Going on a cruise can be a relaxing yet exciting vacation for families, couples, or friends. But if you're considering booking a cruise for the first time, there can be a lot of information to digest. I've been fortunate to have taken my 5th cruise just a few weeks ago, but this time was different - I cruised with Royal Caribbean instead of Carnival. I'm now sharing my cruising tips and tricks with you, along with a brief comparison of both cruise lines from my perspective.
Getting There // The port that your ship departs from is a very important piece of your cruise vacation puzzle. It can affect how you get there and how much money it takes to get there. I recommend leaving from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale if you're cruising to the Caribbean. The last time I went on a cruise, we left from Baltimore and took a few days at sea to sail down the Atlantic - but for me it was days of motion sickness. This past cruise was smooth sailing from Miami to the Bahamas. We were moving at a slower pace and we were already in the calmer waters. I did get nauseous on the way home, however - so if you're like me and suffer from motion sickness, come prepared with something that will help relieve your nausea like Dramamine, motion sickness bracelets, or patches.
You'll want to find out in advance if your cruise line has a shuttle from the airport to the port, or if you have to arrange that yourself. And once you get to the port, be prepared for the attendants to take your main luggage, which you'll then see at your room later that evening. If you're able to, I recommend arriving to the port as early as you can. When my friend and I went on our cruise earlier this month, we were on the ship by noon with a piña colada in hand. We packed bathing suits and cover ups in our carry on bags so that we could change once we got on the ship, and we enjoyed a full day in the sun while we were still docked in Miami.
The Ships // Every ship with every cruise line is different. You can read a lot about your ship in advance, and the bigger it is, the less you will feel the motion of the ocean (typically). We sailed on the Majesty of the Seas, which was about as old as we are, so we noticed some outdated aspects like the gold railings and trim and the forest green carpet. But, I have to say that overall I preferred the look and feel of the ship to that of Carnival. I've found Carnival ships (Triumph, Jubilee, Valor, and Pride) to have a more gaudy decor, busy and elaborate. In general, though, the layout of the ships were the same for both Royal Caribbean and Carnival. The rooms were also very comparable. I recommend paying extra to get an ocean view if you can - it makes a big difference from the interior room. And if you can splurge, go for a balcony room! Our ship had a small rock climbing wall, but didn't have a water slide like the Carnival ships I've been on. You can find surf simulators, ice skating rinks, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and more in the larger and newer ships on both cruise lines.
The Food // In my opinion, the food was also very comparable between Carnival and Royal Caribbean. When you book a cruise, you select a dining time - I always opt for the late dining to give myself more time to get ready after a long day at the beach. You sit at the same table each night and have the same waiter and assistant. One of the nights will be a formal night where guests are expected to dress up more than usual. The menu will change each night, but there will always be some standard items that you can choose if you don't like any of the special entrees. The best part though? Dessert. I'm always on the lookout for a nice tiramisu. If you don't want to sit in the dining room, you can eat on the lido deck, which is the deck of the ship with the pools and usually a large buffet-style restaurant. There is usually a nicer steakhouse or upscale restaurant on each ship as well, which you can dine in for an extra cost.
The Entertainment // Every cruise vacation is jam-packed with things to do. From broadway shows to the comedy club to trivia to dancing to the casino, cruise ships are vessels of entertainment. We didn't get to see that many shows with Royal Caribbean because we were only on a 3-day cruise, but the quality of the entertainment surpassed that of Carnival, overall. Being a former dancer, I'm always analyzing the cruise ship dancers, and I was very impressed with the RC group. As cheesy as the "Boogie Wonderland" show was, the dancers were together and full of energy. We also enjoyed watching karaoke and Quest, a Royal Caribbean game show that's a staple of every cruise. The comedian was not our cup of tea, however. I can reflect back on Carnival comedians who were much better. Our favorite aspect of the entertainment on our cruise was Boleros, the Latin dance lounge that's branded for RC ships. We loved listening to the live music and watching people dance, and we joined in and danced a little bit each night. I loved that Royal Caribbean offered something like this, and we spent most of our evenings there.
