A journey of
a thousand miles
begins with a single step
You've booked a cruise! Now what?
[If you haven't booked a cruise, see our reason for why you do need to take one!]
Just like any other vacation prepping may feel overwhelming but don't let it be! Here are some tips to make your next vacation on the seas as relaxing as it can be!
In terms of what to bring, less can be more - in this case, make sure to bring more of the right things!
Your cruise is likely going to have theme nights, including at least one formal night - and if you're in to that tip of thing, pack accordingly! But like in the case of a beach vacation, we never thing there's too many swimsuits or coverups/light wear you can pack, since it will be likely what you're live in. And its next to impossible to find unless you're at port or willing to where logo or overpriced ship items. Your cruise ship may also have laundry service available, so in case you didn't bring enough of one thing or need it for emergency purposes, come prepared!
Outside the obvious, including sunglasses, sandals, toiletries, and anything you travel with for comfort, the following are items we definitely saw value in having right with us!
Shopping On Board and Abroad
Some love to take advantage of shopping duty free - and cruising its never easier!
If you’re planning to purchase duty free items, we do recommend you do a bit of window shopping at home to decide if what you're about to buy on board is a better deal than back home. Most of the times it is, but we have find a few items that were worth holding out for.
Not big on souvenirs and considering what to get? Some of our favorite things include the original Kinder Surprise (the eggs are banned in the US); Mexican vanilla because its the real thing; and we love to pick up unique handmade items to support the local vendors (and try not to haggle the price because they are worth every penny).
There's very little you can bring on board in terms of drinks; cruise lines have in the past years cracked down on people trying to bring drinks and avoid spending on board.
That said, most cruise lines will let you bring a case of sodas or water (canned) on the first day of your cruise for you to have. This is a great option for someone who wants their caffeine fix but doesn't want the price per glass. You can also pre-order some to be delivered to your room in case you feel like you will go through your allotment before your sailing ends.
On the same token, most cruise lines all each stateroom with an adult 21+ to bring 2 bottles of wine or champagne (no larger than 750ml). Note that Disney Cruise Line does allow guests 21+ to bring 2 bottles of wine or champagne OR 6 - 12oz beers on board at the beginning of the voyage AND and at each port of call. These beverages must be packed in carry-on bags or luggage so we recommend a wine bag with your carry on. And pack an insulated wine cup so you can have something ready to go in your room (though you can ask your stateroom attendant for a wine glass). Just note that if you are going to open either in the dining room, you will be charged a corking fee. So advise to opt for a twist top OR bring your own wine opener for your room and bring to dinner.
Another option to consider if you're trying to drink but also save a bit is to order a bottle of alcohol to your room before traveling - you can do so on each respective cruise line website under their stateroom gifts option. These orders will be delivered the first day of the cruise and are subject to the rules of each line. Then you can make your own drinks on the go for a fraction of the price. While dining, you will also be able to order wine by the bottle, which can be a substantial savings from ordering by the glass. And if you don't finish at your meal, you can ask to bring with you OR your serving team will cork for the next time you join them for dinner. With either option though, you will not be able to bring any unfinished bottles off, so make sure to never order more than you can have!
Finally, there's always the "all you can drink" packages most lines offer that are worth considering. The price, though significant, can be worth it if you will be drinking the allotment. With most cocktails about at $14+ tax & gratuity and beers starting at $7+ tax & gratuity, the price for the package can easily break even after about 6 cocktails a day (if you plan to have that much). But note, most lines require that all passengers of age in one stateroom to commit, so sharing will be avoided, so a lot of deliberation may be in store depending what type of cruise you'll take.
Always recommend traveling with a passport vs. birth certificate if you are a US citizen on a US closed loop cruise (start and end at the same US port). You are leaving the country, so its always better to have this priceless piece of identification ready to go. Also, it makes the whole embarkation and debarkation process seamless! With facial recognition software in much use, having our passport will save you lots of time when coming home. Just make sure you have at least 6 months left from the last day of your trip of your passport in case of emergency (a good standard to have when traveling anywhere in the world)!
If your stateroom came with onboard credit (OBC) - usually an offer working with a travel planner can get you - it has to be used on board. You can use if for anything you end up spending on board, including gratuities - so it may be a reason to not prepay your gratuity so you have some flexibility with this free money.
Excursions can be booked on the ship at a premium and with peace of mind (the ship will not leave without out). But if you want to explore other options or book another way, with flexibility, check out options for your destinations with my trusted partner Viator. You can also book right at the port where you can try to haggle the price a little - especially if you're okay with being completely spontaneous!
