Tag Archives: cruise

Tips for a happier, healthier cruise

This past weekend we took a three-night cruise to the Bahamas. There were a lot of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t discourage you from trying it for yourself. It’s definitely an economical way to travel, and even though I don’t think I’ll do another cruise in the future, I definitely recommend it to those travelers who are looking for a relaxing getaway rather than a non-stop travel experience.

If you decide to try cruising for yourself, here are some things I wish I’d known before our trip.

Take the stairs.

You will be eating too much, and the food is mostly bad for you. Yes, in an ideal world you’ll eat nothing but reasonable portions at the giant buffet, but I don’t have that kind of will power. If you don’t either, one way that you can make sure you can (somewhat) counteract the damage is to ignore the slow, overcrowded elevators and take the stairs. There were 12 floors on our ship, and we were constantly going up and down the stairs. By the end of the trip, my calves were aching, which tells me I got at least a little exercise.

Bring a watch.

I don’t know if it’s part of the cruise “experience” and they want you to forget the time, but there was a serious shortage of clocks on that ship. We had to turn on the TV and flip to the channel guide to see the time in our room, because there was no clock. The only place we ever saw clocks were on the stairs. A watch would have made it easier for us for us to keep track.

Remember: nothing is “free.”

Because food is included in the cost of your ticket, you won’t receive a bill at the end of your meals. It’s a strange and wonderful feeling, but beware: that feeling makes it easier to spend money on the extras on the ship. After all, food is “free,” right? Why not treat yourself to all of the extras? But food isn’t free. Remember how much you paid for that ticket, and budget for extras accordingly.

They give you a little card hooked up to your credit card, which is what they swipe for all extra purchases. Don’t get too caught up in the “free” mentality, or you’ll undoubtedly end up with a painful bill at the end of the trip.

Read the fine print.

Several times we were almost duped into spending money without realizing it. For instance, after dinner we were offered a cup of espresso. There was no mention of an additional charge — until I read the fine print at the bottom of the menu that said specialty coffee drinks were subject to additional charges. Know what’s included with your ticket and what’s not so you won’t be surprised.

Be (somewhat) reasonable.

You are on vacation, so your resistance will already be low. Then you’ll be surrounded by unlimited food and drink. You’ll be approached by a bartender with a tray of delicious drinks every five minutes. All you have to do is swipe your magic card.

Take it from me, though. If you eat, drink, and spend too much, you will be sorry. We set a limit for what we could spend on the trip, which we only exceeded slightly. I can’t say the same for the food. I ate way more unhealthy food than I intended, and I definitely regret it.

Enjoy yourself, indulge, but also keep in mind that the real world is waiting for you, and you can’t leave those extra calories behind on the ship.

Photo by 27828104@N08

Recapping our cruise: The good, the bad, and the ugly

We’re back after a relaxing weekend at sea, but I have to say, after experiencing it? I don’t know if cruises are for me. It could be that we just had a bad experience with Royal Caribbean, but for a number of reasons, I can’t say I’ll ever do another cruise. Here’s the rundown of our weekend.

The Good

Cruising was definitely affordable. If you’re able to drive to your departure port and avoid the “extras” on the ship like alcohol, the total cost of the trip will like be much less than if you flew to a destination, booked a hotel, and paid for food separately.

For the most part, the rooms were comfortable if a little small. But it’s really true what they say about your room on a cruise ship — you spend very little time there. Even though we spent an above average amount of time trapped on the ship, we didn’t spend the time in our room. We were on the deck looking out at the water or reading.

Being at sea surrounded by nothing but deep blue ocean and sky was amazing. My favorite part of the trip was watching the sunset from the deck on our final night at sea. We went parasailing on our first day off the boat, which was definitely a worthwhile experience.

I also found it easier to relax on a cruise ship than I have any other vacation. Perhaps it’s because everything is taken care of for you, but I didn’t feel the urgency to go-go-go that I normally do while traveling. I read an entire book, which is unheard of for me on vacation. I never take the time to read while traveling unless it’s on a flight, and even then I’m usually too excited to really focus.

