Because of the “all-inclusive” nature of cruise ships, people often fall into a “set it and forget it” mindset after booking their cruise. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. A cruise is designed to strip the work and stress out of travel. However, after cruising a few times, I’ve learned that some light preparation before embarkation can maximize the joy factor of a cruise. Here are five important things you can do to ensure you have the best trip ever.
Factor in onboard expenses
When booking a cruise, it’s important to remember the “all-inclusive” base price does not reflect a lot of the add-ons that make up the cruise experience and, ultimately, your final cost. Generally, the base price covers your room, on-ship dining and access to amenities, like comedy shows, the fitness center, swimming pools, etc. However, there are plenty of add-ons not included in the base price, like, for example, soda and alcohol. On Carnival cruise ships, the unlimited soda program costs $6/day for adults and $4.50/day for kids, and the pass has to be purchased for the entire length of the cruise. Other add-ons include: shore excursions, internet access, ATM fees, spa treatments, gratuities ($12/day per passenger is the suggested rate among many major cruise lines) and signature dining restaurants. When it comes to onboard add-ons, my favorite one to splurge on is the signature dining experience. We at the Steakhouse on the Carnival Dream ($35 per person) and had a date within our vacation, which was a lot of fun.
Get a Spa Pass and relax in style
A spa pass is a great alternative to an at-sea massage. For about the same price as a massage, you can often get a spa pass for the duration of a cruise. The amenities included in the pass vary depending on the cruise line, but often offer access to hydrotherapy pools and thermal suites, and, on port days, solitude. On a Carnival cruise, spa passes can be purchased onboard at the Cloud 9 Spa.
Brush up on the destinations
Going on a cruise is a great way to see a variety of destinations without any major commitments. While we prefer to travel slow and stay longer in places, I do see the benefit of short, layover-style jaunts in foreign locales. The key is to hit the ground running, that way you can maximize your time in the destination, especially if you’re not going to do a shore excursion. So, before stepping off the ship, have a loose game plan about what you want to do and see, and how you’re going to get to and from the port.
Get to know the cruise ship from home
Cruise ships are huge. (The exception is river cruises, which generally use smaller ships.) The use of “mega” to describe today’s fleet of ocean-going cruise ships is not an exaggeration. The Carnival Dream, for example, features 15 decks and is the length of three football fields. Yeah. I’d say that’s pretty darn “mega.” Despite its size, a cruise ship can still feel crowded, especially around pool areas on sea days. To help with crowding, most new ships have adults-only areas, which are generally less crowded and almost always more laid back. Before boarding, check out the floor plan of the vessel and look online for tips from other cruisers about the best places on the ship to escape the crowds. This way, once on board, you can spend your valuable vacation time relaxing, instead of wandering aimlessly around the floating resort looking for a place to chillax.
Start your vacation early
Nothing can ruin a long awaited cruise vacation, like missing the ship because of some sort of travel delay or other unforeseen circumstance. Luckily, there’s an easy solution: arrive the night before. By getting to the port city the day before, you can settle into your vacation, leaving the pre-departure jitters on land where they belong. Visitor bureaus often feature stay and cruise information on their websites, which can be helpful for finding deals on pre- and post-cruise stays.
As with any type of travel, a little preparation can go a long way, and taking a cruise is no different. Once the ship starts moving and your trip is underway, time has a way of slipping by at warp speed. Utilizing these tips will help you maximize your vacation time—and at the end of the day, isn’t that all we really want?
This post was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind.