Sunday, November 3, 2013

The MVPs of our Cruise

Cruising on a budget typically means cabins without windows, ordering the cheapest drinks, and navigating narrow halls filled with kids.  So, with that in mind, here are my tips on what you’ll need to cruise (besides the obvious things):

·         Small, battery-powered tea lights.  You can buy these 2 for a dollar at most big-box stores, and if you drop one in an empty water glass at night, you can have a gentle glow in your cabin.  This is especially important in the bathroom, since the only alternative is groping around for a light switch that will absolutely wake up anybody else sleeping in the room with you.  One light typically lasts 2 nights, as long as you don’t leave it on all day.

·         Earplugs.  Yes.  Earplugs.  The squishy foam ones.  Don’t even be shy about it, just pop those suckers in and have a nap in the sun.  Ear buds won’t work as well, since the noise level can be totally overwhelming on the more family-oriented decks, and noise-cancelling headphones are probably not the aesthetic you want.

·         Sleep mask.  The tea lights help some, but depending on your proclivity to drink, you will inevitably want one of these.

·         Cork Screw and Wine. Carnival allows each person to bring on one bottle of wine or champagne at departure.  If you’re the type who can appreciate that a nice wine will be utterly pointless while eating cruise-line food, then you should also know that paying $15 a glass in the dining room, plus a $10 corking fee if you buy or bring a bottle, is a total waste.  So bring your own bottle, bring your own corkscrew, and pour yourself a glass before leaving your cabin.

o   Pro-tip for smuggling wine: you and your companion are entitled to a bottle each.  So if you carry 2 bottles and she carries 2 bottles, you’re really just carrying the wine for the group, and obviously a communication error occurred, and aren’t we very sorry about that?  Seriously, buy an extra bottle of Yellowtail and give it a try.  Double-down on the “free” drinks.

·         Nail polish and remover.  This is one of those things that can present a challenge for flying carry-on.  You certainly can’t carry a normal-sized bottle of acetone on a plane!  So put some into a smaller bottle, pop a few cotton balls into a zip-lock, and grab a few outlandish shades.  Or splurge, and buy a bottle in the ship gift shop.  On-ship massages and spa treatments are overpriced, and it’s easy to spend a fun couple of hours doing pedicures.

·         GOOD Chocolate.  Trust me, you’ll be glad to have it.  Especially on one of the cheaper lines.

·         Carry-on Luggage Only. Less is more.  Besides, what do you really need? A couple of sun dresses, a versatile pair of shorts / capris, and at most three tops.  Mix-and-match with swim-wear and a wrap, and you’ll be in no danger of repeats. I like to use a mid-sized backpack for clothes and toiletries and a messenger bag for electronics and wine – it makes getting on and off the ship, as well as to and from the airport, quite easy.   If you're a real professional, you can even find a travel cork screw for under $5, and it shouldn't upset the TSA.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Cruising the Caribbean

Really, this post is just a photo-dump...

Friday, November 1, 2013

Family Vacations don't have to be Hellish

Ever since moving out of my parents’ house after high school, I’ve become something of a Christmas-and-Thanksgiving daughter.  And even Thanksgiving has been negotiable.  We always struggle to find things to do together for more than a day or so.  Part of that is down to personality and preferences, but I think it’s also fair to say that I can be a bit tarty about scheduling time away from work.  After all, time when I’m not at work is TRAVEL time.  And for me, travelling is worth hoarding vacation days. 
I like to be up and moving – seeing new things each day and absorbing local culture as far away from Brick City and the franchise crush.  My mother prefers Señor Frogs and national hotel chains on the beach.  My father likes to visit remote locations, preferably with a pop-tent and a gun, where he can shoot large mammals for meat.  There’s not a lot of common ground there, especially when your most limited resource is vacation days.

So, in the spirit of compromise, I agreed to go on a Carnival Cruise with my mom.  It had all the things we were looking for: quality time, space to retreat, warm weather, novelty, and booze.  It was also dirt cheap. I mean, really, really cheap.  There’s a saying in my family, and it’s that we’ll squeeze a quarter ‘til the eagle screams. Hear that sound? It’s freedom, baby.  Sweet, suffocating freedom.

Anyway, my mother had cruised before; she took my father on an Alaskan holiday, which qualified us for some steep price cuts.  If you think you want to go out on a floating resort and sucker-punch your liver for a few days, cruising is great.  Plus, you’ll easily get every subsequent trip for half price… as long as you stay with the same line.  Choose wisely.  But even without VIP discounts, it’s not too pricey for your average lower-middle-post-recession-but-at-least-working pocket. 

Carnival is a solidly 3-Star experience.  Maybe 2-star if you’re pinching pennies like we were, but I have no complaints. Well, actually, I have a litany of complaints, but none of them change the fact that we had a good time getting reacquainted. 

If you’re looking for an abundance of mid-quality dining options and cornball entertainment, look no further.  (But seriously, has anybody ever been looking for these things?)  If you’re willing to settle for a sunny space to read, don’t mind bringing your own wine to dinner, and want 24/7 access to surprisingly good pizza, then cruising actually is all it’s cracked-up to be.

Personally, my idea of a relaxing vacation (again: vacationing, not travelling) is reading in exotic places; seeing a large swath of the Bahamas from my perch on the 21+ Deck worked just fine.  By the time it’s over, you’ll be well rested, but ready to leave.