Before we went on our first ever cruise holiday we had a lot of questions beforehand. Honestly it seemed like the most complicated trip ever! So having now been on two (amazing!) cruises, I thought I’d share my experience and answer some of my pre-cruise questions. For a bit of background, our cruises have been on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas (the largest cruise ship in the world at the time!), and Celebrity Reflection. Both were Mediterranean cruises, and we were more than happy with all aspects of our holidays. We’d happily recommend both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity as cruise providers.
Questions about cruising and the ship:
What do I need to know about boarding?
We were initially a bit worried about the boarding process as our “information pack” made it all sound extremely complicated. It turns out it wasn’t complicated at all! We checked in online before we travelled and printed off our boarding passes to save time. Then on the day we travelled to the correct terminal in the port (which was indicated on our passes). We had a window of about 5 hours to board. We had printed off our luggage tags and the porters outside the terminal took the cases off us. We found our cases waiting outside our stateroom a couple of hours later! Everything else was all a bit like an airport procedure (but much less stressful). We went to a desk with our boarding passes which were swapped for the official Sea Passes – these are the plastic cards that act as room keys, payment cards on board and passes for getting on and off ship. Then we boarded!
What to do when I first board?
As we boarded at 1pm our stateroom was already ready, so the first thing we did was to find our room and drop off our carry-on luggage. Our big suitcases arrived a few hours later.
It was about lunchtime but following plenty of good online advice we avoided the main buffet dining room – there were huge queues for this on the first day (crazy people!) Instead we went to a different on-board café for lunch. It was still included in the free food package and was much quieter!
Then we got changed and went to the pool. Some other great advice we read was to pack swimsuits in our carry-on luggage. Most people don’t do this, so the pool area is very quiet on the first day until people get their cases delivered!
How much will I spend on board?
Our cruise package included unlimited food in all of the complimentary eating venues, plus tea/coffee, water and juices in the dining rooms. There were some fee-charging speciality restaurants which ranged from American diners to expensive fine-dining restaurants, but we had so much choice with the free places that we didn’t feel the need to try them.
On our first cruise, soft drinks like Coca Cola as well as alcoholic drinks were not free and not cheap. On our second cruise we managed to get a free drinks package included in our deal, which was great! I don’t think I’d want to pay for a drinks package, but I’d certainly wait to book a cruise when there is a free drinks offer on.
We didn’t go shopping in any of the designer shops on board or go to the spa (which I thought was very expensive!) All the activities and entertainment on board seemed to be free, as was room service!! We ordered room service a few times, especially for early breakfasts if we were getting off the ship early.
Everything is paid for using the Sea Pass card, which is linked to an account you set up using a credit card which gets charged at the end of your trip. No cash it required on board at all! We found it very handy to have access to an up-to-date account summary on our stateroom TV so that we could keep on track of how much we’d spent.
What is the dress code?
During the daytime we just dressed in standard holiday clothes which were appropriate for our activities. It’s only in the evenings and in the main dining rooms where there is ever a dress code – Casual, Smart Casual or Formal – and the cruise ship told us the day before what it was going to be for the next evening. The dress code is optional if you choose to dine in the buffet restaurant. We chose to stick to the dress code, but to be honest people seemed to be fairly relaxed with their interpretation of the dress codes!
What’s the deal with evening dining?
We only ever ate in our allocated dining room in the evening. We didn’t try any of the fee-charging restaurants or the casual buffet restaurant. When it came to main dining rooms Royal Caribbean and Celebrity offered a “Traditional Dining” option where there are 2 sittings and you sit on the same table every night, or a “Free Time” option, which we went for. This meant we could choose what time to eat every night and could eat on a table for 2. I recommend booking your dining slots though, as there was quite a queue for the non-bookers!
Will I eat on board during the day, or in port?
We ate so much food on the ship!! It was all complimentary and amazing, and there was a lot of variety too! So although we did eat snacks on our days in port, we mainly made the most of the food we’d already paid for.
What about drinking water?
I drink a lot of water and I was pleased to find free iced water dispensers in every dining place and at every bar around the ship (at least the ones I went to). The water in the stateroom bathrooms was also drinkable so I filled my water bottle with this and chilled it in the fridge for day trips. Evian was available everywhere for a charge, but this was included when we had a drinks package.
Is there any WiFi on board?
Yes, it’s available, but we did not pay the ridiculous price to get it! We did without WiFi while cruising, and connected when we were in port towns and could get free roaming or we stumbled across free WiFi spots.
How busy is the ship?
Allure of the Seas was the biggest in the world so there were a lot of people on board, but somehow it never seemed too busy. The only exception was on sea day where everyone was by the pools and on the sun decks and there were no sun loungers to spare! This was also the case on Celebrity Reflection.
What kind of people will I be cruising with?
This was my polite way of wondering whether it would be full of old people or traditional cruisers. It wasn’t at all – there were all sorts of people, of every age and many nationalities.
Is there loads to do on-board?
Yes! As well as the pools, shops, dining spots, bars, sports activities and big evening shows, there were loads of activities all day, every day. – things like classes, workshops, parades, mini shows and concerts from the ship’s musicians and singers. The ships publish a daily newsletter, which is left in your stateroom daily and gives you an itinerary of everything that is going on, which was great!
Questions about our stateroom
What power adapters do I need?
The rooms mainly have US sockets, but also 1 Euro socket. I had adapters for both, and although the voltage is 110 V for the US socket, I only needed a plain adapter rather than a converter because all my electricals were universal voltage (iPhone, GHD IV straighteners).
Do I need to pack towels?
Nope – not only were there towels in the staterooms, all poolside towels were provided at towel stations on deck.
What’s the deal with the stateroom attendant?
This person cleans your room twice a day. It’s the same person throughout the cruise so he/she gets to know you by name and makes cute towel animals for you. It is customary to leave them a tip at the end of the cruise.
Questions about the destinations
How much research do I need to do beforehand about each port?
I did loads of research beforehand because I anticipated having no WiFi. I wanted to know how to get from the ship to the places I wanted to see, whether I should book a shore excursion, and what there was in the area. This was really useful to be honest, as sometimes the port town is not the best way to spend your time, and a trip to another local town is worth the effort. However, the ship’s newsletter gave us all the details about any shuttle bus services running from the ship to the local town, as well as a destination guide full of information about the local places of interest.
How do get I from the ship to the local town?
This varies from port to port and depends on the size of your ship and what the port itself is like. In Palma and Marseilles the ship offered a shuttle bus into town for a charge. In Barcelona there was a Portbus provided by the city, for a small cost. In industrial ports like La Spezia where you aren’t allowed to walk about in port, the shuttle was free. And in Naples the ship docked right at the main part of the city, so we just hopped off! All this information was handily provided in the ship’s newsletter.
Should I do any excursions offered by the ship?
We did excursions to Pompeii and Rome, but as we don’t like guided tours we just did an “On Your Own Tour” – which was basically a shuttle bus all the way to these destinations. I’d recommend this if you don’t want the hassle of finding the local train stations or the worry of missing the ship!
How many Euros will I need for when we are off the ship?
We took just about enough Euros for our trip, which we used for food and drinks when we were off the ship, plus souvenir shopping in port. Obviously this will depend on your individual plans!
And finally… would I cruise again?
Er… yes!! We had the most amazing time! The ships were both incredible and we loved the fact that we woke up each day in a different destination. There was nothing about cruising that we didn’t love, and although I’m sure it’s not for everyone, we think it’s perfect for us!
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