And all goes without being said, book with a travel planner - there's no additional cost, only additional perks, and you have an extra set of eyes to prepare you for your trip!
If you're ready to explore an option for you, fill out the Cruise Form and we can get started on finding a cruise for you!
If you're already booked and interested in having your reservation taken over, fill out the Booking Transfer Form - it can easily be transferred with just your approval (as long as you're not in final payment)!
For 7 days of our 17 day Europe trip we opted to cruise through the Mediterranean to visit some key ports. We wanted to see a variety of places in one swoop on this trip and with two little ones in tow figured this was the easiest way with a limited amount of time. We've seen places we wouldn't necessarily fly to, so why not do this in Mediterranean where there's so much we want to see. It is one of the easiest, cost effective vacations you could ever ask for in the - but is it the way you want to see the Europe?
Here's some points to consider-
Read on about our cruising trip and decide for yourself how you want to see Europe!
Day 1 Civitavecchia
So two days after we arrived and explored Rome, we headed to the Port of Civitavecchia to embark on a week of cruising the Mediterranean. We opted to do the cruise because we found an unbeatable deal on Norwegian Cruise Line, who with their Free at Sea offer, we were able to book the kids in the room with us for just the cost of taxes. The offer also gave us an additional free selection from Unlimited Open Bar (pay gratuities and taxes only up front), Shore Excursion credit, free Speciality Dining OR free Wi-Fi on board. Though a few of these options sounded tempting, we knew we'd get the best bang for our buck with free Wi-Fi since we wanted to plan as we went. And then with working through a travel agent, we earned enough on-board credit to cover stateroom gratuities and the cost of drinks we did buy on board.
So day 3 of our Europe Trip was our first day to cruise & finally relax since stepping foot on Italian soil. We set a private charter to pick us up from our hotel and drive us about an hour away to the Port of Civitavecchia. Private sounds fancy and every bit expensive, but it was the way to go. For a group of 6, we paid about $30 a person to have a guaranteed way to get there, without the stress of taking a train (the cheapest way to go). On the train, you do have the option to reserve a seat, but the price of that was close to what we paid for our driver and with a guarantee we'd arrive on time. With Italy being notorious for sudden workforce strikes, we wanted to have a stress-free way to start part 2 of our vacation - which wouldn't come with a train. The transfer granted us someone at our door on time, and drop off directly under the cruise ship.
Boarding the Epic was by far the easiest experience I have ever had boarding a ship, and that's a lot to be said as we have some of the most well-run ports in Florida. And I would not be exaggerating when I say we were checked in, through security, commemorative picture taken, and boarded in about 15 minutes time! We went straight to lunch and let the rest of the day ease by, as we had nowhere to be, and could kick back, relax and enjoy that beautiful Italian sunshine as we waited to embark on the rest of our journey.
Day 2: Livorno, Pisa & Lucca
Our first stop brought us to the port of Livorno, better known for Pisa and Firenze (aka Florence). We chose to skip Florence, which is rare for first timers, and headed to a place of more significance - Lucca. Lucca is where my paternal great grandfather was raised and we knew being so close to our homeland we had to pay our respects to the city we had roots in. We hired a private driver via Your Tour in Italy and we decided the itinerary for the day based off what we wanted to do. Once again, a private driver was every bit worth it since we were at liberty to design our day and it surprisingly, was much cheaper than the cruise ship rates for a group preplanned excursion.
We chose to stop in Pisa to see her famous tower on our way to spend the rest of the day in Lucca. Pisa was a sight to see, particularly because there is nothing else in the city other than l'duomo, the baptismal building and the bell tower, better known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It's magnificent to experience something so obscure in person and really comprehend that yes, it is standing and there are people in it too! Hearing the bells ring definitely drove the point home, kind of like staring at a phenomenon you wouldn't think could exist let alone work. Pisa has nothing else to it, other than a little town square and lots of street vendors selling you souvenirs with the tower stamped all over it. Those aspects of our trip made visiting a little somber; its one thing to see tourist shops in Orlando where everything feels made up for a show. But to see these places rich in history have their streets filled with "artifacts" you can wear, definitely takes away some of its ancient beauty. I couldn't even bare to take a true picture of how tourist rich and tacky Pisa could look because its not what I want to recall. The photo below of my 6 year old holding the tower up is the only way I want to remember it, when I remember nothing else at all.
