Why we’re not loyal to one cruise line

cruise ships in portOn more than one occasion in the past we have referred to ourselves as (if you will pardon the expression) “cruise whores.”  In other words, we are not monogamous – we cruise around so to speak.  Despite the fact that we have never taken a cruise that we didn’t enjoy, we have been making our way around the industry (avoiding several specific lines because of personal experience and research).  We might even describe our behavior as moving up the cruise food chain so to speak.  Here’s our story.

We like to travel.  We like to travel by plane, train (well, not train so much after that overnight “hotel train” between Paris and Barcelona a few years ago), limo, car, foot etc.  We just like to experience new places.  We sometimes stay in one place for a while; sometimes we stay only a day and move on, either by car or by ship.  Despite the snotty travelers who are disdainful of the ‘travel’ value of a cruise, we do enjoy them.  They are our way to sample many different places in the world, some of which we have returned to for longer visits.  The point is that cruise travel is just one more way for us to see the world.  We no longer book cruises just for that week in the sun in the middle of the winter.  We’re not knocking that, but for us cruising has taken on another whole dimension.

The first cruise: Carnival

Our first cruise plans began much like any other family’s vacation plans.  We had a young child, we wanted to escape the winter briefly, and we had only a week or two of winter vacation.  So, we contacted our trusty travel agent (if you want to know why we use a travel agent, you might want to read Why you need a travel agent…really) who chose Carnival cruises for that first trip.

“I would never put you on Carnival if you were going by yourselves,” he said, knowing our tastes and preferences.  “But since you’re taking a child, I’d recommend this to you.”

And so we booked a verandah cabin and made our way to Miami.  Needless to say we had a wonderful time.  This was in spite of the multitude of drunken spring-breakers who spent the entire cruise camped out on the deck, never once even making it into the dining room.  The dining was therefore blissful! The kids’ club was a real treat for our young son, and we were introduced to a number of Caribbean islands that we had not at that time visited.  We’ve been back many times since, but we have never returned to Carnival.

Why have we not returned to Carnival? You might ask.  The reason is the same one that keeps us off NCL and Royal Caribbean: not our kind of experience.  The glitzy décor, the loud passengers, the too-happy cruise directors, the big, showy performances nightly (OK unless you’ve seen a London West End show or been to Broadway in New York) – well, let’s just say that we’ve evolved.  So it was on to Holland America.

Setting sail on Holland America

We sailed on Holland America three times, including our wonderful Christmas Cruise.  We started out in what was then referred to as a Superior Verandah suite (now called the Signature Suite) for the size enhancement, but that began our upward move toward larger and larger suites.  The next two cruises on HAL were in Deluxe Verandah suites (now called the Neptune Suite) and we would actually return to this line for the right itinerary.

 Celebrity: Second time not up to expectations

The exquisite Qsine on the Celebrity Summit.
The exquisite Qsine on the Celebrity Summit.

We spent our twentieth wedding anniversary on the Celebrity Century in the Mediterranean.  Splurging on a Royal suite, we didn’t realize that we were setting ourselves up for a few expensive vacations.  After this kind of accommodation – and being in the Med – how could we ever return to a ‘normal’ cruise in the Caribbean in a regular stateroom?  Well, we couldn’t.  Our return to Celebrity was a couple of winters ago when we wanted to sail out of Puerto Rico; unfortunately, the experience didn’t meet our expectations despite the Jacuzzi on our large, private verandah on the Millennium(although we did enjoy ourselves as always).

Cruise lines always say they want to “exceed your expectations.”  The problem with that is when your expectations, like ours evidently tend to be, are very high, it’s difficult if not impossible for the line to accomplish this.  If a line can meet our expectations, we’re delighted.  Exceed?  Well maybe this upcoming one will (more about that later).

Moving up the cruise food chain: Regent Seven Seas

Our desire to move up in terms of luxury cruising (despite their “modern luxury” advertising tag line, Celebrity does not fall into this category: they would be considered premium) led us to Regent.  We embarked on our first Regent cruise on the Navigator in a Navigator Suite (448 square feet) in Fort Lauderdale to set sail for a Western Caribbean cruise including Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, places we wanted to visit – or revisit in the case of Mexico.

