What we liked, didn’t like, and learned along the way
“You realize we’ve never been on a ship more than seven days?” I responded to my husband when he suggested we do two back to back fifteen day cruises. We already had one fifteen day cruise to the Panama Canal booked on the Caribbean Princess and when he realized the ship would be leaving San Francisco for Hawaii the same day it got into port, he thought it would be fun to stay on the ship, “You’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii and this cruise would save air fare since we’ll already be in the west coast.” It seemed like a crazy adventure for us, but I agreed to go and I’m glad I did.
While I thought of this as wild and crazy, when we got on the ship I found out that we weren’t that adventurous after all. Almost everyone we met was a veteran cruiser. Many had done as many as thirty or more cruises in their life and currently had multiple cruises booked besides the one they were on currently.
Evidently, back to back cruises is a thing that retired people often do. We met a couple that were on the ship for forty-five days doing three cruises in a row and another couple from Germany that we’re doing four in a row – Panama Canal, Hawaii, California coast and then Alaska! They said they were escaping the cold German winter!
You know how when you first meet someone, one of the first questions they ask you is what you do for a living? What I found interesting was when you’re on a ship with mostly retired folks, the first question is “How many cruises have you been on and where all in the world have you traveled?” It’s a different stage of life!
The tale of two cruises
Of the two cruises, I highly recommend the Panama Canal Cruise first for several reasons. The weather was hot every day, sometimes in the 90’s and we didn’t have to change time zones except once in Florida. Also, the sea days were intermingled with ports so we never had more than two sea days at a time. Going through the canal is an experience in itself!
With Hawaii, the second leg of our trip, we had four sea days going over and five coming back. The waters are rocking coming in and out of San Francisco which is almost always the case and there were three time changes while at sea.
We had four port days in a row visiting four different islands and it got to be a little tiring by the fourth day trying to see all the sights. There is a cruise line that allows you to fly into Hawaii and spend a week cruising the South Pacific islands and I think that is probably a better option than the way we did it. Norwegian is one line that provides this type cruise. Of course, you can always fly over and stay at a hotel if you want more time for hiking, enjoying the beaches and water sports or sight seeing.
Here’s a few things I learned worked well for us while on our long cruise that you may find helpful should you decide to embark on one yourself.
Packing for 30 days
I started getting my clothes together about a month before we left, but I decided just to pack for a fifteen day cruise and wash clothes as needed since there was a laundry mat on our floor. We only had to wash twice and that was mainly bathing suits, underwear and workout clothes. Other than these items, you can usually wear most things more than once. For example, there were two or three formal nights per cruise, so, I took just three dressy dresses and wore them each one time on each cruise. The other dinner nights were smart casual, so I had a few casual dresses and pants and shirts that I could mix and match. The same for my short outfits. A light jacket or parka is always a must for a cruise no matter the destination or time of year and, thankfully, I had a sweater and some jeans that I wore on the plane going down that came in handy during those cooler nights around San Francisco. By packing for just fifteen days I was easily able to get everything I needed into two large suitcases that the airline allowed and my one carry-on bag.
I’m cautious about taking taking expensive jewelry on trips. For this cruise I wore a pair of small diamond stud earrings which went well from the pool to the formal evenings and a small gold and silver diamond necklace that did the same. I figured that as long as I was wearing it I wouldn’t lose it, right? If you prefer to take extra jewelry with you, there is a safe in your room where you can lock it up along with your passports, wallets, etc. once you are on the ship.
While packing your 30 days of medications, pack what you’re currently taking and what you think you might need. This may mean getting an extra prescription from your pharmacy as no medications can be filled on the ship. I packed a first aid box with our prescriptions and supplements that we normally take and other things such as anti-bacteria ointment, band-aids, motion sickness medicine, etc.
COVID and cruising
You currently must have a negative COVID test before you sail. Even though my husband and I had both been vaccinated and also previously had COVID, I’ll admit it was a little stressful waiting for the results of that test just two days before we were to sail. I decided that if we happened to test positive, I was not going to unpack that suitcase! It was staying ready to go somewhere whenever we got the green light. The cruise lines are also requiring you to be vaccinated, however, they will make exceptions as long as ninety-five percent of the passengers are vaccinated.
