So you wanna go on a cruise?

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The Queen and I love going on cruises. They’re fun, full of great food and entertainment and it gives us a chance to relax for 7-10 days. No worrying about cleaning your house or cooking food, because someone does that for you….multiple times a day, in fact. I could write ten blogs on cruising, as there is so much information to be shared. But I’ll just nutshell it here and if anyone has any questions, drop me an email or comment below and I’ll try to answer as best I can.

As with every vacation or adventure, there are pluses and minuses. In our opinion, there are many more pluses than minuses when it comes to taking a cruise. Truthfully, we have never had a bad cruise. There are mostly great things about cruising and sometimes, some not so great things.

We have cruised with Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Princess, and have done several on each cruise line. We have not done Norwegian or Carnival and there are reasons for that (which I won’t get into right now).

All three have areas where they are both superior and inferior than the others. You know, “inferior” is probably not the best word to use since they’re all three top shelf. Let’s go with not as superior. ;) In our opinion, Princess is the best at food. Royal Caribbean is the best at ship activities and entertainment. Celebrity is the best for all around service.

THE GREAT:

Food 

Holy smokes the food is amazing, especially if you choose the dining room instead of the buffet. We have found that up to this point, Princess is hands down the best in terms of food in the dining room between the three, although RC and Celebrity are fantastic. Where Princess offered better choices when it came to the dining room, Royal Caribbean takes the cake when it comes to their Windjammer buffet area. They always have selections based on countries and cultures and the ease of dining in the buffet is smoother.

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When it comes to food, if you’re hungry, you just go eat something – anytime you want. Each ship has special areas throughout where you can get pizza, cookies, ice cream and other snacks as well as antipasti, quick bite (imagine tapas) meals and burgers. For example, RC’s Allure of the Seas has a hot dog stand and donut shop – both open for quick bites. Dinner is always a spectacle with four courses of fine, five-star dining…and you can eat as much as you want. Want two steaks at dinner? Ask for it.

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The View  

I always recommend spending the extra money and booking a room with a balcony. There’s nothing quite like sitting on your balcony at night, sipping a cup of coffee, listening to the sounds of the water and viewing the stars. You may not know this, but you will see a great deal of shooting stars at night as you sit on your balcony. Sometimes we leave the door open a bit as we sleep at night so we can hear the rushing of the water. So peaceful.

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There’s also the thrill of watching as you pull into port – and I recommend getting a balcony room on the PORT side towards the front of the ship and as high up as you can. The port side (the left) is the side that faces the dock the majority of the time. If you like taking pictures as we do, you’ll get a great opportunity to get some good shots.

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The Ports of Call –

 Gosh, it seems we’ve been everywhere in the Caribbean.

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St. Thomas, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Jamaica, Dominica, Aruba, St. Maarten – too many to list. They’re almost all beautiful. I say almost all, because we really weren’t fans of a couple of spots. I won’t list those here, because you the reader need to find out on your own. Maybe you’ll like the places we don’t? It’s up to you to find that out.

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I will say our favorite spots are St. Thomas, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, with San Juan bringing up the rear. For example, San Juan has a spot on the main drag that has a full pig cooking in the window. Roasted pork with arroz and plantains? Come on, son.

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Those places never get old and are brimming with amazing local food, beautiful clear water and some of the best snorkeling you’ll ever do. And seashells? Come on, now. You know the Shell King and Queen don’t come home empty handed.

The Excursions –

When it comes to excursions at ports of call, they run the gamut. Snorkeling, swimming, bus tours, hiking, mountain driving in a 4×4 jeep. You name it, it’s probably offered.

In Dominica, we hiked a rain forest and got to swim under a waterfall.

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In St. Thomas, we once did a bus tour of the island and then went snorkeling and beaching at Magen’s Bay.

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Where I took this stunning photo of the Queen:

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and just two weeks ago, we snorkeled the Antilla shipwreck in Aruba.

So don’t just sit on the ship when you hit a port of call. I also don’t recommend just going into that port’s town to shop. You can shop at home! GO have some fun! Get on a boat and snorkel. Go hiking. Take a bus tour of the island. But explore, take pictures and make memories.

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THE NOT SO GREAT:

One of my biggest gripes about cruising is the lack of courtesy by other guests. Now what I’m about to touch on may make you laugh, but it’s true.

If you’re American, you drive on the right side of the road, yes? Normally as an American, if you’re walking in a mall or down the grocery aisle, which side do you walk on? Yep, the right. Well, not all guests on cruises are American. Which means they DON’T drive on the right side of the road, but the left….and that’s precisely where they walk. So there are ALWAYS people walking directly towards you. Many of those people don’t move out of the way. They expect you to. It gets old but it’s par for the course. When stuff like this happens, I tend to look like this:

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Different countries have different cultures. There are cultures where personal space doesn’t exist. Get used to that on a cruise, especially in an elevator where you’ll often find a hand or something else near or even on your butt. You’ll also find yourself in the theater for example with an entire row to yourself. Instead of skipping a seat like we do here in the United States, someone will inevitably sit right next to you….and take the arm rest!