Regent was our first so-called real luxury cruise experience, and the first one that is all-inclusive.  This is a wonderful addition since you never have to take out your key card to sign for your drinks, and your suite is equipped with a well-stocked, included bar.  If you don’t want to socialize, you simply pour yourself a drink and repair to your private verandah.

Overall, the cruise was wonderful.  The Navigator was, up until that point in our lives, the smallest ship we’d ever been on: 490 passengers.  We loved that part of the experience, but were unaware that Regent cruises from Florida carried a much higher number of older passengers.  To be clear: we were in our fifties-sixties and were among the youngest dozen passengers on the ship!  One evening we took a foray into the piano lounge to find it resembling the day room in a high-priced senior’s home!

Art on board the Regent Seven Seas Mariner in Montenegro.  It was a great trip, but not a ship we want to revisit this winter in the Caribbean.
Art on board the Regent Seven Seas Mariner in Montenegro. It was a great trip, but not a ship we want to revisit this winter in the Caribbean.

Our next Regent experience was on the larger Mariner leaving from Monte Carlo onward to Venice.  Our Penthouse suite was a bit smaller than the Navigator suite, but with its floor to ceiling windows we could sit inside when the weather in the Adriatic was cool and watch the shoreline as we cruised the fjords of Montenegro.

We will probably return to Regent someday.

Moving up again: Embarking on Silversea

After six days at the Crane Resort in Barbados, we boarded the Silver Cloud in Bridgetown for a cruise to Fort Lauderdale.  With a capacity of only 296 passengers, we were moving down again, even as we were moving up.  And moving up we were.

The oldest ship in Silversea’s fleet, the Silver Cloud was nonetheless extraordinary.  But more important than that, the service was impeccable.  We truly thought we had died and gone to heaven.  Little did we know that we were only part-way to heaven.

Our transatlantic voyage

Everyone should do it once.  Of course we’re talking about a true transatlantic voyage on a real ocean liner – not a cruise ship.  Three years ago we boarded the Queen Mary 2 in Southampton and spent seven wonderful days at sea making our way across the North Atlantic to New York.  What truly made this a step up even from Silversea was that we booked into a Queen’s Grill suite and found ourselves in a ship within a ship.  Make no mistake: Cunard has three classes and Queen’s Grill is first class all the way.

With its private dining room and bar, the Queen’s Grill provides passengers with the best of both worlds: the intimacy of small ship service and the amenities and entertainment of a large ship.

A family portrait aboard Cunard's Queen Mary 2 last summer.  It's the only way for the three of us to get a professional portrait since we live on a different continent than our son.  A great opportunity when we're all dressed up.
A family portrait aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 last summer. It’s the only way for the three of us to get a professional portrait since we live on a different continent than our son. A great opportunity when we’re all dressed up.

Although we would not do a transatlantic voyage again, we will certainly return to Cunard for the right itinerary (there it is again: itinerary).

The pinnacle of luxury perhaps?

Last year we booked passage on a 204 passenger luxury cruise ship: the Seabourn Spirit.  After almost a week at the luxurious property The House in Barbados, once again we sailed from Bridgetown.  This time, however, it was to ports and islands where large ships can never go.

Everything about the Seabourn experience (caviar and champagne on the beach, anyone?) was above and beyond.  The service was superb, as was the food and the accommodation.  It truly was like a country club and we savored every minute of this super-luxury experience followed by six days in St. Martin.  How could we possibly top that?

Onward and upward?

We aren’t sure we can top that last experience, but we’re going to try.  Art is retiring from his private family medicine practice in a few weeks and we’re off to that ultimate, post-retirement reward.

After five days in Tahiti, we’ll board the Oceania Marina for almost three weeks meandering through French Polynesia, Samoa and the east coast of Australia, ending with five days in Sydney.  Why Oceania?

