate some money to Scientology”

ah, boats.

Went on one cruise, can’t say I was thrilled. Food is abundant, and so are old and fat people (at least the one we went on.) I can’t remember the line, but it was an older crowd.

Alcohol adds up fast, so if you drink, be prepared for a big bill at the end.

Each port of call was a tourist trap, but you can do your own thing, too. Just make sure you make it back before the boat leaves.

Prepare to gain 5-10 lbs.

I believe that I was on the exact same cruise out of Tampa as Ginger of the North. It was our 5th cruise since 2001, and my
second on Carnival. We had a good and relaxing time, even though we had our 18-month old son with us. Really, he was very good,
and it was tremendous fun to see him react to everything.

There was always food available - at the very least a pizza bar was open 24 hours. I agree that smoking is much more limited
these days - there is no smoking in the inside dining areas or the theatre. There is a designated smoking area near the pool,
plus the casino, and a couple of lounge areas. (I believe that this will hold true on most ships).

We went to Jamaica on a cruise in 2003. We did the Rose Hall excursion, which we very much enjoyed, but when they dropped us off
in the shopping area we were also beset by aggressive sales people (legal goods and otherwise). If we went back, I wouldn’t do
any shore excursions that left you in an uncontrolled environment - or I would skip that portion and go back to the ship.

On the two sea days that we had, we managed to occupy ourselves with naps, the movie channels, and the pools. We also
participated in some of the Trivia games, plus we had our iPods and sudoku puzzles, etc. We aren’t big participaters, but there
were lots of different activities going on all day.

This was our third visit to Grand Cayman. I very much like this port. Since we had the baby, we did the butterfly farm and the
turtle farm, both of which were interesting. We have also snorkled there, but I highly recommend a visit to Stingray City. You
take a catamaran out to a sandbar where there are a ton of stingrays, and you get into the water and feed them. It’s very cool.
We’ll do that again once Mike is old enough. In the shopping area, near the tender docks, is a store that has free internet access. Internet access on board the ship is pretty expensive.

The first time we visited Cozumel we also did the ruins of Tulum, which was fascinating. This time, there weren’t any excursions
that seemed appropriate for his age and that we wanted to pay for, so we wandered around the tourist shopping area right at our
port, and then ended up listening to a 60 minute time share sales pitch in order to use the near-by all-inclusive resort for the rest of the day. This worked out well for us, because the same daypass purchased as an excursion would have been $65 apiece. Since we were there from 11 to 8, we felt like we could spare the hour. There are also some more educational and cultural options available, like Xcaret.

Make sure to bring cash. Some of the places, like the pharmacy and taxis in Cozumel, require cash. Also, while you will be automatically charged $10 per person per day as gratuities, you may want to supplement that, or recognize service people who aren’t included in that amount, like . . . the sushi chef. If you drink, check the prices of the alcohol that you like, and see what’s a good deal. Each adult can bring back 1 litre of alcohol. If you bring more, there’s a small tax, but the last time I went over the limit (like, by 2 bottles), the customs agent just waved it off. Other things that I have found to be a good deal are perfume and watches, but shop at home first to be sure that you’re getting a good price.

Also, be sure to tip the porter that picks up your luggage to take to the ship when you embark.

I can also tell you about our experiences on NCL, RCCL, and HAL.

I hope that you have a wonderful time!

The part of the cruise I went on that I remember most fondly is walking on the deck in the middle of the night in the middle of the ocean. Everything was black but for the streak of moonlight on the water. Simply breathtaking.

We did Miami-Haiti-Jamaica-Cozumel (seems to be a popular stop). This was back around '99 or so, but I doubt Jamaica is any less pushy now than before. Tourist traps are pretty aggressive.

I’m off to a Caribbean cruise with HAL shortly. Please fil me in. :cool: About all I know 100% is that the ship (MS Eurodam) is not even a year old.

Yes please, do tell me about RCCL. Looking at the brochure, it looks like their ships are a little more upscale (and have more to do) than Carnival. Unfortunately, they’re about twice as expensive. Also, their itineraries aren’t as varied as Carnival’s. Still, we’re considering them. Specifically, tell me about Coco Cay and/or Labadee.

Does Carnival have a private island too, like Disney and RCCL have?

**
Specifically, tell me about Coco Cay and/or Labadee.**

Coco Cay was one of the stops on the cruise my husband and I took on our honeymoon. We weren’t expecting much, but it was actually a pretty little island, with lots of palm trees and a long stretch of beach sand. There will be hordes of people at the center of the island where the buffet is, and they tend to plop down as near to the food and booze cabanas as possible. The best advice I can give you is to wear some comfy flip flops and hike down the beach a little bit - heck, take a couple lounge chairs with you. Once you have some distance between you and everyone else, it’s a lot easier to relax. Strangely enough, very few people went swimming, so if you’re feeling claustrophobic just hop in the water.

The island also has some half assed trails that travel the interior. It was too hot for us to tromp around when we were there, but it could be kind of cool - they were completely, utterly, totally deserted.

That’s exactly the one I went on last April, but in the opposite order. I did find that some folks in Jamaica did try to trick people into purchasing items, but we had been warned and I didn’t feel too harassed.

