In December, Pumpkin and I set afoot upon our first cruise, a statement we can both honestly say we would never have contemplated making a couple of years ago. This mode of travelling the world is not something we had imagined would appeal to our tastes and many of the assumptions that I had made about cruises had put me off trying it for myself.
Then just a couple of months before we booked this trip, we back-pedalled not because our cruise desires suddenly bloomed but rather because we wanted to end our year of travels with a trip that was completely different in nature to anything else we had tried.
(Oh and we wanted it to be warm.)
That was how the Caribbean Cruise idea popped into our heads in a Eureka moment one rainy autumnal day. I figured, if I am as open-minded with my travels as I like to think I am, then I ought to step up to challenging my pre-conceptions.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
After a mini break in New York City, we flew to Puerto Rico to join the Celebrity Summit cruise ship, which was to take us over the following few days to several islands in the Southern Caribbean.I am making specific effort to avoid tangents about destinations today as I have stacks of bullet points scattered around various gadgets that, with a bit of luck, will butterfly into posts about the Caribbean in the coming weeks and months.
A burst of colour in Puerto Rico
Instead, I hope to keep today s post fairly simple, sharing my personal reflections on what worked for me, what did not and musings on whether I would be willing to try another cruise again.
What I liked about cruising
Multiple destinations all in one trip
Let s get the obvious one out of the way. One of the perks of cruising is the opportunity to travel to multiple countries and cities all in a short space of time or is it? Read on to find out my mixed stance on this but there s no denying that cruising allows travellers to see a lot of destinations in a short space of time, in our case Barbados, St Lucia and Antigua all within one week. I found it an ideal way of gathering a general taster for different destinations and gauging which ones cultivated a desire to return.
St Thomas, US Virgin Islands
A room with a view and waking up to see the ocean every day
How many other holidays have you been on where you stare out of your room window to see nothing but the ocean around you? No frames of buildings, glare of traffic lights, din of crowded streets or darkened shadows of trees; just the seemingly infinite ocean, until the ship starts to pull into dock and the panoramic harbour views welcome you into your super-sized breakfast. Most cruise ships give the option of inward facing rooms (if you aren t put off by the prospect of no daylight), sea-facing rooms and sea facing rooms with balconies and unlike city breaks where you need to climb up to or pay charges for premium viewpoints, on a cruise, all you need to do for a great view is hop onto one of the upper decks.
A Bird s Eye View of Antigua
Unlimited Fine Food and Drink
If you don t enjoy eating much on your travels, it is time to rethink a cruise because this is one travel experience in which you should expect to be fed more than you would do when visiting an Indian grandmother or my Indian mother and believe me when I say, these women know how to feed.
Our ship, which was relatively smaller than many other cruise ships we saw in port, still had an all day buffet restaurant, fine dining formal restaurant, poolside restaurant, spa restaurant serving up healthier dining options as well as a coffee and patisserie-style cake house and ice cream parlour, all of which had food included in the prepaid cruise cost.
And this makes no mention of the additional restaurants that were available to book with a surplus charge.
There s always something to do
One of the things I was most looking forward to on the cruise was a chance to dabble in all the different activities on offer. When I had previously stayed at the Shangri La in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, I had been so impressed by all the complimentary classes on offer that the various Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi sessions all gave me an unprecedented impetus to get out of bed at 7am and I do not get out of bed at 7am by choice.
Having heard that cruises are virtually like giant playgrounds for adults, we made the most of many of the activities that were included in the price, such as table tennis tournaments, karaoke competitions, presentations, give-aways, trying our luck at the slots in the casino and trivia quizzes. I was a little bit disappointed to find that classes like Zumba and Pilates came with additional charges but this still didn t stop me joining in the samba fun with 3 zumba classes during the cruise. Smug or what?! 😀
High Class Evening Performances and Entertainment
I have always loved watching live entertainment. Whether it s cringing through fits of laughter at the Book of Mormon in London or gawping in awe at Penn and Teller in Last Vegas, a night of performing arts and a swanky meal makes for a classic romantic night out and on a cruise, you get to do it almost every night! We were impressed by the talent showcased during the musical performances and I was mystified and stunned in one with the illusionist artistry of Adam Heppenstall s I-Magic Show, a unique and innovative fusion of conventional magic with modern-day digital technology. I have always been amazed by magic and felt just a tad starstruck when I bumped into him (a fellow Londoner) at a bar in St Lucia the following day.
