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Before we finally put this cruise to bed, we wanted to share with you a few tips we learned from our Mediterranean cruising experience. This was our first cruise for both couples (except for Chris, who did a cruise to Mexico filming a reality show a few years ago, but that was for work so it doesn’t really count), so I’m not sure we’re entirely qualified to be handing out advice for how to go on a cruise, but we learned a lot on our experience so we’d thought we’d share in case other would-be and first-time cruisers might find it useful! A lot of this stuff I’ve mentioned in previous posts, but I figured it would be a good idea to put it all down in one place. So here we go….
1. If you are going on a sightseeing cruise, make sure you pick an itinerary with lots of days at sea.
We learned that not all cruising experiences are the same. There are Caribbean-style cruises where the focus is on sun, cool drinks, and relaxation and you spend most of your days chillin’ on the beach or pool. Ours was a sightseeing-style cruise. The focus was on seeing as much as you can during days at port rather than pure relaxation. Because we were only in each port for such a short amount of time and there was SO much to see and do, we found ourselves thoroughly dirty, sore, and exhausted by the end of each day. We loved it, but we were SO grateful for the sea days we had in between all the running around (4 days at sea total). So if you are going on a sightseeing cruise, DEFINITELY find an itinerary with plenty of days at sea. They sound boring, but you are going to want/need them! Plus, there’s so much to do on the ship, you won’t be bored :)
2. Don’t be afraid to go outside of the cruise line when planning tours and excursions.
Even if you have never been to the country you are cruising to, be sure to research excursions outside of the ones provided by the cruise. We were inexperienced and a bit terrified of venturing off on our own in places like Egypt and Israel and Greece, where the languages and street signs weren’t remotely understandable. So we booked the majority of our excursions through the cruise ship. I wouldn’t say it was a big mistake, but we got quite frustrated with the way they were run. It was a lot of sitting around waiting. Waiting for people to check in. Waiting for people who were late. Waiting for the older folks. The groups of 30-40 people so the tours were extremely slow and oftentimes you couldn’t get close enough to the guide to ask questions. The guides got paid commission for certain purchases the tourists made, so they tried to sell you stuff while you were stuck on the bus and would take you to irrelevant shopping centers. Plus, the tours made you feel like an über tourist because you had to wear headphones and stickers and badges that made you stick out like a flashing neon sign.
Now, this style of tour might be great for some people, but we wanted more adventure and more of a local feel. Our excursion in Turkey made us realize there were many other options beyond the excursions offered by the cruise line. Our private tour through Ekol Tours didn’t cost any more than it would have through the ship and we got an extremely personal tour guide, Iksander. We got to ask all the questions we wanted and even got to customize the experience. Our guide was initially going to take us to a leather factory, but when we expressed that we weren’t wanting to buy any leather he routed us elsewhere. He also gave us loads of tips about places the locals go for us to explore during our free time so we could avoid the tourist traps and experience the real Kusadasi. It was fantastic and we really thought we got way more bang for our buck than we did on any of the tours through the ship.
I’m not saying never go with a cruise tour (in the end we decided we were grateful we went with the cruise tour in Egypt), but at least research other options. These places aren’t as scary as you think and doing a little research will give you a great idea of what is available. Don’t forget to read the reviews on Trip Advisor!
3. Be prepared for the insanely inflated prices.
We knew that going on a cruise was going to be expensive. People told us how high the prices were on the ship, but we weren’t prepared for HOW high. At one point Chris needed some Nyquil and the only one available was a tiny bottle for $16. So take what your expectations are for expenses on board and double them. Which leads to tip #4….
4. Bring your own medicine and first aid.
Plan for the unexpected. We didn’t think we’d need Nyquil because who plans to get sick on a vacation?? But with the amount of germy people on the ship, you’re bound to need some sort of cold medicine. All 4 of us caught various small bugs during the trip. Neosporin (for the inevitable blisters) would have cost an arm and a leg if we hadn’t brought our own. I would also recommend anti-diarreahals. We ate relatively healthy on the ship, but 3 of the 4 of us still ended up with some runs (TMI?). And if you try to get some pills for anything but seasickness from the first aid office, they will put you in quarantine for a day and cancel your shore excursions, even for a minor cold. So make your life so much simpler and just bring your own. Which leads me to my 5th point…
5. Eat healthy breakfast and lunches.
Splurge all you want on dinner and dessert, but if you eat short stacks with sausage and bacon and nutella covered toast and greasy burgers & fries for every meal every day, your bowels are going to be hating you. Use breakfast and lunch to stock up your system on fruits, veggies and fiber and leave the fatty, sugary, delicious stuff for dinner. Besides, we found the food at dinner to be far superior while most of the breakfasts and lunches weren’t worth the calories.
6. You won’t need as many clothes and shoes as you think you do.
Seriously…don’t bring 6 pairs of shoes. You’ll need flip flops, walking shoes, and dressy shoes TOPS. Pick outfits that will be multipurpose (mix and match with layers) that match your three pairs of shoes and you’ll be good to go. Learn from our mistake ;)
7. Pack some extra hangers.
We read that tip on another blog (I wish I could remember which one to cite it!) and it proved extremely useful. The cruise closets have some, but definitely not enough.
8. When picking a cabin, go for the cheap interior on a sightseeing cruise. Save the windows and balconies for relaxation cruises.
We were cheapskates and got the smallest interior rooms we could. Our intention was to spend the money we saved on the room on better excursions and we were really happy we did! We spent relatively little time in our room and we were glad we didn’t splurge for a sea view or balcony. I definitely think if were doing a Caribbean or Mexican cruise we would go balcony all the way, but for a Mediterranean sightseeing cruise we were glad we put our pennies to better use.
Well there you have it. C²’s guide to an awesome cruise. It’s not much, but from one beginner to another hopefully you will find it useful someday! If any of you veteran cruisers out there reading this have any other tips to share, please share them in the comments below!
Cruising for us was a great way to see a lot of countries that we normally would have been a too wary of traveling to on our own and opened up a whole new view for us. I don’t know if we will ever become “cruisers,” but I definitely see a few more in our future!