I loved Grand Cayman–swimming with the stingrays was one of my favorite times ever.

You’re right that you do have to seek things out to do on the boat but they did have events scheduled throughout the day. However, a bunch of them are targeted toward shopping–not my goal in cruising.

I don’t remember being disturbed by smoke–I feel like there were designated areas that were avoidable. I found the cabin very comfortable and the evening meals were very nice.

I took a Carnival cruise a couple of years ago.

There were lots of things to do aboard the ship. It was sort of a mini Las Vegas: casinos, lounges, stage shows. I was astonished at how popular the bingo games were.

Smoking was allowed in the bars and the casino, but not in the restaurants. Since I don’t drink or gamble, it was not a problem for me. Smoking was allowed in the big lobby in the center of the ship, but it was a large area, so you could get away from the smoke if it bothered you.

There were a couple of thousand people on the ship, and only two entrances/exits. Going ashore, and returning to ship, you had to stand in long lines. If you want to enjoy the cruising at sea, pick a large ship that has lots of on-board amenities. If you want to visit the ports of call, pick a small ship that is easier to get on/off of. (Carnival’s ships all seem to be big. Some of the other lines have smaller vessels.)

Water, coffee, and tea were free. Soft drinks were expensive. Alcohol was extremely expensive. Being a teetotaler saved me a bloody fortune.

In Jamaica, I only took a quick shore excursion. (A tour of the reefs in a high-tech version of a glass-bottom boat.) There was a crowd of peddlers near the docks, and if you gave them half a chance, they were extremely persistent. But if you made a beeline from the gate to the dock, you could probably avoid them.

We don’t usually travel when school is out of session, so some of our experiences with the number of kids on board may be related to that.

We’ve found that we can find the lowest priced cruises within driving distance from our home on Carnival, with the exception of the NCL out of Charleston, which I wouldn’t recommend (other NCL cruises may be fine). We haven’t been on the newest CCL ships, either, but I’d expect them to be comparable to the RCCL ships.

HAL is owned by Carnival, but it is an somewhat more upscale experience in terms of service, food and accomodations. For instance, bathtubs are the norm in HAL staterooms, but they are only in the higher level suites on CCL. HAL seems to have a somewhat older crowd, and fewer kids (though they do have a kid’s program). We were on the Zaandam, and one of the things we liked a lot was the movie theatre (but I can’t guarantee that it hasn’t been reconfigured into something else). My boss, who travels quite a bit, likes HAL, and she also travels the high end cruise lines. Half Moon Cay is the CCL/HAL-owned private island. We
thought that it was beautiful and very relaxing - lunch is provided, and you can buy drinks with your sail and sign card. They have excursions (like glass-bottom boats, I think) but we just hung out on the beach and rented snorkel gear.

RCCL may be our favorite cruise line - It seems like a slightly younger crowd, and the food and service were fantastic. Thier island is Coco Cay - it’s very similar to Half Moon Cay. We found the ship to be very well appointed - one of the neatest things was a bar set up like a pub where a musician (guitarist) took requests late into the evenings and there were sing-alongs. It also seems like there are a lot of ‘active’ things to do on their ships, like rock-climbing walls and surfing set-ups. One thing that we enjoyed was the up-charge restaurants. There’s a restaurant or two on board that you can make a reservation at for an
additional charge (currently $25 per person, I think). We found the food to be comparable pricey restaurants we’ve visited on land.

If you like snorkeling, you must go to the Chankannab Park. ( There is a coupon for entry at this site.)

One of the nicest and most wonderfullest days I’ve ever spent was snorkeling there.

How expensive are “expensive” and “extremely expensive”?

I’ll happily drink either iced tea or pop, so no problems there, so long as I remember to ask for tea, and so long as they have Splenda.

We don’t drink all that much alcohol - two glasses of wine and a mixed drink in one month is boozing it up for us. Of course, we may well slip into vaction mode, and be saying “I’d like another of those blue drinks with the pineapple and umbrella!” <hic!>

It is very common to smuggle on your own booze du jour for a cruise.

A friend went on a cruise in February last year and when they made a stop on one of the islands, everyone made a run for the ( of all things) Kmart to stock up on their liquor and smuggled it back on board in their bags of other purchases. As far as she knew, no one was stopped at all.

YMMV.

On Carnival you can buy a drinks pass for soft drinks–I think it was maybe $48 for our seven-day cruise.

I’m not much of a drinker but I found the drink-of-the-day served in a coconut monkey head irresistable.

This was a pre-cruise bone of contention between me and the three other people going. But they were sharing a room and I was alone so they did their thing and I bought what I felt like drinking.

I’m a cruise junkie, and have done at least 10 of them at this point, but I admit Carnival is one line I have not taken because I’ve heard they are the worst. I’m not a big fan of Norwegian either, though we are taking them for a Spain, Portugal, Morocco cruise in 2010 because the dates and price were right.

As already mentioned, Stingray City is definitely the thing to do if you go back to Caymen, and I went to Jamaica three years ago. Ocho Rios is still a dump, and the sellers are very agressive. We did a plantation and Dunns River Falls tour. At both sites we were practically attacked by the vendors trying to sell us both legal crap and, of course, pot. I would never go back.