Whatever happened to relaxing days at sea? Seems they have gone the way of the Dodo Bird. At least this seems to be the case on mainstream, mass market ships. Consequently, it might be prudent to offer a little advice for clients booked on short 3, 4 or 5 day cruises – where simply glancing at the daily activity sheet on a “fun day at sea” can induce a sense of overwhelm. Feel free to cut, paste, edit and customize any of the following to empower your ‘first timers’ to seize the day like cruise veterans when confronted with a multi- page list of confusing, unfamiliar activities.
Learn how to navigate this maze to –
– Max the Fun
– Dodge the Crowds
– Avoid Rip Offs & Save Money
How to max the fun –
Cruise line advertising makes it look so simple…strongly implying that the wisest choice is a ship with the latest, greatest facilities for such things as rock climbing, bowling, onboard surfing, ice skating, billiards, water parks, etc. And the hype really gets some people pumped. But stop for a moment and think. Does a ship have to be the one with the most “who-knew-they-had-that-on-a-ship” activities to make one’s cruise a success? Often, less glamorous, un-advertised events can be just as satisfying – relative to personal tastes and interests, of course.
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Some Good Examples –
There are the old standbys like the Ice Carving Demonstration – which has the potential to be a real heart stopper. For instance – occasionally the Artiste de Ice will inadvertently put his miniature chainsaw into the unsteady hands of an inebriated passenger. The show then instantly becomes both more thrilling to watch and self-serving for the artist. Huge tips and sellout attendance are guaranteed.
Another Oldie but Goodie is the Napkin Folding Class – particularly popular with those willing to adjust their medication accordingly.
A Few Caveats –
Some things that you read in the ship’s daily activity sheet have to be taken with a huge grain of salt. Allow me to elaborate.
The Promise – On a sea day on one fine ship a poolside activity titled the Hairy Chest Contest was prominently listed and promoted via bullhorn and public address system. This intrepid reporter mistakenly concluded that an American based cruise line had finally adopted European standards for nudity and personal grooming.
The Reality – Arriving poolside an hour early to witness this seminal event from a front row seat – my expectations were dashed upon learning that participation was limited to males only. Plus, given the physical conditioning of the contestants, this little bit of fleshy slapstick would have been more appropriately titled the “Hairy Beer Belly Contest”. What a disappointment!
How to dodge the crowds –
There are times of day and places on even the largest, most modern ships where huge crowds will materialize and you may find yourself in company of more fellow passengers than you desire. At such times competition may be keen for resources such as the Jacuzzi, the wading pool or lounge chairs near the pool.
So, when in extremis, here are two solutions – tried and true – one old, one new.
Crowded Pool Solution-
Referred to as the “Caddy Shack” strategy – this is a risky technique – frowned upon by the cruise lines and to be used sparingly or it loses its effectiveness. You surreptitiously toss an unwrapped Baby Ruth chocolate bar into the pool – preferably a “floater”. Then sit back and wait. The exodus will either be “en mass” or gradual – depending on whether the alarm is shouted out loud by a panicked bather or circulated quietly via whispers and worried looks.
Crowded Deck Solution –
Current world events have opened up new possibilities for finding an unoccupied lounge chair when you desire to nap and/or sunbathe at peak hours. The most effective of the new techniques is to yell at the top of your lungs “Somali pirates off the starboard bow”! The foolhardy ones will run to the rail with their digital cameras in hand. The skittish will run for cover. Others will just sit there trying to figure out which side of the ship is “starboard”. But two out of three is not bad. Two thirds of the deck chairs should become available immediately.
But what about those days in port?
Why follow the herd ashore, especially if –
a. You’ve been there before
b. You owe money to someone who lives there
c. There has been an unpublished outbreak of Chikungunya fever
d. It’s a long, rough ride to shore in a crowded, sweltering, un-air conditioned tender
By remaining on board when most everyone else is ashore you can find yourself the beneficiary of quiet, wide open spaces on the pool deck, nearly deserted dining rooms and no lines in the Lido Buffet. Occasionally, you might find the onboard shops running “in port” specials as well – if they are allowed to stay open by local port authorities.
Here’s a Hot Money Saving Tip –
The ship’s spa will most certainly be open and running special discounts while in port. You will also find getting last minute appointments for treatments easier on port days.
Another Crowd Avoidance Tip: Be late for dinner –
Don’t be too late – just 10 minutes or so – anything more constitutes rudeness to the waiters and staff. You will thus avoid the crowd that seems to form outside the dining room about three days before each meal – as well as the stampede for tables when the doors first open. Besides, strutting in a little late makes for a flashier grand entrance – a chance to make sure your latest hometown score from the Gently Used Shop is seen and appreciated.
How to avoid the rip offs & save money –
Most of these activities are free-of-charge, included in your cruise fare. However, there are a few that are money makers for the cruise line. So, plan your daily schedule not only by interest but also by budget.
A few activities with associated fees –
Yoga Classes = $10 to $15 per session
Bowling (NCL) = $5 per game
Boxing (RCI) = $15 p/p for a group session; $95 for a private lesson or $120 for couples (that’s what I thought too, but it’s cheaper than marriage counseling).
Activities free of charge –
The following are usually included in your cruise fare – rock climbing, ice skating, zip line (Oasis Class ships of Royal Caribbean), merry-go-round (Oasis Class again), stabilized seagoing billiards (only on a few ships), use of fitness equipment in the spa, as well as the Jacuzzi, plunge pools, saunas and steam rooms. With some you will need to make reservations in advance – many of the most popular activities will be booked up a day or two out.
Beware of Education Classes in the fitness center –
On one cruise recently we paid good money to attend a ‘How to Increase Your Metabolism” class in the Fitness Center & Spa. The class turned out to be nothing less than an infomercial for grossly over-priced (but oh-so-elegantly packaged) vitamin/mineral/herbal supplements – the ingredients of which apparently have undocumented side effects – such as accelerating the growth of facial and chest hair.
There was hard sell for the for the guys as well – heavily marked up shaving accessories; which, ironically, after six months they would be lending to wives who are on the supplements – thus strengthening my argument for opening up the Hairy Chest Contest to both sexes.
As a result of that experience, my policy in such matters is now pretty straight forward. If the process requires sitting through an infomercial, especially one that concludes with a strong sales pitch, they are going to pay me, not vice versa.
Internet Usage –
Most all ships have onboard Internet Cafes as well as Wi-Fi. If you have lugged along your laptop – the most convenient way to connect is via Wi-Fi from the comfort of your cabin. But beware – connection time is metered and runs 30 to 70 cents per minute. Far better to buy a block of minutes for the duration of the cruise – log on just long enough to download your email – log off to read about your Nigerian financial windfall – compose your responses – then log back on just long enough to send them.
Hooked on Sodas? –
If you are addicted to Diet Cherry Vanilla Cokes with Lime – consider that they will cost you anywhere from $2 to $4 each (plus automatic 15% tip) if purchased individually. So, do the math. If you typically drink two or more sodas per day – buy the Unlimited Soda Package – usually priced at $30 to $40 for a seven day cruise.
Finally: Wait to shop in the on-board boutiques until the last day of cruise –
Browse the shops at leisure for the duration of the cruise. But, if you can resist that got-to-have-it-now urge, you might save a ton of money by waiting until the end of the cruise to buy. Don’t be surprised to see – on the final day of your Caribbean cruise – hundreds of goose down parkas left over from the Alaska season – all jammed up on racks and rolled right out into the hallways – marked down 75%. If you are cruising in the month of January and headed back to your hometown of Frost Bite Falls within 24 hours – that might just be one heck of a buy!