I am a 50 year old female from TN, taking a first time cruise with my 71 year old mother. Below is my experience that I would like to share with others. Perhaps another first timer will glean something valuable from it. If you have questions or comments, feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Cruising!
I arrived at Tampa International Airport at 10:50 am. Baggage claim in in another building, so I had to take a tram to get there. Following the signs was pretty easy. I was being picked up by relatives, so it was an effortless transition to the car. The Port of Tampa is about 10 miles away from the airport. It's not the easiest route to get to, as there are a lot of different highways and streets to take to get there. Traffic runs pretty fast, so it's a good idea to either know where you are going, or have a GPS.
We got there in plenty of time to wait to board the ship. On the day of our departure there was a bomb scare and we had to wait in line for about 2.5 hours in the hot sun waiting to board with all of our luggage in tow. Not a great start.
Once we were finally allowed to get on board we left our luggage with the porters (although you did not have to do that) and continued through the check in process. You must have your passport, drivers license, seapass paperwork and the credit card that you reserved your cruise with (if applicable). We got checked in relatively fast. Our credit card was swiped and we had to sign some documents related to purchasing the cruise. We were given a plastic card (similar to a credit card) with our name on it. Also some other things of importance, which was not explained to us initially¦.. the card has your room # on it, but not the floor. That way if someone sees your pass, they do not know exactly what room you are in. Also there is a # on the card that tells you which area of the boat you need to go to for your lifesaver meeting, and also your dining table # and your eating time. (You can choose from early or late dining, or if you don't want to choose, you can pay extra for "my timemdining).We were not aware of the assigned table # until the 2nd night of the cruise. By the way, bring a lanyard with you to hold your pass with you you will need it at all times. You can get them to punch a hole in it at Guest Services on deck 5. Seapass is used as a door key and to purchase anything on the boat.
As you enter the ship they try to get you to stand for a picture. If you are interested in paying 20/per photo, go ahead and pose. They will take more pictures of you all along the boat and post them on a wall. You are welcome to buy them or pkgs of them for big money. We opted out of every photo shoot.
Even though we boarded late (2:30ish) our room was still not ready. We headed to the Windjammer Cafe (which is a very nice buffet style cafeteria) and had our first meal. Everything looked wonderful, the food was very good, and it was nice to sit. After our late lunch we did head to our room, and it was ready. We met our stateroom attendant (we had a stateroom with large window) named Sang. He was friendly enough. He explained the door "rules (inserting a card into the door to say if you wanted room service or if you did not want to be disturbed). Our luggage had not arrived yet, so we relaxed and checked out the room for a bit. Our luggage didn't arrive until very late in the day (around 7pm). I was getting pretty anxious about it, because I did not have a change of clothes with me, and my mom had left all of her money in her luggage. When we finally did get our stuff, we were relieved to find nothing missing.
Muster: Right after our late lunch we were expected to go to a certain area of the boat and get a life saving drill, in the event that the boat sinks. They explain how to use a life jacket, and the life boats, and also the same place the drill is, is also our meeting place in the event of an emergency. The captain of the ship welcomes us from a speaker, and then one of the attendants explains the drill. Also there are some emergency sirens that you have to tolerate (extremely loud)This is called a muster.
Our room: The first thing I noticed was how well every inch of space was utilized. There were shelves and hooks everywhere. We had enough room to empty our suitcases and put everything away, without the place looking overcrowded. I was impressed with that. Mirrors everywhere, to give the room a larger feel. The tv swings out on a stand so that you can watch it from the loveseat area or from the bed. There is a heavy curtain that slides across the room if you want to have privacy sleeping while someone else is up in the other half of the room. The bathroom is small, but still enough room for everything you need to do. The shower was small, but we are not big people so it wasn't an issue for us. The only thing I could see that needed improvement in the bathroom was that there was no outlet for a hairdryer. The only outlet was overhead and it was labeled for electric shaver only. They did provide a hairdryer, but it had an odd plug and could only be plugged in to the mirrored area over the desk/vanity area, which was out in the room. Plenty of closet space with a bar for hanging clothes, hangers provided, and shelves from floor to ceiling as well. Although you have to share your closet with 3 life vestsâ€¦ but we found a way to tuck them up overhead to get out of the way. We were also able to put 2 large suitcases on the closet floor. They provide soap, conditioner, bath& hand towels, wash cloths and bathmat. They also have a program called "Save the Wavesâ€ and ask that you re-use your towels to save the environment. If you don't care to do that, all you do is throw your towel on the floor, otherwise hang your towel on the rack and they will not provide you with a fresh one that day.
