Cruising in the Caribbean

I have an upcoming cruise to the Caribbean and I’m feeling a little out of my element. I’m not really quite sure what to expect. I understand that there are people that go on cruises as much as I fly and that there’s a whole subculture with cruising as well. There’s even a Flyertalk like site called “Cruise Critic.”

My only experience on a cruise boat was a three day cruise from California to Catalina and Ensenada, Mexico. I thought that this was a real cruise ship though I remember wandering around wishing there was a pool on the ship. I now realize that this experience was akin to traveling on a Somalian pirate speedboat. At the casino on the ship, I remember the roulette ball flying off the wheel a couple of times in choppy water. That made for an interesting gambling experience.

I’ll be going on Royal Caribbean cruise line. I looked into their “frequent boater” program but oddly you have to have gone on at least one cruise before they let you join.

Are there different status levels on cruise boats? If you’re a Diamond cruiser do you get cabin upgrades? Second helpings of the prime rib? Do people go on cruise runs at the end of the year to maintain / achieve status? Do people get to know the crew as well as the passengers got to know Captain Stubing on the Love Boat?

I feel totally out of my realm and am afraid that at this time next year, I’ll have had so much fun that I’ll be on my fifth cruise, hanging around the dock with a pipe, an eye patch uttering “I’ll have the fish and chips ye scurvy dogs”.


  1. My Sister-in-law is cruise cursed. She was on the cruise in the Caribbean that caught fire a few years ago and was postponed on another in the Gulf of Mexico last year due to a hurricane…

    I have a coworker that was on the disabled cruise ship off Baja California last Nov that had to be towed back to San Diego.

    Wait, maybe it’s me that’s cursed since I know these people 😉

    At least they’ve all enjoyed very generous perks from the cruise companies because of these things…

  2. I’ve been on over 20 cruises. It is great. I can assure you that you will be hooked. I would equate the service to that of what you get on international first class.

    As far as status goes, it differs from cruise line to cruise line, but some of the services you get include: priority check-in, laundry, free internet, cabin upgrades, and invitations to parties for frequent cruisers. Cruise status is generally for life. I’ve been on about 12 Princess cruises over the past 10 years or so and have had Platinum status with them since my 6th cruise.

    Have fun!

  3. @Ben – thanks for the information, I’m looking forward to it. Which one was your favorite trip?

    @Sice – yes, I think it’s you. Didn’t you break up the Spice Girls too?

  4. I’ve been on over thirty cruises; however, in the last two years, they have made so many changes & cut costs so much. It’s not the great experience it once was. I’m not sure the value is there anymore, since they nickel & dime you every hour of the day. Here’s an interesting letter from this last Sun. LA Times Travel section for more insight:

    “We took our first river cruise in Oct., going down the Elbe from Potsdam, Germ. to Prague with Nicko Tours. We will never go on an ocean cruise again. Never!

    The river cruise ship and its crew were lovely. The food was excellent. No money grabbing extras at every turn. The port cities were interesting with their city centers only a few minutes’ walk from the ship. No lines, no waits, no water taxis, no rip off taxi’s and no costly land tours. The entire trip was stress- and noise-free, with only 50 other passengers. All this and more, for the best cruise value he had ever encountered.”

    Ernest Salomon
    Santa Barbara

  5. Jason,
    In the past 7 years I have been on 7 cruises – all on Princess. My wife and I have cruised the Western Caribbean, Eastern Caribbean, Southern Caribbean and Mediterranean. I enjoy the cruises immensely for what they are – a great way to travel to various ports of call in one trip comfortably. The food during the dinners in the (formal) dining rooms or specialized restaurants (i.e. steak houses, Italian restaurants, etc.) is usually exceptional, whereas the buffets are, well, what you would expect from a buffet – quick food featuring a large selection to choose from.

    The service throughout any of the ships we have been on has been impressive, especially considering the number of passengers on the ships we have been on (2,500 or more). Many of the staff come from all over the world – for some English is not a first language, but isn’t that the case with the passengers as well?

    In the Caribbean alone I have been to 21 ports of call – some of them 2 or 3 times. In the Mediterranean I’ve been to 10 ports of call. Aside from the extra days spent at originating or final ports (hey, if you are going to fly in or out of Barcelona, Venice or San Juan as we have, you might as well stay an extra couple of days and see more sights), and the 1 overnight we have ever had on a cruise (Venice), we haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing any of the stops in the evening. This is pretty much the only downside to cruising that I personally feel there is. My wife and I use cruising as a fun, relatively inexpensive way to see a lot of different places (without having to unpack, pack, unpack…) to decide on where we would want to come back to later for a longer vacation.