Some cultures believe that wearing deodorant is a no-no or against their religion. It’s not against my religion, I can tell you that. Be prepared to smell B.O., especially after an excursion.

TIPS AND SUGGESTIONS:

Get your passport. If you don’t have one, get one. You may not need it depending on where you’re going, but there ARE places that require it upon entering the country. It costs $140, lasts 10 years and it’s worth it.

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Book your excursions in advance. Excursions fill up quickly. As soon as you see them available for booking on the website, book them. If not, you’ll be standing in line at the Excursion Desk on the ship and we’ve seen LONG lines with folks who didn’t prepare ahead of time. You’ll have to pay for them at the time of booking, but it’s worth the peace of mind.

Go through the cruise line and not a travel agent. This is the biggest and best tip we can give you. A travel agent is going to charge you 15-20% on top of the cruise cost and that includes your excursions too. So book through the cruise line online or call them directly. Always ask for any specials, upgrades or additional on board credits. You may be surprised at what they have to offer you that they won’t offer to a travel agent. Some may disagree with that, but in our experience, we’ve gotten better deals by calling the lines directly. Online, you can even choose the room you want. Stay away from the cruises that send you a postcard that say “Call now for your $199 cruise!” You’ll regret it.

Set money aside for parking. Don’t forget that you have to park at the port! Normally it costs $15 a day, so make sure you set that aside or you’ll be in trouble when it’s time to leave the lot or parking garage.

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Pre-pay your gratuities in advance. Cruise workers get tipped. It’s part of the deal. Pre-paying those removes the headache of sitting in your stateroom the night before disembarkation, sorting envelopes, trying to do the math in your head as to what to pay your stateroom attendant, waiter, assistant waiter and anyone else. Let them do the math ahead of time and pre-pay it. Trust me on this one. Princess automatically charges your account daily for gratuities, so no worries if you cruise with them.

Pack medicine. This one’s a no-brainer. Excedrine, DayQuil and Visine are three that everyone should have in their toiletry bag.

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Pre-boarding and Boarding – Print your boarding pass ahead of time and have your paperwork (driver’s license, passport and boarding pass) out and in your hand before you get in line to board. This will help you get on board quickly. The last two cruises we’ve gone on? Less than fifteen minutes from parking the car to when we arrived in our stateroom. Porters should be tipped an average of $3 a bag to take your luggage. Go explore the ship as soon as you board. Familiarize yourself with the layout (where is the pool, your dining room, fun hangouts, etc), because you can get lost on board these big ships.

Pack an 8 pack of soda in the mini plastic bottle.

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Don’t pay $35 for the Coke pass on any cruise. At home do you drink $35 worth of Coke in a week? haha maybe you do, so forgive me. We don’t. So we pack some sodas (and snacks) in our bag (wrap them in a plastic bag, tie it and put it in your toiletry luggage) and put them in our room’s fridge. Then we drink juice, water and iced tea that are free on board the ship and have a Coke at night or after a day at the pool.

At a port of call, carry small denominations of cash.

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We carry a five in each front pocket and ones in our back pockets. Haggling is normal at ports of call. Be prepared to do it. They want $15 for that Tanzanite bracelet? “Sorry bro,” (as you pull a fiver from your pocket) “I only have five.”

DEAL.

Finally, HAVE FUN.

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 There are many many more little tips when cruising and perhaps I’ll write about those another time. But the big thing I want to emphasize is if you’re going to cruise, have fun and RELAX.

That’s the whole point.

What a Year

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2014 has been a pretty entertaining year, both in the way of fun and challenges.

Lots of lessons learned this year. Patience. Humility. Determination. Fighting on in the face of struggle.

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We started off 2014 by calling it “The Year of Fun”. It’s certainly been that as we have had a lot of fun. But it’s also been the year of continuing to be happy when our circumstances have dictated otherwise.

“The happiest people don’t have the best of everything; They just make the best of everything.”

It’s been a wonderful year of shelling the beaches of Sanibel.

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We took some great trips.

We had a ball at the Florida State Fair.

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We loved Lobster Fest in Key West.

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While the Blueberry Festival in Brooksville was memorable,

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the Central Florida Barbecue Blowout in Oveido was forgettable.

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We (I, actually) enjoyed the Pepper Fest in Pinellas, mainly because of the fun we had afterwards with our friend Karen at her home beach – Stump Pass.

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And we dove. Boy, did we dive.

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We dove Sanibel.

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And I found a MONSTER Alphabet Cone too.

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We dove the Keys – the upper, middle and lower….

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HWC

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and we’ll be diving in a few other exciting spots in a few days. We had 12 festival stops planned but did not get to hit them all. That’s ok though!

We also met and got to hang out with some very sweet and kind people this year. We’re quickly approaching 500 additional friends on our Facebook page. Thank you all for coming along for the ride this year.

We have a lot to be thankful for and we definitely are.

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We’ve had fun and learned some tough lessons as well, which has made us grow as people throughout this year’s journey.

But isn’t that what growing up is all about?

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;)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, friends. See you in hopefully a very exciting and fun-filled 2015.