Deciding what to do to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary wasn’t tough. I knew I wanted to leave the U.S., but I wasn’t looking for the same resort experience that we had on our honeymoon (as great as that was!). I was ready to do some exploring! What’s the best way to hit a bunch of new places a short amount of time?
Definitely a cruise. I had already been on a cruise to the Bahamas, and Bryant had been on a cruise to Mexico, so an Eastern Caribbean cruise allowed both of us to travel to places we had never been before. We used CheapCaribbean.com to figure out which cruise to take. That ended up being another easy decision; Carnival had the best deals for the places I wanted to visit and the time of year I wanted to go (July). After a lot of discussion about how to fit this vacation in between family vacations, July fourth and everything else going on that month at work, we settled on an 8-day cruise in the second week of July that had stops in St. Maarten, St. Kitts, Puerto Rico and Turks and Caicos.
The total for the cruise for two adults was $2,900, or about $360 per night. Depending on who you are that may sound steep or cheap; either way you have to keep in mind that it includes all meals, not just a place to lay your head. Also keep in mind that our price was for the smallest room with no window. I didn’t look too closely at the other types of rooms available, but for a suite and a balcony we could have easily spent around $5,000 for the room. We didn’t plan on spending a lot of time in our room, so for us, a nicer room wasn’t worth the extra money. The room was small, but it met all of our needs.
I think we could have gotten a better deal than what we did if we had booked farther in advance. We booked in May, only about two months before the cruise. Next time I plan on trying to book earlier to get a better deal.
We also had the option to buy an alcohol package, which includes up to 15 drinks per person per day. The package is $50 per person per day, and if one person buys the drink package in your cabin, everyone else in that cabin is also required to buy it. If you do the math, for the package to be worth it, you have to drink at least 6 drinks a day, which doesn’t sound too crazy, but that’s including days when you are at port and not even on the boat. For Bryant and I, it definitely wasn’t worth the extra $1,000 it would have cost us, so we declined that option. If you are a big drinker, it’s definitely worth the money; drinks on the ship cost anywhere from $6 for light beer to up to around $15 for mixed drinks, so they add up quickly. I wish Carnival had some kind of option that allowed you to buy the package for certain days; it would have been nice to have for our days at sea.
Speaking of sea days, we had three of them: the first two days and the final day of the cruise. I’ll be honest, I started second guessing our 8-day vacation while I was packing for it. Eight days is a long time to be away from home! It made packing a little stressful, but it turns out that 8 days was actually a perfect amount of time for this particular trip. It was nice to have a sea day on the final day of the cruise; I didn’t feel like I had to do any last-minute exploring, like I usually feel on any other trip to a new place. It forced me to relax. We used the first two days at sea to find our way around the ship.
Our ship, the Carnival Splendor, was bigger than the ship I had previously been on. I am still trying to figure out where everything was; there was so much going on. The ship had a pool, a spa, a gym, dining rooms, buffets, a casino, an auditorium, a club, a lounge area, a basketball court, a comedy club, putt putt, and I’m sure I could keep going. All of that was great; I think it has to be impossible to get bored on a cruise.
It also has to be impossible to go hungry. There was so much food everywhere, all the time. Pizza, sandwiches, Asian, barbecue, burgers, Indian, burritos, ice cream; you name it, they had it. We opted for the buffet for breakfast and lunch every day; there were plenty of options and we could eat on our own time. We went to the sit-down dinners every night. The food was good and the service was fantastic. I absolutely recommend taking advantage of all of those dinners on a cruise, especially if you don’t eat out a lot regularly (like us!).
When you’re booking the cruise, you have to indicate your dining time preference; I chose the late dining, which meant dinner was at 8:15 pm every night. We typically eat around that time on a normal day, and we wanted to get the most out of every day we had on vacation. I would have hated to have to go back to the room before 5 o’clock every day to shower and get ready for dinner. You can also choose a ‘Your Time’ dining option. We always eat late, so I didn’t really consider that option for us, but it’s a good choice for people who don’t want to have to plan to eat dinner at the same time every night. The only drawback is that you may have to wait on a table because you aren’t necessarily guaranteed a seat any time that you want one. I liked the fixed time; it allowed us to have the same waiters and table guests every night, and we enjoyed getting to know them.
I confess, I was pretty surprised when we walked up to our table the first night and saw eight seats around it. I was under the impression that Bryant and I would be having dinner just the two of us every night. At first it was a little weird to be eating dinner with total strangers, but by the end of the cruise, we looked forward to seeing their friendly faces every night, and it was weird eating dinner without them when we got home!
One downside to this particular ship was the size of the pools. There were only two pools; one of them was on the main deck. That pool only took up about a quarter of the main deck, and the rest of the deck was used for entertainment space. The only other pool was in an adult only area. It was about the same size, but it also had two hot tubs right off of it. Bryant and I stuck to the adults only section most of our time on the ship (no offense to the kids, we just didn’t want to be around crying/screaming/splashing). Most other couples on the boat must have had the same idea, because that pool was packed on sea days. You couldn’t swim in the pool, you could just stand and hope the person next to you was nice enough not to pee. Needless to say, I didn’t spend a lot of time in the pool, but I did enjoy my time lying next to it.
When you go on a cruise, you really just need to go into it with the mindset that you aren’t going to have any alone time. It’s not the same relaxing atmosphere that you have at a resort. You are constantly surrounded by a lot of people, whether it’s at the pool, breakfast/lunch/dinner, a show, anywhere and everywhere. For some reason, even though I had previously been on a cruise, I was not in that mindset, and I had to re-adjust it after that first day.
Once I did that, I was good. We met some really nice people, enjoyed a bunch of comedy shows, played a few games of ping pong, watched some interesting musical entertainment, lost money at the casino, and even tried to hang in the club (That never lasted long. I guess we’re getting old.). Surprisingly, to me the best entertainment on the ship was the comedy shows; they were so much funnier than I expected them to be!
Even though we enjoyed our time on the ship, I was excited to disembark when we made it to our first stop, St. Maarten. Stay tuned for how to make the most out of a day there.