[Alexis Hadley is a science teacher by trade; creative dabblings include travel, photography, painting, acting, improv, and now blog writing. She recently went on her first cruise.]
On a cruise, the vacation is in the journey.
Planes, trains, and cars are all about getting from point A to point B. No matter how much I try to enjoy the ride (and I do enjoy it from time to time), ultimately, it’s the destinations that really matter. On a cruise, the destinations are just brief pit-stops, offering only a taste of what’s there with no option to go in for a full serving. If you like your sample-size experience, then you’ll have to return some other time.
For the most part, you don’t even feel the ship’s movement. When things are smooth, you forget that you’re on a boat, except for that magnificent completely-surrounded-by-the-sea view. The last day of our cruise, however, was rather rocky, which I enjoyed thoroughly. It was like being several drinks in without having any of those annoying costs or side effects of actual alcohol. Everyone was swerve-walking like drunken toddlers, the pool tables were teeter-tottering to stay level, the swimming pools were transformed into unstable wave pools, and the towel monkey left in our room by the staff was literally swinging from the rafters. I have to commend the dancers of the final Broadway-style show, bracing themselves and doing their best to pretend they’re on solid ground. I’m glad the whole trip wasn’t that rocky, but it sure was fun for the one day.
You will never feel more like you’re being fattened up for some benevolent *insert mythical creature that wants to eat you*’s dinner. Food is everywhere, and available at all hours, in various flavors and forms. Overall, the food was good, the made-to-order being significantly better than the buffets, as is generally expected, and desserts were yummy. But what really impressed me was that even as a pescatarian with a gluten allergy, I still managed to find an abundance of delicious food choices available from the clearly labeled “special needs” menus.
Find your own fun.
There’s no shortage of things to do on the ship, which included three segregated-by-age swimming pools, a casino, a theater, a library, a mini-golf course, a rock climbing wall, and whatever else has slipped my mind. Scheduled entertainment has the blandness you’d expect from anything that has to be appropriate for all ages and levels of easily-offendedness, but there were enjoyable moments. One of the first things I tried was the art tour. It was short, explained why the stuff all around is so pretty, and ended in free champagne. I also went to the art auction, which was interesting and educational about the artists, and they want you to spend way too much money on the shinys so they keep your glass full!
There are also so many simple pleasures to be found. One of my favorite souvenir purchases was a bottle of $10 color changing nail polish that made each venture into the sunlight extra fun as we watched my nails transform from glittery silver to bright pink. Sitting near the wake of the ship as the sun starts to set, you can see little rainbows shooting off the sprays, reminding me of that scene at the end of The Last Unicorn where they’re all running into the sea. And the decks, covered in sun bathers by day, are completely empty at night with views of the stars like you’ve never seen. Just bring your beach towel for a blanket; it’s a little chillier at night.
Do your research.
I was grateful for the excursion research I’d done in advance. The ship is a magic isolation vessel, and information seems scarce when you’re used to a world with Google and TripAdvisor at your fingertips. The internet was down every time we checked, so there was a bit of faith involved in making the excursion at our first stop that I’d scheduled in advance, but I figure the tour companies expect tourists to be dumb, so they make it as easy as possible, and it all worked out. For our second stop, we’d decided to postpone our excursion choice to better meet the whim of the moment. We asked the kind, but not-so-much with the eptness, lady at the cruise excursion booking desk if she had any more information on a particular excursion, and she just started reading the small local-community-center-esque blurb we had just handed her describing the excursion. Eventually she did produce a brochure that at least showed a picture of the semi-sub that convinced us to try it, and we enjoyed it well enough. So while it all worked out, know you cannot depend on there being an abundance of information available to help you make your choices after you’re on board.
Keep it in your budget.
Cruises are not cheap, but considering their upfront cost includes food, lodging, and some transportation, they can be an option for those of us who are not super-rich, especially when you go with a friend, relative, or significant other paying half of the trip.
There are several price points for different types of rooms. The state rooms, or private quarters, are all rather small, retro rooms. Wood panels cover the walls, and small-scale furniture fills the living space. The bathroom is barely large enough for the tiny tube shower, airplane-style toilet, and half-size sink. It’s a classy trailer gone dorm room. This is a place to sleep, shower, and change your clothes; these little pod-rooms are not where you’ll be spending your time. You don’t really need your own window or balcony because beautiful views and quiet places to enjoy them are abundant on the ship. The complete lack of any light indication for the time of day was the only oddity about it, but that’s what clocks are for!
Another place people blow their budget is drinks. Clean water, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, fountain-style juice, and milk are all included. The ship is not all inclusive for alcohol, and that’s probably for the best. There is a duty-free liquor store on board, but bottles purchased are not obtained until after the cruise is done. It is good to keep in mind that cruising is not about getting wasted, so one or two drinks a day is a nice pace to relax and enjoy your vacation while avoiding bill-shock at the end.
Cruising is definitely something I want to do again–maybe save up for an Alaskan cruise or a one way cruise to Europe! Either way, I’m sure to enjoy the ride.