I’m so excited to write this blog about my first cruise as a blogger and share my experience with you! I took a 12-night Southern Caribbean cruise on Celebrity Silhouette starting on December 1st, 2019, and in short, it was fabulous! Before I get to it, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention why I’m way behind schedule in writing the series of blogs that I have planned about this cruise. Two reasons why: the first being the day I disembarked from the cruise I ended up getting some type of horrific flu that took me almost three weeks to recover from. The second reason why I’m late is because I started my new dream job as a travel consultant, a second career for me that I just finished going back to school for.
Ok, enough about that…let’s get to the good stuff…the cruise! Why this cruise? The timing of this cruise was significant for a few reasons. I always cruise in the first week or two of December because it’s one of the most economical times of the year to cruise in the Caribbean, there are few children onboard since this is during the school year and I like to get away to the tropics just as the endless winter arrives here in Western New York. I also had a lot to celebrate with a belated fifth wedding anniversary and just finishing school.
The other reason for choosing this specific cruise was the itinerary. I had always wanted to take a longer cruise, and the seven islands that it was stopping at were some of my favorite islands, plus two new islands that I have never been to before.
I have cruised with Celebrity once before, and it was on the Silhouette. While I do enjoy trying out ships that I’ve never cruised before, I’ll admit that I was excited about cruising on the Silhouette again as I really enjoyed my previous cruise on her back in 2016.
Silhouette is going into dry dock in January 2020 as part Celebrity’s 500-million-dollar Revolution project to refurbish every ship in their fleet using the same design concepts fashioned after the Edge which launched in 2018. The Edge is Celebrity’s newest class of ground-breaking ships in the Edge class.
Knowing that this ship was going into dry dock less than a month after I cruised on her, I wondered if I’d see a difference in service or product. As I suspected, Celebrity didn’t disappoint. The service was impeccable, and she looked great, considering her last refurb was in January 2015. With an imminent refurb happening, the series of blogs that I’ll be writing about for this cruise will focus more on the destinations visited rather than a blow-by-blow of the ship from top to bottom. I will be writing some blogs about my experience with the ship in terms of service, food and activities since a refurb has no bearing on those aspects, and they are all an important part of the overall experience of cruising.
Check back soon for my next blog about my experience on Celebrity Silhouette.
One of the aspects of cruising that I most look forward to is experiencing each port of call. There are endless ways that you can choose to spend your time in each port. Most of them are via excursions that you can book either directly through the cruise line or using an independent tour operator. If your ship docks within walking distance of a city or tourist area, you can forego an excursion all together and just walk off the ship to discover the area yourself, but do your homework here because not all ports of call are safe to explore on your own.
Decide what type of activity you want to do while you’re in port.
There are so many options when choosing shore excursions. There are historic tours that allow you to learn about the history of the area you’re in while providing you the opportunity to take amazing photos of architecture, forts, monuments, etc. Adventure lovers need not worry as there will likely be something for you as well such as biking, repelling down a mountain, zip lining, hiking, etc. For my foodie friends, more and more cruise lines and river cruises offer food, wine and beer excursions also. Of course, for the vacationer who is looking to simply relax, how about a beach excursion where you can lounge and swim at your leisure? Eco tours are very popular and one of my personal favorites, as you can view animals and marine life in their natural habitats. Volunteering excursions are an emerging type of experience that both cruise lines and independent tour operators are starting to offer more and more.
Why book a cruise line shore excursion?
There are a few big benefits to booking your excursions through the cruise line. Taking a cruise line’s sponsored tour can save you the time to research independent tour operators. Each tour operator is vetted by the cruise line to ensure that they are legit, dependable and meet safety standards. The biggest benefit to taking a cruise line-sponsored tour is that should anything happen while on your tour that prevents you from getting back to your ship on time, the ship will wait for you. If you are late getting back to your ship on an independent tour, they will not wait for you.
Why book an independent shore excursion?