An Excuse to Dress Up
I must confess, I become rather lazy when Pumpkin and I dine out in London. Don t get me wrong, for a special occasion, I still don a new frock and throw on a blingy pair of floaty earrings but most Friday nights, you will find me with a semi-scruffy dash of eye-liner, heading out in my staple pair of black skinny jeans and whichever pair of pumps looks least scuffed. On the cruise ship however, we had two official formal nights and even the non-formal nights seemed to be a reasonably a glamorous affair, giving me the perfect excuse to finally make use of all those dresses I always pack and rarely use.
Making New Friends
The first time we walked into the formal dining room, we realised that most guests are seated on shared tables. This came as a bit of a surprise (you can now infer how little research we had carried out about cruising) but little did we know that the four fellow couples we met would turn out to be such a great bunch of people that we would spend all week laughing with. We would find ourselves bumping into them at the sunset bar
A Daily View at the Sunset Bar
The Martini Bar
A Martini for Every Day of the Week..(Almost)
And various other bars on board the ship .sensing a theme?!
I cannot remember the last time Pumpkin and I stayed out till 2am, dancing the night away and I am fairly sure that I will not be repeating any time soon the Spice Girls karaoke rendition that myself and the other ladies on my table sang in front of a large audience not once but twice on this cruise.
Never needing your wallet
Once we were on board and were given our cruise ship card, we realised it was far more than the key card to our room and could be used to purchase items on board and pay for all activities so lock your credit cards away when you are on the ship ladies and gents because you will not be needing them. The week s statement could be followed live throughout the cruise and could be paid directly from our room without the need of any members of staff to assist us. And while you re at the safe locking away your cards, put those one dollar bills in there too because tips are already included and can be adjusted electronically should you so wish.
Suitable for all shapes and sizes
Travelling with babies? The cruise has got you covered. Travelling with frail relatives or those using wheelchairs or mobility scooters? The cruise has got you covered. In this respect, cruises are one of the most malleable forms of travel I have encountered so it is a great travel holiday option for family or group holidays or for travel with those who may have impaired mobility.
What I did not like about cruising
The Hard Sell
Once I have paid for and arrived on a holiday, it is nice to be left to enjoy it rather than be given the hard sell for added extras that I would have paid for in the first place had I wanted them. Given that I don t drink alcohol and drink, at most, one cup of tea a day, I clearly didn t need the drinks package and I would have loved it if I didn t have to explain that five times over on the first couple of days.
Where it wasn t the drinks package, it was the food package or the shore excursions. On the first day, I was browsing the spa shop just to see if they sold any nail polish and within five minutes, they were giving me the hard sell for a costly pedicure. The destinations talk I attended ended up being less about the islands themselves and more of a long sales pitch for their tours. During the first couple of days on board, it all just started to feel a little incessant but it is difficult for me to know if this is the norm on cruise ships or whether it was just on this particular Celebrity cruise ship.
Minimal Time at Destinations
As mentioned earlier, one of the perks of a cruise is the chance to see many destinations but the downside is that you get very little time in each destination and at several of the places we visited, I found myself wishing I could stay longer.
Bit of a first world problem, there s no denying that and to some extent, even this depends on the cruise duration and itinerary but for most week-long cruises, guests have just a morning and afternoon at the port before needing to be back on board. Whilst this allows time to get an overall glimpse at the place or to sample one particular aspect of the attractions on offer, I felt that the cruise mode of travel didn t allow me to see destinations in the level of depth that I would usually want to.
Sailing and docking times also mean that moonlit walks and sunrise strolls are out of the question so you can t work entirely to your own schedule when you re cruising, not if you re planning to get back on board anyway!
Crowds at Ports
When a cruise ship gets into port, hundreds if not thousands of passengers get off the boat. When several cruise ships get into the same port, this number multiplies further so be realistic and expect to find large crowds at most of the popular tourist attractions. You can escape them by opting for more offbeat activities and avoiding the key sites like the paradise, lesser known Ffryes Beach that we chose, away from the crowds in Antigua but I now finally understand why so many non-cruise tourists release disgruntled sighs when they hear of an impending cruise ship arrival in a city.
Would I go on a cruise again?
You don t have to be a mathematical wiz to see that my list of positives outweighs the negatives so yes, I would go on another cruise. BUT, now that I have tried and tested the concept, if I were to go again, it would be for a particular type of holiday such as with family or a large group of friends or alternatively, if I was looking for an easy, fuss-free trip where the emphasis is more on an overall holiday experience rather than the destination. If I am travelling somewhere specifically to see a place in-depth and explore it properly (always a subjective term in the travel stakes), then cruising would not be my preferred way to go about it, as I found it a little too rushed for that purpose.
So you ve heard my thoughts on cruising? What are yours? Have you been on a cruise or is it something you would ever consider?