This summer I embarked on my second cruise with Royal Caribbean, and I can say my experience visiting as a teenager and as an adult were very different but both very memorable. A cruise is a great way to explore different cities/countries in a short space of time, and due to there being no coverage, also a great family bonding experience. If you still haven’t embarked on a cruise or are in the process of planning one for 2023, here are some of my tips.
Book in advance
We booked our Royal Caribbean cruise a year and a half in advance of our sail date, and we managed to save £400 with an ‘early bird’ discount. We did take a bit of a risk as we didn’t know what the travel situation with covid was going to be like, but it worked out in the end! Booking in advance means you also get a larger choice of staterooms, and if you get seasick you’ll want to ensure you bag one of the top deck rooms.
Look at the port terminal before you book your flights
Our cruise departed from ‘Venice’, but what they really meant was a port that was two hours away from Venice airport and in the town of Ravenna. Make sure you research your terminal ports first, as you may need to give yourself more time to travel. If you arrive a day before it’s also a great way to explore another city!
See which stops you can do at your own leisure
It’s no secret that cruise tours are usually double the price of those you can get via other agencies or from the tourist office when you arrive at one of your stops. There will be times where it’s worth booking a tour with your cruise as it will include transport and all the highlights a place has to offer. If you’re stopping at a smaller city or a beach town then it’s easier and more cost effective to do so at your own leisure.
Take advantage of the drinks package
Cocktails on most cruise lines are expensive, so if you’re really looking to splurge on your first day at sea it might be worth purchasing a drinks package. On Royal Caribbean a drink package of unlimited cocktails, soft drinks and speciality coffees was around £45. Which would just about get you 4 or 5 cocktails otherwise. The only thing to note was that this offer was only available the first two days of our cruise.
Pack your swimsuit in your carry-on bag
Just like in the airport, you will go through a check-in process before you’re allowed to board. The cruise staff will keep your suitcases and then throughout the day they will have them taken to your stateroom. This means that you might get on the ship at midday, but won’t be reunited with your luggage until 5pm. So bring your swimsuit, towel and other essentials in your carry-on luggage!
Make the most of the drinks allowance
As mentioned above, alcoholic drinks onboard aren’t the cheapest. Most cruise lines allow you to bring two bottles of wine per stateroom with you, which is great if you want to enjoy a glass or two on your balcony as you’re watching the sunset! You are also allowed to buy drinks in the port stops but the staff might keep this aside and give it to you when you check-out on your last day.
Keep your phone in aeroplane mode
Even if you’re embarking on a Mediterranean cruise, there is a chance you will sail past non-EU countries where you will be charged for data roaming. My brother learnt this the hard way when he woke up and saw a ‘welcome to Albania!’ text message. Wi-Fi on the ship usually starts around £20 a day, so in my opinion it’s not really worth it. You’ll still get coverage when the ship is docked, and chances are the people who you really need to speak to will be on the cruise with you!
Download the cruise app
Most cruise lines will have a dedicated app to make your journey a lot smoother. On our Royal Caribbean app we were able to check-in, book excursions, see how much we’d spent onboard, and see all the daily activities taking place. We also got the full menu for evening dining for the whole week, and obviously we couldn’t help ourselves in looking beforehand. The app is also a great way to plan your day as you can add activities to your calendar.
Opt to pay for the tips beforehand
I remember the first time we went on a cruise my parents had to dish out tips left right and centre at the end of our trip, which usually amounts to hundreds. Some cruises now give you the option to pay for the gratuities when you pay for your remaining balance before the cruise, and I believe this was around £120 per person.
Dining vs Buffet
On your cruise you will usually have two options for dinner each night included in your package. You can opt for a more formal dinner in the dining room, where there is usually one or two gala nights and you are given a 3 course menu every night. The other option is to eat in the buffet restaurant which usually has themed nights too. It’s worth checking on the app beforehand to see which menu appeals to you more!