Well, here is the rather long report of my very first cruise.
About a year ago, on my husband’s 49th birthday, I realized that his 50th was coming up, and I needed to do something special. Since he’s not one for parties, I thought a vacation would be a nice gift, and after doing some research, decided that the thing he would enjoy best would be a cruise. I booked a cruise for the week after his birthday (a year in advance).
Having spent a year planning, paying for, agonizing over, reviewing excursions, reading web reviews etc, I was definitely ready for him to find out. Here is video of his surprise!
We drove down to my mom’s in the Tampa area a few days ahead of the cruise, and she dropped us off at the port on embarkation day. It was certainly exciting to see the ship as we rounded the corner to the port. wow. it’s big.
I had looked for online video about the boarding process, but found very little. That is because there is really nothing worth describing. it’s not very different from an airport. Mom dropped us off right in front of the building, where a porter immediately took our luggage. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t take the large package of water bottles we had brought. I’d been told we could check that in, but apparently not. (the internet lied to me! imagine!) I guess if I’d put it in it’s own bag we wouldn’t have had a problem, but it didn’t occur to me. Anyhow, after that you go in (though some security), fill out a form with some general info, and take it to a check in desk. We had arrived about an hour before they allowed boarding, so there were not many people. The check in guy took our pictures, checked our passports and took our credit card info, gave us our key cards, and a copy of the “Freestyle Daily” and directed us to sit and wait for boarding. we didn’t wait very long before boarding was announced. On the way to the ship we had to stop by the photo booth for our “boarding photo” (which you could later purchase.. but we didn’t).
after weaving in and out of some glass gangplanks, we were finally on board. My husband was still carrying all the water. we were told we could drop it off in one of the restaurants while we waited for our cabin to be available, but my husband decided we’d try to get to our cabin. which of course we were not allowed to do… but as we were standing there contemplating what to do, some crew members walked by, and decided to allow us in (turned out it was one of the major officers, not just some random worker). he opened the door to the cabin area, and we found our cabin to drop the water off. We also met our room steward Gregory. He kindly allowed us in to the room, and I also asked him if he could empty out our mini-fridge so we could use it for the water (instead of keeping in the expensive little bottles of booze). No problem.
From there we went to have Lunch at the Venetian main dining room. It was not at all crowded, and we were able to get a nice table by the aft windows. The food was not great, but not bad either. perhaps just a hair over medeocre. The service however was terrible, but it was a brand new waiter, who had no clue what he was doing. A more experienced Woman stepped in and things got much better. The steak was very good. other food as I said was good, but not great.
Next was time for a tour of the ship.
After checking the top deck, we found the spa. I planned and budgeted for spa passes. We had to do a quick tour of the various paid services, but it was low pressure. Checked out the large gym and then our guide Elena from Bulgaria showed us the spa area. Two hot tubs, a lap pool and separate sauna and steam rooms for men and women. In the changing area. This was the quietest area on the ship and I can't wait to use it. Unfortunately, despite planning correctly,at the last minute I for some reason packed our bathing suits in luggage. We didn't get them till later. Room availability was announced and we went to check it out. After a rest we found the buffet for something to drink. The buffed was MUCH more crowded than the Venetian was. Not comfortable. But since we already ate we didn't wait in line but walked in to the drink station.
Muster drill at around 3:15. Luggage arrived soon after we got back to our room. And we set sail as I was unpacking, before 4:30. Sitting on my balcony I can just barely hear the "Bon voyage" party on the pool deck, but I'm happy sitting here in relative peace watching Tampa slowly pass by. Too bad the port scenery is not much to write home about, but ahead is Tampa bay, and the skyway bridge that well pass under as we make our say into the sunset ( literally. )
Actually we decided to go try out our spa passes. The process is simple. You give your pass at the desk they give you a locker number and you are good to go. The spa area includes a hydrotherapy hot tub: hot water, bubbles, and a sort of lounger that you lye down on. The whole thing is very relaxing and of I'd had some sort of pillow to cushion my head I could have fallen asleep. There is also a regular hot tub with stronger jets and a lap pool. A very nice sauna and steam room in the changing area. Although they had shampoo and body wash in the sowers, I'll need to remember to bring my orb conditioner. I definitely plan on making good use of all of these.