    On our first cruise to the Caribbean alone we had stopped in 5 different countries in 7 days. Of those 5 we figured out we wanted to return for longer vacations to 2 of them.

    In regards to the “frequent cruiser” programs out there, I can only speak to the one we are a part of on Princess. You don’t get upgrades to better cabins or an extra lobster tail at dinner (by the way, they will keep bringing those lobster tails as long as you keep asking for them – no extra charge ;-D ), but the programs allow for certain perks, like special events on the ships, free wi-fi, dry cleaning, etc. depending on the number of cruise days you have accumulated. The more days (which equals a number of voyages in previous programs) the higher up the level in the program, the more perks you get. On one note though – sometimes the type of cabin you book can rate you perks as well. In the past when we have booked a mini-suite on Princess there is a line at the ship that speeds you though the check-in if you have a mini-suite.

    I didn’t start cruising until I was 35, but am hooked. You just need to remember to not expect more from a cruise than it can actually deliver. In most cases you are one of thousands of passengers on one ship. In some ports your ship may be one of many. When we were in Istanbul in September 2009 our ship was one of 9 in port on the same day. So, not including the regular number of tourists visiting any one city in a day – that’s an extra 20,000+ visitors coming off ships trying to see all the same sights or snorkel in the same secluded bay at the same time. And then there is the weather which can not be controlled by anyone at any given time. I think the cruise lines handle the logistics of all that fairly well considering. Believe it or not I have seen plenty of passengers get back on the ship from an excursion where they felt that the cruise line was responsible for them getting caught in a sudden downpour on an excursion they booked a month ago, or blame the ship because the passengers booked an excursion that was above their personal physical ability – even though there are clear warnings when booking the excursions as to the physical level it involves (when you go on a waterfall hike that says “expect slippery and muddy path” and “steep and rocky terrain” and the passenger uses a walker or wheelchair and complains to the excursion desk AFTER they have a tough time, you know the passenger isn’t reading the warning or don’t care and figures everyone else will accommodate them). I have seen passengers get angry because the buffet doesn’t serve the exact same thing every day OR too much of the same things daily. You can’t please all the people all of the time, but the cruise lines to a good job – and for a reasonable price. On the larger ships there are multiple pools, jacuzzis, a full service spa, many dinning options, casinos, workout facilities, daytime and evening entertainment (including an outdoor movie theater showing movies all throughout the day and night). There is a lot to do and choose from.

    7 years ago, within a month of returning from our first cruise my wife and I priced out a 7-day trip to Hawaii. Our plan was to fly there, stay 6 nights at a 3 to 4-star hotel, rental car, evening entertainment for a few nights, food (3-meals a day, snacks), drinks, a couple of tours to get the skinny on local sights, tips and that was it. When we priced it out and compared it to a cruse with a mini-suite with balcony, with a couple of massages and spa treatments in the spa (and extra charge on ship), excursions (extra) and the cost of drinks and the mandatory tips on the ship (you have a daily room tip and an automatic tip applied to your alcoholic beverages on the ship) it came out to be about the same if not a little cheaper. Now don’t get me wrong – I am all for a vacation in Hawaii or any one place – in fact we are making plans to meet up with family in Hawaii this next year. Cruising can just be a great option.

    And on a final note – personally I think the trip I took in August/September 2009 which was a combination of extra days before and after a cruise we booked on our own, and a 12-day cruise in the Mediterranean was an amazing trip. It was a little from each school of thought. We booked a car service to pick us up at the airport in Barcelona (they ended up picking us up in a white stretch limo which was a little over the top, but hey…), booked into a classy boutique hotel with a great staff and an amazing roof-top pool/bar/restaurant for 3-nights (our room was upgraded to a “loft” room that had two levels). After 3 days of seeing the sights board the ship for a 12-day Mediterranean cruise (10 ports of call in Monaco, Italy, Turkey and Greece), disembark and finish with 3 nights in Venice in another great boutique hotel in a room with windows on 3 sides of the room with amazing views of Venice and private access to the rooftop. We finished our trip with days of wandering Venice on our own visiting museums, glass factories, shops and eating the best food I have ever eaten, and on the last morning a private boat to take us to the airport.

    So cruise on! Enjoy it for what it is!

  6. My husband and I took our first cruise last year, so I can relate to what it feels like to be a bit out of our element. We too are frequent fliers and were quick to pick up on the fact that there is a whole network and subculture of frequent cruisers also. All said and done we had a fun time on our 7 day Eastern Caribbean cruise on Princess, but I still prefer flying. Would I cruise again? Yes. Would I become a regular? Probably Not. I guess the best part of your first cruise though is after it is finished, if you decide to do it again, you are no longer a newbie.

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