The Ports // I've covered the main aspects of the ships, but the main events of a cruise are the places you visit! Carnival and Royal Caribbean are very similar in this aspect as well, many times visiting the same ports. Overall some of my favorites are San Juan, Cozumel, St. Thomas (Magens Bay Beach is a must!), and St. Maarten. I highly recommend that you do your research on each location and consider a plan before you arrive. Don't necessarily listen to the first thing that a taxi driver or local tells you - they certainly want your business, but may not necessarily have what you are looking for. That being said, there are so many things out there for you to discover! Planning a nice mix of relaxing on beaches and participating in more adventurous activities like snorkeling or scuba diving, parasailing, or climbing Mayan ruins will help you make the most of your cruise. Each cruise line also has their own private island stops, too, which are very similar with multicolor buildings, long stretches of white sand beaches, market areas featuring local artisans, and lunch stations that are coordinated by ship staff. Any cruise on any line will be a chance to explore somewhere new for a day.
Now that I've had experiences on both cruise lines, it's easy to identify the similarities and differences. Though I've been loyal to Carnival over the years, I very much enjoyed my experience with Royal Caribbean and intend on cruising with them again, too. If you've never cruised before, I recommend trying more than one cruise line and more than one type of cruise. If you're a seasoned cruiser, you can still mix it up and try something new. No matter the line, ship, or destinations, cruises are a fun way to escape reality, meet people from around the world, and simply enjoy the moment (I also recommend opting OUT of the wifi package - embrace being disconnected!).
Choose a vacation with Carnival at www.carnival.com
Or book your getaway with Royal Caribbean at www.royalcaribbean.com
We all have our favorite items that we like to travel with/in. Things that bring us comfort. Things that make us confident. For me, it was hard to think about just a few - so that's why I'm highlighting my favorite clothes, accessories, and tools for travel each month here on my blog.
Below I'm sharing my perspective on 3 travel essentials and 3 of my favorite brands in the month of November.
A Good Pair of Sunnies // Sunglasses always seem to be one of those things that people forget to bring when they travel, but they're so important! Not only for your eyesight, but for your style. I always take a cheaper, more durable pair to the beach just in case they get sandy or wet, but it's essential to have a good pair of sunglasses for travel. Quay Australia (quayaustralia.com) is slaying the sunglass game right now (in my opinion). Adorned by celebrities like Gwen Stefani, Kylie Jenner, and Shay Mitchell, Quay sunnies make a bold statement - and that's what I love about them. They're empowering to wear. I'm a proud owner of the Lana, but I have a pair of Dream of Me in the mail. If you want something out of the ordinary for a reasonable price, check out Quay! Each pair is about $50 but you can find some deals through Urban Outfitters or Nasty Gal. If you find a pair under $50, wait for UO to have free shipping to snag your pair of Quay Australia sunnies.
Comfy Pants // No matter where you're traveling or for how long, you should always have at least one really comfortable outfit. True, it could be your pajamas, but it might be something to wear for a quick trip to the market, for a day in the park, or for your plane ride home. Whatever the case, comfy pants are a must. The Elephant Pants (www.theelephantpants.com) is a brand I fell in love with most recently. As a corporate sponsor of the African Wildlife Foundation, The Elephant Pants donates proceeds from every purchase to the foundation to help save the elephants. Every pair of the regular pants are $18 and they're extremely comfy. Better yet, they're light and easy to pack in any bag or tote. I have the Hattie pattern, pictured below. Buying a gift for a traveler this holiday? Consider The Elephant Pants' "mystery box" for a fun, useful, and meaningful gift.
Versatile Tee // One of the beautiful things about traveling is that sometimes you never know where your day will take you. Having a versatile tee that you can wear in a variety of ways will help you feel ready for whatever the day might bring, and make it easier to transition from a day to night look. One of my favorite brands recently is Rad (rad.co). The eclectic tees are always funny and sometimes mildly inappropriate, but my favorites are the tanks and t-shirts with hip-hop song lyrics atop famous artworks - two of my favorite things! These tees are comfortable for traveling or an active day, but they can also be paired with high-waisted pants or a skirt for a fun, hipster vibe. If you're not into prints, a solid tee will do. Stay casual with sweats or jeans or dress it up with a blazer and bootie heels. A versatile tee is a must-pack for any trip!