There was a spa raffle that we participated in. a woman we met in the port waiting area won a massage, and other people also won things, but we did not.
Next was dinner. When we got to the Venetian dining room, there was quite a line. It moved fairly fast, and we gave our names and got a buzzer. Also because of the delay, we also got vouchers for champagne (or soda) in the nearby spinnaker lounge while we wait.. We picked up our champagne( i got both since my h. Doesnt drink) and sat down to watch the game that was taking place in the lounge. It was majority rules and seemed to be quite fun. Fun to watch, too. Finally our buzzer told us it our table was ready. Service was again slow, as we again got the same brand new and thus very incompetent waiter. It was lobster night, which explained the huge crowd. We started with the salmon tartar appetizer, which was great. As at lunch, the apetisers wrere served in a way not meant to share, and portions wrte small, in the expectation that people would get more than one, which indeed people were doing all around us. Our surf and turf finally arrived, and we inmmediately let him know wed be wanting another lobster shortly. The steak was quite good, and the lobster was perfectly broiled, if a little salty. We were too full for desert, and so once we finished our entre, we went to our room. I had planned on catching the wrlcome aboard show, but because dinner took so long, we missed it.
We decided to order room service for breakfast, and after searching for the rs menue some time, found it by the minibar..
Placing our order on the door, we settled down for the night, me to writethe review, stan to watch sherlock holms on tv. Hope there is no extra charge for that...it wasnt clear.
Today i climber more stairs than i have in a very long time, and ate more, too. My legs will be sore tomorrow, but i can soak them in the spa.
Before turning in, we decided we wanted to try room service desert. Getting through to rs was a challenge, but after several tries, the call went through and 30 minutes later we were enjoying desert. By now it was nearly midnight. A long day,
Day two. At sea.
I woke to the gentle rocking of the ship and the sound of rain coming from the balcony. Once I realized I wasn't going to sleep any more, I went out on the balcony to enjoy the strange pleasure if watching the stormy sea. It was mesmerizing. Eventually I decided to make some use of my time before breakfast and check out the duty free shops. Nothing much there worth byuig of course but Still amusing to browse. The rocking of the ship was clearly starting to get to a few people, although most were taking it in stride. Once Stan arose from his beauty rest, we went to the buffet for breakfast. The usual stuff you'd expect to see, but also some very Northern European items: rolls of gravlax and chunks of herring, for example. Stan loaded up on the former as if it was going out of style.
We spent the rest of the morning in the spa relaxing. There were quite a few more folks there than there were yesterday. Interestingly, a number of other women were doing what I do: taking books into the hot tubs with them. My kind of people. I settled in with my Bulgakov, alongside one young woman absorbed in the Red Tent, one reading something off the Oprah list and a third with a thick tome I couldn't make out the title of. Bliss.
Lunch at blue lagoon. Long wait, despite it being well after two. Food was meh. My "rare burger was well done.. No mayo or any sauce except catsup and mustard on the table. Artichoke dip was runny. Tomato soup was ok, but croutons hadn't seen crunchy in ages. Stan likes his chef salad and panini, but the hot wings were mediocre. I left at that point to catch the line dance lesson, while stan went to take a nap..
Line dancing was an interesting experience. The average age of the dancers was well north of 50. I felt like quite a whippersnapper. There were a few younger folks, even some teens, but my personal favorite was a grandma who had to be pushing 90. She was seriously confused about the steps, but gave it her all, right down to the pelvic thrusts and but wiggles when called for. I hope I’m as spry, and as adventurous at her age. For me that really made the whole thing! Also...made me realize how much i miss dancing. Gotta start again.
Back to the room to rest up for the next round of activity.