Room Service: They leave a breakfast doortag on the wall behind your door. You simply check off the items you'd like for breakfast, and then check off the time range you'd like to have it, and then they call you just prior to getting it to your room in the morning. We had no problem getting our stuff when we ordered it, but our friends told us they had a lot of problems. I think the earlier you want it, the easier it is to get it. Otherwise they get really busy with all the other people wanting room service at the same time a little later on. We picked from 6:30 " 7:00 am. Also, if you order coffee, one coffee = 1 cup plus 1 medium sized carafe of coffee. The first morning we ordered 3 coffees because we wanted to make sure we'd have enough for 2 cups each. We had more than 2 cups each in 2 carafes, so the 3rd one was a waste for us. They also serve cream & sugar with the coffee, but I am used to the flavored cream, so it didn't taste that good to me. I did not see flavored cream on the boat in any of the dining areas. You can also get room service for you other meals, but you'll have to look on the tv program for the men items. There is also a catalog in the desk drawerâ€¦ I didn't see that until day 3, so I may have missed out on some things. Room service is free, but if you order between 12:30 " 5:30am you have to pay extra.
The first full day of our cruise we never got our room cleaned. By the time they were getting ready to clean it, it was quite late in the day and we just didn't want to wait for it to be done. We asked that they just take our breakfast dishes away. We never did get one of those towel animals in our room on any day. Next time I think I will go to the Pursers desk and ask that we pay our own gratuities. 12.00 per day per person is added to your final bill, but you do not have to do it that way. You can pay as you go and as you like. Our friends tipped by the day and always got the animal towel AND constantly had fresh ice in the room. They didn't end up tipping a whole lot more than anyone else, but got much better service.
Drinks: They allow you to bring 1 normal sized bottle of wine or champagne per person per stateroom with you. Other than that they have drink pkgs you can purchase when first getting on the boat. The cocktail (premium) pkg is 55/day. You have to buy for all the days of your cruise, and your roommate also has to purchase the same pkg. Unless you want to be drunk your entire stay, it's not really much of a savings. Cocktails range from 6.50 (drink of the day that comes in a souivenier tumbler that you can keep) to 9.00 average per drink. You'd have to have about 8 drinks a day before you break even. If you are going to drink more than that you might as well stay home and drink because you aren't going to remember a whole lot about your fancy trip. Also, all of the outside bars at the pool area serve coctails in acrylic glasses and beer in plastic bottles so that there is no broken glass to deal with. Good idea.
Coffee / iced tea / lemonade / regular orange juice / ice water are all free in the dining areas. Although it is difficult to find icewater when you are not in a dining room. I know some people brought bottled water with them, and I would do that next time as well. There are a couple of water fountains on the upper decks, but the water was warm and the stream didn't go up that high. It was hard to fill a bottle or tumbler from it. We did have our bottles filled at the bar a couple of times, but it was a pain.
There is also a soda pkg. I do not know what the price is, but you buy a special insulated tumbler and then you pay a flat fee and drink all the carbonated beverage you can stand. I think it includes juice as well. There is a beer / wine pkg as well, and I do not have the details for that either. I think a lot of people bought the adult beverage pkgs though, because there were a lot of happy- happy people on the boat.
Freshed sqeezed orange juice is not free. They will come around in the morning with a tray and ask you if you'd like some. Be prepared to give them your card if you take a glass.
Meals: We ate most of our breakfasts and lunches at the windjammer cafÃ©. It was the easiest to get to and the food was always good. Too many choices to pick from, so you never had to eat the same thing twice if you didn't want to. We saw no reason to go to the specialty restaurants, as the food was really good at the Windjammer. Our dinners were at the Tides restaurant. We did eat breakfast there on the first morning, but we thought it was really stuffy, and the food was cold and tasteless. You have to dress up a bit for dinner. We had the same table # each night, and got to get acquainted with the same 4 other couples each night. That part was actually kind of fun. The 2nd night of our cruise was the formal dinner. We had fun dressing up and the food was wonderful. You get a few choices of starters and main dishes. All were good. Each night the menu changed. The desert menu was awesome as well. You could order as many deserts as you liked. I ordered 2 deserts 3 nights in a row. They were wonderful. You can also order a cocktail or wine with dinner. You'll have to bring your seapass to pay for it though. We had the same servers each night. It was nice getting to know them. There are many servers from around the world that work on the ship. You get exposed to many dialects, and sometimes it is hard to understand what they are saying. On the last night the wait staff sang "I'm leaving on a jet plane to the entire dining room. Brought a tear to our eyes
You can pretty much eat around the clock. There are buffets open at midnight and snack areas all over the boat. If you go hungry, it's your own fault.
