July was a special month. It was the first time in forever I went on a trip in a July, as it is the prerogative of straight couples with children to take a leave in July – but mostly because I finally went on a cruise.
Steve and I booked a Northern Europe cruise with Royal Caribbean International via Cruisewinkel in Antwerp way back in October 2017. The Serenade of the Seas sailed from Stockholm in Sweden, to Helsinki in Finland, Saint Petersburg in Russia, Tallinn in Estonia, Riga in Latvia and after a full sea day back to Stockholm.
So what am I taking away from this first experience?
Choosing your cruise
Booking a cruise is not like quickly book a flight or deciding which hotel you’re staying at. As the ship will be both your transportation and your accommodation, you should give it enough thought and reflection. Each company has its own ways of doing things, its own atmosphere.
I was put off by the singing at dinner time in the Serenade’s main dining hall. I was told later that doesn’t necessarily happen elsewhere. So next time will be elsewhere. Also to be able to compare.
So read up about which cruise. Get some brochures, look for online reviews on YouTube and blogs. I must say I disagree with the lovely Bailey on his second first time cruiser’s tip. We did sped a bit more for a stateroom with balcony and it was totally worth it. We loved having privacy once in a while.
But it all depends on what you like, really. Don’t read too much of TripAdvisor. Only the happiest and angriest put reviews there.
Pay in advance
Leave the (money) worries as much as possible home. Pay drinks packages, tips, dining packages, excursions, … in advance. So you don’t need to pinch pennies while on board.
As a matter of fact: a drinks package is always, always, a good idea.
Dress up, don’t suit up
Apparently, the fancier the cruise company, the less people dress up and vice versa. “People who wear suits to go to work, don’t feel the need to wear one when on vacation”, Danny explains. “But people who don’t, don’t want to fail and will wear their nicest suit.”
So don’t take your black tie (aka tuxedo), but ‘just’ smart jacket, some formal trousers and some business shoes. And a clean long sleeve shirt obviously.
I underestimated the sea day. A sea day is a full day at sea without touching land. A perfect day for going to the gym, to the pool, eat, eat, eat, drink, eat, eat, drink, eat and maybe read a book.
I forgot to take a book on the Serenade. As the sea day was the last day, I was done reading guides. I did bring my laptop, but typing in the sun doesn’t work for me (and it isn’t great for the computer either).
I was told that when planning the cruise and stocking the food reserves, the crew takes into account how many newbies are on board. They tend to eat much more.
Don’t overeat. It’s so easy to, but don’t. After a week you’ll feel pregnant of an elephant.
Explore the ship
We thought we had seen it all, but it turned out we didn’t. Even small cruise ships are huge. Explore, have walks.
On the Serenade, each day the Cruise Compass, a double A4 sheet of paper (or A3 if you prefer) informed us of that day’s programme and schedule. When to disembark, the boarding deadline, the entertainment, where to eat, the timezone etc.
Read it thoroughly to know your options.
On the night before leaving the cruise, you must already pack your suitcase and present it. This means you need to pack an overnight bag for the last night. Or perhaps you decide to leave your belongings behind.
Cruising is fun and comfortable way to see many sights in a short period of time, but is not really something you improvise.