Day two evening. Stan decided to check out the Friends of Bill meeting (aka AA) while I took a short nap to re-charge. For dinner today we decided to try the Aqua. The menu is the same as the Venetian, but the venue is smaller with a different feel. We were seated with no wait at all for a change, and the service was superb. There was nothing particularly special on the menu. We had the salmon tartare appetizer we liked yesterday. Stan also had the prochutto with Mellon which he declared delicious and I tried the French onion soup which was mediocre. For a main course I had Thai chicken and shrimp and he chose a Caribbean steak. Both were quite good but not great.
Next on to the theater where we watched a “deal or no deal” game followed by the main show “band on the run”, a seventies rock act with singing and dancing. That was very entertaining. But the best was the "not so newly wed game". I haven't laughed so hard in quite a while. The cruise director/mc really kept things jumping. Returning to our room I see that Gregory left us a towel animal and some chocolate. Nighty night.
Day three: Roatan
I woke up extra early, given the time change we had last night,and after tossing and turning for some time, i gave up, got dressed and went up to the buffet for an omelet. I also grabbed some wattery grits, but really they were so runny as to be inedible. A mountainous landscape was visible in the distance, and gradually grew to fill the horizon. Unfortunately the sky looked very threatening, and i worried that my planned snorkling trip would be impacted. Our plan was to walk out into Coxen hole and catch the local bus to west end.
By the time i got back to the cabin we were sailing close to shore, and i enjoyed a watching a small boat pull up next to the ship, and someone get out of it to climb up a ladder into the Dawn, right below my balcony. I assume it was related to customs but it was interesting to watch.
Although I had planned on just catching a public bus or taxi once on shore to the West End where the best snorkling (and touristy area) is, by the time we reached the gate from the port, it was pouring down rain. The avenue just outside the port was lined with booths selling various excursions. We were stopped by the Boden tour booth, and since I’d read up on them, and given the rain, we decided to take them up on their $25/person offer of a group tour. There were two other women waiting for that, and we were told they needed two more to join before we could go. However, they managed to grab a group of around 6 more, and so we were pretty crammed into the rather small van. The van took us around the East side of the island, though some very, very poor towns, through the rain, up to the highest point on the island. There was a nice view, but the area was also filled with booths of locals selling souvenirs. Given the rain, it was not a particularly pleasant experience. Stan was becoming increasingly unformfortable with the whole thing, particularly the poverty. His background growing up in extreme poverty himself in the USSR made him essentially flash back to it, and definitely not what he was looking for in a vacation tour. After rolling around through some more towns, our guide finally took us to the Monkey Farm owned by the tour company.
THAT was great. the cost is normally something like $5/person, but our tour included it. Only a few of us chose to do this so the group was not large. a nice young guide took us in and immediately led us to a large caged enclosure housing two capuchin monkeys. we were warned to allow them to come to us if they chose, and NOT to in any way go after them, and that if we made them feel frightened, they would remember and not come to us again. they were inquisitive and friendly, and I enjoyed the experience thoroughly. We were allowed to stay in that cage as long as we wanted, and then were taken to several others, one of which held very young monkeys. these were capuchins.. they also have spider monkeys and some other species, but only the capuchins were considered to be friendly enough to allow us to enter with them. we could feed the spider monkeys through the cage, and they would take the food with their prehensile tail if it was too far for their very long arms to reach. We were also allowed to hold a kinkajou, and entered a large enclosure with macaws, who would (if they chose) flly to you and land on your shoulder or head. I liked that there was no sense of the animals being forced to interact if they chose not to (and many did choose to stay away for all or part of the time). they were very clean, well fed, and had plenty of room. We were told that the enclosures were primarily for visiting time, and that at other times they were allowed to free roam. they didn’t leave the area, because they thought of it as home, and were fed there, so they had no incentive to. Similar to the Golden Tamarins at the National Zoo. I had some great photos, but unfortunately some of them were lost when I accidentally deleted them off of my phone. I particularly am sad to have lost the photos of myself with the macaws.