Last winter while in St. Martin following the Seabourn experience, we dined one evening with fellow passengers from the Spirit.  They asked us if we’d ever sailed on Oceania.  We had not.  Given that they had just disembarked from a Seabourn cruise which they enjoyed, we had to take seriously their recommendation that we give Oceania a try.  But what we were really looking for was an itinerary that would take us to new places.

We hit on Oceania’s South Pacific cruise and the rest is history.  Stay with us for a while and come along on that special vacation as we try live blogging and tweeting for the first time.

The 5 best Caribbean cruise ports – for discerning travelers on their own

Colorful Old San Juan (Puerto Rico) is a wonderful place to spend the day strolling & taking photos.
Colorful Old San Juan (Puerto Rico) is a wonderful place to spend the day strolling & taking photos.

And so we’re back at it.  The dog days of summer are waning and the thoughts of discerning travelers of the Canadian sort turn to winter – winter vacation planning of course!  As we begin to consider the options, we’ve been thinking back to our many cruises and island vacations in the Caribbean; we thought that we’d share our choices for the best cruise ports for travelers to venture on foot on their own.

When you’re on a cruise for the first time, there is something to be said for booking a few shore excursions – but inevitably, after a while, you just want to stroll off the ship (or the tender in some smaller ports) and wander on your own without benefit of the constant drone of the tour guide’s voice, or the chatter of other cruisers.

To give you a bit of context for why we think we have an opinion that you might find credible, you need to know that we’ve actually visited some 28 Caribbean cruise ports.  So, our list of the five best ones for strolling about independently is based on considerable experience!  So let’s get started!

Number 5: Georgetown, Grand Cayman

The first time we visited Grand Cayman, there were five large cruise ships moored off the port with thousands of passengers being tendered to Georgetown all day long!  Despite these large numbers, most of the cruisers were actually on shore excursions, so although there were crowds in Georgetown, they weren’t unbearable.  Although not a great port culturally in our view, the reason Georgetown figures on this list at all is because of the shopping.

On most cruises we take, we plan to shop only once.  We don’t pick up souvenirs (we’ve told you about that before), but we do like a bit of interesting shopping.  Georgetown offers a wide array of duty-free goods and if you’re in the market for something like a watch, high-end perfume, cosmetics (like Chanel), a piece of good jewelry, or even a camera this is the place to find variety, and the shops are well-laid out.

The last time we planned our shopping for Georgetown, the last cruise port on our Regent cruise, the ship had engine trouble in Cozumel and stayed there an extra day (where we ate copious amounts of Mexican food!).  The Grand Cayman stop was cancelled.  Oh well, we saved a lot of money on that trip!

Number 4: San Juan, Puerto Rico

We love San Juan; although we didn’t the first time we visited it on a cruise ship.  That time we took a tour and didn’t really get to see San Juan.  A later visit when we stayed there for a few days prior to our cruise actually leaving from San Juan endeared it to us in so many ways.  But this one is on the list of places to stroll to only if your ship docks in Old San Juan.  There are two cruise ship ports in San Juan: the other one is called the Pan American cruise terminal and you’ll need a taxi to get anywhere, including Old San Juan. But it’s worth doing on your own.

Old San Juan is a wonderful labyrinth of cobble-stoned streets with a wide variety of shops, pubs and restaurants.  You can easily while away several hours walking around, visiting the fortress and museum, doing a bit of shopping and then grabbing a bite of Puerto Rican food for lunch.  Be sure to sample the local Medalla beer.

By the way, if your cruise leaves from San Juan, this is even better!   You can then stay in PR for a few days and enjoy the rest of this beautiful island.

Art in Williamstad, Curacao.
Art in Williamstad, Curacao.

Number 3: Willemstad, Curacao

What a lovely little town this is!  A UNESCO World Heritage Site (as is Old San Juan, by the way), Willemstad has wonderful architecture, and offers you a variety of sights, shops and restaurants.  It’s really worth strolling around and you could easily spend the morning, have a bite of lunch, and then stroll back to the ship.

