Last week we went on our first ever cruise holiday to the Mediterranean! We had the most amazing holiday, but as a first-time cruiser I had a lot of questions beforehand. Honestly it seemed like the most complicated trip ever! So having experienced a few things now I thought I’d answer some of my pre-cruise questions. For a bit of background, our cruise was with Royal Caribbean on the Allure of the Seas – the largest cruise ship in the world (eek!) – and we sailed from Barcelona and stopped at Palma de Mallorca, Marseilles, La Spezia, Civitiveccia (Rome) and Naples.
Questions about cruising and the ship
So my first set of questions was about boarding as we were sent an “information pack” which seemed to make everything sound extremely complicated. It turns out it wasn’t at all! We checked in online before we travelled and printed off our boarding passes to save time. Then on the day we took the Barcelona Portbus to the correct terminal in the port (which was indicated on our passes). We had a window of about 5 hours to board and we aimed for around the middle of this. We had printed off our luggage tags (which get rolled up rather than cut out – they were very specific about this and I assume it’s to make them more robust and less likely to tear) 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), where we went to a desk with our printed out 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 and not first thing 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 had 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. Soft drinks like Coca Cola as well as alcoholic drinks were not free and not cheap. There were drinks packages available but we didn’t think they were worth it – we mainly drank the free options. However, drinks were the only thing we spent our money on, because of course we were on holiday and wanted to drink coke, wine and cocktails occasionally! 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. 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.
Also, when we booked our holiday there was a deal where we got $100 (everything is in $ USD) free on-board credit to spend – which came in very handy indeed.
- What is the dress code?
During the daytime we dressed appropriately for our activities. It’s only in the evenings and in the main dining rooms where there is a dress code – either Casual, Smart Casual or Formal – and they tell you the day before what it will be for the next evening. We liked 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 comes to main dining rooms Royal Caribbean offer 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 we varied this based on what we were doing in the day and whether we had booked to see a show. 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 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 but for a charge!
Yes, it’s available. No, we did not pay the ridiculous price to get it! We did without WiFi for this holiday, apart from when we were in port towns and stumbled across free WiFi spots.
- How busy is the ship?
Well our ship 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!
- What kind of people will I be cruising with?
This was my polite way of wondering whether it would be full of old people. 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. Royal Caribbean publish a daily newsletter, the Cruise Compass, 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 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. However, I did not really need to do all this. The Cruise Compass 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 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 our Cruise Compass.
- 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!
- Would I cruise again?
Er… yes!! We had the most amazing time! The ship itself was incredible and we loved the fact that we woke up each day in a different destination. There was nothing about cruising that I didn’t love, and although I’m sure it’s not for everyone, I think it’s perfect for me!
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