We thought we’d put together a list of #cruisehack tips for fellow travelers under the age of 40, and also those that have never cruised before. Since most of the cruise passengers are 60+, there are not many survival guides written for the younger generation. This one is brought to you courtesy of Brendan and CJ. And just for the record and in case our advice below reads as snarky or unappreciative, we actually really enjoyed our cruising experience on Celebrity.
- Leave at least 2 days in advance if you have to fly to ensure that you don’t miss your cruise. Yes, it may mean you have to spend a couple extra days in a city like Fort Lauderdale which you may not care about, but it’s the cost of doing business. See our horror story for proof that this is important.
- Bring a water bottle, don’t buy the water beverage plan. It’s irritating to have to use separate glasses to fill your bottle, but it will save you $25/day for two people.
- Unless you are going to drink more than 7 drinks a day per person, don’t buy any beverage packages, in fact. Drinks are between $6-15 depending on what you order, so you can do the math to see if a beverage package is cost effective for you. Also, another #cruisehack – order the drink of the day because it is always 50% off and usually quite tasty (even though in the main dining room they struggle to understand what it is and how to make it). The waiters will always ask you whether you have a drink package (which is dumb because they should be able to look it up in advance), and once they discover you don’t, they will continue to try to push you in to it throughout the cruise – just say you don’t want it and that you’ll pay the stated price on the drink menu. During one meal, we had 3 different attendants ask us. We wondered whether we were the only people on the cruise ship that didn’t have a boozy beverage package. Not having one really confused the staff.
- You can bring up to two bottles of wine on to the ship for your stateroom on Celebrity (check with your cruise line because some cruise lines don’t allow you to do this!). Definitely do it if you can. There’s a $25 or so corkage fee if you want to bring it in to a restaurant, or you can just open it your room and ask for wine glasses (this is what we did). You can take the wine glasses out of the room.
- You can also bring a 6 pack of bottled water on to the cruise, which we did not do because we ran out of room in our checked luggage.
- Don’t buy the internet package. Instead, rent a TEP device which accesses the local cellular systems and offers unlimited data usage for up to 5 devices for $8.95/day. It gets delivered to you prior to the cruise and you bring it with you, and it’s cheaper than activating a roaming pass through your cell carrier ($10/day per person through AT&T). Just check to make sure it will work in the countries you are visiting. This is a great #cruisehack and #travelhack generally. Just make sure you work in enough time to receive the device in the mail prior to activation (we activated it on the 4th cruise day, but required it 2 days in advance of our cruise for travel purposes).
- Try to stay “on program” and “on menu” when ordering food. The staff is lovely but as soon as you ask them to deviate from their normal automaton programming, they cease to function. For example, substitutions or additions at meals are usually a bridge too far. I asked for a substitute for blue cheese on a salad and basically said “anything other than blue cheese or gorgonzola,”– and the waiter proceeded to ask me if I wanted gorgonzola (since he only processed the first thing that I said), which was on a different salad on offer. Or the time where we wanted to order and eat progressively (we started out with soup and salad and told our waiter we would order our mains in a little bit) – our menus were immediately taken and we had to wait a considerable amount of time just to flag the waiter down to ask for the menus again – this was apparently also not part of the regularly scheduled programming. Additionally, we tried asking for salsa as a “write-in” on our breakfast room service order and it was completely ignored.
- Dining staff and room service staff do not have 100% mastery of English. We went to a specialty restaurant (Lawn Club) and I ordered filet mignon medium rare. A medium well steak showed up. Brendan ordered the spiked lemonade clearly written on the menu, and three different waiters had to come by to understand what he was asking for. Then it took 20 minutes for them to make it, and it was terrible. We were pretty sure they just made something up in the end. Another example of this happened to us when we ordered a hot dog from room service – it was listed on the menu as “grilled hot dog” so I asked specifically for that when I called up. The lady who answered was very polite and nice, but she responded “oh, you want a hot dog sandwich?” Which led to a 2 minute conversation to get to the bottom of “what is a hot dog sandwich?” It was hilarious. It turns out a hot dog sandwich is the same thing as a grilled hot dog.
- Food – the food has been great, but the dessert cakes and pies have been pretty, but tasteless. Stick to the gelato, ice cream, and cookies for the tastiest treats. We really enjoyed making our own ice cream sandwiches.
