Small things that can make a BIG difference on Your Next Cruise
Having an enjoyable cruise is more than just packing a bag and Stepping aboard. There are many small things you can do to make your voyage even better. I’ve put together a list of things you should bring as well as some tips to use onboard so you can squeeze every last drop of enjoyment out of your cruise.
Now these tips can probably be applied to any cruise line, but I made this list based on our most recent cruise on the Carnival Magic. We have cruised on Celebrity, Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Tips for Packing
Bring These Items Onboard to Make Your Life Easier:
- Bottle Opener – Sure your cabin steward probably will have one, but in our case, another steward had borrowed our steward’s opener and that other steward’s guest had “lost” it. So dude didn’t have another one. We were faced with not being able to open our wine. He did eventually borrow another one from the upstairs bar. We had to open the bottle while he stood there, so that he could return it right away.
- Large Coffee Cup or Travel Mug – The coffee cups on cruise ships are the tiny European size. We brought our travel mugs and filled them up at breakfast, so that we could drink coffee while wandering the ship, or bring it back to our room to enjoy on the balcony.
- HDMI Cable – Our last cruise ship (Carnival Magic) had an HDMI port on the TV. So had we brought an HDMI cable, we could have watched all the movies on our Prime membership or watched Netflix on the big screen instead of our tiny laptop. Now you do have to have the high-speed unlimited internet package to do this. The TV and Movies on the Carnival Magic absolutely sucked. Really, I don’t even know why they had TVs in the rooms. Unless they expected you to bring your own HDMI cable. They did have movies on a giant screen by the pool. Those are not found anywhere on their entertainment app in your cabin, so it’s worth it to check those out. They weren’t crowded when we were there, and it’s nice to sit outside under the stars to watch.
- Adapter and Converter for European Outlets – There are usually very few outlets on a cruise ship. We usually bring a power strip AND European plug adapters so that we can plug in more stuff. Just be careful that the device you’re plugging in, can handle the 220 output from a European outlet. Otherwise, be safe and bring a converter. Also be careful with hair dryers that draw a lot of power, and be sure to read all instructions on your device.
- Power Strip – As stated above, we usually bring a power strip with a long cord. If you travel with a CPAP machine or have multiple devices plugged in at once (laptop, phone charger, ipads, etc), then this is the perfect solution.
- Soap/Shampoo – On our last cruise the built-in body wash and shampoo was basically like Dawn dishwash detergent. It was horrific and something that I would never subject my body or hair to. I used not to bring my own, because you’d get cute, fancy little bottles of nice shampoo, conditioner and body wash. But apparently that’s a thing of the past.
Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Cruise
Room Service Breakfast
We have the breakfast experience down to a science. First find out if your cruise ship offers free room service. Even the ones that don’t, will usually offer free breakfast room service. We would have breakfast delivered at 6:30 (I know, that’s early, but we like to work out when the gym opens at 7).
We get coffee and croissants and juice. The juice part is important, because if you have “brought” alcohol onboard, this will be your mixer. Our cruise only offered apple juice throughout the ship except at breakfast. And the room service breakfast menu had grapefruit juice, which was not offered on the breakfast buffet. We’d order 6 glasses of juice and stash them in the fridge for evening cocktails on the balcony. (you’re welcome).
They did offer passionfruit/guava juice on the breakfast bar if you want to change things up. You can bring your travel mug and fill up for later.
After our workout, we’d hit the breakfast buffet for the hot items. We would show up there around 7:30, so it was still pretty empty. Then, when the crowds show up around 8-10, we were safely back in our cabin enjoying the view from our balcony. Our cruise did have a breakfast buffet that started at 6:30, but they had VERY limited items and staff from 6:30 – 7:30. So if you want the full experience, best wait until 7:30.
On the Carnival Magic, they have breakfast burritos at the Blue Iguana Taco Bar. They were fantastic! It is located out by the pool, so we didn’t realize they had breakfast there until the third day when we happened to walk by during breakfast.
Our entire goal of the cruise is to avoid crowds. We’ll have more tips below.
If you’re sailing on a Carnival ship, they have a service called “Your Time” dining in which you can show up when you want and get a table. We had the same table and staff every time, so I’m not sure if it is like that for everyone who uses Your Time dining, or if it just happened to work out that way for us. Our cruise was sailing at 60% capacity, so waiting was never an issue. This is a good solution for those who can’t commit to the early or late seating where you have to eat at the exact same time every night.
This tip is important: What wasn’t explained to us, is that you have to check in on the app first, then they alert you when your table is ready. You have to be there within 10 minutes of their alert, or you may lose your table. So the first night we just showed up and they had to explain it.