The two districts that make up Williamstad, Punda and Otrobanda, are connected by two bridges: one is a pontoon bridge you can walk across – unless it has been removed temporarily to let a boat pass.  Watching the bridge come back together as you sit in a waterfront café sipping an early morning beer is a terrific way to enjoy your port visit!

Number 2: St. John’s, Antigua

Enjoying St. John's, Antigua
Enjoying St. John’s, Antigua

Maybe it was because Art is from St. John’s, Newfoundland that this little city resonated with us so quickly, but for whatever reason, it’s a terrific place to stroll around.

We’ve visited this from a cruise ship as a port visit, but we have also spent a vacation on the island of Antigua (which we highly recommend) and had an opportunity to get to know this town.

Whenever we visit St. John’s we go immediately to The Goldsmitty on Redcliff Quay, a jewelry store that stocks only the unique creations of jewelry artist Hans Smit.  Patty owns several of his creations and we’ll return on our next visit as well. The second store not to be missed is Sunseekers on Heritage Quay.  They claim to have the largest selection of swim wear in the Caribbean, and we believe it!  More than that, the service is wonderful.  The sales staff will search out bathing suits to suit every body.  If you need a new swim suit, wait until you reach Antigua to buy it!

Number 1: Phillipsburg, St. Maarten

You can't get lost making your way from the ship into Phillipsburg.  Patty points the way.
You can’t get lost making your way from the ship into Phillipsburg. Patty points the way.

We love Phillipsburg.  Stroll off the ship and along the cruise ship terminal.  Don’t bother with a taxi: it’s a nice ten-minute walk into town.  Follow the signs to the boardwalk and when you emerge into downtown, you’ll be on a beach!  The town has done a terrific job of developing this board walk along which you’ll find an array of shops and fun restaurants.

Take a walk to the very end; if you’re beach people, you can rent a chair and umbrella with a bucket of beer and watch the waves.  If you’re shopper, walk to the end of the board walk and then take one of the alley-ways (well-marked) to the next street and walk along it all the way back to the end where you started.  This is where the duty-free shops are located.

Many cruise ship passengers never eat off the ship.  It seems they feel that since the paid for their meals, why eat anywhere else?  Well, because you may miss something wonderful.  If you’re interested in a light lunch, try The Greenhouse near the beginning of the boardwalk.  If you are a bit more discerning and want a really lovely experience, walk a bit further along to the Ocean Lounge at the   Holland House Beach Hotel that opens right onto the board walk.  You’ll have a

The boardwalk on the beach, Phillipsberg
The boardwalk on the beach, Phillipsburg

table with a view, wonderful professional service and a meal to remember.

Ah, it’s so wonderful to think back on all the great experiences we’ve had.  We haven’t decided on a destination for that winter vacation yet – we’re already booked on a European river cruise for April, but we’re exploring.  Where are you going to escape the winter weather for a few weeks?

Finding that great restaurant: A discerning approach to great dining experiences

The Cliff's spectacular ambience as the sun goes down along the Platinum Coast of Barbados
The Cliff’s spectacular ambience as the sun goes down along the Platinum Coast of Barbados

Dining (not just eating) is one of the great pleasures of traveling.  When we think back to that time several years ago when we almost bought a time-share, it was the dining issue that finally brought us to our senses.

While sitting in the lobby of said time-share property, we noted with growing alarm a phenomenon that is anathema to our personal traveling esthetic.  First, there was neither bar nor restaurant on site.  Second – and perhaps more shudder -inducing – was that people were one after the other schlepping groceries into the elevators.  That was our eureka moment!  We wanted no part of a traveling lifestyle that involved the expectation that one would regularly grocery shop, cook and eat in a suite.  For us, finding those perfect places to eat is part of the fun of planning a trip; and enjoying the good and bad experiences as a result is all part of the pleasure of learning about new places.  Oh, and the actual experience of a wonderful meal and its ambience is part of it, too.  So, just how do we make dining plans?

First, not all dining while traveling needs be planned in advance.  In fact, we’ve had some wonderful experiences that serendipitously came our way while wandering around unknown cities.  We happened on Bentley’s in London this way and have since returned.

