“A journey is a person in itself;
no two are alike.
And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless.
We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip — a trip takes us.”
“Nearly all the best things
that came to me in life
have been unexpected,
unplanned by me.”
I love to travel.
But I have to be honest with you,
that the whole :
rush to get to the airport,
stand in line for check-in and security check,
jam yourself into an airline seat that was custom made for a hamster,
find your bags among 100 other black suitcases,
ride an uncomfortable shuttle bus to the rental car place,
find the hotel in the middle of nowhere,
listen to the moron in the next rooms’ TV blastin all nite,
…………… stuff is getting kinda old to me.
All that hustle and bustle has left me with little energy or desire for hustlin’,
……… and none at all for bustlin’.
And that, my friend, is where cruising comes in.
Now, wait a minute.
I know what you’re thinking…. cruising is for old folks.
I’m not really sure that I can say truthfully that an awful lotta retirees and such don’t cruise.
But, the same things that mature folks much older than you..
( or me .., ahem )
.. find attractive about cruising are things you will find irresistable, once you give it a chance.
For one thing, once you get to the ship, you don’t have to move your bags everytime you go someplace new.
You don’t have to change rooms, you don’t have to rent a car,
…………. the world is your oyster.
And what’s more— cruising is a wonderful value for your money.
Tell me more, ya say ?
Well, ok, then.
Planning your trip involves several variables that you’ll want to consider..
1: What port do you want to leave from?
2: How long do you want to be on the ship?
3: What ports do you want to visit?
4: What amenities do you want aboard ship?
5: When do you want to go?
When thinking about these questions,
……….. remember, planning is all part of the fun !
If you’re on the east coast, a convenient port is probably pretty close to you…
Of course, some northern U.S. ports are summer cruise ports only.
Some ports only offer cruises from one cruise ship company, like Charleston ( Carnival ) .
If you want the best selection of available dates, destinations, and companies,
—- choose a large port like Miami or Ft Lauderdale and just fly in.
Many fly and cruise packages are available that include transportation to and from the port.
I highly recommend Miami as a cruise port…
It’s facilities are modern and well managed, with good staff and plenty of facilities.
There is another advantage to Miami as a port… you are already close to many great destinations in the Caribbean, so you can spend more time visiting interesting ports and less time at sea.
The same applies to my old home port of Port Everglades (Ft. Lauderdale) which is only 30 miles north of Miami and has excellent facilities as well.
Between the two of them, you’ll find all the major cruise lines sailing the Caribbean available.
But, sailing from a closer port is certainly an option, if you can find what you want there.
Other popular east coast U.S. ports include:
Parking can range from $10 to $25 a day, so be sure to figure that into your budget… and remember, as convenient as driving your own car sounds, it often becomes the least convenient part of the whole check-in process… at Charleston, the line to park involves a three to five hour wait !
Take yer ole Uncle Nuts’ advice — leave the car at home.
Oh, and here’s another good reason to leave the car home — it forces you to pack lightly.
The first cruise you take, you will be tempted to take everything you could possibly need.
Believe me, you won’t need it – or want it — or even have room for it.
Every ship has laundry services –
Just about anything else you end up needing, you can get on the ship, or in port.
Otherwise, you’re gonna find that your excess luggage is slowing you down,
causing you excess aggravation, work, worry,
………………….. and is just an overall pain in the ass.
2: How long should you go for ?
I have always found that a short cruise is much more stressful than a longer one….
Check in/ check out takes up much of the first and last day of a trip for me.
So, seven days is a minimum to me, and I prefer the 11 day.
It takes me a couple days simply to unwind.
And, there is a learning curve to any ship, that requires a good look-around and some experimentation….
The restaurants , bars, and on-board activities are all different –
…. you gotta feel em out, and that takes time.
But , the biggest reason, of course—
…. the longer the cruise, the more ports and the further away you can visit !
I have a friend who was concerned about being on a ship for that long…
……. what if I get sick ?
Well…. they have a doctor on board.
I have never needed it, and have only known one person who did.
And if sea-sickness is a worry, then no worries.