Walt Disney World is a place where dreams come true. The new slogan, "Unforgettable Happens Here" also rings true. But how do you navigate the laughing, screaming, crying kids (and parents) and enjoy the happiest place on earth as an adult? Recently I traveled to Orlando, Florida with family to visit my cousin, who is participating in the Disney College Program. We were a group of 5 young adults hitting up every park and activity during our long weekend - and we had a blast.
Here I'm leaving you with my tips for having a magical time in Disney World, as an adult:
Go to the International Food + Wine Festival // This trip was the first time that I was in Orlando during the International Food + Wine Festival at Epcot, so I was really looking forward to it. And I have to say, I wasn't disappointed. Epcot has always been one of my favorite parts of Disney World because, well, I appreciate when other people and places appreciate other cultures. Though Epcot doesn't have the same hype as the others, I love that this park gives American families in particular the opportunity to get a taste (literally) of different cultures around the world, especially when they're sharing that experience with their children.
We spent the first half of our first day at Animal Kingdom, so we arrived to Epcot in the early evening. We only rode 2 rides in the park because we spend the rest of our night enjoying the sights, sounds, and flavors, but we didn't mind. Among the various activities that accompany the Food + Wine Festival (find a full list here), we chose to check out the craft beer tasting room. We sampled both of the flights that were available and the snacks were divine. Throughout the park itself were various stands and stations that provided more food and drink options than we even knew what to do with. Wine, beer, dinner, desserts - we never ended up making it through the entire park because we stopped so often to try something new! So if you have the time, I'd recommend spending an entire day and night at Epcot alone. The International Food + Wine Festival is the perfect way to get the most out of a visit to Epcot and have memories to savor.
Prioritize your day // A trip to Disney World can be overwhelming for anyone, no matter how many times you've gone or how many days you'll stay. You should consider building some sort of schedule for your trip in advance to keep everyone on track and keep your momentum going. Outlining which park or activity you'll do each day might be all you need. Then you can prioritize each day based on the wants and needs of your group. As an adult you can skip certain rides, shows, or character visits and focus on fitting in the things you really want to see and do. Disney now offers FastPass+ selections to all guests for free, and I highly recommend that you schedule your FastPasses in advance. Otherwise you can schedule them with a Disney cast member when you enter the park or throughout the day, but time frames will be limited. If you think ahead and plan for what you want to do beforehand, you can enjoy your favorite rides without the long wait time (and leave room for things like enjoying a sit-down meal, taking a pit-stop for a seasonal beer, or going shopping). You can learn more about FastPass+ Planning here.
Leave time for relaxing // With all that there is to see and do in Disney World, sometimes it's nice to just take a day to relax. And let's be honest, being an adult is tiring. Staying at a Disney resort gives you the opportunity to experience the magic of Disney every day, but have access to pools, spas, and amenities that can give you the perfect balance to your busy days on-the-go. There's also plenty to see and do in the Orlando area if you want to take a break from seeing Mickey Mouse on every thing and at every turn. The weather in Orlando is pleasant most of the time, but if you do encounter a rainy day you can always go to the outlets, see a movie or a show, or take a drive to one of the nearby beaches an hour or two away.
Visit Disney Springs // Formerly referred to as Downtown Disney, Disney Springs offers fun for all ages, day and night. During our trip we went to Planet Hollywood one night and Portobello Country Italian Trattoria another. We had a great time at both, enjoying a full dinner and wine flight at Portobello presented by the sweetest French man. But just walking around Disney Springs gives you good vibes. There are a million things to do from seeing Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba show to bowling at Splitsville to shopping to dining and more. Disney Springs can be accessed by car or via any Disney resort bus and mostly everything is open late, even on weekdays. Check out a full list of of everything you can do at www.disneysprings.com
Act like a child // It's fun to visit Walt Disney World as an adult because it gives you a chance to act like a child! Reminiscing about childhood memories, your favorite characters, and the rides or things you used to be scared of brings laughter and joy to any adult. We ran around Epcot with the same excitement that we used to run around Magic Kingdom with. We took all the classic pictures, wore Minnie ears, danced at every parade and show, and ate Mickey Mouse-shaped rice krispies treats daily because we embraced the opportunity to see life as magical and remember what it felt like to be a kid and see the world through a child's eyes. If you haven't been, now's not too late. If you don't feel like it's worth it to go again, maybe reconsider. All it takes is a little faith, trust, and pixie dust :)