I have a confession. Cruises are my favorite way to travel once I got over the fact that they are mostly spent on a large body of water (blame that on Titanic and my fear of water). Cruises are a great way to sample new countries for a reasonable price. If you don’t like a particular destination, you are only there for a day before you are on to the next one. They can be very affordable for families, but are also a great choice for a couple’s getaway. I have been cruising for more than ten years traveling with family and friends so of course a cruise was a perfect choice for a recent Mr. C and Zee Adventure.
This was the first cruise for Mr. C which provided an opportunity for some new experiences. With that in mind, here are tips for planning the perfect cruise for you and your partner.
Choose the right time of year
Since this was a couples cruise, we wanted to pick a time that would have less parents and families. September to mid-December and mid-January to May (except for spring break) are considered off-season and will have more adults seeking to get away. Another suggestion would be to choose a cruise line that are more adult-oriented – think the luxury lines like Celebrity, Holland or Norwegian. My favorite is Carnival but it is definitely known for its family options. This was our first cruise together so we chose a September cruise on Royal Caribbean to experience something new together, and they were having a great sale.
Book a short cruise
Even for the closest couple, cruises bring non-stop togetherness. I recommend a short cruise for two reasons: 1) You can’t underestimate motion sickness. and 2) a short cruise of 3-5 days provides just enough time for the first time cruiser to enjoy cruising and determine if they like it. Cruising isn’t for everyone. We chose a 5 night Western Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas.
Make the right room choice
Many people incorrectly think the room choice isn’t important since you will only be there to sleep. Having slept in many of the cabin options, this is the furthest from the truth. Interior rooms are the cheapest, but they don’t have any windows. Choosing one for the first and last time meant I never knew what time of day it was. I like the sun so for me having no windows was a challenge. If you can splurge, I would recommend a balcony room. It provides a private view and allows you and your partner to have alone time away from other passengers. The next best choice is an ocean view. It still gives you a window to view the water without the added cost of the balcony. For our first cruise, we went with the ocean view.
No matter which room you choose, the cabin is usually smaller than a hotel room so you definitely don’t want to over pack when there is little room for extra suitcases. Before we left, we discussed how many times we would change our clothes. Cruises attire is very laid back – think maxi dresses, shorts and bathing suits. And although we packed lightly, I am one of those folks that likes to change for dinner so that meant a minimum of two outfits a day. Plus, I recommend dressing up for formal night (more on that later) which requires a formal or cocktail attire.
Agree on port excursions in advance
If it is your first trip to a new country, I would recommend booking excursions through the cruises. Cruise backed excursions guarantee you will be back at the ship on time. It can be an expensive lesson if you miss the port call and have to arrange to meet the ship at the next port just because you wanted to save a few dollars on the excursion. It will also be important for the two of you to discuss beforehand how you want to spend your time off the ship.
I am a beach girl so my idea of a perfect excursion is a day at the beach. Mr. C is more of an adventurer so he wanted to spend time kayaking, 4-wheel driving or anything else that required constant movement. You can guess which option we chose. But for the sake of peace, try and find activities you both will enjoy.
You can book excursions in advance through the online cruise planner found at the cruise’s website or take advantage of their on-board app. Daily newsletters about the next day’s itinerary are also delivered to your cabin each day. In addition to overviews of popular port excursions, the newsletters also provide classes and events available on-board as well as schedules for the evening shows. This can really come in handy for the days you are at sea.
Purchase a beverage package
Whether you drink alcohol or just want access to the soft drink options, it is highly recommended to purchase the cruise line’s drink package in advance. We didn’t get one on our trip and the money spent on drinks quickly added up. You can get discounts when you book this option in advance, but you also have the ability to purchase a package once you are on the ship. The only drinks offered free of charge are water, tea, juice (typically in the mornings) and lemonade. Drinks can get expensive (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) if not careful so I always recommend getting the drink package.
Try something new
From the nightly shows to the DJ and nightclub or the on-board casino, there is something to do every day of your cruise. While I could spend the entire trip on the lounging on the lido deck, I encourage newbies to try everything at least once. Take in the adult comedy show. Belt out your favorite tune at karaoke or try the rock climbing wall or watch a late night movie on the lido deck.
Activities vary by ship so you will want to check out the ship details before booking and find one that matches your level of adventure. Activities on Enchantment of the Seas include a rock climbing wall, arcade and bungee trampoline. There is also a spa and fitness center, live bands that play at various locations throughout the ship, and a solarium. It is a good idea to take a tour of the ship once you arrive. This can be a self-guided tour or you can sign-up for one through the ship.
The food options are plentiful on a cruise ship. You can go informal and try the buffet, eat in the dining room or have a romantic dinner at one of the specialty restaurants on-board. The specialty restaurants are an extra price, but can provide a different dining experience from eating in the main dining room. On our cruise, we indulged in a dinner at the Chops Grille.
Plan time apart
It doesn’t matter if you have taken ten vacations together or just one. Nothing can prepare you for the constant togetherness that comes from being at sea sharing a small room with no way to escape. Being at sea is different from vacationing on land. You are also isolated away from family or friends with only your partner and a ship full of thousands of strangers.
Depending on what the two of you want to do, you could agree to do separate activities during the days at sea and then plan couple activities such as dinner and show each night. This allows you to still create special moments and still give each other space for couples who value their time apart. Definitely talk about this before you go. Mr. C and I are one of those couples so it would have helped to explore separate activities something we discovered by the third night.
Indulge in formal night
Depending on the cruise line you select and the length of the cruise, expect at least one formal night. This is a grand occasion to get dressed up and enjoy dinner on the sea. It doesn’t get more romantic then that and how many opportunities do you have to go all out in your everyday life? I have seen couples wear tuxes and formal gowns. Others have worn cocktail dresses and suits. Then there are the cruisers who skip the night altogether. It is really up to the two of you, but definitely discuss it beforehand so that you pack appropriately. The ship also has photographers with fancy backdrops that provide you a professional photo shoot to capture this cruise moment.
Use your phone for pictures only
There is nothing worse than planning the perfect getaway only to spend the time on your phone. Even with improvements on service, wi-fi service on cruise ships is still an expensive and unreliable option to stay connected to your world back on land. Take advantage of the time together to strengthen your connection to each other. Who knows – you might actually learn something new about your partner.
Let me know how your first cruise goes and what additional tips you learned.
Title Musical Nod: Cruisin’ (Smokey Robinson)