Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Primer on Cruising: Cruising 101 (Part 1)

I've been away for a long time to take a break from the hustle and bustle but I am back! I've been on vacation recently and we've taken a cruise around Asia. This is not the first cruise we've taken because over the 10 months, we've taken 3 cruises and that is a testament to it. Believe me, it can be addicting. As with any other activities, it is not for everyone as well.

I'm here to share with you the the joy of cruising and some basics as to what to expect when taking your first cruise. I'm so happy when people ask me, whether friends or family or blog readers about cruising. I love sharing it to them even though sometimes, I already act as their company representative. I have friends and family who had booked their own cruises after seeing my posts in my Facebook page.

The Basics:
Going on a cruise is unique. It's the best way to travel to multiple cities/ countries and yet you never have to pack and unpack every few nights. Once you are in your room, you actually unpack your entire luggage and treat your room as your home for the next X number of days, depending on the number of nights you are booked.

First, you need to choose the cruise line that suits you best. If you love Disney, I suggest you give Disney cruise line a try. Some limitations in choosing a cruise line would be the destinations and itinerary they offer. From what I know, Disney usually serves the US and Europe route. That will be quite a challenge when you will be coming from Asia. So, the correct way of searching for your next cruise vacation would be in this order:
Target destination / Itinerary > Cruise line preferred > Price

Before 2010, there were already some cruise lines sailing the Asia route but it was few. Some just pass by while others, like the Star Cruises, offer not very good quality experience. If you ask me, going on a Star Cruise is okay if you are just trying out cruising. Once you have been spoiled but other cruise lines, it's hard to go back.

In the ship, you won't have to pay for ANY meals if you want to. It is already included when you paid for your cruise trip. There are restaurant options that may require you for additional payment but consider that as a "top up". For example, in some of Royal Caribbean's ships, there is a steak restaurant called Chops Grille. They ask for an additional payment of $30-$40 USD per person. Once paid, you can order as much as you can (e.g. 10 steaks main courses, 20 appetizers etc). The payment is good for one meal.

There are restaurants that can be considered "free restaurants" which just means that you can eat in them without paying an additional fee. If you ask me, it is just as good as the paid restaurants and is also order all you can! The quality is almost similar but of course, some menu items are not available in the free restaurants, depending on which free restaurant you go to. Since there are no limitations as well, there are times that I order 4 appetizers, 1 main course, and a dessert. Ordering 4 appetizers doesn't mean that they will be the same. I've uploaded a sample menu on one of our breakfasts onboard the Ovation recently.

You can order 10 items of each if you want to! Nobody does that unless you can finish it. I'm just saying that you can. Breakfast, lunch, dinner are all included and there is even a buffet place called Windjammer. You can have buffet breakfast, lunch, dinner if you want to. As per my experience, the buffet place is my least favorite of all dining places. To each his own.

Before I go on, I would just like to tell you that I will mostly be referring to restaurants/amenities onboard Royal Caribbean ships because that's the ship we became loyal to because of the great value for money and interesting itineraries.

You might wonder.. what about snacks? There is a place called Cafe Promenade. There, you can get cookies, sandwiches, pizzas and other available light snacks and pastries, 24 hours, without having to pay for it! In some ships, It usually is beside Sorrento's pizza where they serve good pizza. It has been my favorite snack everytime we are on board RCI's ships.

There will be a lot of activities! This will also depend on what ship you will choose. On the latest cruise we took (Ovation of the Seas), the activities are more youth oriented. My mom didn't like the activities much compared to our other cruises but knowing Ovation, a Quantum class ship, it is a very modern and high tech ship which caters to the young ones. The older "once" actually had a lot of choices as well but it might not have suited her very much. My dad did enjoy the nightly music at the music hall where they had the Australian Beatles on for 2-3 consecutive nights.

Dreamworks character appearances from time to time
As an FYI, activities, shows, and special events are also free to join and attend. There will be dance classes, basketball competitions, musical shows (we watched Mamma Mia on the Allure of the Seas last September). There is even a breakout room in the Ovation! It's a room where you will be given something to solve until you get a key to unlock and get out of the room (not literally). Time limit is an hour and we were happy that our group held the record for Ovation of the Seas with 23 minutes and 23 seconds left!

The activities mentioned above can be reserved beforehand so when you are going to watch a musical for example, you don't have to line up. If you didn't reserve for a specific show or activity, you will be either told to wait in line or be denied entry to join an activity. Reservations can be done even before you step on the ship 2-3 months before your actual cruise.

Additional Expenses Onboard
Some of the additional expenses onboard are the required tips. You are required to give the person who serves you food, the person who serves you water, and your cabin attendant tips. You can give more but the required fee is $13.50 per pax on our most recent cruise. This 13.50 will already be divided to the 3 persons I mentioned. If you are two in a room, you will be charged $26 a day for tips. If you want to give more, you can hand it over to them anytime you want.

I've mentioned that food is already included but not the drinks. This is where they earn. You get served water of course and during mealtimes, you get served specific juices for free. In the buffet area, they have Iced Tea and Lemonade which doesn't require additional payment. Coffee and tea is free as well anywhere and is also available in the Cafe Promenade. If  you love soft drinks or alcoholic beverages, this is where you need to pay. On our recent 12 day cruise, we payed around $96 (discounted rate) for a 12-day soda package. This includes unlimited soda for your entire trip and a free tumbler.

If you want a package where specialty coffee is included or maybe even beers and fresh fruit juices or wine, a drink package like this can go to anywhere around $90 per day or more. If you are on a 12-day cruise, you multiply the daily rate to the number of days as you cannot just buy a package for a day. It has to be for the entire duration.

Another huge expense we incurred are the internet charges. They have a good system of preventing you from circumventing it and sharing the connection to others. Their package scheme is as follows:

So if you get an internet package for 1 pax, that 1 person must logout first so that another person can use it. On our recent cruise, there were already two options available. Surf package and Surf + Stream package. Surf package they said can reach up to 2MBPS while the Surf and Stream package which we got can reach up to 25MBPS or higher. Currently, Voom (what they call it) is the fastest internet at sea. I actually experienced it and considering it uses satellite connection, it is really impressive!

There's still a lot to know include some tips on another article. I hope I can also infect you with this cruise addiction and I know that more and more Filipinos are interested in going cruising so I am sharing all this for those interested to read more about cruising even before their actual cruise trip.

Part 2 coming soon!

Cruising soon? Send me a tweet (@Cheftonio) or message me in Instagram (@AQC). I will be happy to help you.

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