Cailin booked us a Carnival cruise via Airmiles on a Wednesday, and by Sunday we were in Miami. Last minute travel plans FTW.
We were both first time cruisers, but desperate for sunshine, and I just wanted to MOVE. I’m eternally grateful to Cailin to snatching me away for a week of sun, because I find myself back in snowy Newfoundland feeling just a little bit less suicidal than when I left. I owe her. Look how cute we are.
So there was a lot of things I learned on this trip. I’m not going to go into ethics on this one (I’ve already had one friend call me “corrupted”), but I wanted to share the experience. Because apparently everyone else in the world is already an experienced cruiser, and if you’re looking for first-time tips, they’re hard to find. One day, we met a girl who was travelling on her 8th cruise, and we were impressed. Then we met a wonderful couple that was on their FORTY SEVENTH CRUISE. We were flabbergasted, but they told us they have friends who have done over a hundred. They’ve even done crazy 30-day routes from Australia to Vancouver, etc.
Cruise culture is real.
The Carnival service
Hands down, the highlight of the trip for me was the customer service. I can’t stress that enough. I KNOW it’s a cruise worker’s job to memorize your name and all that jazz, but there are over 2000 people on each ship and the bloody thing embarks every week. I can barely remember to take my birth control pills everyday, never mind learning the names of the hundreds of people passing through your domain.
First there was Heri, our Indonesian head butler dude. He was extraordinary. He knew us by name instantly, and never hesitated to chat with us. Cailin knows a bit of the language, so naturally she charmed the face off of him. He was always smiling. ALWAYS.
Then there was Sid. He waltzed up to our table in the dining room and said, “Hi, I’m the onboard magician.” I just love that it’s his title. He dazzled us for ten minutes, me squealing like a child. When Cailin tried to tip him on the third night, he refused. He actually just wanted to talk to us. FOR REAL. So he came by to see us again and again.
Then there was friendly Jamaican waiter, Donnovan, and of course, the maitre d’ named Erol. Cailin had a very disappointing iced tea brought to her and she requested a new one. The next day, just seconds after sitting down, Erol immediately brought her an iced tea without waiting for her order. How do people retain such memory?
The drink packages
Cruising felt an awful lot like an all-inclusive resort vacation, except the booze wasn’t included. And this is where the cruise lines make their money, I suppose, because our ticket price was actually only $20 (plus taxes and cost of flights and such, if we hadn’t booked with Airmiles). The drink packages were $50USD/day, limited to 15 drinks under $10 each. After some quick math, Cailin and I decided it wouldn’t really be worth it. She’s not a big drinker, and the catch is that BOTH people in the room have to have the package, meaning if I bought it, she’d have to as well.
It was still costly, though. Cocktails averaged around $8, but then they automatically add a 15% gratuity on top of that. Beers were a bit cheaper, and buckets of beer were cheapest of all.
SO LET ME WARN YOU: If you’re gonna binge drink and lay out in the sun, buy the drinks package. AND DON’T FORGET: During the full day at Half Moon Cay in Bahamas, the drinks aren’t included, even if you bought the package.
The onboard activities
Honestly, all I wanted to do was lie out in the adults only section drinking mojitos and sunning myself. Which I did. I participated in nothing else, besides a “singles meet up” because I thought I’d make some new friends, and then Cailin and I walked into an empty room and immediately turned on our heels and left. There were practically crickets chirping. SUCH IS LIFE.
Booking excursions was mega easy. It was also mega expensive. Cailin and I wanted one full day in Turks and Caicos to lie out on the beach and not have a care in the world. So we bought a package for $79USD that included a private beach where people won’t heckle you to buy shit, as well as unlimited drinks and food. We only had the package for about four hours. I don’t regret it in the slightest; I had a freaking blast and the bartender Josef was cute as heck. But that is EXPENSIVE.
We didn’t book any other excursions after that. The Victory route from Miami to Turks and Caicos to Bahamas includes a stop in Half Moon Cay, which is an island owned by Carnival. You can do snorkeling and other excursions here, but there’s plenty to do on the beach if you’re trying to save money. The beach is bloody fantastic, and there’s a pirate’s ship that also doubles as a bar. We met an awesome newlywed couple and proceeded to order massive pitchers of Rum Runners because it was raining outside. It was a silly evening.
Things I wish I had known
The “day at sea” is almost always a formal day. The daily schedule you’ll receive in your room will tell you to dress nicely for your evening dinner, but it certainly does not stress the need to dress like a goddamned princess. Cailin and I headed down to the promenade to meet the captain, dressed in our sundresses and casual wear, because we had intended to dress up later. And then around us was a sea of heavily make-upped and well-dressed individuals looking like they were attending the bloody Academy Awards. I have never felt more awkward. Plus side: lobster is ALWAYS on the menu for formal night.
When there’s a holiday in the USA, the boat is crammed with families. It was Thanksgiving when we cruised. I’m fine with kids, but preferably not a thousand of them, and I generally prefer not to watch a 7-year-old next to me barf into a bag while watching a movie at the Dive-In theatre. As such, it was nearly impossible to meet like-minded people our age.
The downside, and doing it all again
Waiting in line was bullshit. I know the whole “slow down and relax” mentality is hard for North Americans, but when you’re paying for a service from a company that’s been handling this kind of traffic for ages now, you’d just THINK they’d figure out some sort of system to handle it. We waited in lines for buffets. We waited for dinners (albeit only the first night was brutal). We waited nearly 45 minutes to get back on the boat on Turks and Caicos, while standing in the sweltering sun.
It was also freaking hard to get loungers most days, because despite the “no reservations” rule, people walked away from their motherfreaking loungers for hours at a time. I can’t tell you how rage-filled this made me. Have some goddamned consideration, you jerks. On the other hand, Carnival, enforce a better policy.
But, overall, those are my only real complaints. Would I do it again? Yes. For a first time on the Carnival Victory, it was pretty awesome. But I’d like to try another cruise line, somewhere different, and maybe one aimed more towards younger folks (if such a thing exists). I had a blast. Seriously, I did. And the loyalty programs that exist for returning travellers are pretty unreal. You get a TON of perks, and special services, etc. I can certainly see why so many people come back over and over again.
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