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Travelzoo Experience: My First Caribbean Cruise

One of the most coveted perks at Travelzoo is the Travelzoo Experience, in which Deal Experts and other employees take advantage of the same travel, entertainment and local deals we publish to our subscribers and report back on their experience.

There’s a first for everything, and this winter I took my first cruise. Not knowing what to expect, I looked to friends and family for advice, and jumped on a deal aboard Princess Cruise Line’s newest ship, the Royal Princess -- what a great ship! Sailing roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale, the cruise visited Princess’ private island, the Princess Cays, Bermuda; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; and St. Maarten.

As a new cruiser the first decision I faced was what room to select. I did extensive research on this as both my fiancé and I have weak stomachs, and I found out middle and low is the best place to go, and sure enough it was perfect.

Once onboard we roamed the ship, familiarized ourselves with the common areas, and just started to take it all in. My favourite moment came on day two when we woke up, opened our blinds, and were greeted with a sea of sparkling blue waters and the Princess Cays beach just miles away. This is what cruising is all about, and from that moment on I was sold.

What I loved about cruising is that every passenger can make the trip their own. The options are endless, and there truly is something for everyone. My suggestion to new cruisers is to take some time, explore your options and do what you enjoy doing. Below are a few options, and some of my suggestions when on a Caribbean cruise:

On the ship:

  • Daytime outdoors: If you fancy the pool, get up early to reserve a seat as they go fast! Always take into consideration where the entertainment speakers are located, proximity to the pool, and even the bar (though they had servers coming around all day). We also discovered that you want to be in a spot with a breeze, otherwise it gets pretty toasty.
  • Daytime indoors: Sun shy? There’s plenty to do onboard that doesn’t involve basking in the sun. Most ships are equipped with a spa, casino, and an entertainment staff who host activities all day long. Some of our favourites were the daily trivia and live audience game shows.

  • Nighttime outdoors: On our ship one of the main attractions was “Movies Under the Stars” where feature films were played on a massive screen by the pool. Blankets were provided, and staff came around with popcorn, cookies, ice cream and other treats.
  • Nighttime indoors: Musicians, magicians, and dancers galore keep you entertained at night. Our ship had two theatres, a piano lounge, club, and “Princess Live” where they filmed live game shows and events. There is also the casino, multiple bars, and entertainment in the main Piazza. We kept ourselves busy and just visited a different spot each night.

  • Port days disembark/embark: I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get off and on the ship, even on days when we had to take a tender to shore. The cruise lines have this process down, and getting off the ship usually only took around 5-10 minutes. Getting on wasn’t too bad either, though I wouldn’t recommend waiting until the last minute to board as lines do get longer toward the end of the day.
  • Port days, what to do: If you have never been to a location before, take a look at the various Shore Excursions offered by the cruise line. While these cost money, it is all charged back to your cruise account, and all you have to do is select the option that appeals to you, get off the ship, and the rest is taken care of.  If organized tours aren’t your thing, do some research ahead of time and decide where you want to visit. There are always cabs waiting at the disembarkation points – just be sure to set the fare with the driver before departing.

Dining: Buffet, traditional, anytime, specialty, formal nights, room service -- what does this all mean? The food options on cruises are endless, and I highly doubt anyone walks off a ship feeling hungry.

  • Buffet: The most casual, and a common choice for breakfast and lunch, is the buffet. This casual atmosphere is available from morning till late at night at has something for everyone. On ship days we also took advantage of the poolside pizzeria, grille and soft-serve ice cream bar.
  • Traditional vs. Anytime: Guests are given a choice for dinner -- Traditional, where you dine at the same place each night, with the same people, at the same time, or Anytime, where you can dine at a selection of restaurants anytime from 5:30 - 10 p.m. We chose anytime as we liked the freedom to dine when we wanted and where we wanted.
  • Specialty dining: Take advantage of the specialty restaurants onboard for a small fee (ours was $25 per person). We did this one night just to change things up, and it was worth the experience. The food and service were both amazing.
  • Formal nights: Depending on the cruise length, there are often Formal Nights where guests get dolled up for dinner. You see anything cocktail dresses to ball gowns and slacks to tuxes. Be sure to stop by one of the professional photo stands set up where you can take professional portraits to have as a keepsake.
  • Room service: Feeling lazy? Room service is included with your cruise 24 hours a day -- all you have to do is pay a small delivery fee. We definitely took advantage of this one day and dined on our balcony.

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Tips by
Joanna

Deal Expert, Toronto
Friday, February 21, 2014
See more Tips from
Joanna Richler