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 We sailed on the Majesty of the Seas, which was about as old as we are, so we noticed some outdated aspects like the gold railings and trim and the forest green carpet.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
Lover of life.