We then made our 30 minute drive through the beautiful Tuscan countryside to Lucca, which resides within thick city walls. Outside of Lucca proper, felt like any other city you were entering with store and gas stations dotting the roads. But within the walls is old Lucca, captured in time. It is absolutely stunning with its immaculately kept interior and the small town charm we didn't find in Rome. We were dropped off to visit the cathedral, Cattedrale di San Martino, which was humbling to know that I have family that have prayed within these walls. After we walked to a square while in search of the building my great grandfather studied art at and instead found a carousel! The kids made a friend after their ride and though one didn't understand the other, they played just the same. We decided to get a proper view of Lucca - so the six of us rented a surrey! The city walls are a city above a city - big enough even drive a car on at parts, so we decided to explore the city overhead! We pedaled the city walls filled with restaurants and beautiful walking trails. And the city itself is just as charming, wrapped up in simple traditions and a quieter lifestyle. It is much more manageable to see but we also barely scratched the surface in seeing it. The best part though was getting to see a place my family has called home, a place that has some of our beautiful history, and getting to share it with the next generation of our tree. We ended our day in Lucca with lunch at Ristorante San Colombano, a restaurant on the wall covered in trees and pigeons with fantastic fresh food. And amazing local wine!
Our driver, Luca, comes highly recommended for anyone wanting to get to know Italy! He did our regional tour but is also a private driver throughout Italy and very much made this way of seeing the country one to consider. He was knowledgable of the Tuscan region, as he calls Livorno home, and was respectful of our time. He allowed us to see what we wanted without feeling rushed, but also gave us an insider's view of a place we otherwise wouldn't know how to tackle. He ended our time there with a stop in his wine shop in Livorno, where we got great Tuscan wine and oils to ship home at very reasonable prices. A free tasting did not hurt to end the day, where our kids enjoyed our time together as much as we did.
Day 3: Cannes & Monaco
We arrived to Cannes as our second stop; France is a country I have always coveted to get to know! The French Rivera is every bit as beautiful as I anticipated, with quaint homes dotting the cliff and beaches. Our itinerary took us to visit Eze, a small hillside walking village on the coast; and Monaco, the country known for its glamour and wealth, and its small square footage.
We arrived early and in true European fashion, our guide right on time, not a minute earlier. This time we booked via Viator, who paired us with Gregory, a local guide very familiar with both Monaco and Cannes. We started with a captivating drive through the hillsides to Eze, even taking in the Alps with her snowcapped tops in the distance as we headed west. Eze’s allure is that its an adorable cliffside village with boutique shopping built spiraling up with narrow passage ways and labryinths to get lost in. The view from the top of the botanical gardens, overlooking the sea, was the peak of the visit (pun intended) to get a full view of the French and Monaco coast that surround us.
After our quick stop there, we made it to Fragonard Parfumeur, a perfumery in the region known for perfumes. And even though this was very much a solicited stop with obvious business opportunities, I welcomed it. We got a preview of what the greats of Chanel and Estée Lauder do, who also have businesses in this region known for the fragrant flowers that bloom here. Best of all, we got a little something unique to bring home – French perfume that can only be found here – the type of souvenir that is always appealing.
Another short drive over and we made it to Monaco, every bit as elite as it sounds. The streets are tight & winding and full of luxury everywhere! Everything about this tiny country is screams big money – it is very proper, crisp and pristine. I understand the appeal of it now, as it is absolutely gorgeous with bountiful views of the sea on one side, and of luxurious homes on the other. We visited the palace, walked the cathedral that Princess Grace wed in, and even got to see one of her daughters being police escorted back to her home. A little added bonus for our visit was that we got to first hand experience the tracks of the Grand Prix, which had just happened a few short days ago. The sound of cars racing is something I’ll always remember about weekend mornings of my childhood, when my dad would wake up early to watch these famous races, that we were now experiencing firsthand. That we got to ride the roads that were so much part of our life and we had a "taste" of racing is an experience I won't forget.
Day 4: Palma de Mallorca
Day 6 we headed to Palma de Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain held back in time. This stop was amazing! We once again were able to do what we loved – discover a city on foot! We stopped by the Cathedral, explored the Arab baths, and walked down their Las Ramblas. We finally stopped for tapas at a street side restaurant where we drank the best sangria we’ve ever had. We finished our trip by heading up to Bellver Castle, situated on a hill looking down at all of Mallorca. The stop was a welcome change of pace to the car trips we had conformed to and made us feel like we were truly on vacation.
Day 5: Barcelona
What a stark difference even moving slightly over is! France to Spain were so different culturally than Italy and it really did feel like you made a transition to new terrain. But we were so limited in time in these new places that we felt like we barely got to scratch the surface in getting know these beauties!
