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Tips for first-time cruisers
Making the most of your maiden voyage on a cruise ship
Cruising is renowned as a romantic form of travel. Chris and I always have had visions of us traveling by sea, visiting new countries, and soaking up the sun. While both of us have spent a considerable amount of time on the water, neither of us ever had taken a cruise before. We thought we were prepared to set sail, but soon discovered that we knew very little about the cruising lifestyle. To ensure that you get the most out of your future cruise, we’ve made a list of some of the lessons and surprises we experienced at sea.
First, some background. We went big (well, HUGE) for our first cruise. Hopping on-board the largest cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, was almost like setting foot on a floating Las Vegas Strip resort. Our ship (apparently only landlubbers refer to it as a “boat”) featured an assortment of restaurants, bars, and shopping options to please every type of traveler. With all of the options on-board we almost forgot about the three destinations on our itinerary: Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private island off the coast of Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica; and Cozumel, Mexico.
Making yourself at home is easy
To be honest, Chris and I weren’t sure if cruising was going to be for us. We are backpackers at heart, and love the thrill of having our possessions on our backs and at the ready the second that adventure calls. Imagine our surprise when we realized that we would be able to visit three different countries on our cruise and only unpack once! This was a luxury that we didn’t even know we adored. It also was convenient on shore days when we could explore with just a few necessary items instead of lugging around everything we owned. We had the added reassurance that our belongings were safely locked away in our cabin.
Viewfinder Tip: Room service is available on-board most cruise ships, for those who wish to cozy up in their cabins. The Oasis of the Seas allowed us to order either by in-room phone or through the TV.
The dining options are endless
Until we went on a cruise, the first things that popped into our heads when asked about dining were overwhelming buffets with long lines. What we didn’t expect was the plethora of dining options (25, to be exact) on-board the Oasis. A burger shack, pizzeria, and buffet allowed for quick dining on the go. If we wanted to enjoy a sit-down restaurant with full menu, we had our choice of the elaborate dining hall or pay-as-you-go restaurants. My favorite dining spot was Park Cafe located in Central Park (yes, our ship had its own “outdoor” park with real plants and trees). The Park Cafe served up made-to-order salads and sandwiches, my favorite being the grilled tuna melt with creamy avocado. It was a light and healthy meal that gave me the perfect fuel for the day.
For those who like to drink their carbs, the Oasis of the Seas is home to 20 bars that serve up specialty cocktails and an assortment of beer. In our opinion, the bar with the best people-watching was the British-themed Globe and Atlas Pub. As for the most memorable bar on-board, the Rising Tide Bar is the first-ever moving bar at sea—it rises slowly, like an elevator, every 15 minutes. Regardless of which watering hole you choose, be sure to sample my favorite concoction, the Captain’s Caipirinha, made with muddled lime, rum, and simple syrup. Ahoy, mateys!
Tropical drinks to order on-board
Staying fit on board is easy
Indulging in the unlimited food left us feeling a little guilty. To prevent the swimsuits from getting too snug, we decided to attempt to work out whenever possible. We challenged ourselves never to take the elevator (which ended up being a huge feat as our cabin was on the bottom floor) and instead hoof it up the stairs. We estimate that we climbed well over 50 flights of stairs every days. This gave us cause to indulge in the scrumptious Bailey’s and banana creme brûlée.
Stairs aside, we also took advantage of the ship’s high-tech gym and outdoor jogging track. The track allowed us to feel like we were walking (or running) on water; 2.5 laps around the ship equal one mile. While it’s typical for us to gain a little weight on trips, with this one we both actually came back a little lighter. I’m sure the on-board fitness options played a big part.
There are opportunities to get fancy
It’s no secret that Chris and I like to get dressed in our best and hit the town for a date night. We were warned ahead of time that there would be a Captain’s dinner on one night, and, not exactly knowing what this meant, we packed our moderately elegant clothes. Little did we know that this was a night to get serious; I’m talking sparkling ball gowns and stilettos. As two people who normally overdress, we were slightly embarrassed by our seemingly plain attire. We would recommend treating yourself to a new outfit. Ties and a jacket for the guys and lavish dresses for the ladies would be perfect for the Captain’s dinner.
Beverages are not free
One could easily live on-board the ship without spending a dime; almost everything is taken care of before you even board. That being said, before you board the ship for the first time, you’ll submit a credit card for any expenses you accrue while sailing. And while you can have endless plates of food at the buffet, almost any beverage that isn’t water will be put on your tab. As two people that enjoy their liquid libations, we realized that our drink bill was piling up quickly. If we were to do it again, we would purchase a drink package ahead of time.
A hot tub with a view on the Oasis of the Seas
You’ll never be bored on-board
Knowing that Chris and I are two people who need constant stimulation, our friends feared that cruising would be too tame for us. It couldn’t have been more opposite. We found there was so much to do. We even left feeling that we could have done more.
Our favorite features on-board were the indoor ice rink (you heard that right), the 18,000 sq. foot Casino (jackpot!), and the wet and wild FlowRider. The FlowRider is an artificial wave pool (there are two on-deck) that allow the brave to practice their surfing and boogie-boarding skills. When we wanted to relax we headed to the Solarium. This little slice of heaven, with a wall of windows, was for adults only, and had some of the best views on the ship. While we loved getting off the ship on shore days, we often found ourselves excited at the prospect of being back on-board, sipping another Captain’s Caipirinha. Who knew cruising could be so fun?
What are your favorite aspects of cruising?
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Chris and Tawny have had articles and videos published on USA TODAY TRAVEL, BBC Travel, Matador Network, as well as appeared as guest stars on TLC Asia's Fun Taiwan television series. When not on the road, you can find Chris and Tawny nestled in their home in Tacoma, Washington fueling up on coffee and cat cuddles while planning their future adventures. You can follow their travels on their blog, Instagram, and YouTube