If you asked me two years ago, I’d have been surprised at my answer, but now? Absolutely, cruising could be the perfect choice for you!
We spent a long time time intentionally avoiding cruises… maybe it was the cliched images of elderly people hobbling along the decks (not that we have a problem with older people!), or it could have been the sub-par cruise ships that have graced Australasian shores in the past (P&O anyone?).
We’ve always liked travelling at our own pace, and as an ex-flight consultant, I really enjoy researching and planning our trips – the idea of taking the control out of our hands and having to skip from place to place, regardless of whether we were ready to move on didn’t sit quite right with me.
We’ve come across plenty of people that are anti-cruising but interestingly enough, almost none of them have actually set foot aboard one of these beauties.
Regardless of our hesitations, we decided it was time to give this cruising business a go, and man are we pleased we did!
We decided to book our first cruise for a number of reasons; we’d decided we were keen to hit the Caribbean and a cruise genuinely seemed to be the most affordable way to do so, and at the end of 3 weeks of backpacking through Central America, we thought we’d be looking forward to taking it easy for a week.
The cruise itself cost us NZD900 each (approx USD600 each) which included all of our food, transport, of course accomodation and onboard activities. I elected to purchase a soft drink package (“Hi I’m Sarah and I am addicted to Coke Zero”) whilst Nathan made do with the free cordial onboard which he supplemented with the occasional (paid) coffee.
Initially we’d looked at leaving from Florida on one of the larger boats but as we didn’t have time to explore the theme parks there, we made the decision to instead venture further South on this occasion. After flying to Puetro Rico and enjoying a few days exploring the island, we set sail, had a day at sea and then spent a day at each of the designated ports – Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Maarten and St. Croix (in the US Virgin Islands).
From the moment we boarded the ship, we were welcomed aboard with open arms. The crew was waveringly professional and friendly and the passengers aboard were much more diverse than I’d expected. We were left to our own devices to wander the ship as we pleased, but also enjoyed seeing familiar faces at dinner each night. We really enjoyed getting to know some of our fellow passengers, but at the same time, there was no pressure to buddy up.
After riding around in the back of pickup trucks and on bumpy mini-buses, whilst (at times) struggling with language differences through Guatemala, it was such a treat to be able to settle into a comfortable room and know that would become our home for the next week.
Ohhh and the food, so much glorious food! Pizza and cake at 11pm? No problem! Room service at 1am? Sure! After travelling on a bit of a budget, it was nice not to have to question the cost of things (included) or the quality (always better than we needed).
Our ship was kitted out with a few different swimming pools (though in January they were pretty chilly), rock climbing, a mini movie theatre, ice skating shows, comedy acts, game shows and more. Again, you can involve yourself as much or as little as you like but having these options on offer again added to the value for us – the week just raced by! When we boarded, we were most excited to get our sea day out of the way, but by the time we disembarked, we both reflected that another sea day to further explore the ship wouldn’t have been a bad thing.
Our cruise included two formal nights; the first of which we ducked out of, in favour of an all-you-could-eat night at Johny Rockets (which we paid a small supplement for) where we had a fantastic chat with one of the staff. The second formal night we pulled out our nicest clothes (easier said than done when you’ve been pack packing with 7kg of baggage each!) so Nathan could enjoy lobster night.
Our stops were, for the most part, fabulous and surprisingly, the only island we felt we really could have done with more time at was St. Maarten, but even that was an awesome taster. We researched the different options at each port and organised our own excursions, both to save money and to allow us to move at our own pace.
In Barbados, we jumped in a taxi to a beach where we swam out and spent a couple of hours swimming with turtles (with our own snorkels).
In St. Lucia, we jumped on a water taxi and explored the town (where we got Nathan a hair cut.) Having been on the road for a while at that stage, he was well overdue, and we always find it a great way to chat to the locals!
Antigua saw us get on a local ‘bus’ (which was really a van) and head to the other side of the island to ride (and swim) horses.
In St. Maarten we taxied to the most spectacular beach then walked to Maho where we watched the planes come in overhead.
Finally in St. Croix we arranged a taxi to take us out to the other side of the island (and pick us up again at an arranged time), where we enjoyed the rainforest and snorkelled again.
Our cruise ended up being fantastic value for money and one of our real travel highlights! Excellent food, comfortable accomodation, always something to do – what more could one want?