After that we drove to west end. It’s a cute. If wed gone here to begin with husband wouldn't be so agitated—while it was still very obviously third world, it was somewhat sanitized for tourists. The Water was very muddy due to runoff, so we didnt get out at the beach, even though the rain had slacked off.
Back to ship. Ate Lunch in buffet...stew was very good. Stan went back to the cabin for a nap, and I decided to step out of the port to do some shopping. This was again quite depressing. Young kids would ambush you as you walked past the gate, trying to get you to hire them to give you a tour and take you to “the best shopping). The street was extremely muddy from the rain. There was trash everywhere. Skinny, half wild, mange covered dogs ran around freely. It was quite an experience, and I’m glad I saw it, since it helps me appreciate what I have. Unlike my hsuband, it didn’t give me flashbacks, but rather gave me some guilt about my luxurious life compared with these people. I picked up some random stuff from the various booths, and gave some cash to the local kids just because. Same t shirt i got for $5 was for 17 in pier. At the designated all aboard time I went back to cabin, then to the spa, where watched from the aft windows as the Dawn sailed away fro Roatan. All in all not a bad day (the monkeys really made all the difference), but definitely not the day I thought I’d have. darned rain! additional cost due to change in plans: $50 for overpacked, depressing, and relatively uninformative tour (the guide was friendly, and happy to answer questions, but by his own admission not talkative).
Dinner that night was again at the venetian: lamb, which was quite good. Also this time we had a relatively short wait, once again with vouchers for champagne, in the Spinnaker lounge. Stan had a chat with the band..all Ukrainians plus one Russian. Apparently he had come up to them after the show last night to praise them, and that’s when he found out they were Russian/Ukie. I caught most of the “second city” comedy act, which was very funny.
Gregory left us a towel rabbit. Cute.
We wake early tomorrow for tour, the only one booked through cruise.
Day four: Belize.
The Ship tour went as planed. The weather held out, although it was overcast, it did not actually rain. Because we had a tour booked through the cruise line, we had a priority tender (smaller boat that takes you to the pier, as the large ships are not allowed that close in due to the reefs).
Once there we were ushered to a large bus (there were around 30 of us). During the first part of our tour (really just the 45 minute drive to where the real things tarted) once of the guides kept up an interesting narrative describing life in Belize. After a short bathroom break, we boarded another small boat for a scenic river trip up to the Lamanai ruins. A different guide made sure we saw some wild spider monkeys and described other wildlife and scenery on the way. The driver of the boat took his job seriously, and we whipped around some corners in a way which might be frightening to some, but which my husband and I (and apparently most of the passengers) loved! I love a boat ride of any sort, and this was definitely high energy and fun.
We got to the ruins and yet a third guide took over to describe what we saw. I won’t go into all of it, because the info is readily available online, but my impression was very positive. although the tour group we were with was quite large, and there were other large groups there, we were still able to have relatively personalized descriptions and time to just look around at each stop. We were allowed to climb one of the pyramids. I was hesitant, and started taking photos instead. I looked around for my husband to ask him something, and he was nowhere to be seen.. until I glanced up at the top of the pyramid, where he was waving down to me! That settled it, now I HAD to go up. it was hard, but not as hard as I feared. A large roap was available to help you pull yourself up the steepest part. The view from the top was definitely worth the climb. but apparently we (the entire tour group) took so long there that we ended up rushing past the last stops on the tour. no great loss, I imagine, at any rate I didn’t feel cheated of any experience, and would rather have the time on the things we did see to experience them thoroughly than whizzing though more sights. We didn’t have time to spend at the souvenir area, and were rushed back to our boat for a speed ride back to the starting point, where we had a simple but tasty lunch. There was an artisan there selling hand carved wooden bowls, and I ended up spending far too much to buy a couple of these. a quiet bus ride back to the pier just in time to catch the last tender back to the ship.