Recently we ate our way up the platinum coast of Barbados while spending five days at the wonderful property The House en route to a Seabourn cruise that left from Bridgetown.  We used several approaches to find our experiences – most of which were phenomenal.

We usually begin our search for restaurants online – a search for the location uncovered a couple of restaurant names that we then took over t Fodors online for their review.  We then looked at TripAdvisor, used our discerning approach to interpreting the reviews and wrote those names done in our little purple moleskine that we take on ever trip.

Art enjoys a glass of wine at Scarlett's.  We even bought T-shirts!
Art enjoys a glass of wine at Scarlett’s. We even bought T-shirts!

Once we got to Barbados we asked the concierge to make us reservations and asked her for further suggestions.  She added a new restaurant to our list, made the reservations and we embarked on our terrific dining experience.  Here’s what happened.

One not-to-be-missed place we had decided we wanted to dine before even leaving home soil was The Cliff.  Here’s what we wrote in our TripAdvisor review when we returned home:

“The Cliff” is as much an experience as it is simply dining. Its breathtaking setting as the sun sets, the impeccable service, the beautifully served and wonderfully innovative food coupled with its terrific wine list, all serve to make the $245 per person minimum worth it! We think it turned out to be our most expensive dinner ever. But…[1] It was worth it!

Hmm...the service pledge at The Tides.
Hmm…the service pledge at The Tides.

The other must-eat place (or so we thought) that was on our list was The Tides.  We used the same approach to finding it as we did for The Cliff, its name residing in our little purple book.  The concierge made us a reservation for 5:30 pm – this seems a tad early, but it was that or much too late.  We arrived at the place perhaps ten minutes before our reservation only to be told that our table was not ready, and were ushered into the bar.  An interesting bar filled with unusual local artwork, it seemed the place to order a small bottle of champagne, which we did.  Time went by; other people entered the restaurant and were seated. We drank and waited.  Then Art went out to the desk and asked if our table was ready.  Oh, yes it was.  Were they planning to ever seat us, or were we to continue drinking and racking up a bar bill?  Not to worry.  We were ushered into the restaurant and put at an unacceptable table.  We were the only people in that section, and yet we were not permitted to sit at the table of our choice on the water’s edge.  We were told that those tables were all booked for 8 pm and were not available to us.  We promised to be finished by that time, and were told, no.  We were unhappy.  No, they told us, the other reservation might come early.  We looked at each other – we had come early and that didn’t seem to matter to them.  And, in fact if we had been seated at the time when our reservation was to be ready, we would certainly have been finished by 8.  No.  We could not sit there.  The manager was brought to the table.  An imposingly large man, he also said no.  By this time we were not feeling too positively disposed to this restaurant.  Perhaps if we had not had to sit and wait, being left drinking at the bar, Patty might not have been inclined to swear at him.  To her later embarrassment (not one of her finer moments) she did; and we left.  While waiting out front for our taxi driver to arrive, we remembered that we had not paid the bar bill.  Art returned and paid it, taking the opportunity to snap a photo of the sign he had seen earlier in the men’s washroom.

So, there we were.  Several glasses of champagne later, and still no dinner.  Our own fault – we could have stayed, but we would have been severely ticked if we had eaten there and spent the entire time looking at the empty tables where we could have sat at the water’s edge.  Serendipity to the rescue – sort of.

Our taxi driver was distressed that we had not been able to eat.  So, he took us to Scarlett’s and asked the hostess if there was space.  Well, she said, if they can be finished by 8:30 we certainly can accommodate them.  Now why had that line been so hard to say at The Tides?  It was now well after 7 pm, but we knew that we wouldn’t linger.  We were not disappointed.  What a wonderful find that was!  The next morning we recounted our sad Tides story to a young American couple who we had chatted with the evening before.  “Don’t worry,” said the young woman, “you didn’t miss anything.”  Hmm…

Beautiful water-side, cooly contemporary Cin-Cin.
Beautiful water-side, cooly contemporary Cin-Cin.

We also ate at the new Cin-Cin on the recommendation of the concierge, as well as Daphne’s because it was actually at The House; these were equally wonderful experiences.

