Our sink, minibar, TV, and water provided
So maybe you've read all my posts and thought you'd like to go on a cruise too, or maybe you've always fancied it but never thought you could do it? Well, I wasn't sure either, but having been on one cruise I'd definitely go on another. And I have some tips to make the best of your trip. I read quite a few blogs before hand which definitely helped, so here's my top ten (ish):
- Tips for staff. We paid for staff tips as part of our package, it went to restaurant staff, bar staff, and housekeeping, so we didn't have to worry about that every time we ate or drank. But we did leave a tip for our housekeeper Jaevan on the last night - I left a little note so he knew it was for him and he left one back! Bless him. He'd been really friendly every time we'd seen him, so we wanted to leave him a tip specifically. I'd say that's my main point: tip as you feel fit
- Be polite. Seriously, be polite. You're not better than anyone working on that ship. Staff are all working incredibly hard and incredibly long hours, and they're smiling and saying hello to basically everyone they meet... And then there's some rude entitled person snapping at them, or holiday makers just not saying thank you when a staff member does something for them. We're pretty polite people anyway, I'd say, but we were extremely careful to say thank you a lot. Everyone's human.
- Beverage package. We paid for a generous beverage package. It allowed us all kinds of juice and hot drinks, and soft drinks like Pepsi and lemonade. It allowed any wine up to a certain value and cocktails up to the value of $15 (it was technically an American ship so everything was in American dollars). This was really generous - all the cocktails on the sun deck were under that amount and each restaurant had a "signature" cocktail that was, too. There was a choice of wine and prosecco was included which was lush! I'd say definitely do pay for a beverage package. It meant we didn't stop ourselves indulging and we had an alcoholic drink most afternoons by the pool. It's worth it.
- Seasickness. As I said elsewhere, Lee gets incredibly motion sick and I wasn't sure if he would withstand a cruise. I fully thought we'd be in the medical centre by 9am on the first morning begging for them to help him get through the next six nights. Everyone kept telling us "It's different on a big ship!" and I was like yeah, but he gets REALLY seasick. He felt ill on the chain ferry across Lake Windermere, for goodness sake. But, well, it really IS different. It's so big that you don't really notice the movement, and Lee found that the higher up the ship he was the better he felt. And when you're in port all day it's very stable then anyway. We did find that when we stepped off the ship we still felt like we were on it, but nothing too bad. And we did see lots of people with dramamine patches behind their ears, so if you do feel ill get some of those immediately, but honestly, it isn't like a cross channel ferry or anything like that
- Food. The food package included a whole bunch of restaurants for free and the buffet on the sun deck, and the snack bar on the sun deck too. You could eat somewhere different nearly every night and not pay for it. There are places you have to pay, of course, but it's not necessary. We found that two of the restaurants had very similar menus so we went to the one which had a better ambience and a more relaxed dress code. The food was mostly really yummy and the buffet had a different theme every night which was fun. We didn't think the desserts were great, so we ate starters and main courses instead. Lee liked the ice cream machines so had those while the rest of us were drinking alcohol (he doesn't drink). It's like any other all-inclusive place, I think. There was someone cooking fresh omelettes every morning and I really enjoyed that!
- Balcony. We didn't have balconies in our rooms. That does lower the price a lot, and I'm not sure that we missed having one. Certainly Lee felt that having a balcony would have made him feel more sea sick. My mum said she wished she'd had one for about 5pm when she'd have a shower and a drink, but she wasn't that bothered. We didn't spend much time in our cabins anyway, because there's so much else to do and see. The rooms are small, so I'd recommend unpacking everything into its proper place to keep it tidy. We also found the low lighting a bit disconcerting, so a balcony would have added to the light, but we also found that we slept better because the cabin was so dark. I'd just say be sure that you really want a balcony before you insist on one.
- Trips. We only went on one of the organised trips, to Florence, and we weren't overly impressed with it. It wasn't really the fault of the cruise line, but if I went again I would do a different kind of trip. I'd still use their coach to get into the city, but then I'd do what I liked and use the local taxis instead of the city bus. The upside is that if there's any delay and you're on a cruise coach, the boat will wait for you. If you're not, and you're late back, they're within their rights to leave you. I suppose my advice is to do the trips you're especially interested in, but maybe to go your own way, and also to spend time on the ship too!
- Getting off. Relatedly, getting off the boat was much easier than I thought it might be. Every port had shuttle buses if it was too far away from the town, and it was really well organised. In Naples we stepped off the boat to walk down the port side, which I thought might be a problem, but no one seemed to mind us. Definitely get off and have your own little wander around. That's what we did in Civitavecchia and it was lovely, we didn't see much but it was a lovely little Italian glimpse. We used the shuttle bus in Palma, which we'd had to pre book, so do check first.
- Asking questions. If you're at all confused about anything, definitely ask a member of staff. We had a whole customer service desk on deck 5 and went down a few times to ask something. We also got a daily newsletter each evening which gave lots of information about the next day, and I'd recommend reading those because they had a lot of useful information on them. But honestly just ask, I don't think there's such a thing as a stupid question on a cruise ship.
- Exploring. I'm really glad we made time to explore the boat in full, especially when it was less full on the Tuesday in Naples. We made a note of places we wanted to go back to, which was helpful. The casino and shops aren't open in port, so we went to those in the evenings on the way to eat. We took our time doing it but it was definitely worth it.
- Photos. There's tons of times that your photo gets taken - when you get on, every time you get off, in foyers and in restaurants and by the pool. You can then look at the photos and decide whether to buy them. I thought it was a swizz to begin with, but actually then chose a couple of photos of Lee and I because they're really nice souvenirs. They're quite expensive, but having just a couple was, for me, worth it. I'd say definitely look at your photos and decide then whether to buy one, don't just dismiss the idea out of hand.
- See a show. One of the blogs I read advised to see one of the shows while on board. They're free, and the blog I read said that they were usually of excellent quality. So I checked on my booking and it turned out that the show while we were on board was Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which was an excellent choice for me because I love the film. I booked for Lee and I to see it and even though Lee doesn't like musicals he really enjoyed himself and thought it was funny. It was excellent. Definitely see a show, it's worth it.
Well, that's a lot of words, but do ask me any questions if you have them!
The wardrobe in our room, with the curtain behind which separated the bathroom from the rest of the cabin. The wardrobe was really well organised inside, and very spacious, with room for our empty cases once we'd unpacked.