Pulling into Long Beach in the morning (taken from our balcony)
The Queen Mary which normally looks huge, looks small compared to the Miracle
Not ready to go back home!
If you are thinking, "I am overdue for a vacation"... you should book a cruise! It will definitely recharge your batteries and you'll create unforgettable memories while having the chance to experience adventures beyond your imagination!
Here are a few of our highest "Recommendations and Suggestions" if you plan to take a cruise!....
If you have kids- bring them! You will want to share your unforgettable adventures and memories with your kids! No need to bring a babysitter either- there are plenty of kid's activities at Kids Club if you want a little alone time. There are also PLENTY of onboard family activities you can do together as well as plenty of family friendly excursions you can go on together in all the ports of call. Note: Wait until your kids are 3 yrs (the infant-2 yr old crowd will be much more limited in things they can participate in- even kids club is more limited for 2 and under). 3 yrs old is the "magic age"- where they can participate in almost any kids activity!
For a few reasons, don't bother with the 3-5 day cruises, book at least a 7-9 days (or more). The shorter cruises (although more affordable time and moneywise) is just the problem. Since more people can afford to take short cruises, the clientele will reflect that. The crowd is much classier on a longer cruise. Trust me on this too, 8 day cruises still somehow don't feel long enough- I can't even imagine having to cut it shorter than that anyway. Also figure that 2 days are travel days (packing/unpacking, homeland security, customs, embarking/disembarking, etc.)- so the more core days the better!
Upgrade your stateroom- get a private balcony, it is worth it! I realize that nobody plans to be in their rooms for much time, but having a nice room with a private balcony really adds to the relaxation and romance of the vacation. It is really awesome to sit on your own private balcony away from the crowds and watch as you pull in and out of ports, and/or watch the sunset. It is also a nice way to get some sun and fresh air anytime you want while being able to avoid that crowded Lido Deck. There is a great chance you will see whales and other sea life from your balcony as well.
Bring your fancy clothes! There are always formal nights onboard (on a 7-9 day cruise usually 2 formal nights). How often do you get to get all dressed up? It is fun, you'll have plenty to do all dressed up - and it's a great opportunity to get some "fancy" portraits taken too!
Get portraits taken at every opportunity! They have backdrops set up in many locations (tons of them)- take advantage! They always have THE BEST photographers from all over the world! They are unlike any local photography studio you've ever been to- they are BETTER! The best part is- it is free to pose for as many as you want- no obligation to buy anything! Your pictures will always be up the following day (and available for the whole cruise) - find your pics and you can buy the ones you LOVE!
If you are celebrating a very special occasion, you can even meet with a super exclusive by-appointment-only "Dreams Studio" photographer that will walk you around the ship using the ship's natural beauty (no backdrops) to capture your memories! This is probably not necessary since the regular cruise photographers are already exceptional- you can get amazing portraits for much more affordable. We did the exclusive photographer thing this time- with no regrets. Just know that will cost you a mortgage payment, more like two (if you order a photo package). But for a very special occasion, you might find it worth it as we did.
Go on at least 2 exciting Excursions! This is a big one! We have met so many people that have botched this (blaming being budget conscious)- trust me this is not where you want to tighten your wallet- this is ONE of TWO things I will strongly urge you to splurge on! The excursions you choose will be the pivotal point to which your vacation memories will be based. When you are already spending time and money on a trip like this, spend the extra money to experience things you can't experience anywhere else than where you are- I guarantee you will have an adventure of a lifetime!
Choose the most exciting excursion that you think you can handle physically! However even if you are older or have physical limitations, or have young children there are still plenty of exciting excursions you can take that are not physically demanding. John and I have been on 6 exciting excursions and those have been seriously the most mind-blowing experiences and best memories of our lives!
Tips for choosing the BEST excursions: Avoid taking the "expected" or "predictable" excursions, yes you will have a good time, but would you rather have a good time or would you rather have an unbelievable time? Yeah, the second one. First, just avoid the whale watching tours, the sight-seeing tours, and the shopping tour excursions all-together. Why? Although all of these things sound 'nice' on vacation- but they aren't exciting, ALSO what many don't realize is that you will get plenty of opportunities to sightsee, shop, and whale watch if you want that- included in most of the exciting excursions anyway- so why waste any precious time on vacation going on an excursion to do something you can do anywhere but have much more fun? Okay so those are the things to skip... but what should we do??
This is going to sound funny, but its been true for us every time... read the "book of excursion options" with an open mind. Do not rule out any based on the names/titles. Its natural to skim for something that sounds catchy or familiar--- don't do that-- actually skip those- and look for the highest ticket prices and lamest sounding names- then read the details- those are often the best ones!
If you are concerned about physical limitations, or children's ages: both of those are clearly noted so it is easy to rule out what you are unable to do based on that first. If you don't have any limitations, then you might consider "Treetop Zip-lining" or "ATV rides through the jungle." If you do have limitations rule those out ONLY and see the earlier tip about high prices and lame sounding names- guarantee you'll come back saying, "Dang that was amazing!"