Tips for Vegetarian Dining
Being a vegetarian of 20 years, I’m used to having limited options when I travel. I have found Celebrity and Holland America to have the best vegetarian options and Carnival and NCL to have the fewest. Almost every cruise line will have one vegetarian option on the dinner menu, so if you eat in the dining room, you will be assured of at least one large vegetarian meal per day. We ate at the dining room twice on our Carnival Magic cruise, so I had two opportunities to try their vegetarian fare. They had an Indian Dal one night which was absolutely delicious. Some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had. I would highly recommend trying it.
The breakfast and lunch buffets had fewer choices. I was shocked to see no vegetarian food on the lunch buffet except for salad. Even the soups were all meat. So I typically went to the Blue Iguana Cantina and got a rice and bean burrito so that I could get some protein.
Download the Carnival app before you get on the ship, so that you can make sure it’s set up correctly. You can see the ship’s schedule, have a map of the decks and find scheduled events. We used it a lot onboard.
Tips for Avoiding Crowds at Ports of Call
Amber Cove, Dominican Republic
We’ve been to Amber Cove several times. I have written a full blog on Amber Cove. This is just meant to be tips on how to better enjoy a few ports of call. With Amber Cove you’re generally there from about 9 or 10 in the morning to about 4-6 in the evening. We have found that the masses get off right away and park themselves at the water park/swim-up bar. We waited about 2 hours and got off the ship around noon. That way, we spent a leisurely morning on the ship with virtually no passengers, and then we were able to get off with no lines at all.
Once we got to the pool area, we’d head to the bar by the waterfront cabanas. It’s off the beaten path and there was almost nobody there (only one other table). So you’ll get better service and can chit-chat with the bartender while sitting at a table with a beautiful waterfront view. It was delightful. Once we finished our drinks, we headed back up to the pool area just as the crowds were beginning to head back to the ship. So we were able to get a lounge chair near the pool.
The swim-up bar had thinned out and there were now plenty of seats. We then walked around the shopping area because it was pretty empty. We headed back to the ship about 1.5 hours before it sailed. There was no line getting back on because most people had either come back earlier after being in the sun all day, or would wait until the last minute.
We did basically the same thing at Bimini Island. The massive crowd got off just as the gangway went down. We waited about an hour before disembarking. Not only was there no line getting off, all of the taxis at the end of the port road were free again after the mad rush an hour earlier. We did return about 3 hours before the ship left, so that we could enjoy drinks on the deck while nobody was around. There were plenty of seats and no lines at the bars by the pool deck.
Tips for choosing the best room on Carnival Magic
We chose very carefully to be towards the front of the ship so that we could easily take the stairs to the gym each morning. You don’t want to be under a main floor with lots of noise and activity and you want to be sure your balcony isn’t right next to or above anything noisy. One thing about the Magic is that the doors have VERY little soundproofing. You can hear absolutely everything that is said in the hallways.
Our rep wanted to put us close to the elevators thinking that would be more convenient, but I asked him to choose a cabin farther away because I prefer to walk and don’t like the noise of everyone walking by my cabin. Boy am I glad I did! Our neighbors were great, but they were loud in the hallway. Especially when putting their bags out the night before we left. So choose wisely.
We did see some balcony cabins on deck 2, which we had never seen before. They have metal wall in front, instead of glass, so it does hinder the view a bit, but you are really close to the water which is cool. And it’s easier to disembark for ports of call AND at the end of the cruise when you have to lug your bags around (if you choose to walk of the ship with your own luggage). We had to walk from deck 9 to deck 3 with 3 heavy suitcases because the elevators were always full. Check out the deck plans on the Carnival Magic to look at your choices.
Bringing Alcohol Onboard
Most cruise lines will let each adult bring one 750ml bottle of wine or champagne onboard and non-alcoholic beverages. We do have some tips on the best way to bring alcohol onto a cruise ship. Carnival allows a 6 pack of non-alcoholic beverages. So I would typically bring cans of tonic water for my gin & tonics. The gin, I would bring in an old wine bottle. You just have to get the cork back in and wrap it in heat-sensitive foil wrap afterwards. We get those from Amazon and then use a heat gun (I suppose a hair dryer would work) to “shrink wrap” it onto the sealed wine bottle.
We do occasionally get paranoid and add food coloring to it to make it look more like red wine in a green bottle. If it’s in a white wine bottle, I generally just leave it alone because few people can tell the difference between clear liquid and pale yellow liquid. We also have small mouth wash bottles that we tint blue and put gin or rum in. The higher end cruise lines like Holland America don’t care and don’t check. Carnival is a little more strict and start looking at everything. I once brought a water bottle full of gin and carried it on the ship with me. Nobody batted an eye.
I hope you enjoy your next cruise and that these tips will help make it just a little bit better.