Back in the cabin I decided to free up some space on my iPhone by deleting unneeded photos. unfortunately, I ended up deleting some of the photos from the previous day, and there is no undelete function on the phone.. so these were permanently lost. I was very bummed, which really thrown off my game…I didnt photo menu.
Dinner in Aqua again, and again seated right away. Supervise was slow, but competent. Not as good as last two, not as bad as first. We caught the variety show. The talent was very mixed. there were four or five singers who were fairly good.. one woman who was tall and moved rather awkwardly when she danced, but had a fairly powerful voice. the other woman was a better dancer (still clearly not her primary talent) and had a good voice as well, but perhaps not quite as good as the other one. there were several male singers who were fairly good, but one of them just rubbed me the wrong way i terms of his style (both singing and acting). I dont’ think he danced at all, which is probably a good thing. There were several other dancers, of whom only one stood out as excellent.. a young black man (the only one) who moved with grace and feeling, as well as great technique, and definitely could do better than this cruise show cast. Several others of the cast were clearly gymnasts/acrobats (as was confirmed at a later show) and while their dancing in general was ok, they obviously excelled at the various “trick” moves (flips and jumps). I suppose it’s easier to hire a few people with one primary talent who can do other things moderately well, than to hire great specialists. It makes sense, but was very obvious. I mean, other than whatever their specialty was, some of these folks were not any better than you would see in a high school musical. The musicians in the background ) that Ukranian/russian group Stan met) were good, but didn’t have very much to challenge them. they had to play not only these shows twice a night, but also various events throughout the ship in other venues.. and we also saw at least one of them handing out flyers to people leaving the ship.. so they definitely were not under-worked. They told us they work for 7 months at a stretch, with very very little time off. It was interesting to talk to them.
Still bummed re photos, so cant focus on writing. Really hope i can retrieve them. Surely they must still be on the phone somewhere...
Day five: Costa maya.
Rain. Breakfast in venetian. Smoked salmon Benedict. Delicious. Skipped getting off boat and went to spa all morning. Lunch buffet. Reading on balcony. Walked around ship. Shopping talk, mostly about stiff i wont buy. Dinner in aqua due to line for venetian. I like venetian more for atmosphere, but aqua always seats faster, and food is same literally...comes from same kitchen. I had steak. Firt time i asked for rare and actually got it that way. High quality meat. Watched deal or no deal..i bought a card this time, but didn't win much. Main act was a comedian. He was ok. Very funny at times, other times not so much, but seemed like he would be if he didn't have to keep it pg. walking to cabin hear a couple doing Simon and Garfunkle in the atrium. Man, if i wasn't so sleepy, and if i was drinking, id have enjoyed listening to them. they were pretty good. But off to my room i go. Ship is really rocking (as in due to the waves), which i actually like.
Day six: Cozumel
Finally, a beautiful sunny day!! Today I had booked a swim with dolphins activity which included a day in a park where there was also snorkling. We happened to be among the first off the ship, and immediately caught a taxi for Chankanaab park. $12 for the both of us. at the park we were also among the first, and I wish I had booked my dolphin swim for an earlier time, but I didn’t want to take the chance of being late (since this was not through the cruise line). so we found a beach area with loungers, dropped off our stuff, and went swimming. the water was warm and clear, and we were almost immediately surrounded by beautiful fish. I quickly ran back to get my snorkel gear and camera, and started shooting pictures. I am, er… naturally bouant, so diving down to get better shots of certain things was a challenge, but I still enjoyed swimming around taking photos.
At the assigned time we went to the dolphin swim area, signed in. By now there were many groups from multiple cruise ships (there were at least 6 ships in port, including one of the giants from Royal Caribbean). Our small group (6 people) was somewhat lost in the shuffle. but we got our own “pool” area just for our group, so at that point it didn’t matter.