If you do develop COVID symptoms on a cruise, the medical staff will test and treat you for free. Many people book a balcony in case they get quarantined they will have some fresh air and not be confined to a windowless room for days, but that’s not necessary as they move all the COVID cases to a designated area in rooms with balconies.
A must for travelers these days is travel insurance. It’s boring and no one enjoys spending money on insurance, but if you are on Medicare, it will not cover any medical expenses outside the US. This applies to some other private insurance companies as well. It will add a couple hundred dollars to your trip budget, but will cover almost any medical emergency including transportation back home, if needed. It also covers you in case you get sick last minute and cannot make the trip. AARDY.com is one of the best sites I’ve found for this as they are endorsed by AARP. It is an agency that will give you quotes from several different companies. They went the extra mile and sent us an e-mail before we left reminding us of important documents and things to do before we traveled and also sent us an e-mail at the trip’s end showing us how to file a claim, if needed. Thankfully, we didn’t need it, but having the insurance gave us peace of mind throughout our cruise.
Which room to choose?
Cruise staterooms are small and there are normally three or four classes: Inside, ocean view, balcony and suite. We’ve stayed in all except the suite. If I’m going to pay for an ocean view, I’d just soon pay a little more for a balcony. I love balconies, but inside rooms are normally much cheaper. Our philosophy is go cheaper and go more often. A balcony can add as much as $1,000 or more to your trip, which could go a long way towards another cruise. We find inside rooms very cozy and comfortable as pretty much all we do there is get dressed, sleep and maybe watch a little TV late at night. If you’d prefer a suite, you’ll have a much larger room with a sofa but it will come with a hefty price.
Eating on the ship
Someone asked me if after thirty days if I was tired of cruise food and the answer was “Absolutely not!” There are so many different options and varieties that it’s hard to get tired of anything even on long journeys. And the best part is you don’t have to cook any of it!
While I enjoy the buffet, I tend to overeat because there’s so much good food to choose from that I want to try too many dishes. We ate there often for lunch though especially on sunny days because it’s much quicker than eating lunch in the dining room and healthier than grabbing a burger and fries from the grill. Our ship, like most, also had a little cafe where you could get small sandwiches, soups and desserts any time of the day.
Many people cruise and never enjoy the fine dining in the formal dining room and I think they are missing out. While the food on the buffet is delicious and there is plenty of it, the fine dining is a little higher quality and a lot more fancy. And, besides, I love people waiting on me. The waiters are well trained, knowing just how to place the fine china and real silverware on your table and all are extremely kind and courteous. Dinner is usually served in four courses, over the course of the evening, a starter, salad, main course and dessert. While the portions are beautiful, they are small, but they will gladly bring you as many extras as you would like. Sometimes my husband would ask for two main entrees. You can also leave there and go to the grill or pizza shop for a fabulous hamburger or slice of pizza to top off the meal along with the free ice cream if you’re still hungry.
The cruise also offered a beverage package option which included WIFI but because we don’t drink alcohol or soft drinks, we didn’t purchase it. All the specialty coffees are also included in the beverage package, which I do love, but there is plenty of free coffee and tea on the ship. The coffee on the buffet was very weak, however. The dining room coffee was much better and the coffee from the paid shops was the best. We actually sprang for a few cups at $1.25 when we wanted a really good cup.
I like a glass of wine with dinner occasionally so my frugal husband figured out it was cheaper to purchase a bottle and have them bring it out each night for a glass. You can also take two bottles of wine per person with you to drink in your room. and if you want to take it to dinner, they will serve it to you for a $15 corkage fee.
Picking the right excursions
The excursions on cruises can be hit or miss. Sometimes they are great and at other times, it seems like you don’t get a good value for the cost. The cost depends on the country, as as well as the cruise line as they contract with local officials for the tours. On our Panama Canal cruise I feel like every ship excursion we took was worth the money. In Columbia we had a great tour of the beautiful old city of Cartagena with an excellent and knowledgeable guide. The cost was only about $35 per person.
