Ocean cruising, once a vacation option for the wealthier, has become an enormously popular and affordable vacation option for the masses. My wife and I had discounted ever taking a cruise because of the mistaken idea that it required formalities such as dressing up each evening for supper and/or renting a tuxedo.
In 2002, however, the McClain Alumni Association hosted an all-class Caribbean cruise aboard the Carnival ship Sensation. It was a wonderful experience from which we decided cruising was something we’d enjoy doing more of. We just returned from our eighth cruise and have a ninth scheduled for next spring. Thus far we’ve been on Carnival six times, Royal Caribbean once, and Norwegian once and here’s a few notes on what we’ve concluded:
- The best deals are for those who have a bag packed and can walk out the door at a moment’s notice.
- Carnival usually has the best prices but they go to fewer Caribbean destinations. We’re at the point where finding ships going to places we’ve not been is getting difficult. After our next cruise there will only be one area of the Caribbean we’ve not been, the Dutch Antilles and Northern shore of South America. If we continue to cruise we’ll probably consider Alaska, the Canadian Maritime Provinces, and Bermuda.
- We’ve never booked a balcony stateroom and only twice had a cabin with an outside window. We choose to book the less expensive “inside” cabins since all we use it for is bathing and sleeping.
- We’ve found plenty of onboard activities on each line we’ve sailed with and the nightly stage productions have been top-notch.
- For children and younger people NCL’s ship Getaway has been by far the best. Our grand kids stayed plenty busy with the water park activities, rock climbing wall, and aerial obstacle course and zip line.
- Cruise lines make lots of money from selling shore excursions but we’ve learned to settle for hiring a guided taxi for a tour of the island and then having lunch and doing some sight-seeing in the principal city before returning to the ship. In places we’ve been before we may not even leave the ship.
- A major attraction of cruising has always been the food and here’s our take on that. NCL’s “free style” has the most options and flexibility. Carnival and Royal Caribbean still support assigned dining times unless you want to eat your meals in their buffets.
- Overall we’ve decided that Carnival has the best food of the three. Royal Caribbean’s buffet was tops but their formal dining menu was not as good as Carnival’s. While something to eat was available 24/7 on NCL the overall quality was a notch or two below the others. There simply wasn’t anything that knocked our socks off on the Getaway. Closest was a Snickerdoodle pound cake à la mode with caramel sauce.
- Regardless of ship, staff friendliness has always been wonderful. But, we have to give the top prize to the staff and crew of NCL’s Getaway. There simply wasn’t a scowl to be seen and their final night send off gathering in the main theater was a sight to behold.
Aboard the Getaway we took our breakfast each morning in the buffet where crew member Issac Dobson of Jamica appeared in the role of Mr. Rooster. Just watching him go around the deck bring smiles to faces young and old was a great way to begin each day.