We decided before we arrived to Barcelona to discover this city as we went. We had a full 12 hours at this port since this was another embarkation point. We chose to board in Rome though because of the distance from the city to maximize our time sightseeing. Whereas in Barcelona the port is in the city and proxmity to get there and back does not affect your time to explore. We also decided on just a double decker bus tour to get a scope of what we wanted to see. We mistook the sheer vastness of this city - it is HUGE and not a place that can be easily explored! And to add insult to injury, it was rainy and cold the day we got there. So we made the best of it and explored the city by bus, with stops to check out some of the hot spots.
We did hope off the bus at Sagrada Familia and Parca Guell, but because you can’t just get tickets on the spot, we weren't able to tour. Tickets are time stamped and sold in advance, which I applaud for being very organized and meticulous (really, this type A love this). So we handled it with grace, accepted our plans for the stop in this city, and enjoyed the rest of the bus tour. And we definitely made plans to come back for an inclusive trip in Spain, to explore another family heritage stop and get a better grasp of this beautiful country.
Day 6 Day at Sea
In between all the running around, on our way back to Italy we got a full day at sea. And with that full day at sea we also had the best weather to match. So you better believe we took full advantage of a day to unwind and relax poolside, and also start prepping for part 2 of our trip.
Before we even packed, we found out that NCL also offered laundry service for a flat price as long as it fit in the provided laundry bag. And since we wanted to pack light, we utilized this service to minimize what we packed on this trip and also extend it over an additional week. The day at sea we got our clothes back, washed and pressed and were able to pack for our departure in a few days.
While we handled adult stuff, the kids played. Like most other cruises, there was plenty of activity on the boat to fill both the days and nights. NCL's kids club age policy is 3 so both our kids were old to spend some of their time there, which gave us a chance to enjoy dinner just as the adults on most nights. The kids club also provided great activities by age, including a evening of parades and shows put on by the kids themselves.
Cruising is great, don’t get me wrong. But for us, we felt like we missed out a little. Let’s say those past 4 days were what I earlier called an appetizer of each place. And though without this trip, I don’t think we would have ever just made it over to Mallorca or Cannes, we definitely wish we had more time in the others. And the trade out could’ve been to just discover the places we missed. We also definitely missed out on having the culture and food surround us at night. We got immersed in what we were experiencing we just weren't quite ready to get back on the boat when it was time for it!
Day 7 Naples & the Amalfi Coast
We ventured back to Italy, and into Napoli, the birth place of pizza (though we didn't spend much time in Naples or have pizza). We were there long enough to be picked up again by our guide from Your Tour in Italy and make our way to the Amalfi Coast. We were given a brief history lesson of Naples, discovering that the land we were driving on was created thanks to Mount Vesuvius’ destruction of Pompeii, which at its prime was coastal. We made our approach to Sorrento, where we would get a unique view of the peninsula as we drove the coastal highway. But an accident cut that plan short and we were detoured to backroads. And this was proof in the adage, take the road less traveled. I’m sure the drive down and through Sorrento is absolutely stunning, but we got to explore parts we would’ve never known. We got exclusive peeks at life in these small coastal villages and how beautifully serene it was. How simple life is high up and this far out form the hustle.
We made it to Positano, where we were given time to explore this coastal town by foot. As most small village, its lined with shops, has a central church, and many great places to eat. Its easy to get lost and lose time just exploring here, as life seems so much simpler when there are far less choices. We made it down to the beach, which is covered in dark rocky “sand” and the sea lined with boats. It really is a picturesque location that postcards are made of. After exploring we made our way to La Tagliata, a restaurant built on a cliff where mama cooks in the kitchen and we eat food served family style, with unlimitless wine and a shot of limoncello after our desserts (yes, plural).
After a delicious, hearty lunch and a sleepy ride back to the “mainland” we made it to Pompeii, where we had a guided tour of this city frozen in time. Its quite an experience to first hand hear these stories, and see the monster Vesuvius looming behind us. The city of Naples is still plagued by earthquakes, and Vesuvius remains a dormant but active volcano, which being there in person to see is both fascinating and terrifying. The stop provided to be a little much for the kids, as all they got to see were rocks everywhere, but our guide did a wonderful job of keeping them engaged and entertained. And luckily we had a tour short enough to keep them happy, but long enough to keep us engaged.
Cruising got us but an appetizer of all these places and its really made us long for so much more. To say that cruising here was enough is not even close to the truth. These individual countries need entire dedicated trips to explore them, because even though neighbors, they're truly unique stories on their own. So naturally whats our first thought, how do we get back here soon? Because we caught this Europe bug and we can't help but want more of it!
