Debunking Cruise Myths (Keeping You From Your Dream Vacation)

It was 2012 when I first discovered the glory of cruising.  My family wanted to do a Spring Break trip together, so we researched and headed off on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas (at that time, the biggest cruise ship in the world)!  We cruised through the Eastern Caribbean and visited Nassau, St. Thomas, and St. Martin.  It was a fantastic vacation and one that kicked off a lifelong love of cruising. 

   2012,   The amazing Allure of the Seas, part of the Royal Caribbean Oasis-Class, docked in Nassau, Bahamas

2012, The amazing Allure of the Seas, part of the Royal Caribbean Oasis-Class, docked in Nassau, Bahamas

Since that cruise in 2012, I've been fortunate enough to experience four more cruises that were all unique and equally enjoyable.  In t-minus 56 days, I will board the newest and biggest ship in the world, Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas for it's debut season!  This upcoming trip has inspired me to a write a series of blog posts to share my love of cruising in hopes that it may inspire you to take the plunge and experience what may be your best vacation yet!

   2012,   Cruising through the Eastern Caribbean on the Allure of the Seas

2012, Cruising through the Eastern Caribbean on the Allure of the Seas

You may wonder where all my excitement about cruising comes from because 1) you've had a bad cruise experience in the past or 2) you're skeptical of cruising from what you've seen/heard or 3) or you've simply never prioritized cruising as a vacation option.  I hope that this post will debunk those myths that are holding you back and help you see cruising in a different light.  

   2017,   Royal Carribean's Jewel of the Seas sunrise arrival in the US Virgin Islands 

2017, Royal Carribean's Jewel of the Seas sunrise arrival in the US Virgin Islands 

Cruise ships are crowded, confining, and can't possibly hold thousands of people comfortably.  

This is my favorite myth because it was one of my biggest fears early on.  I do not particularly like crowds and I assumed it would impossible to not be surrounded by people at every moment (in the dining rooms, at the pool, getting on/off the ship, or simply walking around).  The truth is, cruise ships are specifically designed to drive efficient movement of people and to ensure that no space ever feels crowded.  The corridors, stairways, and elevators are thoughtfully located to move people through the ship.  Additionally, the newest ships are taking innovation seriously and coming up with ways to make their spaces light, airy, and wide open.  Specifically, Royal Caribbean has done a fantastic job adding elements that truly make the ship feel like a city on the water.  The Oasis-Class ships have a park-like atrium (with real greenery and flowers), open-air theaters with wonderful views of the ocean, and my all-time favorite feature, the Solarium.  The Solarium is a spa-like, kid-free zone, perched at the front of the ship that is truly unique.  It is a slice of heaven that keeps me coming back time and time again!  

   2015,   Anthem of the Seas Solarium view in the Bay of Biscay (Spain)

2015, Anthem of the Seas Solarium view in the Bay of Biscay (Spain)

I'm either going to get norovirus or seasick.

While norovirus stories make the news every year, the total number of passengers who fall ill on cruise ship is a fraction of one percent (1).  The truth is, the sanitary regulations on ships are very strict and every part of the ship is cleaned consistently.  Cruise ships are in fact much cleaner than most of the public spaces we visit on a daily basis.  Be prepared to use hand sanitizer before all your meals and plan to wash your hands more than normal to be safe.  But all in all, cruise ships are usually completely spotless and the crew is always hard at work making the spaces clean and comfortable!  Ok, so I might not get the stomach flu, but what about seasickness??  This was my second fear prior to cruising.  I tend to get motion sickness, so I was a little apprehensive.  I proactively use Sea Bands on all cruises for the first 1-2 days to get my body adjusted and I'll pop them on if the seas get rough during the trip.  While predicting and preventing rough water on your cruise is impossible, my most important advice is to make sure you are cruising in locations during their peak season.  Yes, it is more expensive, but there is a reason for that.  For example, you might get a smoking deal on a cruise in the Western Caribbean in August-September, but that is the heart of hurricane season, so you will be taking your chances!  Doing your research in advance and picking the right time to cruise is very important!

   2015,   Anthem of the Seas sunset near South Hampton, England 

2015, Anthem of the Seas sunset near South Hampton, England 

People go on cruises to overeat bad food from mediocre buffets.

