Sometimes when it’s cold out I find myself dreaming of warmer weather, beaches, and tan lines (weird? nah). This year, I was able to spend the beginning of January, two weeks to be exact, cruising around the Caribbean with Norwegian Cruise Lines and a crew of 16 party animals. Talk about a way to celebrate the start of a new year.
Our group spent 11 days on (and off) the ship exploring 10 different Caribbean Islands. This was my first cruise and let me tell you, 11 days is a long time for a cruise – but it was so worth it in so many ways. I was able to cross off 10 countries off of my travel list and we only spent one full day on the ship at sea. Since this was my first cruise, and first time in the Caribbean, I learned a lot of dos, don’ts and had a lot of “I’ll be back” moments. Let me take you on this adventure with me real quick, I promise it’s worth it.
Why a Cruise?
Why not? But actually, cruises allow you to visit so many places in a relatively short amount of time as well as taking you places you may never think of visiting. In my opinion, cruises are 100% worth it – as long as you plan correctly to get the best bang for your buck.
Norwegian Cruise Line has phenomenal “Free at Sea” offers throughout the year that you can cash in on depending on the room you book. With the inside state room that we reserved, we received one free offer and took complete advantage of the unlimited drink package. I’ve heard a lot of people complain about cruises because you get a bill at the end of the trip that tends to be quite the surprise once drinks, on ship purchases, and services charges add up. With the drink package, we saved at least $800 (easily) each on alcohol, 100% worth it. If you book during one of these promotional periods, you’ll be able to choose up to 6 different offers based on what is most important to you and save a huge chunk of cash.
As for the travel, as I stated before, we only had one full day at sea. I fully believe that this was the ideal way to cruise. We were at a different island literally every day of the cruise so I was able to get a taste of different islands and really make a mental note of locations I want to come back to. 10/10 would recommend as few days at sea as possible to truly maximize on seeing as many places as possible.
One thing I will be forever grateful for is the group I went on this trip with. Out of all 16 people, there were only 3 of us who were on our first cruise. We truly got the best veteran cruiser advice and tips to help us make this a total success.
Tip your bartenders and servers and tip them well. The cruise line staff work incredibly hard and they are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Some staff members get a portion of the daily service charge, but others don’t, so please make sure you show them how much you appreciate their hard work.
Sunscreen up religiously. For some unknown reason – my Scandanavian skin has a wonderful magic trick of turning a bit red during the day and tanning overnight as long as I’m using sunscreen. I put sunscreen on almost every other hour the first three days of the cruise, twice a day on days four through nine, and once in the morning on the last two days. As long as you’re aware of how your skin is feeling and put sunscreen on regularly, you should be able to survive sunburn free.
Make sure you have a meeting point set for your group. You won’t have any cell service while you’re on the ship, so planning is key. Set a place and time for everyone to meet before leaving the boat or for any other plans (meals, events, etc.) so you’re not scrambling trying to find your crew.
Do things as a group, but don’t be afraid to do your own thing. The ship we were on was huge and had so many events going on throughout the day. If there’s something that looks fun to you, but nobody else wants to go – do it anyway!
Do at least 2 excursions. They may seem expensive and not worth it – but let me tell you, they so are. We did 3 and they were so much fun. The snorkel excursion in Bonaire was the highlight of my trip and if I didn’t sign up for the excursion, I would have never seen an octopus mating – so there’s that.
Cruising Don’ts (According to Yours Truly)
Since this was my first cruise, there was a lot of things I learned on this trip. There’s only a small handful (thank you cruise vets), but still good to be noted.
Plan excursions ahead vs last minute. Unfortunately we missed out on an excursion that would have been absolutely breathtaking because by the time we went to sign up, it was full. If there is anything you even think you’d have fun doing – book it. You usually have 24 hours to cancel your reservation if you decide you don’t want to do it, so it’s worth it to plan ahead.
If you can afford it – get a room with a window. Our stateroom was an inside windowless room and let me tell you, it was an adjustment. We slept with the bathroom light on, had to set an alarm in order to wake up (literally – it was like being in a shipping container) and even then it was incredibly difficult to start the day because it was just so dark in there. According to Sam, we now know how Harry Potter felt living under the stairs all those years.
Don’t forget to take cash out before the cruise. ATMs on the islands will give you their currency and the ATMs on the ship have huge fees – take out more cash than you think you’ll need so you can use it on the islands!
Feelings After the End
Puerto Rico (port) –> Curacao –> Aruba –> Bonaire –> Grenada –> Barbados –> St. Lucia –> Antigua –> St. Maarten –> St. Thomas –> Puerto Rico (port)
The islands in bold are locations I will 100% be visiting again in my lifetime. Each island had its own culture, feel, and scenery – but I resonated most with those four the most. They were lush, beachy, mountainous, welcoming, busy and relaxed all at the same time. Quite honestly, the islands we visited had never even been on my radar until this trip. After visiting them all, I now know where I want to revisit to truly dive into their countries and explore them myself.
I am truly forever grateful for the experiences this cruise gave to me and the memories made with the Minnesota crew. Two weeks (11 day cruise with 3 days of travel) is a long time for me to be away from my dogs. Although I will definitely be going on a cruise again, I don’t think I would do one this long. I think five to seven days would be ideal for me. This cruise was absolutely worth it and I had so much fun, but I was very ready to be home in the mountains and with my fur kids. We drank ridiculous amounts of alcohol, laughed harder than I thought was possible, ate amazing meals, danced hard, sang at karaoke, made heaps of friends, and truly lived our best lives. As Al would say “we have fun.” No truer statement has ever been said.