We are now officially seasoned cruisers…unofficially. I’m not quite sure when we gained that distinction. Was it after cruise number 5, 10 or 20? We are close to 30 now so am pretty sure we are. It’s also fair to say we have learnt a thing or two since our maiden cruise onboard Mariner of the Seas back in 2004.
Mariner was the start of our cruise romance. We boarded her back in April 2004 with no idea if we would enjoy cruising. We did as much research as we could back then which was nowhere near as easy 14 years ago. Social media was in its infancy. In fact, 2004 was the very year Facebook first launched. There was no YouTube, Twitter or Instagram. Tripadvisor was the only real place you could get any meaningful reviews and that only really focused on hotels and restaurants which was only handy for any pre or post cruise stays. So our first cruise was very much trial and error.
That was, of course, part of the fun. It’s like arriving in a new country for the first time. What are the customs? What will the food be like? Will the locals be friendly? Will I get lost on my first day? It’s a kind of anxious excitement.
Here are a few tips that might help you out when boarding your next cruise.
Don’t head to the Buffet for lunch on embarkation day – If I were stood at the top of the gangway back in 2004 greeting passengers coming aboard what would I tell myself as I stepped onto Mariner’s deck for the first time?
‘Hello sir. Welcome aboard the beautiful Mariner of the Seas. Step this way but I would avoid heading to the Windjammer straightaway’.
My 39-year-old self – ‘oh why? Is it horrid?’
‘On the contrary, it’s great…just gets extremely busy on embarkation day’.
This is very very true. Understandably also. You’ve paid for your cruise you may as well start getting your money’s worth as soon as possible by having lunch. The only trouble is on the first day almost everyone else will have the same idea and it gets a little crowded and frustrating. It does depend on the ship and some handle it better than others but other than sea days the buffet will be at its busiest on the first day. It’s often made worse as people will be carrying bags and other things as they cannot access their cabin yet. They will place these on the seat next to them…taking up even more space. Med cruises can be even more challenging. The Italians and Spanish like to take their time over lunch and they often have large, extended families and so unwittingly take up a lot of space for a long time. Lunch is an artform for them. So what do you do.? Try and find somewhere else that is serving snacks or lunch. Again it depends on the ship but you can often find smaller, quieter venues in other parts of the ship. Park Cafe on Royal Caribbean springs to mind. After all you have the rest of your cruise to sample all that the buffet has to offer.
You don’t have to share at table at breakfast, lunch or dinner if you don’t want to. For some people the highlight of a cruise is meeting new and interesting people from other walks of life and other parts of the world. This is especially true during dinner when you can chat to people over multiple courses. When we first started cruising we did this and we met some wonderful people that will still keep in touch with to this day. However, it is always something of a lottery who your fellow dinner guests will be. I always found it quite stressful, that walk to the dinner table on the first evening, and I don’t take a cruise to be stressed.
So when booking you can often find there is an option to select the size of your table. All the way from 2 persons up to normally 10 or 12. We never sat on a table of more than 8 persons but these days we like a table just for ourselves. That is of course unless we are sailing with family or friends.
On our first cruise we decided to take breakfast in the main dining room. We were escorted to a large table of about 12 people. Now if you know us we are not very sociable first thing in the morning. Grouchy and Grumpy might be an apt description. Soon after the coffee and juice hits the spot there is an almost miraculous transformation but before that don’t look us in the eye. That first breakfast took forever. We are fairly unfussy and know how we like our eggs etc but a lot of our table were so fussy on how they wanted things cooked. Just taking the order seem to take up most of the morning. What we have since learnt is that when you enter the dining room, this goes for lunch also, just ask for a table for two. Most cruise lines are very accomodating. You might have a short wait but I find that much more preferable than trying to make small talk over a croissant which is a skill I have yet to master.
Book speciality dinner reservations as soon as you can after boarding. If you can do it before you board even better. That way you can usually get the date and times you want. If you can’t get the time you want online it’s worth heading to the restaurant of choice and having a word with the Maitre D if you can find them. Similarly if your a high tier loyalty cruiser try speaking to the loyalty concierge. They can often find tables at suitable times. First night of cruise is often a good time as most people head to the main dining room to meet fellow table guests or the buffet if they have been travelling all day and just want something quick.
Research a port as much as you can to get the most out of it. As I stated earlier there are now a ton of research options available to the modern traveller. You can find information at the touch of button. There are numerous apps to help you gain insight into where you will be visiting. This includes things to do, places to eat and shopping guides. The cruise line itself will give you some basic information in your daily guide but I don’t think you can have too much information. Tom’s Port Guides is a fantastic resource for information on ports and surrounding aread. You can download information to your phone or device which is always handy if you have slow internet speed at sea…or none at all. He hasn’t visited every port yet but it’s still an impressive and growing collection. I particularly love the maps and aerial views he provides detailing routes and distances to various locations. A particular favourite is his in depth guide to Rhodes which I found invaluable on a recent visit. I would have missed so much without it.
Cabin location is key. Location, location, location. With modern cruise ships being so large you will want your cabin to be in the optimum spot. Optimum will differ depending on who you are. If you like an aft cabin with those gorgeous wake views then be prepared for your step count to rocket. These ships are long. Actually not a bad thing considering the amount of food and drink the average cruiser consumes. However, if like us you like being fairly close to what’s going on then midship is the way to go. Preferably near, but not too near, an elevator bank. You can then reach most decks relatively quickly and you’re only halfway from the front or the back. Port or Starboard? Good question and it does depend on your route. If it’s a circular Caribbean or Med cruise then it won’t really matter and you will get sunshine on your balcony (if you have one) at some point. If it’s a Transatlantic for example we always go starboard on an eastbound crossing or portside on a westbound. This means we get the early morning sunshine and often glorious sunsets as the sun is south of the ships position.
Bring carry on for first day. Most cruise lines suggest casual dress the first evening but I am sure most of us wouldn’t want to go to dinner in the same clothes we travelled in that day. Most of the time your cases will make it to your cabin in plenty of time. However, if there is a delay and you have dinner early you might find yourself a little stuck. So carry a change of clothes in your carry on. Some basic toiletries is also a good idea. That way you are covered for the first night.
Got any questions? We would be more than happy to answer any if we can so please leave a comment or email us.