I never imagined myself on a large cruise ship, let alone enjoying it. I have always been sceptical of these massive ships and their clientele but there I was, dabbing bingo sheets, ordering seconds at dinner service, and enjoying every minute of it. Yes, this first-time cruiser went from pessimist to already think about my next cruise. Although timing played a key role (I was at the tail end of a 14-month tour so floating and doing as little as possible was pure magic), thanks to Norwegian Cruise Lines and these 10 tips from a First-Time Cruiser, I am now an advocate.
1) Enjoy the Nature
Yes, nature. And I’m not talking about the large hairy animals grazing poolside. You wouldn’t think there would be much to see and enjoy nature wise from what is essentially a floating city, but there is. It started with a sea turtle as we initially set sail (although I’m pretty sure we ran over him) and continued with sea birds soaring next to the ship. While working off the previous night’s bread pudding and whiskey Carmel sauce in the gym I watched these birds soar next to the window then dive 12 stories into the sea for breakfast. Incredible and totally distracted me from the burning in my thighs as I struggled on an elliptical. Well played.
Then there were small dolphins playing in the surf. On that note, swimming with captive dolphins – don’t do it. I know not everyone is as lucky as me to be able to swim with them in the wild and that this is a convenient alternative but it can be very cruel.
But I digress…
Now I am not saying there is an endless onslaught of wildlife while on a Caribbean cruise. You’re not floating through a zoo after all. For this first-time cruiser, nature meant the simple enjoyment of watching the most amazing shades of blue in the water through the journey. Even watching the ship’s surprisingly small wake churn up bright whites and baby blues was a sight to see.
Then, of course, there are the sunsets at sea.
2) Get a Room with a View
To go with enjoying the shockingly awesome scenery is a place to enjoy it from. Sure our Norwegian Spirit cruise ship had plenty of deck chairs, but good luck getting one poolside. Also, sitting in them often came with blaring music, ship directors trying to get you to dance, and kids playing. Having a private deck was awesome. Just relaxing with the waves and my own chill-out cruise playlist was part of making this cruises an awesome experience.
3) Skip the Buffet
My prejudice towards big cruise ships had me thinking that they are essentially floating buffets. Although this is somewhat the case for many guests, I was blown away by the consistent quality and service found in the restaurants. These meals are included so why line up for mediocre and mass-produced meals in the buffet? Unless of course, you subscribe to the belief of “second lunch,” “Dunch,” or “Linner,” skip the buffet.
I did indulge in the buffet a couple of times and ended up eating like I was pregnant – think peanut butter smeared on chocolate French toast. It was delicious but not doing me any favours.
4) Buy the Booze Package
We passed on this and ended up paying just as much by having a cocktail or two each day. Drinks aren’t cheap on the open sea. If you are intending to have a couple of drinks a day and wine with dinner, invest in the booze package. For a few hundred dollars you can drink all you want. Otherwise, it’s ~$15 USD +mandatoryy gratuity per drink.
5) Hit the gym
3-course meals every day for lunch and dinner certainly adds up. Balancing that out with a little sweat should be on everyone’s minds, not just this first-time cruiser. Norwegian Spirit has a great gym and, not surprisingly, was almost always empty. So go on, have that second dessert. I’ll see you at the gym.
6) Trivia Time
Cruises do an incredible job keeping you busy. Each day there is a massive itinerary of activities for you to choose from. Everything from basketball tournaments (on a ship) to bingo tournaments is yours to enjoy and partake in. I gravitated towards the trivia nights and name that tune. Turns out, I am really good at name that tune – just not better than the cheating drunk Bostonians sitting next to me each day….but that’s another story.
7) Skip the Excursions
Along with keeping you busy while at sea, cruises keep you busy in port as well, only at an inflated cost. Unless you are dead set on the activity (like I was seeing Maho beach) I would pass on the excursions. Instead, head out on your own past the tourist garbage in the ports, and explore. Higher a cab to take you around the island or seek out a local eatery or pub.
8) Hit the Casino, seriously.
Yup. It may sound cliché but we had a couple of really great nights in the casino, but not the way you think. Cruise ships employ people from around the world so it was a unique experience to chat with the blackjack dealers about their homeland. In our case, this was a few guys from the Balkans, a region I just traveled. Although I’m sure it’s frowned upon to chat them up too much, the most interesting people we met on the cruise we’re definitely not the vacationing seniors.
9) Get Personal
For a ship this big, it was shocking that the staff greeted you by name. This was an incredible touch and made the Norwegian Spirit warm and inviting. I felt so at home and became so relaxed that I forgot I was there on assignment. Cocktails with the captain and dinner with the cruise director brought me back but only amplified the personal feel and attention this first-time cruiser found onboard.
Mingling with the other guests is also an important, and often interesting, part of enjoying a cruise. Possibly the best advice I was given before casting off was by close friends and cruise lovers – always get a table at dinner with a different couple or group. If you like the conversation, great. If not, you never have to see them again. Boy did this ring true. We met some lovely people on board but also met many we were happy to say goodbye to. Some people can’t seem to separate political views and religion (often both together) from the friendly conversation. Still, it made for some interesting nights and all part of this first-time cruiser’s experience.
10) Get your Sea Legs
The second last day of our Norwegian Spirit cruise was choppy. This left this first-time cruiser a little green which was surprising given the size of the ship. Next time I would bring gravel and motion sickness pills. My loss your gain.
What say you?
Thoughts on these tips From a First Time Cruiser?
Let’s hear it!
For more reviews from the Caribbean, and beyond see HERE.
Although I was provided a discounted trip with Norwegian Cruise Line,
the experience, opinions, and 10 tips from a 1st-time cruiser are my own.