Cruise lines have made significant strides in elevating their dining experiences over the last several years.  In fact, cruising has now become a way to enjoy fine-dining at sea.  Cruises now offer multiple restaurant choices on-board.  From your morning pick-me-up at Starbucks, to your quick salad from the buffet for lunch, to a five-star dining experience for dinner...there is seriously something for everyone.  While the traditional approach is to have a set dinner time every night in the main dining room, cruise lines are starting to introduce flexible dining times and specialty restaurants.  My suggestion is to use the set-dining time for days you are at-sea (no excursions) and book reservations for the specialty restaurants when you have a full-day excursion or want to enjoy a later dinner.  Hands-down the best dining experience I've had was at Jamie Oliver's restaurant on the Anthem of the Seas.  It was so good, we went back twice during a one-week cruise!  Another interesting fact is that cruise line portion sizes are actually quite small compared to America's standard restaurants.  They do this to avoid wasting food, but it also can prevent you from over-eating.  You can always ask for seconds of anything, but their standard portions are just perfect!  And do not worry, you will be getting plenty of steps in during your cruise vacation to curb your calorie intake and there are a multitude of options for exercise on-board!  

   2015,   Anthem of Seas dinner at Jamie Oliver's with epic charcuterie boards

2015, Anthem of Seas dinner at Jamie Oliver's with epic charcuterie boards

I won't spend much time in my cabin, so I should book the cheapest option. 

I have had the chance to experience a wide variety of accommodations on cruise ships.  From the sofa bed in my parents room, to staying in an interior room with no windows, to a balcony room with an obstructed view of the lifeboats, to a prime balcony room with perfect ocean views.  Picking the right room is imperative!  After experiencing all the different room types, I now know that mid-ship (length and height wise) is the ideal location to avoid noise or wavy conditions and balcony rooms are must.  Save your pennies and splurge for a balcony -- it is worth it, I promise you!  Rooms are small, but spacious and have perfectly sized closets and storage for all of your belongings.  One of my favorite aspects of cruising is the ability to unpack your suitcase once and spend the next several days arriving at amazing destinations without having to exert any effort or planning!  Do not get me wrong, I love vacations where you have a logistical plan to get from one place to another and enjoy planes, trains, and automobiles along the way.  However, there is a great luxury in having the cruise ship be your floating hotel.  It takes away the stress of packing/unpacking and puts the onus on someone else to get you where you need to be!  In addition, there is great joy in opening your curtains every morning and being SO excited to see where you have arrived overnight.  New ports, new sights, ocean views...just amazing! 

   2016,   Celebrity Reflection selfie from our balcony room

2016, Celebrity Reflection selfie from our balcony room

A one day excursion is not nearly enough time for me to enjoy a destination. 

Planning excursions is one of my favorite thing about cruises.  There are so many awesome things you can do during your day on land.  Cruise lines offer many options, but you are always open to researching and finding your own excursion for the day.  My strategy includes doing my own research on Trip Advisor to learn what the best attractions are in the location.  Since you only have one day, you need to be picky.  Find the excursion that showcases the highlight(s) of the place you are visiting and pick the best option (which is usually not the cheapest or shortest by the way)!  From there, I will check out what the cruise line is offering, and if I don't find anything that lines up with my research, I will book independently.  Many local tour companies cater to cruise visitors, so they are familiar with the schedule and always ensure to get you back to the ship on time!  Finally, if you visit a location that you feel like one day was unjustified, you can always add it back to your list for a future visits.  For me, that was the island of Antigua in the Southern Caribbean.  One day on a catamaran circling the gorgeous island was just not enough -- I will be back there one day to soak in the beauty for a longer duration!

   2017  , the beautiful island of Antigua during a daytime catamaran excursion 

2017, the beautiful island of Antigua during a daytime catamaran excursion 

Well hopefully by now I've convinced you to book a cruise or at least consider it for your next vacation.  SO many of my favorite vacation memories are from my past cruises.  It's always an adventure!  You get to see and experience so many interesting things and you come home rested and rejuvenated from the loads of fresh air.  Whether you are a cruise newbie, had a bad first experience, or simply need some inspiration, reach out to me!  I'd love to help plan your next dream (cruise) vacation.  

   2017,   Jewel of the Seas doing a 360 degree turn to see the sunset in St. Lucia.

2017, Jewel of the Seas doing a 360 degree turn to see the sunset in St. Lucia.

The ocean is waiting ...Get Out There.

Defining Your Travel Philosophy

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Travel Philosophy

Defining your own personal travel philosophy is a critical step in achieving fantastic vacations.

Auguste Rodin, a famous French sculptor, was on the forefront of modern art in the late 1800's.  Ever since I visited the peaceful Rodin Museum Gardens in Paris in June 2010, I've come to love his work.  His sculptures are unique and emphasize the individual.  The Thinker, one of his most renowned pieces, is often used as an image to represent philosophy and celebrates the greatness of individual character.  I can only imagine what The Thinker is pondering, but I really hope it's travel...  

