For my last college spring break a small group of my friends and I went on a cruise to the Western Caribbean. During our cruise we went snuba diving in the Caribbean Sea in Mexico, drank Dos Equis on the beach, toured Isla Roatan in Honduras, and journeyed to the Mayan Ruins of Altun Ha in Belize. It was by far one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken and I can’t wait to go on another cruise!
With that being said, I’ve heard a lot of people say they love going on cruises…but I’ve also heard people express negative opinions. I’ve only been on one cruise, but during my time at sea my friends and I had the time of our lives! I think the reason we had such a fantastic trip is because we made the most of our cruise.
Going on the perfect cruise takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to ensure the success of the vacation. We planned extensively and started early to get the best deal and have the best time. We did just about everything that was offered both on and off the ship to guarantee that we got the most out of the experience.
So what do you do and what don’t you do if you go on a cruise? Here’s what I learned from our experience:
Choose the right cruise line for you and the rest of your group
Choosing the right cruise line is key to having a successful cruise. My boyfriend and I were the main trip-planners for this particular vacation, and four of our mutual friends were going with us. We knew that while we were planning the trip we would have to make sure everyone had an equally awesome time. In order to accommodate everyone’s wishes, we decided to go with Norwegian Cruise Line. Not only did they offer lower rates, their theme is “cruise your way.”
Unlike other popular cruise lines, Norwegian offers freestyle cruising, meaning that you don’t have to be at dinner at a specific time at a specific table; you don’t have to do anything, really. You can tailor your cruise to be exactly what you want and we really liked that aspect of NCL. Knowing that we had multiple differing (and outspoken) personalities in our cruise group, we knew having the customization of Norwegian would be beneficial and make everyone happy.
Choose the best cruise package for you and your group
Choosing the best cruise package for your trip is just as important as choosing your cruise line. Knowing that our group was diverse in personality, we wanted a cruise package that offered a variety of ports and activities. We ultimately chose a Western Caribbean package because it had four total ports-of-call in seven days and wasn’t outrageously expensive. We wanted to get the best bang for our buck being that we were broke college students and had pinched our pennies for basically ever to take this trip. Each port was different so we knew that each person could get an experience that they wanted on the voyage. We stopped in Isla Roatan, Honduras, Belize City, Belize, Costa Maya Mexico, and Cozumel, Mexico and at every stop we did different activities so that everyone could have the best time possible.
Take advantage of the free on-board activities
Norwegian offers so many fun free activities on the ship while you’re at sea away from a port-of-call. Had we not participated in these events, we would have had significantly less fun on our cruise.
On our particular cruise, there were nightly entertainment events in the main theatre. Some were interactive and some weren’t and the beauty of it is that you can choose which ones you want to attend! We went to an acrobat show (the best show of the trip, in my opinion!), a comedian at which one of my friends got called up on stage to participate as Where’s Waldo, a comedy group based out of Chicago, a Bali dance, and a second adult-only comedy show put on by the same group from Chicago. All of these were free!
Karaoke was also available on certain nights on the ship and the pool was a hotspot for water activities that drew a younger crowd. The ship also dawned a sports bar where the guys got educated on cricket and drank lots o' beer.
Some of these activities were listed on the cruise page before we booked so we knew what type of entertainment there would be. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point – be sure to check your cruise package before you book to find out what entertainment offerings your vacation will have.
Research potential excursions
Excursions were my absolute favorite part of our cruise and while they’re far from free, they’re worth every extra penny! With that being said, research of these excursions is key in getting the most for your money while also being environmentally and culturally conscious.
I might step on some toes with this point but it’s something that needs to be said. I had originally been dying to swim with dolphins, an excursion that was offered in all of our four ports. When I researched it, though, I decided that it was an item I would have to remove from my bucket list for ethical reasons. I hadn’t known prior to this research that the dolphins often live in inhumane living conditions and that they face extensive confinement on a daily basis. Dolphins are extremely intelligent animals – up there with human intelligence – and I realized I disagreed with this activity that many people participate in on cruise excursions. I scribbled it off my forever-long bucket list and have no regrets about its removal. Dolphins aren’t meant for human entertainment; I’ll be happy to see them swimming in the wild from now on.
Cultural extortion is also something that I found occurred a lot at ports-of-call for cruise lines. The areas that had once been homes and businesses and recreational areas for locals had been developed commercially specifically for cruise-goers like us. I didn’t particularly want to participate in an excursion that would benefit the continual commercialization and cultural appropriation of native people groups so I made sure that our excursions were culturally conscious as well as environmentally friendly. If this is something that you’re passionate about – which it should be, our world is a great place that should be preserved and treated with respect – definitely do your research prior to booking your excursions.
*Getting off my soap box*
Participate in excursions!
In lieu of swimming with dolphins, we packed our days full of relatively inexpensive excursions that were more environmentally and culturally sentient. We had the best time snuba diving – a combination of SCUBA diving and snorkeling – in Costa Maya, Mexico and checking out ocean wildlife in the wild where they belong. We took an affordable local tour of Isla Roatan where we got to see neighborhoods, visit bars and beaches, and see the beautiful countryside ending at the best view of the ship and the sea. We took a slightly terrifying bus ride through Belize City to the Altun Ha Mayan ruins which was a cultural experience that was affordable and exciting. We also had a chill day at the beach in Cozumel – our last day at a port – that I think we all wanted and needed.
Had we not taken these excursions we wouldn’t have gotten a taste of the culture that we were visiting nor would we have seen as much of the locations at which we ported. And the best part is that the excursions didn’t break the bank! I paid around $1,000 for the entire trip – and it was a full seven-day cruise! Strict planning and budgeting made our participation in the excursions, and the cruise itself, possible.
Eat the free food
Many restaurants on the ship’s costs were included in our original fee for the cruise which makes cruising with NCL even more affordable. There were several restaurants that had additional costs but we avoided them and to our surprise we didn’t miss any good food. The free restaurants had amazing fare; we ate a surf and turf combination of lobster and steak for free on our first night on the ship. This alone can make your cruise experience worth it. Through the week we headed to different all-inclusive restaurants that had varying food options, all of which were great. Don’t worry about spending the extra money on the additional restaurants, the free ones are just as great at an even greater value.
Go with a fun and flexible group
I cannot emphasize this enough! When you get your cruise group together make sure everyone is down to have a good time. Negative Nancies can kill the vibe of any trip. We had a great group that was down to basically do anything and were prepared to go all-in which made our cruise the great time that it was! This is key, people!
Making sure your group is flexible is also extremely important. On our first day at port in Isla Roatan, we had planned to snuba dive the world renowned coral reefs in the area when we were informed that there was a riptide and all ocean-related excursions were canceled; we discovered this an hour before departing for the excursion. We had to scramble to get a new excursion lined up and get snuba diving scheduled at another locale. Luckily, everyone was down to regroup and restructure the day as well as the rest of the trip. Having such a fun and flexible group made the trip even more enjoyable!
As in any trip, nothing’s perfect, but I hope that these tips and tricks will help you get more bang for your buck and have the cruise of a lifetime! Are there any tips that you suggest for my next ocean excursion? I’d love to hear any advice that you have! Happy cruising!
For more information on Norwegian Cruise Line's cruise options visit their website at www.ncl.com
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Hi, I'm Madeline
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