So, our recommended approaches to finding terrific restaurants are as follows:

  • Restaurant Apps:  Our favorite one for North America is Open Table and its British counterpart Top Table.  These apps have stood us in good stead many times.  One evening when we arrived at a Washington DC restaurant just across from the White House with a 7 pm reservation, we found it extremely crowded, wildly noisy and boasting a line-up of people with 6:45 reservations who had yet to be seated.  We looked at each other and turned back into the revolving doors, finding ourselves on the sidewalk outside and no dinner.  The IPhone to the rescue!  We searched on Open Table for restaurants near us with reservation slots within a half an hour.  We were very shortly on our way to a new reservation at 10-minute walk away and had a wonderful evening.  These are not the only apps that are worthwhile.  Check out  9 Restaurant Apps Worth Downloading and Maximize Your Weekend with the 35 Most Popular Restaurant Apps.
  • Online Restaurant Reviews: As online reviewers ourselves, we know that these can be helpful (!).  That being said, you do need to be a bit discerning when interpreting these personal perspectives – there is nothing very objective about it.  However, you can make them useful to you by looking at a couple of things.  If the review is very negative in the face of more positive reviews, note how many reviews the reviewer has done.  Many times it’s a first or second-time reviewer who only posts to vent.  Then read what people say.  If they gave the restaurant in question five stars and then go on to say that it was noisy and kid-friendly, if you are looking for a quiet evening out as a couple, you probably need to steer clear despite its high rating.  Then, you can actually read the profiles of reviewers on sites like TripAdvisor (ours is here).  If they share your approach to travel, then you are more likely to find their reviews useful.  Then go ahead and click that it was helpful if you find it to be so.  This helps with the rating of the reviewer.  (Interestingly, research conducted at UC Berkley found that ratings from online reviews actually do have an impact on a restaurant’s business – this means that those reviews are important to the owners.[2])
  • Recommendations from Hotel Concierges:  Many people steer clear of recommendations from concierges because of a distaste for the probability that there is some kind of a kick-back or other relationship between the hotel/concierge and the restaurant.  So what?  That doesn’t mean that the recommendation isn’t going to be a great one.  Remember that if guests take them up on their recommendations and are not happy, this does not reflect well on the property.  This is a result that hotels try to avoid at all costs.  So, tell the concierge what kind of diners you are and go for it.  It is polite to tip for this service, although many people never do.  Pity.  They can be very helpful.

Obviously there are other ways to get ideas for where to dine when on holiday.  Sometimes you follow the advice of a friend who has been there before.  We do find, however, that not all our friends share our tastes and dining esthetic.  We know which ones whose advice we politely accept and promptly ignore, and which ones to follow.  In the end, you need to know what you’re looking for on any given day.  Some days you just want a pint and a nosh at a pub; other times you want that full-out experience.  Whatever you decide on, for better or for worse, just enjoy the experience – or at least laugh about it later.

Enjoying Daphne's.
Enjoying Daphne’s.

The discerning guide to cruising part 2: Packing for your cruise

suitcaseFor some people packing for a vacation is a task to get over with as soon as humanly possible.  For some others of us it’s a real pleasure to think about the very best of our wardrobes and essential ‘stuff’ that  we’ll live with for a week – or two, or three.

We’re just about to bring those well- traveled suitcases up from storage for another outing this coming weekend.  We’re getting readying to pack for our Caribbean vacation; and not a moment too soon since we’ve been dropped in a frigid deep-freeze up here in our neck of the woods.   We’ll begin with almost a week in Barbados and end with a week in St. Maarten, with a week-long Seabourn yacht cruise to Caribbean yacht harbors sandwiched in between.  After eleven cruise vacations, experience tells us that packing for a luxury cruise has a few peculiarities.  Here are some truths about cruising that we will use this weekend as we pack those suitcases.