WHY PHILOSOPHY

Defining your unique and individual travel philosophy is an important foundation to set.  How you think about travel, and all things that go along with it - money, timing, structure, and locations - will define how successful your vacations become.  You do not have to have all the answers or a detailed plan for every vacation, but the fundamentals matter.  Your unique travel philosophy will evolve as you reflect and determine what makes you happy.    

THE GREEN STUFF

The most common barrier to entry for travel is money.  Unfortunately, travel gets a bad rap as being expensive, which, no doubt, it can be.  However, a little planning can go a long way.  Determining how much you want to invest in travel is very important.  If you are serious about it, 'Travel' should be a line item on your monthly budget.  If you are receiving a paycheck twice a month, there are two chances to save money for travel.  Multiply that across 12 months, and you have 24 opportunities to invest.  My philosophy is to start small and make it formal.  

  • Create a separate savings account:  Use an existing savings account or setup a specific travel account.  I prefer the latter, giving me the peace of mind that I have a nice stash protected for travel purposes. 
  • Setup a direct deposit from your paycheck:  Start with $25 a pay period, and you have $600 a year for a major domestic flight or three nights at a nice hotel.  Increase to $100 per pay period, and you have $2,400 a year for an amazing week-long trip.  
  • Be smart about it:  For the months you are traveling, plan ahead for additional wiggle room in your budget. You will remove the anxiety that comes along with money, which will allow you to focus on enjoying your well-deserved vacation!

TRAVEL STYLE

No, not your outfits.  My definition of a travel 'style' is specific manner in which you desire to experience travel, no matter the destination.  Travel is a very personal experience; one that looks, feels, and transpires differently for each of us.  Lay out your fundamentals in advance, especially when you are traveling with others.  The success of your vacations will improve dramatically with a little upfront strategizing.  Your travel style will evolve to your own unique philosophy over time.

  • Planning:  Do you prefer a set itinerary with pre-planned activities or do you prefer playing it by ear and defining your itinerary as you go?  My philosophy is to always have an itinerary drafted in advance, with the must-do activities scheduled prior to departure and plenty of open time slots to be flexible!  Create a visual itinerary that allows you to see the trip come to life.  I like to use Excel to drive a nice structure.  
  • Activities:  What specific types of activities would make you most excited about your trip - adventure, outdoors, relaxation, culture, shopping, food/wine?  My philosophy includes researching a location for what it is known for most and incorporating those activities first.  I'm a big proponent of booking in advance - a lot of time the major attractions require this, so plan ahead to not miss out. 
  • Structure:  What does a perfect travel day look like for you?  Do you wake up early and hit all the hot-spots before they get busy or would you prefer to sleep-in, enjoy a great breakfast, and plan your day accordingly? My philosophy includes building a daily itinerary with one major activity, at least one great dining experience, and always setting aside time for a nap or relaxation.  

HOW TO FILL YOUR BUCKET

The traditionalist ideal that that you have to be ready to 'kick the bucket' before you can start planning and executing your dream vacations is a falsehood.  However, nowadays, our millennial-filled society seems to have gone to the extreme.  Alas, the overflowing bucket.  There is an abundance of people with really long bucket lists, and no plan to achieve.  Why? 

  • Now or bust:  People view a bucket list as a comprehensive list of activities, experiences, or opportunities to achieve within a lifetime, and we end up worrying about how to accomplish them all.  Or, even more common, we start thinking about what may change in our lives preventing us from actually making it happen.  Get clear with yourself on your most important travel desires and start forging a path with them in sight.  
  • 3-5 year horizon:  Assess a mid-term horizon to understand which trips are realistic to take based on where you are at in your life.  Draft a 3-5 year travel plan that includes 'bigger picture' trips and smaller trips that can be executed more nimbly.  Every year evaluate where you stand.  Will they all happen within 5 years?  No.  But get them written down and your chances of execution will be much higher.  
  • Plan:  Bucket list trips do not come to life overnight.  Spend the time doing your homework, saving your money, and aligning the trips to what is happening in your life.  Research the months that are ideal to travel to those locations and align this with your own personal calendar.  You may have to put some stakes in the ground in advance, and hold to them, but the preparation horizon will result in a fantastic trip.   

BECOME 'THE THINKER'

Just as Rodin celebrated the individual, each of us deserves to invest time in defining a travel philosophy that is unique to us.  Feeling great about your vacations does require investment, planning, reflection, and some trial and error.  There is always room for continuous improvement in travel, even for the most seasoned traveler.  In the meantime, start stashing those precious dollars, begin defining how your dream trip would transpire, and dump your bucket and start anew.  The world is waiting, Get Out There.