Why am I compelled to say so much about excursions? Simply because of all of the people we met that only had an okay time on the predictable ones compared to the time we had on the exciting ones!
Examples of "lame sounding" excursion names:
I'll share 2 examples of "lame sounding" excursions that John and I went on that blew our minds- one was called the "Cuyutlan Turtle Experience" (that sounds lame doesn't it?) Well it was super awesome, in that 6 hour adventure we did a lot of things, but our favorite was hopping in a canoe, riding through a crocodile infested swamp while gigantic herons were swooping overhead and iguanas were running through the marsh- incredible!
Another was called "Rhythms of the Night" (again with the lame sounding name right?) It would have been easy to overlook that one or dismiss it after seeing the price was $100 per person... good thing we chose it! Probably the best excursion available anywhere (even talking to our last cruise director, he's been on every excursion on the globe)- just amazing!
Anyway, when choosing your excursion: read with an open mind- look for ones that run about 100 per person (they are always the best planned- usually an all day thing- including meals and often an unlimited open-bar and ALWAYS have the best entertainment/activities)- and end up being a great value and mind blowing unforgettable experience! Try to go on at least 2-3 excursions and you will love your memories! We usually choose to keep one port day to just explore on our own or relax.
Our final recommendation is treat yourself to the Dinner Club! With all of the free food onboard, including reservations at the fabulous fine dining restaurant every night- you might think WHY on earth would I sign up to PAY for a DINNER? Because the food and service is that good! It is by reservation-only, the price is only $35 per person and it is totally WORTH it! You will be served the best 5-course meal you've ever had (we believe it rivals the exclusive Club 33 at Disneyland- only a dinner there will cost you much more- and you have to know a member).
How much should I budget for a vacation like this? Even though we have done completely different things each time, you might expect the cost would fluctuate greatly, and I suppose it could- however we've noticed a strange pattern or formula- that it almost comes out to about the same. Also cruise prices seem to be about the same no matter where in the world you are cruising (Europe, Caribbean, Hawaii, Mexico, etc)- the cruise cost per day is about the same.
We usually break it down into 2 parts: the front end cost and the back end cost. Then we calculate the total cost. The front end cost is just that (booking the room, with taxes and port fees, etc). The back end cost is everything you spend onboard (excursions, drinks, souvenirs, photos, tips, etc).
When booking a premium balcony stateroom (if offered an extended/larger balcony), the front end cost is approx. $100 per person/ per day. So a fair price for 2 people for 8 days would be about $1600 or for a family of 4 about $3200. Ironically we have found the back end cost to almost always match the front end cost. If you double it, that would be a good expectation of the total cost ($3200 for 2 or $6400 for 4). With that budget in place, you will be able to fully enjoy and take advantage of everything offered on your vacation. The only thing that budget doesn't account for is flight and overnight hotel arrangements to/from port- if necessary that would be additional.
It is a great value when you think about all that is included- besides the obvious included things like: hotel, unlimited food, and unbelievable entertainment.. it is total hassle-free travel: you unpack once but get to visit many cities, no rental cars to deal with, the variety of recommended excursions that are safe and regulated (imagine trying to find reputable companies on your own in a foreign land). You will also notice you have protection hired by the cruise line (in ports they feel necessary) you will see police boats and sometimes armed police on foot- you're not going to have that on your own planned vacation. There is just so much onboard to do (a lot of it is free too)- you always have something to do- at all times day/night without effort: you never have to think about finding places to go and how to get there (like on a regular vacation)- its all walking distance from your room- and someone thought of it all for you! No matter where we want to travel, we will do it by cruise if it is possible- because we are hooked and we don't want to go any other way!
What is there to do onboard? No matter your age, interests, or season in life- they have plenty for you!
For FREE, you can:
* Comedy Shows (almost nightly)
* Vegas Style Shows (several)
* Sing or watch Karaoke (just for fun and/or contests)
* Go Dancing (multiple places)
* Dance Classes (multiple types: ballroom, salsa, country line, more)
* Miniature Golf (huge fun course onboard)
* Play silly trivia games (all kinds of topics from: "name that tune" to "sports trivia" to "star wars trivia" and just about every other topic you can't even imagine),
* Enter a Contest: (from bartending to men's hairy chest contest)
* Attend Seminars (on anything you possibly want to learn about)
* So many activities for kids at kids club- so, so many (most activities are free, some for a small price)!!
* Pool and hot tubs
* Waterslides (crazy and twisty)
* Full gym with equipment and classes (or you can jog around the running track on the upper deck)
* Talent Show - sign up and show what you can do!
* VIP perks: When you take multiple cruises with the same cruise line- you become a VIP member! VIP guests get lots of free goodies, perks, special privileges, and invites to exclusive events- not available to other passengers. We are excited that our next trip will move us into the "Gold" level of VIP- so our perks will get EVEN better!
For a little money, you can:
* Casino (learn that game you always wanted to try but never knew how)
* Bingo (tournaments too)
* Spa Treatments (all kinds)
* Shop! tax and duty free (lots of shops onboard)
* For the kids, they can attend late-night themed parties for a reasonable fee