In Costa Rica we took a river cruise to view wild life. Costa Rica is very hot, but there was a nice cool breeze coming off the ocean to the river which made for a really nice day. It was only around $60 per person which I thought was very reasonable.
Our best excursion on this trip was a sailboat ride in Cabo. It was limited to 16 people and they provided a fantastic snack, great lunch and all the drinks we wanted. We were on the water for four hours, and saw not only the beautiful coast but also some whales a huge sea turtle and they took us to a cove for snorkeling. It was a beautiful day and the crew were extremely polite. I felt this was a great value for only $129 per person.
Since Hawaii completely closed all tourism during he pandemic, many of the tour companies had to sell off their vehicles or went out of business all together. In Honolulu I tried to book a Pearl Harbor visit months in advance and it was already sold out, so we opted for a tour around the coast since it was our first time there and it was beautiful.
In Maui the ship wanted $149 a person to take us to the beach at Wailea bay, one of the island’s most beautiful beaches. We thought that was a little expensive so we fortunately were able to get a taxi for the 30 minute drive for half that price. They only difference was that we didn’t get a chair. A chair would have been nice, but not for $75 more dollars per person.
On Kauai all the ship excursions were completely sold out and there were no available taxis at the port when we disembarked. We walked down the street and ran into a tour company that were giving tours for only $20 per hour per person. We hooked up with two other couples and had a fabulous day touring the island. Our driver had been born and raised there and he took us all around the Island not only showing us the hot spots but filling us in on the history as well. His information is in the gallery below. Should you ever visit the island of Kauai and want an excellent guide, I highly recommend this service.
Our last island was Hilo and we decided to try our luck again with a taxi since the cruise excursions seemed very limited and expensive. Again no taxis were available at the port and there were few Uber and Lyft drivers. We got tired of waiting for a ride and decided to walk to a waterfall just three miles away which didn’t seem a lot for us since we walk that distance or more on our walks back home. The scenery was beautiful along the coast, but we ended up in the small town and I wanted to do some shopping before we left the islands so we checked out the gift shops and then caught a free bus back to the port.
My suggestion for planning excursions is to do your research before you go. You will most likely have time for just one per port, so it’s best to decide what’s most important for you to do and see at each destination. You can check out the excursions provided by the ship and also Google the things to do for each city to see other options. There should also be a port guide in your sailing information from the ship for each Port of Call and your cruise director will have suggestions as well. Sometimes they have lectures on the ship regarding each upcoming port. Don’t think you have to get off the ship in port either. If it’s a place you’ve been before or you just want to chill, you may elect to stay on ship and enjoy your “private yacht” as they say.
Making the most of sea days
I personally love sea days. They normally have an early morning free workout class, a nice brunch in the dining room and then you can spend the afternoon out by the pool on the sun deck. That’s a perfect sea day for me. I find being on the water to be very relaxing, but if that’s not your cup of tea, you can definitely stay busy inside with games, musical presentations, bingo and the casino, art shows, etc. There’s so much to offer each and every hour that you’re bound to find plenty to enjoy.
Is cruising right for you?
If you like to discover new places, and also have some R & R time, you should love cruising. With cruising you can see almost any part of the world and meet lots of new and interesting people in the process.
If you haven’t traveled internationally, a cruise is a great place to start. Once you board the ship they take care of everything for you. You can even book your flights through the cruise line and also your transfers to and from the ship. They are there to serve you, and their top priority is to keep you safe and make sure you have a great time! You can book your own travel through the cruise lines or a good travel agent can take care of everything you need including accommodations, flights, and transfers.
The most exciting discovery
Before taking this thirty day cruise, I thought my husband and I had approximately ten years to travel before we got too old. But after seeing all the people on this cruise in their 80’s and 90’s out and about, I can see that we could have much more time than that. It was inspiring to see some of these adventurous souls hobbling around on their walkers or on canes or scooting around the ship on their scooter. They were out there enjoying life and seeing the world and that was impressive. There were even some 80 year old’s working out at the gym every day. That day we took the three mile hike, a man we had met who was 87 ended up walking ten that day!
Hope to see you out on the blue seas soon!
Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.Psalm 69:34