March 27, 2017

That Time I Was on a Boat

Last week I went on my FIRST cruise. I didn't want to become a "cruise person" but it has happened. I had such a great time that I wanted to share my first-timer experience for anyone also considering it. 

For reference: 
Flight info: flew from Latrobe, PA to Ft Lauderdale, Fl
Departure/Arrival cruise port: Miami, Fl
Cruise line: Carnival
Ship: Vista

We took Spirit Airlines. 
I know. It sounds shady. I can confirm it is legit. You have to go easy on luggage and deal with almost no leg room but it is worth the ticket price.
Spirit Hacks: 
  • Look up their "personal item" size limits. It is bigger than you would expect and you can carry on a lot of your luggage that way. I left room for my purse and stuck it in before boarding, then pulled it out after I was seated. 
  • Share a bag. after filling our carry-ons, Boyfriend and I were able to fit everything else we needed in one suitcase so that we only had to pay for one checked bag. 

We discovered a beverage called Buzz Ballz that Spirit carries. I'm including these because I'm sure you can get them elsewhere and I wanted to share that they are so much better than you would expect. 
I wouldn't buy them again, but just from the pictures we had to try them. 

We stayed in an Airbnb in Ft Lauderdale. We flew in the night before our cruise to make sure our flight didn't result in missing the cruise. I found and Airbnb that is a short Uber ride from the Airport and (currently) has great prices. 

Book early, Chuck told us he's really busy with guests! https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/14805922
The room had twin beds but we figured it was okay for one night. Chuck made us a full breakfast and coffee in the morning and saw us off. 

He also gave us an extremely useful tip about the TriRail train. It's walking distance from his house and it runs from the West Palm Beach airport down to the Ft. Lauderdale airport and then also down to the Miami airport, with stops in between each. There is a shuttle to get to and from it to the respective airports. 
We got on at the Ft Lauderdale Airport stop and took it to the Miami Airport stop for just $5 and I think its less for a one-way on a weekday. Plus, just knowing we can get in between these airports expands our options for future cruises!

We called an Uber to get us from the Miami TriRail station to the cruise port. Look at all of them!

Obligatory panarama of Miami from the ship.
We splurged on a balcony room because it was our first cruise but decided that interior is the way to go for how little time you are in the room. It was nice to sit on the balcony but definitely not necessary. 

If you really want to do a balcony or suite, just to experience it, book two years ahead of time to get the best rates. Not all cruise lines do this but Carnival has amazing prices when their sailings are first posted and then go up steadily. 


All Carnival ships have 24-hour soft serve on board for free. It was our first stop once we unpacked in our cabin. 
It's not the best soft-serve I've every had, but it is free.
During lunch you can find home-made ice cream by the buffet. There are an assortment of toppings for whichever ice cream you choose, but the home made is amazing and you should try to snag some every day. 


Specific to new Carnival ships (so far just Vista and in 2018, Horizon), Carnival started micro-brewing beer on board! While this isn't actually exciting for me, it was very exciting for Boyfriend.

This means beer that is better than what is sold at the bars exists and served in droughts for reasonable prices (compared to liquor). 

You can buy a growler at the pub and get it filled throughout the trip to cut beer costs, even after the price of the growler. If you hit another Vista-class cruise you can bring it back to use again, furthering your discount. Sry, I don't remember how much the growler cost. Note: people who don't know what growlers are will think you're carrying an urn around (multiple people said something to us). 

Carnival is not the first cruise line to put a micro-brewery on board, but it is the first American one.
The brewery also offers tours on sea days for... I want to say $25/person. You get to sample a fair amount of each of their beers (5 of them), get a souvenir pint glass, a certificate of attendance, and one pint of your choice. 

There are only two tours per day for 12 people max, so get to the pub and ask to be added to the list asap!

We only did one excursion called "snuba." Snuba is a combo snorkeling/scuba diving where you are essentially just snorkeling, but they hook you up to a tank that is in a raft on the surface so that you don't have to come up for air or hold your breath. The guides take you in small groups and pulls the air tanks along with the group as you go around in a circle below the surface. 
The great part is there is minimal instruction required before you go in the water. We had to put all our stuff in lockers so I couldn't get any photos of the action.


Not sure if they added these to other ships, the Vista has a self-serve beer station. You swipe your card and pour for the allotted time. These stations only have one of their beers, one which is actually brewed in Miami, not on board, so that it can be available throughout the ship this way. 

If you want to do the watersides and, on the Vista, the Sky Ride, pick at least one day that the ship is in port and spend some time on the ship before heading off with everyone else. the ship will be nice and empty and lines will be minimal or non-existent. also a useful strategy if you want to hit the pools and not be surrounded by kids.  

Many, if not all, have a "Serenity" deck. This is a 21+ only area which is, not surprisingly, very popular. If you want to enjoy it the most, try to do so on port days before everyone gets back. 

If you're like me, you don't really get out of bed till closer to 10. Combine that with free room service for breakfast and you can spend the entire morning in your cabin. Try to get out a little earlier a couple of days to see all of the towel animals that their crew puts together.


Specific things-of-note for the Vista:

IMAX theater: Worth going to at least one, but you have to pay standard IMAX pricing.

The Havana deck: This is an area that is only available to guests staying in the Havana cabins. From what I can tell, these rooms have a hefty up-charge for this reason. HOWEVER. Anyone can use their pool and hot tubs after 7pm, and not many know this or they don't bother to do it so it's not at all crowded. 
I didn't think to take photos of just the area, but you can see that no one was there the night we stopped by. We were there to grab a drink before dinner.

General info I learned that is useful for all Carnival cruises:
Carnival lets you carry-on one 750ml bottle of wine and one 12-pk of soft drink (cans only) per person. Let me stress "carry-on" because checking soft drinks will result in confiscation. 
If you're going to be drinking, grab a bottle your favorite liquor in the on-board duty free shop on day 1 or two to drink while on board. The prices look high, but they are for 1-liter bottles. 

You can order as much food as you want in the restaurant. Yes, you can get 3 shrimp cocktails and two entrees. If you're hungry in between restaurant times, there is a selection of free items, delivered for free via room service. Go ahead, try to be hungry.

If you are going to do a specialty restaurant (aka- you have to pay extra) do it the first night. These restaurants don't get as much business on the first night so they usually offer something like a free bottle of wine to go with your dinner.

The comedy shows are more popular towards the end of the cruise and for the earlier shows. You'll want to get there early just to get in, or go in the first few nights.

One more thing to consider is paying for either of the two drink packages. There is one for unlimited soda/juice and another for drinks- which isn't unlimited, you can only get 15/day.. We went with the soda package and got liquor duty-free, but decided that it wasn't worth it. To get sodas you have to go to the bar and you can only get one at a time. They will give you the soda in the can but they have to open it. We opted-out of the alcohol package since I don't drink that much and Boyfriend drinks mostly beer. If you are all about cocktails then it may be worth it, but if you expect to drink mostly beer, they come in at about $5 each and the package is $50/day.

At last, here is the Vista, Carnivals largest ship. It is enormous with 15 passenger decks, three pools, 6 hot tubs, and an IMAX theater amongst all the other standard facilities. 

Anyone weary of vacationing on a cruise, let me assure you that you will never be bored. There is so much to do in addition to having your hotel take you to the doorstep of different countries. For those who want to relax, you can retreat to your room any time or just hang out on the deck. 

There are multiple restaurants in addition to buffets, comedy shows every night, multiple karaoke shows, multiple trivia games, and so much more. I felt exhausted the entire time and didn't really do everything there is to do. 

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