Events: Besides the excursions that you can do off the boat, there are many things to do while at sea. Everyday they give you an itinerary of the daily events. It's called The Compass. It has an hourly breakdown of special things going on. It also tells sunset/sunrise time, temp humidity of the day, etc. It also tells the daily movie that will be playing and what times, shows that are being performed, sales that they are promoting on the boat, talks, entertainment , classes in the spa & gym, events; such as make-a-wish walk, animal-towel demonstations, etc.
Things to do on the boat: rock wall climbing, basketball, ping pong, shuffleboarding, cards, casino games, bingo, shopping, dancing, karoke, trivia contests, bellyflop contests, swimming, listening to reggae music near the pool, etc. They have activities for kids too, but we didn't have children with us.
Clothing: We were going to Cozumel Mexico in April. The weather was warm. What you really need is one formal outfit, one nice outfit for every dinner, shorts & shirts for daywear on the boat, sneakers if you want to use the gym, 2 bathing suits (so you always have a dry one to put on), pjs, light robe, sandals, dress shoes, and a light jacket or sweatshirt for cooler nights.
Other helpful things to pack: notepad, highlighter, pens, your own reading materialâ€¦. The library had books, but not a whole lot of good stuff to read. Dramamine (if you don't get a patch ahead of time), bandaids, hat / hair ties (windy on deck at sea), bottled water, binoculars, sunglasses, sunscreen, small flashlight. If you have business or calling cards, bring them. You end up meeting a lot of people and you may want to stay in touch with them after the cruise. It's easier to just hand them a card.
Fun stuff: you can decorate your door with a sign or anything you want to. Find out ahead of time if there are any themed contests. We had a 70's disco balls¦. So it would have been nice to have some 70's clothes for this! They also had a contest where men dressed as women. There was a huge lottery drawing they kept telling us about in the daily compass too. One lucky winner was going to walk away with 260,000.00.
TV: There are a few stations¦ you can watch the current news, there is a RC station that tells you about other cruises. There is also a station that tells you about the excursions at the place you are headed to.(We bought our trip on day 2 of the boat So no need to decide before you leave) There is a ship info station that tells you a lot of things going on, on the boat. It also has ideas for shopping and tells you what you need to know when disembarking.
Disembarking: If you do not want to carry your own luggage off the boat, you must pack any luggage and set it outside of your room by 11:00 pm the night before. There is also a special colored tag that you need to fill out and put on your tag. The tag has a # on it and that # is the room that you must go to in the morning to be dismissed from the boat. They dismiss by group #s so that everyone is not trying to leave at the same time and cause a traffic jam. You can take you own luggage off yourself. They call this "self-assistâ€. Self-assist people get to disembark first. If you have more than one large suitcase though, it is hard toting all of that around the boat to get off.
The boat arrived at the port at 7am, as scheduled. You can go to the Windjammer and have your last breakfast while waiting for you group # to be called. The night before they drop off a form to your room that you need to fill out. One form for each family member with the same last name. There are extra forms at Guest Services if you need one. You have to bring the form with you through the customs line, along with your passport and drivers' license. You have to declare large ticket items you bought outside of the US. If you bought liquor on the island you will have to go to a special room between 5:00 " 6:00 am to claim it, and then pack it in your carry off bags.
Once out of the terminal you are not far from the Aquarium and parking garages. There are people outside of the terminal holding signs for taxi rides to the airport. They only wanted $15 to get you to the airport. I almost did that. I think it would have been easier. I was at the airport by 9:15, and spent the most part of the day there because my flight didn't leave until 4pm. Next time I think I will book an earlier flight home, or extend my vacation a bit in Florida after the cruise.