Are you planning your first holiday on a cruise ship? Last week, we spoke to Royal Caribbean International's executive vice-president, Lisa Bauer to seek out some advice about what you should do prior to embarking.
Lisa Bauer has been with Royal Caribbean for more than ten years working across hotel services, food and beverage, onboard revenue and entertainment, so she knows a thing or two about the ins-and-outs of the cruise industry.
"There is a saying that cruises are only for the overfed, nearly dead and newlywed markets. At Royal Caribbean, we've been trying to overcome that and show that cruising can bring anyone an amazing experience; particularly for couples and families. Once we get the guests on board they are very, very happy."
Below are Bauer's top tips for prospective first time cruise goers.
Speak To A Travel Agent
According to Lisa, the first thing you should do is speak to a travel agent. While this may sound obvious, the rise of online bookings and 'daily deal' websites means many travelers lock in their holiday cruise without receiving any advice from an expert.
"In our own research, we've found that it usually takes five separate cruises before somebody fully understands the complete offering," Bauer said. "While first-time cruisers still enjoy themselves, they might not realise that shore excursions and snorkelling are available, for example. Or they may not discover speciality dining until the last night. The tour offerings can also sell out, so winging it isn't the wisest option.
"A travel agent can also pass on little hints, like the fact that in-room babysitting and children programs are available if you're taking kids along. They can also explain the difference between an inside room and a balcony room, and give a rundown of the different production shows that are running. They will sit with you, work out what you're looking for in a cruise and make sure you get to take advantage of everything the cruise has to offer -- this definitely makes it a lot easier to plan your trip in advance."
Assess Pricing Objectively
One of the things first-time cruisers often balk at is the upfront cost -- a family of four is typically looking at thousands of dollars for a quality cruising experience. However, Bauer reckons the cost is perfectly reasonable when you factor in everything you're paying for, instead of just the boat.
"When you stop and think about it, it's actually a great value message -- the food is included, the entertainment is included and so on. I think if you sit down and do the maths of a land-based vacation verses a cruise, the cruise is always going to win."
Bring Your Tennis Shoes (If You Plan To Exercise)
Just because you're on holidays doesn't mean your waistline needs to suffer. For gym junkies, there are plenty of opportunities to maintain your exercise regime -- provided you have the right shoes.
"If you like to keep active, tennis shoes are an essential luggage item. Most people don't realise how amazing the fitness facilities are on board. Bringing along suitable footwear will allow you to maintain your lifestyle, whether you're into yoga, elliptical workouts or whathaveyou."
Take A Good Book
Say what? A book in this day and age? According to Bauer, lugging a traditional book inside your suitcase will be worth it in the long run.
"If you ask me, nothing beats good, old fashioned paper. It's so relaxing to sit out on a balcony and see the water while turning the pages of a great book."
Bring A Frock/Suit For Formal Night
Most cruises typically have one or two formal nights which are essentially an excuse to dress fancy and act all sophisticated while sipping cocktails.
"It's really up to the customer to decide if they want to partake in that, but we've found that the overwhelming majority really love the opportunity to go to the captain's cocktail party in their best suits and dresses," Bauer said.
"Even if you'd rather forgo formal night, it's still a good idea to bring some nice outfits along for dining. We do have a couple of little rules about not wearing tank tops or flip-flops [thongs] or things like that. So just treat it like going to a nice restaurant shoreside."
It's Okay To Be Choosy With Dining Partners
Many cruise goers return to tell horror stories about being forced to dine with painfully dull couples or doddering pensioners for the duration of their trip. However, it's possible to mix up your dining partners or even eat alone, if you prefer -- all you need to do is ask the staff.
"The dining arrangements are not set in concrete -- you can ask for a table for two or a table for eight, so you can sit with people you've never met and decide for yourself if you want to dine with them again," Bauer explained.
"We are also in the process of beta-testing a Facebook app that lets you meet people who are going on the same cruise as you and make those social connections pre-cruise. This is currently on our North American platform but it will definitely be heading to Australia in the not-too-distant future.
"People often make lifelong friends while cruising -- we often see people really hit it off and then they plan additional cruises together. It all depends on who you choose to mix with."
Additional Cruising Tips
To get a customer's perspective, we also spoke to holidaygoddess.com's editor Alison Carmichael-Rulten. Below are a few of her tips for the curious cruise virgin:
- Sign up for specialty dining: "Some people decide to save a few dollars and stick with standard dining -- but the additional surcharge of around $20 is definitely worth it. Often they will have celebrity chefs on board and the food is absolutely to die for -- once you've tried it, you'll never go back to the cruise buffet."
- Bring one formal outfit: "If you want to travel light, just bring one formal dress. You can then change it up with jewellery and wraps on the second formal night. This also gives you an excuse to do some on board shopping!"
- Minimise your on board gadgets: "The amount to see and do on board most cruises makes portable gadgets barely necessary. I've been on more than forty cruises and my last trip is the first time I brought my iPad. In the end, I barely used it."
- Take advantage of any-time dining: "Most cruises have introduced any-time dining, so the days of allocated seating are coming to an end. Also, if you're seated with people you don't get along with, don't be afraid to ask to be moved to a new table."