- Room service for breakfast is great when you’re leaving early (tasty and lazy option for dinner as well). However, you will have to specifically ask for every little detail because the order takers will not think on your behalf. Ask for ketchup for your fries or hash browns, or otherwise it won’t come. Ask for a spoon with your yogurt, or otherwise it won’t come. Ask for coffee mugs for your coffee, or otherwise they won’t come. If you want or don’t want fries, you have to say so – sometimes they appear when they are not listed, and sometimes they do not appear when you think they would. A final dining #cruisehack: on the TV can be found the room service menu, and you can even order THROUGH the TV (however it’s limiting because you can’t ask for changes or additions). The best room service breakfast we ordered was actually through the TV and not using the in-room breakfast menu they bring you every day to hang on your door the night before you want breakfast.
- Bring plenty of cash (USD is best) for going onshore and for the casino to avoid ATM fees (casino only takes cash). That said, the ATM fees were reasonable.
- Casino #cruisehack. On at sea days they offer a casino “package” where you purchase a set amount of promotional chips that are as good as cash on the table but of no actual after the promotion expired. Then they would throw in a certain number of match plays, which was basically free money. Here’s an example: you pay $100 and receive $100 of promotional chips, plus three $5 match play coupons. As long as you gambled through the promotional chips, this tipped the otherwise poor Blackjack odds in your favor. Unfortunately, it still couldn’t save me!
- Consider contracting with independent tour companies for your shore excursions to get a much better price than offered through the cruise line. We took advantage of this in St. Lucia and in Barbados and we had a blast, for $30/per person less than the cruise ship charged for an equivalent tour. The trade-off for less cost is convenience; if you do book with a tour company directly, make sure you confirm it a few days in advance, print out the vouchers (if Viator), and understand the meeting place. In some ports there are several meeting spots and it can be confusing (Barbados was a good example). Also have the numbers handy to their main offices in case they don’t show (also happened to us in Barbados). Finally, if you leave your shore excursion decision to the last minute you will be totally fine. At every port there are dozens of tour companies and tour guides waiting around to help last-minute decision makers like you. Even if you decide to wait to the last minute to book a cruise provided shore excursion, you can do it up to the minute – which we did for Dominica. Some tours fill up and some don’t, so you are rolling the dice by waiting – but you will very similar itineraries as mentioned at shore with other tour operators.
- Smoking policy. Be prepared – if you are expecting a non-smoking Celebrity Silhouette ship, you will be disappointed. Smoking is allowed outside, and there are few designated areas where ash trays are available (outdoor bars and 5th floor port side). There are spots on the ship without ash trays, so figure out which ones those are in advance, so you can stick to them to avoid clouds of smoke.
- Elevators. Use the elevators on the opposite side of the docking gangplank (where you embark and debark on port days), as they are typically the least crowded. Stairs are even better, plus you need the exercise after hitting the cruise buffets.
- Check your cruise account (bill) every few days to make sure all the charges are sound. If you leave it all to the end to reconcile, you will never remember.
- If you get sea sick, or if you’re not sure, go do your doctor in advance of the cruise and get some meds – I had both patches and oral medications, and I double-upped from the beginning. Better safe than sorry. It has a dual benefit of helping you out on some of the rough ferry rides during shore excursions. Other people were barfing, but I for once wasn’t.
- Bring an extra credit card and put travel notifications on them for the time-frame and countries in your itinerary. One of my cards was skimmed somewhere and I had to cancel it due to fraud. Kudos to Chase Bank for picking it up!
- Timing to be back on the ship. We’ve noticed that you must be back to the ship 30 minutes before the ship is scheduled to leave. This has been helpful for helping us plan tours not through the ship.
- Easter egg #cruisehack. If one of the nights you do decide to order room service and chill, and you are frantic for something to do – check out the TV entertainment system and locate the documentaries about the inner workings of the ship. The engine room video has an ending that will have you ROTFLOL but you have to suffer through 15 minutes of semi-boredom but also fascination with the behemoth you are floating on.
- Leave yourself a weekend to come back to. We returned on a Friday night so that we had a few days to settle back in to reality before diving in to “work mode” again.
- After the early show, everyone leaves at the same time to get to the late seating at The Grand Cuvee. This makes the paths through floors 4 and 5 very crowded. Beat the rush by using the doors just next to the theater and head outside to walk to dinner instead. It was empty every time.
- Additionally, if you find the aisle near the shops crowded, walk through the casino instead. For some reason the casino acts as a natural barrier that stems the flow of traffic. Nobody seems to want to cross the threshold of the casino, leaving a clear path for the brave souls that choose to venture in.
If you follow these basic #cruisehack tips, you will be sure to make the most out of your cruise! And, you will be less frustrated with some of the cruise ship shenanigans!
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