1.  Cruise ships do not have irons and ironing boards in staterooms.  Ever.  And you cannot bring one.  They are a fire hazard, and unless you want to schlep to the communal laundry cum ironing board cubby that may (or may not, it needs to be said) be available on your particular cruise ship, then possibly wait in line for the privilege of ironing, this fact will guide your clothing choices.  We have two words of advice for you: No linen.

2.  Cruise ships have dress codes.  How many times does this need to be said?  There are different cruises for different people.  If you don’t like to get dressed up, don’t select a cruise line that indicates it is an important part of the cruise.  If you want to truly enjoy your cruise, take advantage of the chance to notch up your wardrobe choices.  There are several brands of clothing for women that can provide fantastic choices for formal, cocktail or elegant casual dressing in pieces that are virtually wrinkle-free even after a day or more in your suitcase.  Our favorites are Joseph Ribkoff, Frank Lyman, Linda Lundstrom Essentials and Simpli.

For men, it’s even easier: just rent a tuxedo.  Most mainstream cruise lines provide this service that you take advantage of before you cruise – and when you arrive on board, there is your tux and all its accoutrements, including shoes if you remember to order them, hanging in your on-board closet. Just be sure to measure accurately.

A family portrait aboard Cunard's Queen Mary 2 last summer.  It's the only way for the three of us to get a professional portrait since we live on a different continent than our son.  A great opportunity when we're all dressed up.
A family portrait aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 last summer. It’s the only way for the three of us to get a professional portrait since we live on a different continent than our son. A great opportunity when we’re all dressed up.

Despite the fact that Art does, indeed, own a tuxedo and all the trappings, he has rented on more than one occasion and enjoyed not having to pack formal clothing.  Two things we have learned:   first, although some of the formal rental companies attached to the cruise lines do have women’s clothing, you will not want to be caught dead in their selections.  You can do so much better by taking a packable gown; and second, the higher end the cruise line, the less likely it is that they have this rental service.  Ultra-luxury lines do make the reasonable assumption that their passengers who choose to dress formally will own a tuxedo.

For more information and a few relevant stories, you might want to red our post on dressing for dinner on a cruise and on what the heck ‘smart casual’ means.

3.  Cruise ships will ask you to put our luggage outside your stateroom about 11 or midnight the evening enforce you disembark.  This is a double-edged sword.  You don’t have to fuss with packing on your last morning, but you need to be prepared.  You’ll need a piece of carry-on luggage that holds everything you might need in the morning.  And do not forget any vital piece of clothing you might regret not having in the morning– Like your pants!  Just a tip if we may:  do not pack your ship-board key card.  You will need it in your hand to disembark on the last morning.

cruise ships in port5.  Cruise ship bathrooms are very dark and usually have a threshold that you will need to walk over in the dark.  This means that you should pack a night light to leave on in the bathroom if you want to avoid the possibility of injury if you have to get up in the middle of the night.  We always have one of those poppable, battery-operated night lights that you can simply put on the counter or the back of the toilet for just enough light to keep you out of trouble.  It never leaves our luggage so we always have it with us (but remember to pop out at least one of the batteries when you pack it or it will inevitably turn itself on in transit and your batteries will be dead).

6.  Cruise ships sell over-the-counter medications, but they may be expensive and may not be a brand you recognize.  We always take along a stash of common medications.  Of course, since Art is a doctor, we often have even more than the normal supply and have been known on many occasions to share our stash with fellow passengers in need.  Here is Art’s guide to your basic requirements:

  1. Analgesic (acetaminophen or ibuprofen )
  2. Anti-histamine/decongestant
  3. Anti-diarrheal (loperamide)
  4. An anti-nauseant (meclazine is preferred for motion sickness, but it is not available in Canada; dimenhydrinate works)
  5. Band-Aids (you’d be surprised how often these come in handy)
  6. Sun screen (need we say more?)

7.  Cruise ships are usually highly air-conditioned. Even in the Caribbean (or especially in the Caribbean).  Although men usually have this covered in the evening, women often find strapless and sleeveless garments to be cold.  You’ll be happier if you take along a nice shrug that goes with everything.

Well, I guess that about does it.  Now we need to put these guidelines into practice.  Bon voyage!