My mother is the most motion sick person in the world, and she enjoyed the Norwegian EPIC so much we had to drag her off.
The technology in these vessels is top notch, and geared toward making you comfortable.
Modern cruise ships have stabilizers that make you forget you’re even moving most of the time.
And for those times not included in ‘most of the time’, a product I used first in the Navy will do the trick…
…. it’s called Bonine (meclizine) and it won’t put you through the whole “too drowsy to go anywhere” trip.
As I said, no worries.
The Caribbean is chock full of places with nice beaches, sunshine and friendly faces.
Some, not so much.
One thing to remember is that once you’re in the Caribbean, you are now on ISLAND time.
Things, and folks, move a lot slower.
Relax and go with it.
There are, of course, several places down there that I like in particular, but your choices will have more to do with YOUR personal preferences than mine.
I’ll try to give you a run down of the high spots .
Nassau: Capital of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, and a fun place to putt around. That’s where “Atlantis Resort and Casino ” is, about 5 minutes away from the Port by taxi, or about a 30 minute walk across the bridge. You can read my post about Nassau for more information.
U.S. money is welcomed all over the Bahamas, but particularly in Nassau.
Virgin Gorda: This is a little desert island in the British Virgin Islands, best known as the home of “The Baths”, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Quiet and serene most of the time, it’s a nice place to R E L A X. See my post on Virgin Gorda for more information.
Saint John: One of my favorite islands in the U.S. Virgin Islands…. a United States Territory, much of the island is a National Park ( 60%)… it is absolutely gorgeous, and the beaches are first rate.
Saint Thomas: Known for it’s shopping, it is the most developed of the United States Virgin Islands. Charlotte Amalie is a very popular cruise port. Golf, diving, restaurants, bars, etc. And, it’s only a 20 minute boat ride to St. John, which makes a terrific excursion trip.
Curacao: Willemstadt is an unusual port in it’s Dutch flair, and the combination of cultural influences. Curacao is a constitutional republic, but still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands… I had a native friend explain how that works, but I still don’t get it. Anyway, it’s a friendly island, with good diving and some nice beaches , including Blue Bay and Seaquarium Beach.
San Juan PR : Puerto Rico is a pretty big island, and the expectation that you’ll be able to see it all in one or two days might just be a bit unreasonable… your first visit should probably focus on San Juan’s 16th century Old City, right next to where your ship will probably be berthed. There’s a lot to do here… consider walking around and exploring as a starting point. You might check out the Bacardi factory, but I’d rather drink it than see it made.
( In fairness, they do give ya a couple stiff ones on the tour. )
Saint Maarten: Another one of my favorites, I wrote some about the island in my post about Local Specialities. The Island is divided into two halves — a French half and a Dutch half. There are some lovely beaches here, including several clothing optional ones– my favorite is Orient Bay, on the French side, where’s a nice reef for snorkeling, and a great beach bar. Then, go eat some French food in a bistro over in Marigot. The port is Philipsburg, on the Dutch side, and there is duty free S H O P P I N G galore, if you’re into that sort of thing. Pick me up at Orient Bay on the way back, thanks.
Tortola : Some of the nicest people in the Caribbean live here. Road Town, Tortola is the Capital of the British Virgin Islands, and is a bit cramped in places, but there is an excellent beach on the north shore- Cane Garden Bay, and the view from the top of Mount Sage is wonderful. Tortola is also a great jumping off point for a quickie ferry ride over to my second home in the Caribbean, Jost Van Dyke.
Key West: If you haven’t been to Key West, you simply must. Key West will instantly destroy any negative preconceived notions you may have… And it is probably the most laid back place in the U.S. See my post about Key West for more.
Jamaica: Montego Bay or Ocho Rios ? : I dunno. Neither of these places are all that friendly, nor would I want to take my family there. It feels about as safe as 8 Mile Road in Detroit at 1 in the morning. But, for the adventurous, it has it’s pleasures. Negril is the home of Hedonism II, and if you don’t know what that means, well then, it’s probably better that you stay away from there. ( They don’t offer day passes, anyway, wise guy.) Montego Bay has a very interesting crafts market. And there is a brand new cruise pier, Falmouth, that will eventually accomodate more and better. If you do decide to visit, just SMILE and remember this phrase, (and get used to using it a lot ) : ” NO, Thank you.”