OK, so for this one I’m going to jump right up to the top reason why independent tours can be better than ship tours…PRICE! Cruise-sponsored tours are often more expensive than independent tours, and what’s more, you can usually get more for your money on an independent excursion. Independent tours can offer more flexibility and personalization with smaller crowds. If you go this route, do your homework thoroughly and look for reviews.
So, where do I start my research for cruise shore excursions?
There are so many great resources for your cruise excursion research. Here is my list of just some of the ideas to get you started as you begin to research what you want to do in port on your next cruise. Don’t forget to check out my Resources page as I have included links to some of my favorite sites.
- The Cruise Line’s Website.
- The cruise line’s website should offer a link to list all of their excursions that include price, description of what you’ll see and do, what you should bring and what restrictions, if any, may apply.
- Your Travel Advisor.
- By now I think my readers know me well enough to know that I value the expertise and advice that a Travel Advisor brings, and utilizing them to help choose the right shore excursion is no exception. They have first-hand knowledge of many ports of call to advise you on such as best beaches, best bang for your buck and even what to avoid in certain ports of call.
- Cruise Critic.
- This is another great resource for cruisers. There is such a wealth of information here including shore excursions.
- Here you can not only search for shore excursions by specific ports of call, but you can get user-generated reviews.
- Word of mouth.
- Join a Facebook cruise group and ask questions to other cruisers about what shore excursions they recommend.
- If you have a specific cruise booked, log onto Cruise Critic and join a Cruise Critic Roll Call for your specific cruise. Here you’ll meet other cruisers taking the same cruise as you, and often times within your roll call thread cruisers will discuss ideas, recommendations and even organizing group shore excursions.
- Ask friends and family members.
- Independent Tour Operators. There are a ton, and way too many for me to list or even know about, but here are a few that I have used:
- ResortForADay.com offers day passes to Bahamian, Caribbean & Mexican resorts. It’s a great way to spend a relaxing day at the beach or resort pool while visiting an island during your cruise.
- ShoreTrips.com offers several different types of shore excursions at cruise ports of calls across the world.
- HopeFloats.org offers volunteering excursions at several Caribbean islands where you can spend four hours donating your time and giving back to the local people in need.
For my upcoming 12-night cruise in December to the Southern Caribbean I will be taking a mix of excursions that include cruise-line-sponsored tours, independent tours that I found on TripAdvisor and that were recommended by my Cruise Critic Roll Call group, I’ve scored day passes at two different Sandals properties and I’m doing my very first volunteering excursion that I’m super excited about. Of course, I will be sharing all of my experiences via blogs afterward, so be on the lookout for that in mid-December.
If you’re anything like me, you want your cruise to be as stress free as possible. While there will always be things that are out of our control, there are many elements to cruising that we can control. Here are my top 15 mistakes that people make when cruising. Some are more consequential than others, and yes, I’ve made one or two of them myself. If you avoid making these mistakes it will make for a more enjoyable and stress-free cruising experience.
1. Flying in the on the same day that your cruise leaves
In today’s world of travel woes (missed, delayed or canceled flights), if you depend on an airline getting you into your embarkation city in time to board your cruise, that would be like rolling the dice at a craps table…sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. A very simple solution is to fly in the day before your cruise. Yes, you’ll have to pay for hotel accommodations, but that is a small price to pay to ensure that you’ll board your cruise on time. This is a huge stress reliever, and you may even be able to spend some enjoyable sightseeing time in your embarkation city prior to your cruise (who doesn’t love an extra vacation day?).
2. Booking an early flight the same day that your cruise ends
When your cruise returns to home port, in general, everyone is disembarked by 9:00 a.m. or earlier. If you’ve booked a return flight home before 10:00 a.m., you will miss your flight. You should plan on flying out no sooner than 12:00 p.m. in general, depending on your departure port. Again, this is going to alleviate much stress regardless if you’re using a shuttle, taxi or ride sharing mode of transportation to get you back to the airport. Often times it’s not just your cruise ship returning to port, but one, two or even several other cruise ships returning as well. That can create traffic jams and long lines at the airport to check in, so be sure to give yourself enough time.