We also thought cost would make a drastic difference cruising, and I actually don’t think it would. Sure, we got a great deal for the 4 of us to have a floating home for 7 days - guaranteed food, sleep and transportation for a week of our trip. But there are still costs, like the excursions to explore and experience these magnificent places. And most of these are not just managable on foot, so you'd have the residual cost regardless of how we traveled. We also wanted to indulge in the delicacies each of these places had to offer. So there's another expense added to the trip - a very well worth it expense, but one that just made cruising a tad bit more expensive. The food we were given as part of the cruise didn't cut what we wanted to experience.
Cruising with kids is absolutely, positively, 100% the way to go. They had so much distraction on the ship once we got back, and the energy to spare, that dropping them off to play was not even a question. They delighted in so much that they did that we have no regrets in taking this kind of trip just for providing a true break from them from touring. The pouting leaving the ship should say it all!
But if you and yours have an adventurous spirit and taste buds to match, then stay off the boat. You'll get so much out of having a guide that knows and prides in their home country shuttling you around on YOUR schedule and being able to navigate these countries down your own path.
The experience was great and it definitely left us wanting more - to explore more courageously and take the road less traveled next time. But on the other hand, man, did we love these views ...
It sounds a little early to be discussing plans for the new year, but as vacation plans go, it's just one of those weeks that book up before you even start to think about it! Build in extra time for planning if you're traveling with kids, as it's difficult to narrow down what to do that can be age appropriate for all. But if you're looking for our best suggestions, cruising into 2020 is the only way to go!
For us, in 2017 we decided we would usher in 2018 with a long coveted first - a New Year's cruise! It doesn't sound that complicated, but when you live in Florida and 5 ports are in your backyard, it's not the first resolution for a unique new year, only because you likely have already cruised! The decision really came to us as a solution to the debate on what could we do that the kids will also enjoy? And after having cruised with kids for a few years, it felt like the perfect compromise. And actually created THE best start to a new year ever!
1. The timing is perfect - NO SCHOOL and an excuse to escape winter blues. So you're getting an off period where you don't have to pull the kids from classes and you likely have vacation time to burn too!
2. It's not hot! I mean, its still warm, but it is not the unbearable heat you get over the summer. It is also the perfect time to exchange boots for flip flops and sweaters for cover ups.
3. And let's talk perspective! I woke up on January 1st to pristine waters and umbrella drinks on the gorgeous island of Grand Turk. I can't think of a better to welcome a brand new start (you know, if you're into that stuff)!
And it goes without being said, it gave the kids something to do with a PG rating. We got caught in the monotony of having an early New Year celebration or spending it at home since being out was too much work. But the ship is your home away from home, so you're going out without all the nuances and worrying about the details. Add the bonus that the celebration by no means comes lack luster - you'll be sailing in comfort with a "couple thousand of your closest friends," so the celebration is even brighter than it would be watching the ball drop on your couch. The walks of life you get to surround yourself in such an occasion with; it brings perspective to your place in the grander scheme. This trip sure put a highlight on the "lonely years" of bringing up kids; not knowing what to do with them and not wanting to do it without them.
For this particular trip, we sailed on Carnival Magic out of Port Canaveral for 7 days, though we recommend itinerary and timing over any ship. The kids had the first week of January off, so we used the week after the holiday celebrations started to taper off to keep our spirits bright and this itinerary met our needs.
The ship itself highly promotes the celebration, particularly highlighting whatever sponsor was taking care of them for that sailing. New Year's Eve fell right at the beginning of our trip, which was deemed the ship's “formal night”. Having the celebration on a night where cruise goers were directed to fancy up a little more made the event feel extra special; everyone dressed to the nines and knowing that the party wouldn't even really start until closer to midnight.
During the day, the crew had guests write their "New Year's Wishes" and place them in a balloon which we filled with air. Around 11pm, a party in the atrium featuring a balloon drop in the atrium began. The net holding these wishes were released from a top deck and our wishes would be free to float and where the crew chose a few lucky wishers to win celebratory bottles of champagne. The party continued on the pool deck where the night was lit with excitement as we counted down to midnight. It could not have been a more perfect way for us all to celebrate, together most importantly.
Carnival has been known as the "Fun Ship" and I think at times a little too rowdy for more conservative crowds. But we find that their longer cruises do a better job of having a great mix of people. There were a great mix of people on board - from singles to families so we it was never a situation of feeling out of place. Add the slew of things to do that the longer itineraries feature, we all found ways to unwind for the new year.