Since this trip was meant to be a chance for us to relax and recharge, that part of it was great. We mostly just read, slept, and ate, and I really enjoyed the relaxation. It was just what we needed.

The Bad

Honestly? I wasn’t at all impressed with the ship’s activities. Aside from drinking at the bars (expensive) and gambling in the casino (also expensive, and boring in my opinion), there was very little to do. We’re admittedly pretty anti-social when it comes to group activities, and after catching part of the ship’s comedy act on the closed circuit television, we decided to skip that, too.

Our second port of call ended up being cancelled due to high winds. They were unable to shuttle us safely from the ship to shore, so we spent our last day at sea. The ship definitely felt claustrophobic on that final day. I was frustrated and angry that we were stuck there when I’d been looking forward to getting off the ship and exploring the island — especially since our three-day cruise only included two ports of call.

For the record, the Royal Caribbean crew and staff of the ship was pretty rude about the cancellation. Their attitude seemed to be, “We just canceled half your vacation, but that’s not our problem. Spend more money at the bar! kthnx.”

I would have rather been off the ship in another country exploring rather than feeling trapped surrounded by other American tourists. It ended up being okay for us since it kind of forced us to relax for the day, but it was still a bummer. I felt stuck on the ship.

The Ugly

I debated whether I should share my feeling on this subject, but I’ve decided to give an accurate depiction of our experience. And honestly, I found the cruise culture to be a little disturbing. It was extremely strange to me to be surrounded by so much excess. Excessive food, excessive alcohol, and excessive spending.

I really don’t want to get on a soapbox here, and believe me, it’s not like we didn’t overindulge on the cruise. We ate way too much, probably drank too much (mostly because we felt like there was little else to do), and spent too much in the process. But on future vacations, I think I’d rather avoid that kind of temptation. It’s hard to resist eating and drinking too much when food and alcohol are literally every. where.

I think our biggest problem was our choice of destination. The only place we stopped was Nassau, Bahamas, which was a pretty bleak place. The entire city seemed to center on tourism, which honestly just isn’t my style when it comes to travel. I want to explore another culture and experience another city. I didn’t like being surrounded by other tourists and people seeking to cater to tourists. As Tony said, the part of the Bahamas that we saw was a lot like the beaches of North Carolina during the heavy tourist season.

By the end of the trip, when this towel animal appeared on our bed, I was ready to get home to Howie.

The Conclusion

I can definitely see the appeal of cruising, and I think it would be a good vacation idea for a family (as long as you pick a better destination than the Bahamas). If you’re someone who enjoys complete relaxation on vacation, you’d probably really enjoy a cruise to a tropical island. If you’d rather do and see more, I’d recommend choosing a destination with more to do and see than a tropical island.

It’s also possible that I just had kind of a crummy experience for our first cruise. For another perspective, read about Kacie’s cruise to Alaska. From what she’s told me, it seems like an entirely different experience than our cruise to the Bahamas with more interesting sights and experiences.

I definitely can’t wait to see how this experience differs from our trip to Europe in two months. The two trips couldn’t be more different, and I’m thinking the freedom of Europe will suit us a little better.

Have you ever been on a cruise? What was your experience like?

Tips for applying for your passport

We’re setting sail for our cruise to the Bahamas in 44 days, which means we’ll need our passports much sooner than we originally anticipated for our trip to Europe in May. I already planned to take care of that this month, but booking our cruise really pushed me to do it sooner rather than later.

Week before last, we put together all of our documents and headed to the passport application office on Tony’s campus (you can search for the office nearest you here). I was really nervous about all the hoops we’d have to jump through, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn’t that difficult. The whole process took about an hour and a half, and I was able to do it on my lunch hour. We filled out the application in the office and had our photos taken there, too. You could cut your time in the office significantly by filling out the paperwork ahead of time and bringing in your photos.

If you’re dreading your passport application process for an upcoming trip, keep these things in mind.

It takes 6-8 weeks to process your application.