3. Don’t get a passport
Most of you may be thinking this one is obvious, but I can assure you that there are travelers out there who either don’t know, or don’t think that they need a passport. If you are leaving the country, you need a passport, period.
4. Don’t use a Travel Advisor
We all have choices when booking our cruise. There are the DIYers who book their own cruise, and there are those who choose to book through a Travel Advisor. Check out my blog, Top 4 reasons to use a travel advisor. Enough said.
5. Don’t purchase travel insurance
How’s this for stress during your cruise…you can’t get to your cruise ship for various reasons, you get ill while on your cruise, something catastrophic happens before your cruise and you need to cancel, etc. Add in not having travel insurance and you now have to scramble to figure out what to do, and how you are going to cover the cost of many of these situations, potentially out of pocket. Take a peek at why you should purchase travel insurance.
6. Don’t research the placement of your cabin
Oh boy, have I made this mistake in the past. I once stayed in a balcony stateroom directly below the pool deck. Every day between 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., the music was pounding so loudly that I could actually feel it if I was sitting in my cabin during those hours. If you are worried about feeling sea sick, you may want to avoid being on a high floor at the fore or aft of the ship. If you spend a lot of time in a particular area of the ship, you may want to be in a stateroom that is more convenient to access that area. Some cruisers don’t care where they are placed, but if you are someone who has particular needs or concerns about where your stateroom will be located, do some research, or better yet, let your Travel Advisor know what you do or don’t want and they can book you in the right stateroom location.
7. Waiting until you board the ship to book extras
It used to be that you had to wait until you boarded your cruise to book excursions, specialty restaurants, spa services and even some shows. Now most of these extras can be booked ahead of time online. Booking early for extras helps you get what you want when you want it. Many cruise lines will even offer early booking discounts for some of the extras that they offer versus waiting until you board to book.
8. Packing items that are prohibited by the cruise ship
There are certain items that you cannot bring on any cruise ship such as an iron or flame candles. Food, soda and alcoholic beverages may also be prohibited or limited and this can vary by cruise line. Ask your Travel Advisor or take some time to review what you can or can’t bring on-board your cruise by visiting the cruise line’s website.
9. Skipping the muster drill
All cruise ships are required by law to provide muster drills where safety information is given to every single passenger on what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency aboard the ship. Not only is it not a good idea to skip this from the standpoint that if something did happen you wouldn’t know what to do, but you can get in serious trouble if you skip the mandatory muster drill, and trust me, they will find you.
10. Forget to bring cash
Most cruises are cashless since they require passengers to use their key card for most on-board purchases that will be charged to your credit card. There are times when having some cash will come in handy. Bring some small bills, like ones and fives, to tip airline and cruise baggage porters and excursion tour guides. You may want to have some extra cash while in port for purchases or taking public transportation like taxis or buses.
11. Not packing a small first-aid kit
While most cruise ships have an on-board doctor and a medical facility, it’s a good idea to bring your own small first-aid kit with some everyday essentials like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, band aids, motion sickness and/or allergy medication, just in case. Having your own supply will save you both time and money if you had to purchase everyday items like these through the cruise line’s medical facility.
12. Missing the boat while in port
This is a biggie. Best rule of thumb is to always set your watch/clock to the ships time, regardless of where you are. It’s always a safe bet to arrive back to the ship at least one hour before it is scheduled to leave. The ship has a schedule to maintain and will not wait for you if you are late. The only time they will wait for late passengers is when those passengers have taken an excursion offered by the cruise line. If a passenger takes an excursion with a non-cruise-affiliated vendor, they will not wait for you.
13. Forgetting to turn off your roaming data on your mobile devices and tablets
If you do not have an International and/or WiFi plan for your mobile devices and tablets and you forget to turn off your data roaming, you can incur roaming charges that can cost hundreds of dollars.
