When it comes to cruising, the journey getting to and heading back from exotic destinations can often be just as exciting as spending time there. If you’ve been toying with the idea of taking a ship-board vacation to the Caribbean, planning ahead can make things a lot easier and enjoyable.
My own recent adventures into the tropical seas off the southeastern coast of the U.S. took me from Baltimore to the Bahamas with an interesting stop in Post Canaveral, Florida. The end-of-March, seven-day voyage aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Pride taught me some valuable lessons. Even though cruise lines vary as to details, these are hints generic enough to apply to most other lines as well.
1. You’ll need ID
Almost all the ports of call are in sovereign nations, so proper travel documentation in the form of a passport, passport card or driver’s license is required at all times—at embarkation, onboard and in ports of call. In all likelihood, you’ll also pass through customs, so keep in mind that American citizens are limited to one liter of alcoholic beverages, including purchases made in the ship’s duty-free shop.
Cruise card: Many cruises provide a cruise card to you upon embarkation. You’ll need that, too.
2. It pays to book early for lower prices
On Carnival, Early Saver is available up to three-months prior to sailing for short cruises (five days or shorter, excluding Cuba sailings) and five-months prior to sailing for long cruises (six days and longer and Cuba sailings). If taking your first cruise, you will automatically be entered in the VIP Club for savings on future cruises. You’ll also receive a credit for booking your next cruise while onboard.
Cruise prices vary depending on the time of year the cruise is offered. The most expensive time to take a cruise is during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Usually cruise companies offer a credit card with which you can earn points and double points. You also won’t be charged foreign transaction fees when using the card for purchases.
3. It’s (almost) all included
While onboard, accommodations, entertainment, food, fitness center, pools, water slides and whirlpools, and youth programs for children two to 17 are included in the cost of the cruise. As to accommodations, nightly turndown service, a television, in-stateroom safe, individual climate control, full bathroom, and ample storage space are standard in-room features.
Not included are alcoholic beverages, shores excursions, photographs, spa treatments, internet access, medical services, and several specialty services. Gratuities are also not included, and tips for a seven-day cruise typically run close to $98. For guest convenience, Carnival automatically adds the recommended gratuities to the guest’s Sail & Sign account toward the end of the cruise.
4. Food is available 24 hours a day…
…and the options are varied. For casual grazing, the Lido Deck on the Pride, for instance, offers burgers in Guy’s (Fieri) Burger Joint, Mexican (BlueIguana Cantina), sandwiches and add-ons (Carnival Deli), Asian (Chopsticks), some of the best thin-crust pizza ever, a copious salad bar, 24/7 soft serve, and upscale dining in the dining room, where the wait staff put on a show during dinner some evenings.
For an additional fee, passengers have the option of having dinner in specialty restaurants like the Pride’s Steakhouse (walk up a curved flight of glass, see-through steps to the top deck for an elegant evening) or Bonsai Sushi, which offers rolls, a box or maybe a whole ship of sushi that feeds two, plus soups, sides, sakes and dessert. For those who might want to dine in their cabin, room service is available 24 hours a day.
5. You can get in shape (if you want)
To work off some of those calories, passengers can swim in the pools; use the expansive and well-equipped fitness center; take fitness classes; use the jogging track, basketball court, sauna and steam room, and water slides; and sign on for spa treatments. The latter includes wraps, exfoliations and full-body, hot stone, bamboo, scalp, and foot massages. To relax, sit on a deck chair with a book, watch a movie on the Lido Deck or sunbathe for a better tan.
6. There’s entertainment galore!
Every evening, FunTimes, a list of the following day’s activities, is delivered right to your cabin door. You can plan your day by checking off activities like seminars on art collecting, Chinese medicine and acupuncture, paper airplane and trivia competitions, charades, bingo, classes in ballroom dancing, and karaoke.
For those who like live music, there several venues scattered around the ship with performers specializing in everything from Calypso and Latin to pop, Motown and piano bar sing-alongs. The Comedy Club headliners perform several times daily, and full production shows with singers, dancers, glitzy costumes, special effects (including fog machines and pyrotechnics), high-tech sound and light systems, and pit lifts are a daily entertainment must see.
Matthew Rees, dance captain onboard the Pride said Carnival auditions performers worldwide for the 45-minute long shows that included epic rock, soul, 80s pop, and piano on my excursion.
7. Kids and teens are welcome, too
For those 15 to 17, Club O2 offers movies, sports and video games, karaoke, and dancing. For younger kids, Camp Carnival is a special area onboard reserved for those ages two to 11. Activities like board and video games and themed playtime tailored to different age ranges keep them busy under the supervision of three adult councilors. For an extra charge, Night Owls babysitting services are also available.
8. Shore excursions are a good diversion
At each port of call, passengers can get off the ship and explore on their own or pre-arrange an organized activity from an extensive catalog of choices. Kayaking, tropical ATV adventures, stand-up paddleboarding, swimming with dolphins, scuba diving, glass bottom boat rides, Jeep adventures, bike tours, and more are available
In Port Canaveral, I headed to the Kennedy Space Center for a first-time look on a guided tour, but I roamed Nassau, the Bahamian capital, on my own. When it came to Freeport (Grand Bahama), I latched on to a tour with a private guide who took my group to some interesting places like the beach area devastated by Hurricane Matthew, a perfume factory, the ritzy area of town with its expansive mansions and a local outdoor market where we were treated to conch fritters, an island specialty, and the local Kalik beer surrounded by a lines of stalls selling colorful crafts and edibles.
Keep in mind that your ship leaves at a specified time and doesn’t wait for stragglers. One advantage of the organized tours is that they make sure you get back to the loading dock with time to spare. If you’re on your own, keep a close eye on your watch.
More from Carnival
Since its founding in 1972, Carnival Cruise Line has carried more than five million passengers each year. Operating with 40,000 employees worldwide, the cruise line currently has four ships under construction. Two are 133,500-ton ships being built in Italy, and two are 180,000-ton mega-ships being built in Finland.
For more information, phone 800-764-7419 or visit carnival.com.