The bigger ships feature a whole water park at WaterWorks, which makes cruising a blast for kids! Seuss at Sea themed activities bring a week of entertainment, including character greetings, a passenger story time production, and a brunch featuring foods like Green Eggs & Ham! Our youngest is now old enough to enjoy the kids activity drop offs, Camp Ocean, so we could partake in some alone time to enjoy the spa, go to the gym, or just not have to watch a toddler outdo herself - all of which we gloriously did. Parents designate who have sign in and out privileges so they're not just being released; there's alarms at the gates that will sound if someone comes in without permission; and there's a good ratio of counselors to children so the littlest ninjas (ours) are never out of sight. Plus the kids each get their own pretty cool wrist band to designate them to a muster station should something happen and parents were on the opposite end of the boat. We found that the time after dinner was *perfect* to get their energy out at camp and be able to crash right when we were ready to too. For New Year's they had their own pre-midnight celebration which made it a little extra special for just them too.
For the big kids (adults), we love the eclectic mix of venues we can spend an evening at, whether it be grabbing a drink, listening to live music or watching a show. All have been updated to keep with the changing times, so the thought of dated ships is a thing of the past. And if we don't feel like enjoying an adult beverage, there's a variety of activities from sports, movies, shopping or classes we can take. On this particular trip we decided to upgrade ourselves into a spa level room and capitalize on spa access for the whole week. So while the kids were playing in the kids club, we got to relax and rejuvenate with hot tubs, saunas and treatments. It was definitely a welcome way to end one year and start the next!
The itinerary on this cruise was similar to one we had done before; but this trip we were taking for the experience not the locations. We had the opportunity to unwind in Grand Turk on New Year's Day; discover Amber Cove, Dominica the day after; and explore a little more of San Juan, Puerto Rico. We also got three total days at sea, a nice break that allowed us to rest after the rush of the holidays and recharge as we embarked on a new year.
Looking for a better way to start the year? I couldn't think of a better one than this, especially with kids! We came into January, refreshed, in good spirits and with a (sun)kiss of extra color. What more could you need to feel rejuvenated to tackle a new set of 365 days?!
Best vacation ever? We think so!
Anyone who's spent their time at sea will come to appreciate how truly relaxing a cruising vacation is. We LOVE to cruise and try to take at least one a year to discover a new island in the Caribbean (or more recently, the Mediterranean coast)!
1. Your carefree vacation starts the moment you step on ship. We can't say this enough and there's proof in the pudding! Have you ever seen a cruise terminal vs. an airline terminal? Two completely different worlds. It all seems easier when you cruise - from the moment you check-in until you step on board - and that's because it actually is! No need to worry about long security lines where shoes and laptops need to be removed; or praying for decent seat arrangements; or trying to sort out unpredictable flight delays and changes - you're on vacation from the minute you arrive!
For someone who has never cruised, your stress-free vacation starts the moment you drop your luggage off with a porter, because it will be delivered straight to your stateroom. Yes, you'll still go through the standard protocol of checking travel documents, receiving your boarding pass (known as your cruise ship ID card), and security checks. But then, then your vacation really starts! Once you board, it's time to pull out that swimsuit and grab a spot by the pool because you have nowhere else to be for the next few days!
2. You get to pack light. What else are you going to do on island time? Whatever you want! Which loosely translates to "don't worry about getting all dolled up every day, you get to unwind and relax." What to pack should be the least of your concerns. No need to coordinate a ton of outfits or worry about bringing shoes to match - all you really need to get by is a swimsuit, coverup and lots of sunscreen!
We're usually at one suitcase when we travel, and cruising is no exception. We pack a few interchangeable shirt & bottom combos, a handful of swimsuits (because they never dry fast enough), items to workout in (which will work for excursions that require a little more manpower too) and then a couple nicer items to wear at dinner for the nights we choose to eat at one of the flagship restaurants. Cruises do have a suggested attire when entering dining rooms, but aside from that, you don't have to worry about packing the "right" thing.
And if you're still worried about not packing enough, all cruise lines offer some kind of pay for laundry service. Disney Cruise Line even has washers and dryers for guest to use themselves, laundromat style - just bring detergent and spare change! Our cruise through Europe on the Norwegian Epic offered us a midweek laundry service for a reduced set price. All we had to do was fill a bag, inventory it, send it to be cleaned, and we had it back the next day with clean clothes to wear through the second half of our vacation!