14. Not tipping the cruise staff
Tipping is expected on most cruises, and many cruise lines will automatically deduct tips daily per passenger. Some passengers prefer to tip directly to the staff who served them, such as their room attendant, dining room staff, bartenders, etc. You do have the right to ask the cruise line not to bill you automatically every day for tips. Regardless, please do not think that you should not have to tip the staff. The people who work on cruise lines work very hard to ensure that you have an amazing experience and they well deserve tips. Their salaries are small and they rely largely on tips.
15. Saving pool chairs for excessive periods of time
I have just three simple words of advice on this one…don’t do it. Dropping your towel or some random personal belonging on a pool chair early in the morning so you can go back to sleep or do something else until hours later is not fair to others and it’s just plain rude. Most cruise lines have a 30-minute grace period for an unoccupied pool chair (long enough for a swim, to eat at the buffet, etc.). After 30 minutes they can and should remove your personal belongs to free up the chair.
Whether or not to purchase travel insurance is a question that many cruisers ask themselves when booking a cruise. Your Travel Advisor or travel website should always offer it, but in the back of your mind there may be a budget-conscious devil questioning if you really need to spend additional money on travel insurance. Do you ask yourself “What could happen” or “how often do I really get sick?” I know I have and have even foregone purchasing the insurance for one or two of my cruises. Fortunately, nothing happened on those cruises. I was very lucky because as much as we think it can’t happen to me, I can tell you first hand, it can.
I took a cruise in March 2018 on Norwegian Epic. This was my first cruise as a cruise blogger, and also my first time cruising on Norwegian. I was so excited for this cruise. I couldn’t wait to explore the ship, the ports of call and blog about it all.
The day I was leaving for my vacation I woke up with a terrible sore throat. Refusing to believe I was sick, I soldiered on and boarded the ship the next day. During the first two days of the cruise my throat hurt so bad that I tried not to swallow. By day three I realized that not swallowing wasn’t an option, and I was getting sicker. I finally broke down and went to the on-board medical facility to see the ship’s doctor.
The cost to see the doctor was $159. The doctor took blood and a throat culture (additional costs incurred for these tests as well). Both tests showed positive for strep throat and an ear infection. Normally I would just take antibiotics prescribed to me and be on my way, however, due to another health-related issue to antibiotics, it wasn’t that simple for me. I needed to take two different types of medication – one to treat the strep/ear infection and the other to keep me healthy from the antibiotics.
Since the second medication wasn’t something that most people commonly need, the ship only carried an intravenous form of it versus a pill form. As a result, I ended up spending four hours each day for the remainder of my cruise, five out of seven days, in the medical center to get the intravenous medicine that I needed.
My first question to the doctor was “How much will this cost?” He was very honest and said it would cost thousands of dollars. He then asked me if I purchased travel insurance, and I told him I did. He assured me I had nothing to worry about.
During my four hours each day in the ship’s medical facility, I realized very quickly that I wasn’t the only passenger who was unfortunate enough to get sick on a cruise. There were several passengers coming in to visit the doctor for various ailments such as sprained ankles, upper respiratory infections and cuts. When you have nothing to do but lie in a hospital bed for hours at a time you can’t help but be nosy and eavesdrop. I learned of another young woman on my cruise who also had to receive medicine intravenously, so it doesn’t just happen to us middle-aged passengers.
All in all, the cruise wasn’t the best cruise I’ve ever taken, but I’m so thankful that I did purchase travel insurance. The total medical bill after five days of on-board treatment was over $6,500! Between my primary medical insurance and the travel insurance I was able to recoup every penny of the cost.
Moral of My Story
Please don’t ever question again if you should buy travel insurance – always purchase it! It’s a minimal cost when you compare it to the cost of your cruise or trip, and it can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars if something goes wrong. While I have shared my story here, I have barely scratched the surface about travel insurance.
Did You Know…
• Travel insurance covers far more than just medical issues?
• There are many different types and levels of coverage that travel insurance policies offer?
• The claim process works well, but there are some important things you should know if you have to file a claim with your travel insurance?
Stay tuned for a future blog with further insight into the world of travel insurance that will touch on each of the bullets above.
