Kyle has been begging for six years to get me on a cruise. I’m not gonna lie and tell you that I’ve wanted desperately to go on one and that we just haven’t been able to make it work. The truth is that I’ve fought it tooth and nail. My idea of a good vacation is not baking my skin-cancer-prone skin in the Caribbean sun. My idea of a good vacation is scaling a mountain, visiting my favorite city on Earth, and perhaps dancing in some Juneau rain. I also really love skiing, so winter vacations are my favorite.
But when I found out that Brandcation 2014 was going to be on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, the third largest cruise ship in the world, I jumped at it. Why? Because hanging out with 39 of your best friends, 39 other women who get what you do for a living, that’s fun no matter what you’re doing. We could be sitting in a portapotty and it would be a great time. And boy, was I wrong about cruising. Now I’m mourning every cruise I never took the past 6 years.
Because this was my first cruise, I was clueless as to what to expect so I’m going to demystify some of it for you without giving away all of the magic.
5 Things you need to know before you go on your first cruise
1. Check the itinerary out before you set sail
Are you having trouble figuring out what to pack? Yeah, I did too. You can check out the happenings onboard before you board and map a few things out. I’m not a type-A personality, but I do like to have a general overview of what to expect, so knowing what there is to do onboard is key. For instance, Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas has an ice skating rink that requires you to wear pants. If that’s something you’d like to do, take pants.
Knowing exactly what is going on onboard will help you plan outfits and down-time. DO NOT book a cupcake decorating lesson while the Hottest Man Competition is going on. Your cupcake might be cute, but it won’t compare to those washboard abs.
2. Plan Down Time
Vacationing is exhausting but cruising is supposed to be relaxing, right? Holy hell, no. This was the most exhausting trip I’ve ever taken in my entire life. I’m NOT complaining at all, but I do wish that I had planned for more naps by the pool or even just relaxing on my balcony talking to my roommate, Lori from A Cowboy’s Wife. There is SO much to do on a ship the size of the Liberty and you’re just not going to see everything in four days. Don’t forget to relax and just enjoy the salty air. Pencil it in somewhere if you must, just make sure that it happens.
To the same token, if you have to travel from out of state for your cruise, plan an extra day in your port of call so that you don’t have to stress making it to the airport. You’ll appreciate that extra day to unwind before having to get home and back to real life.
3. Take an Excursion, but book through the cruise line
Sure, booking an excursion can be cheaper if you don’t book it through the cruise line, but if your excursion runs late, you’re screwed harder than one of Kyle’s attempts at hanging a shelf. We’re talking stripped-screw screwed. Sca-rewed. Think it won’t happen to you? That’s funny, because I didn’t think that it could possibly happen to me and then I was on the excursion that ran an hour and a half late so that our ship was an hour and a half late leaving Cozumel. Had I not booked through the cruise line, they would have left my bubbly butt sitting on that Cozumel beach waving good bye with my bathing suit cover-up. It can happen to you, and if your life has lots of those “Murphy’s Laws” moments, you really need to just suck it up and pay through the cruise line for your excursion.
That said, take an excursion. Shopping is fun, but you can shop anywhere and with the advent of the internet, you can buy the same stuff on Amazon. There are so many things to do in these ports of call that will give you a taste of life there, introduce you to their history, and show you some gorgeous things that you’ll never see state-side. Maybe you can shop on your second cruise. Make your first one extra memorable. Plan ahead by shopping the excursions from the cruse ship’s site and pick one that fits your budget and your personality.
4. Pack your own Wine!
I don’t know a single thing about other cruise lines, but Royal Caribbean allows you to bring on two bottles of wine per room. They do charge a corking fee if you have to have your wine corked, but I remedied that situation by buying twist-top wine from Trader Joe’s. I enjoy having a glass of wine while relaxing and it was nice to have my own little selection to sip while chatting in the library with a friend, or while getting ready for formal night. Just remember to drink water too, so you don’t wind up tossing your cookies in the middle of the night while the ship is rockin’.
5. Buy a Drink Package!
I really toiled over this, but in the end I bought the Royal Replenish package that Royal Caribbean offers. I’m incredibly picky about water and coffee, and this package allowed me to have unlimited bottled water, premium coffee (read: lattes all day long!), unlimited soda (if that’s your thing), and unlimited virgin frozen drinks. Laugh all you want, those peach daiquiris were amazing while I was lounging pool-side. They also offer packages with unlimited alcohol. Given the expense of the alcoholic beverages, if you plan on drinking every day, these packages are a great idea. It’s kind of like insurance. You MIGHT not end up buying $40 worth of liquor each day, but if you do, you have no surprise bills to pay the day you leave your ship.
BONUS: What to Pack for your cruise
It’s easy go Google “what to pack for a Cruise” and get some great answers like this What to Pack list from Daily Cynema, or this cruise packing list for families from My Baton Rouge Mommy. The obvious things are a bathing suit, cover-up, a formal dress, and things to wear for dinner each night, but there are other things that you might not think about bringing, which Dawn, The Frugal Mom talks about in her 10 things to pack for a cruise post.
I found that I went through two or three outfits every day. I ended up wearing almost everything I packed, which is a first because I generally overpack. I’ll be posting some “What I Wore” fashion posts soon, but in the meantime, here are a few must-haves for your cruise attire.
- Something comfy to get on the boat in
- Dinner attire for each night of your cruise
- At least two swim suits so that you don’t have to put on a soggy suit (this is experience speaking, please listen)
- At least two swim suit cover-ups so that you don’t have to look like a hoochie mama walking up and down the hallways with just your bikini on.
- Attire for entertainment. I recommend one pair of pants and a top, or a dress, for each day. That’s four outfits for a four day cruise, more for longer.
- Formal dress for each formal night. Our 4 night cruise only had one formal night.
- Shoes that match each outfit. Bonus points if you have shoes that match EVERYTHING. I don’t.
- Towel to use by the pool. The ones that are provided aren’t large enough to cover a steamy lounge chair
- Some workout clothes if you’d like to experience running on the track while cruising 19 knots through the Gulf of Mexico
Refer to Tip # 1. Knowing what to expect and mapping out things that look interesting to you is SO important when planning your trip. If your goal is to spend your entire cruise lounging by the pool, you’ll have a much easier time packing. If you’d like to really experience all that your ship has to offer, packing might take a little more work, but you won’t be disappointed, I guarantee you that.