Costa Maya : I think this place is great for cruisers. Actually, nobody else has any reason to go there…. it’s a man-made tourist village custom made for cruise ships. The place is on the Yucatan Peninsula, near the sleepy town of Mahahual, and within an hours drive or so of several very interesting Maya sites… Chacchoben, Kinichna, Dzaibanche, and Kohunlich.
Cozumel : I’m a big fan of the Yucatan, and you’d be hard pressed to find a place there I didn’t like… San Miguel, Cozumel is kinda crowded, kinda commercial, kinda over-rated, but it’s also got a lot of shopping, restaurants, bars.. and within day excursion range of the important Maya sites of Tulum and Chichen Itza, or stay on the island and see San Gervasio or El Caracol. There are beaches galore… the beaches on the western side have calm water and are less windy… everybody seems to like Paradise Beach, but I recommend the less crowded Chankanaab Park. Hey, there’s so much to do on Cozumel, you will really not know which excursions to take…. or you can just take a cab to the central district ( about 6 bucks) and go nutz shoppin’ . Jewelry is an extremely popular item here, but know your stuff and be ready to haggle.
Haiti : My friend, ‘Chef’ in “Apocalypse Now” might have had the right idea if you’re thinking about Haiti when he said:
” Never get out of the boat ” .
The size of the ship you choose to sail on will be a large factor in how many amenities and what type are offered… remembering, of course, that a large ship will give you a smoother ride and have more selection of on-board stuff.
Still, small ships have their own charms, like more personalized service, and visiting some interesting ports that can’t handle the bigger ships.
I say, if your emphasis is on port calls, take a smaller ship.
You’ll often have smaller ports pretty much to yourself and your shipmates.
Waterslides on a ship are all well and good, but if you’re not into kiddies and kiddy stuff, you’ll be happier in the end.
If, on the other hand, you’re into socializing and on-board activities, go with the biggest ship you can find.
I was on the Norwegian Epic the last trip, and it had EVERYTHING, and more.
Just remember– waterslides means kiddie winkies.
So ask yourself ….
Did you really want to get away from it all, and then have someone else bring theirs?
I guess I can generalize somewhat about which cruise lines are for whom…
Celebrity is good for empty-nesters looking for good food and wine.
Carnival is good for young folk and folks who like to party kinda hardy.
Norwegian is good for a nice mix of families and more mature folks.
Princess is good for young couples and getaways.
Costa is good for personalized service and food.
I insist on a few things on a ship….
…. a gym, a spa, a big pool, inclusive packages, several restaurant selections.
I’m not into deck games and that kinda stuff…
if you are, check to see what’s offered, cause there’s a huge diversity between ships.
In addition to what’s included, there are all kinds of optional packages you can choose.
For instance, some lines offer drink packages that include alcohol.
Others offer access to VIP areas and such.
The one package I always opt for is the SPA package.
( I don’t go on ships without one )
I know that probably sounds funny, but it’s well worth it–
the first time you want to go in the water and there ain’t a deck chair available on the main pool deck–
…… or want to relax where nobody is drinking or making merry.
Take this one on faith, buddy…
I wouldn’t steer you wrong.
How about now?
I like the end of November, or January-February.
The weather in the Caribbean at these times is mild,
and there’s very little chance of hurricane or storms to mess you up.
If you like the heat, well, book one of them summer cruises.
Speaking of booking….
………how should you book your cruise?
I think a first timer might really benefit from using an experienced travel agent, unless you’re good at doing your research..
You don’t pay anything extra for their service, and they can be invaluable in saving you aggravation and wrong choices.
They can usually help you pick just the right trip for your personal preferences and needs.
If you already know what you want, you can book using one of the online travel sites or a cruise specific site ….. or you can book directly with the Cruise Line if you want.
One thing you want to be sure to do is advise them of any special needs..
…. they need to know ahead of time !
………………… when DO you want to go…. hmmmmmm ?