OK, I know some of you read this headline and thought, is she kidding? Why would I need to use a Travel Advisor when I can book everything myself online? Am I right? Well, bear with me on this one because I have some very compelling reasons that will make you ask yourself why wouldn’t I use a Travel Advisor for my next cruise?
Reason #1 – Expertise
In my last blog, Choosing the Right Cruise Vacation, I talked about all of the options that are available when you are taking a cruise. A cruise vacation isn’t as simple as just booking the cruise…there are many components to a cruise.
Travel Advisors are not just booking agents, they are a valuable resource of first-hand knowledge and expertise to help guide you so that you get the most out of your cruise vacation. Should you do your own research before contacting a Travel Advisor? Absolutely! Doing some initial research helps you to get an idea of what type of cruise you want to take. Once you know that, share that with your Travel Advisor and they can then put together a comprehensive cruise vacation that includes the best fit for your needs. They know what cruise lines offer the best amenities for what you’re looking for. They know the ins and outs of how best to get you to and from the cruise port. They know the right questions to ask you to match you up to the right travel insurance policy. They know about the destinations you’ll be visiting and can guide you as to what the best experience will be (i.e. you may see a beach excursion listed on the cruise line’s website that sounds fabulous but you may not know that the chosen beach is very crowded and touristy – a good Travel Advisor will know if that’s not the right fit and can offer up suggestions on a less crowded and more pleasant beach experience elsewhere on that island).
Reason #2 – Time Saved
There’s such a huge value to saving time in our busy lives, and if a Travel Advisor agent can do all of the “heavy lifting” and time-consuming leg work that a cruise vacation can bring, why wouldn’t I take advantage of their service? On top of that, a good Travel Advisor will remind you about all of the due dates associated with a cruise so that you don’t have to worry about missing deadlines such as when final payments are due, when to check in online for the cruise and the flights, etc. Oh, and one more really great time saver that most people don’t even think about. After your cruise is booked, a good Travel Advisor will continue to check the price of your cruise to see if the price goes down. If it does, they will rebook your cruise at the lower cost! How awesome is that? And don’t worry, if the price of your cruise goes up, your rate will stay the same.
Reason #3 – If Something Goes Wrong
Anyone who travels nowadays knows that it’s not a matter of if, but when there may be a hiccup in your travel plans…flight delays/cancellations, sold-out hotels, changes made by the cruise line (this doesn’t happen often, but it can happen), someone can’t travel because they’re sick, etc. I’d argue that this is really the number one benefit to using a Travel Advisor. Have you ever had a flight cancelled and had to stand in that mile-long line in the airport to make alternative plans? How about instead of doing that, you simply call your Travel Advisor so that they can contact the airlines? And guess what, they are able to find good solutions far quicker than you or I could. Their job is to make it right for their clients, and they can do that easier because of their relationships and direct contact with the vendors. This is a priceless benefit!
Reason #4 – Better Rates & Perks
So, this one is tricky because a Travel Advisor won’t always be able to get you a better rate and/or additional perks, but most of the time they can. If you think about it, it makes sense that Travel Advisors are more likely to get better deals than you or I could, because they have established relationships with vendors and have access to better inventory, rates and even perks that the average person can’t get on their own. I’ve taken a cruise where my Travel Advisor wasn’t able to get a better rate than me, but they were able to throw in a specialty restaurant or on-board credit or a bottle of wine sent to my stateroom. There has been a time when I booked a cruise and my Travel Advisor wasn’t able to offer me anything better than what I could have gotten on my own. It doesn’t happen often, but it can happen. I still had no hesitation about using a Travel Advisor because there are so many other benefits that they bring to the table (expertise, time saved, someone to handle any travel issues that may pop up).
See, I told you that after this blog you’d be asking yourself why wouldn’t I use a Travel Advisor? It really is a no-brainer in my opinion. I’ll be writing a blog in the near future with tips on how to find yourself a good Travel Advisor, because you will find that not all of them are the same.