Before I begin, let me say that there are more variables on this topic than there would be with DC Travel Tips. Being on a different cruise line, a different ship, or going to different destinations can make a big difference. My cruise was on the Carnival Elation, leaving from Galveston with stops in Cozumel and Progreso. Your mileage may vary. Also, I would like to mention that it was fabulous, and not just because I love boats.
1. Collect small bills in advance
There are two reasons for this. One is for tipping. In our case, the ship allotted fifty dollars for gratuities, with a breakdown of what went to whom, and if you purchased a fountain card there was a gratuity added on for the bartenders. However, the amounts are fairly low, and you may want to augment that. I certainly did, as we received excellent service. However, you do not accumulate change on the ship because you are signing for everything, and you may be able to get change at the information desk, but otherwise your choice is to either not tip or tip more than intended. Just plan ahead.
In addition, at least in Mexico it is common to bargain, and a lot of the items you are bargaining for are pretty cheap. So, imagine bargaining someone down to two dollars and then needing change for a twenty, which they may not have. It’s just silly. Anyway, having ones and fives gives you some more flexibility that is nice to have.
As a side note, on shore excursions I recommend cash over charge anyway, as you don’t have to worry about fluctuating exchange rates, and you may get a better deal by having cash in hand.
2. Eat in the dining room as often as possible
We had dinner there every night, but we did not realize what we were missing in terms of lunches and dinners there until very late in the cruise. Room service is convenient, and there is always food being served somewhere, but the best quality food is definitely in the dining rooms. Plus, for breakfast and lunch it is open seating, so you get to meet additional people. And don’t leave the dining room early, because they sing and dance for you.
3. Attend the informational talks
We attended one at the beginning of the cruise and a disembarkation talk, but there were also shopping talks and shore excursion information, all of which can prove very helpful. Another nice part of that is that most of them were given by our cruise director, Jorge, who was great. Honestly, he was funnier than the ship’s comedian.
4. Entertainment may be cheesy
But don’t let that stop you! The first night there was a show where you got to watch the singers, the dancers, and the comedian. The singers and dancers tend to work together, and while they were performing my first thought was, so this is what happens to people who leave high school with nothing but cheerleading skills. Except, they were pretty much all Australian, English, and Canadian, so I don’t know if they would even have been cheerleaders.
Anyway, that shouldn’t hold you back. I admit that we did not go to the two Vegas style shows (which would be just the singers and dancers), but we did go to Pure Country (which was them plus a pretty good fiddler) and the guest talent show (which had Jorge doing a lot of filler because they only had five acts).
Bear in mind, the shows are not your only entertainment. There were musical acts on the Lido Deck in afternoons, by the Drama Bar in the evenings, and there was karaoke every night.
5. Decide whether or not you want a Fountain Card early
Meals are included in the cruise price, along with water, juice, milk, and hot beverages. Alcohol is extra, of course, but so are soft drinks. With the Fountain Card you can pay a flat fee and take it to any bar at any time and get soda. It was about $27.00 for five days, with sodas otherwise costing $2.00 each. Whether you should get it or not depends on how much of a pop drinker you are, but if you are going to want it, decide early so you can get full value for it.
6. You’re probably better off with the early dinner seating
There were two dining rooms, each one with two seatings. We took the 8:00 PM seating because we thought on the days we had shore excursions we could come back a little later, and shower if needed, and still make dinner. What we did not realize is that you pretty much always needed to be back on the ship by 4 or 4:30, so making the 6:00 seating is not much of a stretch. Being done earlier would have been better for some things, including the midnight buffets. We did not even go to the fancy Grand Royale midnight buffet because we had just eaten prime rib three hours earlier. Karaoke starts at 8:30. Yes, you can arrive late, but without having a chance to fully gauge the room I was not going to get up there, so yeah, eat at 6.
7. Sign up for shore excursions and spa packages early
They go fast! That being said, I would not sign up for either before getting on the ship. We had several itinerary changes before boarding, and one that I wanted to do did not appear to be available on the web site, but we were able to sign up for it on the ship. By the way, massages are heavenly!
8. Don’t expect cell phone reception
Maybe you wouldn’t anyway. I was not counting on reception, but my signal went off about an hour outside of port and did not come back on until we got back to Galveston. Even on shore I had no reception.
9. Don’t be an idiot
The low point of our cruise was probably on the tender back from Playa Del Carmen. As the boat was almost full, with the only empty seating being right in front of us, a woman helped her young adult daughter stagger on board. My first thought was that I hoped they would not sit in front of us, but of course they did. My next thought was that I hoped she would not throw up.
It didn’t happen right away, but when it started it went on forever. If you don’t know how well you can hold your tequila, assume the answer is not very. It’s a powerful drink, and apparently even more so on a hot day. It wasn’t just that she was inconsiderate to everyone on the boat; she was incredibly inconsiderate to her mother. Her mother was the one who had to wrangle the breasts back into the shirt, guide the drunk, find misplaced shoes and scrunchies, and then deal with the vomiting, and she was the only one of the pair who was conscious of the embarrassing nature of the incident at the time.
10. Don’t be a jerk
I was amazed at the capacity of some people to complain and to be rude to service people. There weren’t even that many occurrences, but come on, you are on a cruise! Don’t you feel lucky? I know, you paid for it, but there was a time when it would have been a lot more expensive, or poor people would be put in steerage. Now as far as I can tell the only thing paying more money gets you is a bigger cabin. You get the same food and the same service and the same pampering. Don’t start yelling at someone who asks who you are doing that the lines are poorly managed because one is moving faster than the other.
Granted, with my customer service background, I am extra sensitive to abuse of the working class (that also forms a big part of my views on tipping), but ultimately, there is a limit to how responsible anyone else can be for your good time. Attitude, baby.
Next stop, Mexico!