Cruise Noob

Memoirs of a cruise virgin

If you’ve ever cruised before, skip this post. Otherwise, read on.

As I write, we’re docked at the pretty little town of Charlotte Amalie, on the beautiful island of St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. It’s Stop #3 on our 8 night cruise and I thought now was as good a time as any to recap some of the first days at sea and in the Caribbean. Plus, this being a US territory, there’s data here so I can post.

I’d never been on a cruise before, but always kind of fancied the idea. I like seeing new places, and the idea of being shuttled around in what is essentially a big hotel, visiting some of the most amazing places on the planet, seemed like one I could get on board with (pun fully intended).

This cruise is with Celebrity Cruises, aboard a ship called the Equinox. And my, what a ship she is. More of that later.

I came in with zero expectations; AJ had cruised several times before and so I was treating her as my ‘Cruise Expert’. We stayed in Miami – port of embarkation – the night before the cruise and so it was just a quick taxi ride to get to the port. Boarding was very straightforward, much the same as air travel at a smaller airport. Show passport, check-in, drop baggage, and you’re done.

Before you get to port you’re required to print out and affix tags to your luggage, so that it can be delivered to your room, or ‘Stateroom’ in our case. I’m pretty sure they’re all called Staterooms on this ship, but it sounds grand either way.

Our room was on the port side, towards the front of the ship – the forward section – on Floor 10. The ship itself is split into three zones – forward, mid-ship, and aft – and has a total of 16 floors. Floor 1 is inaccessible to all but crew, with Floor 2 being the point of entry and exit when in port. Floors three all the way up to Floor 15 contain all manner of amenities, with Floor 16 being a small viewing deck which, at the point of writing, we haven’t visited yet.

The room itself has a very comfy double bed, enough storage easily for two people, a TV, a little desk area, a seat which also converts into a bed, and a spacious shower and toilet. I wasn’t blown away by the room itself – I’ve certainly stayed in nicer in some hotels (the Hilton in Salt Lake City comes to mind) – but it’s spacious, clean, and functional, which is what you want. It also comes with a balcony, where I’m currently sat writing after a day wandering around St Thomas.

Back to the ship. The Equinox is a magnificent vessel. Setting sail in 2009, she holds over 2000 guests and over 1000 crew. There are enough bars and restaurants on board that you could stay on the ship the whole time and never get bored with the food and drink available, as well as shops, entertainment facilities, three swimming pools (one outdoor, two indoor) and even a proper lawn up at the back of the boat! Oh, and a helipad of course.

One of my favourite parts is actually the ‘Oceanview Cafe’ – the restaurant that’s free to use for all passengers. It offers a ‘world wide cuisine’ buffet for all meals, and the food is actually really great. I think you could happily eat and drink in there for the whole trip and you would not feel short changed at all. Sure, you can go to the so-called ‘Speciality Restaurants’ for some fancier stuff – as we did on our first night with some delicious French cuisine – but you really don’t have to.

Speaking of free for use; you can do a lot that’s built into the cost of the trip. We booked through Expedia, which gave us a drinks package (we did actually upgrade this, but it cost $10 a day which is easily recouped), and AJ is a member of the Captains Club. As a result, we get pretty much all our drinks for ‘free’ (that $10 per day charge notwithstanding), we come back to our room every evening to find random little trinkets and gifts left for us (a Celebrity Cruises pin, or a tote bag which was actually super useful yesterday at the beach), and as we’re staying in a Concierge Class cabin, we get other things too – like random plates of food delivered to the room, and today an invitation to watch the ship leave St Thomas from up on the Helipad!

They seem to look after all their guests pretty damn well. On our walk back to the ship yesterday and today we were offered iced towels/flannels to cool ourselves down with, as well as free drinks of plain or flavoured water. The whole experience really is geared around making sure paying customers have a good time and feel welcomed and valued.

Now, it’s true that you can spend silly money on a cruise. The internet access is $249 for the week (which is why we don’t have it), and some of the shore excursions can get very expensive.

However, if you want to adventure and you have saved your pennies, the excursions are pretty great. Yesterday was our first paid-for excursion.

Our first day was in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was humid as I’ve ever felt; we decided just to go wandering ourselves. The maps that you’re given aboard are all centered around shopping, but they worked as a basic guide. We finished the evening by finding – by ourselves – a proper Puerto Rican restaurant and had some amazing food. When we got back to port we found all of the more mainstream bars and cafes rammed with cruise guests, so we were quite pleased with that.

The second day – Saint Martin/Sint Maarten – was the paid excursion. We had paid to board a bus and be shipped to Orient Bay where we’d sit on the beach and be fed lunch. There was a stop off in town, which not everyone was too happy about – though AJ and I did wander up to an old fort and take some amazing pictures of the view – and then headed for the beach. The food was buffet-style and very tasty, but the sea …. the sea man. Swimming in the Caribbean Sea is something I’d always wanted to do at some point and on Wednesday August 30th I did it.

It was like being in a spa. So blue and warm and beautiful. We stayed in there a whole hour, playing in the waves, before a spot of tanning / reading on the beach, then it was time to return home.

Today we did our own thing again, taking a ‘Skyride’ (cable car) ride up to the top of a mountain where we could see a big chunk of the island and bask in the 31C heat.

Tomorrow we’re going to be in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, where we have a three hour food tour scheduled in the morning. VERY excited about that.

Our last day is in Nassau, Bahamas, before we head back for Miami.

I got off-track. The point was, cruising is actually brilliant. I’ve had a few ‘old people’ jokes before leaving and yes, there are plenty of old, fat, old and fat people on board. There are also plenty of younger people, and families too. No screaming kids so far though which I’m happy about! Overall it’s a good mix – yes, weighted a little more towards the older ages, but then as the news keeps telling us, they’re all the ones with the money.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at sea so far, and would happily cruise again. I’m not a fan of the sea, nor of heights, so leaning on a 10th floor balcony when there’s nothing but deep sea below is still quite an unnerving experience for me. Once you’re elsewhere on the boat though, you forget that you’re on a boat at all, and just enjoy everything that Celebrity provides.

It’s a really great experience.

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