3. You can eat whatever, whenever, as much as you want. Unfortunately it all still has calories. But good news, is that it's all included in the price of your fare. And trust us, there's food galore!
One of the greatest things about planning a cruise vacation is knowing there's not too many surprises in what it'll cost you. Your per passenger price includes standard meals on board, from quick service dining by the pool to seated dinner in their main restaurants. AND there's no limit to what you get! This especially makes it great for traveling with kids (or picky eaters) because what a blessing it is to not have to plan a meal fit for all.
The experience you'll have dining all over the ship in their inclusive venues is enough to keep your appetite satisfied. But cruise lines do have specialty add-on restaurants, where you can book a "fancier" dinner usually at a flat rate. Unless you're an avid cruiser looking to change things up, or a cruiser wanting to celebrate a special occasion, there's no real need for the upgrade. We spent our honeymoon on Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas, and we made it a point to have one night to celebrate one-on-one. After months of madness called planning a wedding, it was nice to have a quiet night just the two of us, in a restaurant that offered even more superb service.
4. You can relax whenever you want. There's that island time again! Because really, it exists. Try to find a clock somewhere onboard - it's hard to come by and that's really a good thing! Want to sleep in and order breakfast in bed? Go for it! Want to take a snooze by the pool? Just remember to lather up and turn over to keep your color even. Need to sneak back to your room for an afternoon nap? It's the perfect time to escape before the evening's festivities begin.
Want to splurge and relax? Spa services are available on board for an additional fee. And though we're not usually ones to use them, we decided that we deserved it on our 2017 "end of the year" cruise on Carnival Magic. And it was so worth it! We booked spa level rooms that granted us access to the sauna and steam rooms at our leisure - our only regret was not using it more! We dropped the kids off at their respective kids' club and we snuck off for some time to unwind AND gear up for the new year, in a way we'd never get to at home.
5. The amenities are great. The bigger the ship the more there is to do, though every ship has a great selection of something for everyone! If the pools with live band weren't enough, many have been upgraded to include water park/play areas or amazing water slides to take your fun at sea up a notch. We cruised Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas where there literally were activities on every corner. Kiddie to adult only pools, putt putt, ropes course, an arcade, sports court, A CAROUSEL and so much more!
For adult only fun, ships have a variety of bars and clubs that each uniquely cater to every type of fun seeker. If gambling is your escape, most ships have a floating casino (available once you reach international waters) - Disney is the only that does not incorporate this in their brand. And more recently, to accommodate growing demand to help limit surprising costs, most lines have introduced a form of unlimited drink package (both non-/alcoholic). We've tried it and its a total benefit for someone who plans on enjoying their trip, without watching their bank account. Just prebook the package and you're ready for arrival - you know what it's going to cost you for adult libations and you can start drinking once you get on the boat!
6. The live shows are included. The caliber of productions that you're going to see is beyond anything you'd expect, especially as cruise lines continue to progress and enhance their offerings! And believe us when we say what you get is fantastic! Disney Cruise Line has always been top notch in their theatrical productions, and can delight children (and kids at heart) of every age. But more recently, we've been able to experience Broadway shows at sea on two separate lines, which truly left us blown away.
Back in 2017, we cruised Allure of the Sea and caught a production of Mamma Mia! which was as great as the touring production we saw a few years before that. And this was in addition to the outdoor stage shows, live musicians, ice skating productions and even a parade this ship offered, all in the same sailing. More recently on Norwegian Epic, we made time to see Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (and no, not because it was my namesake). I had watched it a few years back and enjoyed it - the ship production really rivaled what we saw on dry land, even on a much smaller set.
If live theater isn't your thing, most cruise lines also offer a variety of other options, including comedians, guest karaoke, live bands, and movie under the stars. We've had some of our more memorable nights as a family cuddling under a blanket and letting the kids doze off under a star filled sky. Just pick a seat, grab some popcorn and enjoy a movie by the pool. Those have always been an absolutely perfect end to our cruises!
7. Don't like to plan? You don’t have to! Everything's scheduled for you - that is, if you want to follow a schedule. Each ship has a cruise director and his staff of employees that coordinate and handle all activities. There's everything you could want to do from games, shows, art auctions, cooking classes, exercise classes, and more!
Every night in your stateroom along with turndown service, you will be provided a detailed daily schedule of what there is to come the following day. Have your pick of what appeals to you! You can start your day with a class at the gym, spend time at the pool, check out an art display, test your luck at BINGO, take a cooking class and then still make it back in time for lunch (and start all over again after that).
