First-Time Insights on a 7-Day Cruise
I went on my first cruise in December for a girl friend’s thirtieth birthday celebration. Our group was fairly large but for the most part, I stuck with a compact group of three other women for day-to-day adventures. Our trip was aboard the Carnival Sunshine, and we each booked through the same travel agent. This got us all the same deal, and allowed us to make a small deposit, followed by payments (of our choosing) up until one month before the trip.
There was a bit of incentive to pay earlier, which would be a confirmed cabin number (essentially, a better room). Having your room locked in earlier meant you could choose it earlier. Different parts of cruise ships have different things to offer. Being lower down could make you more susceptible to sea-sickness, further down the hall means more walking time, and higher up meant you were more likely to get a window or small deck, etc.
The ship left out of Port Canaverl, Florida (Orlando) and went to four different stops in seven days. Each way we had a “Fun Day at Sea” to get to and from the states. During this time there are lots of activities going on all over the cruise ship. We attended a stand-up comedy show, dance contests, a night club, and a movie abroad the ship.
Some nights photographers set up backdrops in case you wanted to have some professional photos taken one night. They’ve also got massages, pools, spas, a water slide, bars, lip-sync battles, live DJ’s, stage shows, cooking classes, and tons of activities for kids. Each cruise ship has different things to offer so those will be gone over when you make your travel plans.
Room attendants (much like the maid service in a hotel) care for a group of rooms for the whole trip. They get to know everyone’s name, somehow, and made sure to always greet us when they saw us. I have to say, customer service was a large part of the experience. You could tell that the staff sees this as a priority for each cruise. The room attendants also would leave a “towel buddy” on one of our beds each time they came in to tidy up. It became fun to try and figure out what animal we got each night after a full day on land.
All four stops were beautiful locations, with beautiful people. Each time we headed back to the cruise ship…it felt too soon! For the most part we left the ship very early in the morning, and were expected back on board around sunset. While I really did not like the teaser that this created, it gave me a better idea of locations I would like to see again. Some of the ladies on the trip even started planning how we could re-visit nearby spots for longer, lingering vacations.
Amber Cove, Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic, being our first stop, sort of set the stage for the whole trip. It had gorgeous waters and greenery. We befriended a local who took us deep into town (dangerous, I know) to do some shopping and get a feel for the culture. Sousa, I’ve been told, was a bad place for Americans to be. It was also the most fun, though.
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
St. Thomas had a lot of the things we are used to in the states. When we returned to the ship for dinner, many commented on how “at home” they had felt. This was sort of the reason I felt a little let down. It was an amazing place, and we were able to visit multiple cities and beaches there, but seeing all of the banks and drugstores that we had back home made me feel a little too much like a tourist.
Out tour guide, Buddy, was pretty cool. He took us to do typical first-timer things, and made sure we got the best deals while shopping for souvenirs. For lunch he also suggested a place called Cuzzin’s Caribbean Restaurant & Bar. Unanimous decision: best food we had the whole trip. We all (seven at our table) made sure to order different plates so that we could try a little of everything. The service was great, and they were very patient with our American ignorance. If I go back to the area, I will be sure to swing by Cuzzin’s for a bite.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
This was the shortest amount of time we had in port so we decided to just take it easy and go on a quick excursion. Is it just me, or is zip-lining just scarier when you leave the country? We had a 1:1 tourist to zip-line expert ratio, but it still freaked me out. These zip-lines were in a descending series of seven “drops” starting from the top of a cliff. Sometimes you could see where you were headed, but most times it just looked like a bunch of low-hanging greenery in the jungle. The guys that teamed up and took us down the hill were great sports and even told us where to stop for mixed drinks on our way back to the cruise ship.
Grand Turk & Caicos
Oh, Grand Turk, I miss you the most! Our last port was perfect, and an equally perfect way to round out the end of the trip. We were exhausted from all of the travel over the first few days, so it seemed only right to find a beach and just chill out. This tour took us on a bus ride through the town. It dropped us off at a quiet beach with one restaurant, a bar, and a DJ. We were able to take it easy, dance a little, have a drink, and sunbathe.
Special tips for newbies
Book your flight with plenty of time to get from the airport to your departure port. Lots of people get bussed in but some are also traveling in order to get to the ship. Airport transfers are pretty common because they will also bus you back after the cruise, just try and book this in advance so you are sure to have it confirmed.
Make sure there’s plenty of time in between your travel and the cruise embarkation times. Our travel agent booked all of this (including the flights from California to Florida), but some do not, so be sure that you actually make it to the ship in enough time and with everything you need.
Pay close attention to the emails they send out leading up to the cruise. There will be at least one a day, but they are packed with information and offers. Read up to find out how everything works on this particular ship, and to get insider tips, too. There will be room information but you also need to print out your luggage tags, and have them ready to go before you get to your departure port. The emails will also review dress codes, so check out that part as well. You’ll want to pay attention to this for packing purposes.
Boarding the ship does not necessarily mean that your room is ready. Depending on scheduling, your room may not be ready for a few hours after the ship embarkation. This is why you need your bags properly marked, so they make it to th ecorrect room. The first day has plenty of activities to keep you busy but this is also a good time to grab a snack and a drink, and check out the shore excursions to see if you want to sign up.
The cruise ship will have tours and excursions that you can purchase. These sometimes cost a little more than just going out on your own and finding one. The trade-off is in the amenities. If you book through the cruise they almost always include food, drink, and transportation (gets you back on the ship on-time). We mixed it up, depending on the port, so that we could wander aimlessly when we wanted to.
Food & Drink
Other than our tabled meal, we pretty much went to the buffets for everything else. Snacks, breakfasts, and late night eats were pretty much always available when we wanted to eat. Lunches were eaten in port. I had concerns about having to eat the same foods every day but there was plenty of variety to choose from, at least for the week we were on the cruise.
Between scheduled meal times there was always options for burgers, Mexican, and pizza. Soft drinks, hot teas, hot chocolate, and juices were always accessible. Ice cream and frozen yogurt machines were always open to us, too. The kid in all of us loved that.
Our plan came with a sit-down meal per day, and of course we could hit up the buffet during other times. Each cluster of tables had a team of servers (under a Head Server) that took care of us all week. We opted to have dinner together as a large group at the end of each day, since we would all be back on the ship at that point anyway. Our server, Zoran, also made it a point to get to know each of us (and what we liked) so it was always a pleasure to group back up for dinner.
I am most grateful for the memories and bonds created on the cruise. Being able to run into the same people throughout a trip was awesome because you got to hear their experiences and share your own, as they were happening. We had internet on-board but for the most part our group stuck to in-person interaction, which was very refreshing. We ended up meeting some amazing people, a few of which I have remained in touch with ever since.
I know that some folks are true “cruisers” but I don’t think I got bit by that bug. I love to travel, but there are some specific differences when you are actually on a cruise. I only got sea sick once, the very first night. The ship’s Captain told us over the loud speaker that we were moving faster than usual, so I assume that’s why it only hit me one time. I also had few moments towards the end that I wished we were finally off of the ship, so I think a seven-day cruise was perfect for someone like me. Anything longer would have felt more like an annoyance.
If you’re looking to get away, and not really have to think about what your plans will be upon arrival, a cruise is a great option! We got a little brouchure in our room each day that mapped out suggestions for the next day’s a activities. It listed on-board activities and recommended excursions that the cruise ship already worked with. There is always something to do on a cruise. Everything is taken care of for you.