If you’re planning to apply for a passport, I’m sure you already know this, but it’s really important to keep in mind. I didn’t think about the timeframe until after I booked our cruise, but luckily we were still able to get our applications in 8 weeks before our cruise. We’re cutting it close, but I’m optimistic that it will be okay. If you can’t wait 6-8 weeks, you can apply for expedited processing with a 2-week turnaround, but you’ll have to pay an additional $60 and cover the cost of 2-day delivery.

Bring your certified birth certificate.

You’ll need a certified state ID or driver’s license and your birth certificate. Some hospitals issue a “certificate of birth,” but you’ll need a certified copy from your county, city, or state to apply for a passport. Look for a notary stamp and a signature from a county or city official to be sure. Also, you’ll have to send the original copy with your application. They’ll send it back to you when they’re finished processing your application, but be prepared to be without your birth certificate for a couple months.

You’ll need a 2″ x 2″ headshot.

You can have passport photos taken at many drugstores and photo processing locations. Passport photo regulations require that the photo be recent and in color with a plain white or light-colored background. If you’re in a hurry, choose a passport application agency that will take the photos for you. We paid $8 each to have our photos taken at the office, which is comparable to prices I saw at drugstores.

To save time, fill out the paperwork ahead of time.

You can fill out the passport application ahead of time and bring your completed application to the office. I wish we’d done this, because I made a mistake on mine in ink and ended up filling it out twice.

Bring a check or money order.

The total cost for each passport was $100, but it doesn’t all go to the same place: $75 goes to the U.S. Department of State and $25 goes to the application agency for processing fees. The $75 passport fee is payable to the U.S. Department of State and sent along with your application, so it must be paid in check or money order. You must have a separate check or money order for each application. The passport agency allowed us to pay the processing and photo fees in one lump sum on a credit or debit card. If you use an online bank that doesn’t offer paper checks (like ING), you can get a money order at the Post Office for a fee of $1.10.

Track your application.

About a week after you apply, you’ll be able to track the status of your passport online.

Overall, the process wasn’t as difficult as I expected. Cross your fingers that we’ll get our passports with plenty of time to spare!

Photo by clappstar

The cure for a case of wanderlust

Tony and I have spent a good deal of our young lives being responsible. We save our money instead of spending it. We take short weekend trips instead of traveling to exotic far-away lands. We spend our weekends at home watching movies instead of drinking at bars with other 25-year-olds.

I’m not complaining. This is the life that I want, the life that makes me happy. There’s only one thing about it one thing I would change: I want to travel more.

Neither of us was very responsible with money in college, but we didn’t travel, either. We didn’t go on extravagant spring break trips or study abroad. It remains my only real regret about the way I handled my education.

Now that we’re so close to finally settling down, it’s made me think a lot about this one aspect of young life that I feel I missed. I know that we’re still young. We still have plenty of time. But I also know how much will change.

Because we know what’s coming, we’re trying to pack a lot of young living into a very short time. It’s why we decided to go to Europe. It’s why we spent much of the summer taking short little trips to the beach and the mountains.

All of this is to tell you that Tony and I did something a little crazy last week. We booked a 3-day cruise to the Bahamas. We’re setting sail in just 52 days — roughly two months before the week that we’ll move and board a plane for Europe.

We paid in cash, and we can absolutely afford it even with the trip to Europe and the move coming up. And yes, we got a very good deal.

We can afford it because we spent the last three years hoarding money, saving as much as we could for what will come once we arrive in Indiana. We’ve worked hard to put ourselves ahead of the curve when it comes to our finances. It won’t hurt our long-term goals to make a few spontaneous decisions in the short time we have left as a married couple without children.

I’m not saying that we’re going to spend the next few months blowing our hard-earned savings. I’m well aware of our limits and our goals. But we’ve got a little extra money, probably for the last time in a long time, and I intend to have a little fun with it. The important thing is that we keep our goals in mind, and we enjoy ourselves without getting too far off track.

We plan to pack a lot of living into the next few months. :)

Photo by rednut