If keeping it low key is more your style, you can also opt to do NOTHING AT ALL. Even when docking at your scheduled ports, you don't ever have to leave the ship. For us, we love a good excursion, especially if it's to discover a new country and her people. And we'll definitely return to the ones we love to experience to see it all over again. But there are times when the offerings on the ship are more enticing, and your port day plan can be to stay on the boat all day long! We did this when we cruised the Disney Dream with the kids, and opted not to go to Nassau. We had been a handful of times and there wasn't anything we particularly wanted to do. Instead, we chose to take advantage of an empty ship, which still had scheduled activities, and allowed our kids to meet characters, have play time in the kids club, and enjoy the pools ... all without a crowd!
8. Your kids will have a great time too! Our kids have each been cruising since they were a year old, and it's been by far the best trip we can take as a family, especially with littlest of ones. If all the activities above aren't enough to convince you to cruise, than consider what else there is to do for your tots!
Depending on how old or young they are, there's a selection of activities that cater to each age. Typically cruising can start as early as 6 months old, so strolling the ship or letting them nap while you relax is exactly what you both need. You're limited to paid babysitting services for the littlest of the bunch, but it's worth your while if you're looking for an evening of conversation. For some ships, starting at age 2, your little ones are welcome to their kids club, where they can mingle with other kids their age while being supervised by a host of professional, fun-loving staff! Ships also typically offer this service free of charge until late night (10pm), so it gives parents a chance to grab an uninterrupted meal and post-dinner drinks and still call it an early night (because who are we kidding, staying up late nowadays is non-existent)! You may also keep your children playing after hours (usually until 12), but that comes at a nominal fee. Then for your big kids, they can explore tween and teen rooms; each giving them a safe haven to hang out with kids their age, while giving you the peace of mind of knowing where they are!
Beyond the kids club, unlimited food (and soft serve ice cream), pools, games, and so much more, cruise lines have also done a great job of catering to families by offering a specialty dining experience - like breakfast at sea with characters from Dr. Seuss (Carnival) or the gang from Madagascar (Royal Caribbean).
Disney Cruise Line itself, the pinnacle of fun for kids, offers daily meet-and-greets with Mickey and friends all over the ship, and special appearances by a host of other characters and princesses. You can pay for your kids to get a special princess or pirate makeover (similar to the parks) to adorn the rest of their trip. And you get to end one night at sea in a pirate takeover with fireworks to match (the only cruise line that does this). Disney, like the parks, has taken their experience up a level for family fun and if its something you're considering, definitely book a Disney before your little ones outgrow the magic!
9. You get to visit a ton of places all at once. Beyond all the reasons above, our number one incentive for cruising is the selection of stops we visit. If you've got a vagabond soul (like us) and you're eager to explore - but sometimes all you need is one day. Some of these stops, though beautiful and culturally enriching in their own right, are also new and unknown to us. Cruising gives us the option to see a handful of different places at once without the individual plane ticket prices. From there we can decide which ones we want to come back to spend a little more time at!
Aruba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Haiti, Dominician Republic, Puerto Rico, the Virigin Islands, Curacao, Grand Turk, Grand Cayman, Mexico, Belize - we've seen them all! And more recently, we jumped on a Mediterrean cruise and got to explore parts of Italy, France, Monaco, and Spain, all in one swoop! It definitely gives us a taste of what we want to see so much more of - and reason to start planning where our next adventure is!
10. Your real world can't sneak in. And if you need any more reason to go, it's because cruising is your one true way to disconnect. Cell charges for roaming on international waters are ridiculous. The first thing you will want to do after setting sail, is to turn your phone to airplane mode. Or like my husband loves to do - turn it off completely!
Cruising really does encourage an atmosphere to unplug, though cruise lines are customizing ship ready apps to keep you connected while on board. It's all a matter of figuring what makes sense for you, all while staying present in your family vacation. I keep my phone on me to make sure I'm capturing all our memories at a moment's notice; my husband locks his phone in our in-room safe only to see it once we're back home. Regardless of how you see it, you're disconnected from work, emails, social media and all those other distractions - and there can't be a better way to spend quality time with your loved ones!
So do we have you convinced? Need anything more? We've cruised the major lines (Carnival, Disney, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean) a handful of times each - all of which have great offerings for couples and families alike. There really is no right or wrong choice in what you choose, as each is different and will give you a unique experience from the other. For us, that's what we love about trying each out and figuring out which line is a right fit for us (right now, we don't have one)!
Ready to take the leap and need help planning the perfect trip for you? Let me know and we can find the right cruise - from ship to destination(s) - for you!