Our dolphin, Noel, was of course amazing, and we got to interact with her in various ways for around an hour or more. There was no rush to get us out. I can’t begin to describe the experience, other than to say it was everything one imagines and more. the only thing that would have made it better is if I didn’t have to wear a life vest, and if we could just freely swim with her in the water. My husband was initially grumpy (after all, I’d pulled him away from the sun), but once in the water with Noel, he regained his usual cheery mood, and by the end he told me it was the best part of the cruise. After getting out of the water we were ushered to a very crowded area where we were shown our photos on computer screens and were offered the opportunity to buy them. I’d have liked to leave that and come back later, on our way out of the park, to make that decision, but of course they wouldn’t keep them for that long.. so I had to decide then and there whether to buy individual photos at $35 a pop (we’d want at least two.. one for each of us),
After the dolphin swim, we went back to our things on the beach (I had taken any valuables with us, so was not afraid of leaving things just lying there). by now the beach was extremely crowded, so it’s good we had our loungers “reserved”. Stan sat in soaking up the sun, and I went snorkeling. once again, amazing. The reef itself is visibly dying/dead. but the number of fish is still incredible. I’m sure it doesn’t compare to what I’d have seen in Roatan, but since I missed that, I made the most of this chance. At some point my camera jammed up, and since I couldn’t clear it underwater (by taking out and replacing the battery), I had to stop taking pictures, but I continued to take in the sights “in person”. I would have gladly stayed here longer. I spent a short time walking around the park, but didn’t see even a fraction of what was there, and we left beach sooner than I’d have liked (but probably actually good timing). I still had some time to venture out for shopping in town. fortunately, our ship was docked at the pier which was right in the middle of “town” (there are other piers further away), so I could easily walk to the shopping area. On the one hand, Cozumel is very Americanized.. you didn’t really feel any poverty, or “local” flavor. on the other hand, the sales people would jump out at you at every step trying to entice you to come in to buy THEIR version of the same things. I did make some purchases but mostly a block away from the main drag, where it seems no one goes! I spent more than I meant to, but also got at least some of the specific items I had planned on getting. Returned VERY tired to the ship.
additional un-budgeted expense today: $130ish for CD with photos. Of which most were very similar, but there were enough good ones to make it, if not exactly a bargain (by any means!) still worth it to me to commemorate this event.
In the evening back to the Venetian, followed by the main show, which was an acrobatic act by a Russian couple. they were VERY good, swinging around on various acrobatic equipment. very artistically done. in my mind they were the most talented of all the various folks who performed. there was some sort of “talent show” type performance afterwords from all the others, which was OK. certainly not a waste of time for me, but not exactly the Kennedy Center or Met.
Day seven: sea day
The last day at sea was fairly sunny, and I spent my day wandering around the ship checking out outdoor areas that I hadn’t really spent time in before due to the weather. I found the hot tub that is somewhat isolated from all the action near the front of the ship (deck 13) and planted myself on a lounger there. that was a nice, quiet area, with relatively few people, and I had the hot tub to myself most of the time. I tried the lunch served by the main pool area, which was OK (paiaya, and some more typical barbecue items). I honestly don’t remember what else I did, but it was definitely a layed back day. my husband spent much of it in the cabin, venturing out for food and a visit to the spa. I spent at least some time in the spa (had to justify the expense), but really could have done without it that day. The evening show was the much touted Bollywood show. it was a typical “las vegas” style song and dance show, with an Indian theme, and some arieal acts by the couple from last night. overall very good, although with the same comments as before regarding the quality of the various participants. singers were good at singing, and not so much at dancing. dancers were so so (except the one guy), and while the acrobats were amazing, there was a lot of repeat of the tricks performed the night before. I still would say this was worth seeing, but hardly the “top notch” performance that some have described in online reviews. This was followed immediately by a relatively short “fairwell” performance by the crew. interestingly, the people cheered most for the “washy-washy, happy-happy” girls. and that included my husband and I. I dont’ know what it is about them, but they made the ridiculous phrase into a memorable part of the voyage.
We set out most of our luggage to be picked up that night. I had missed the information about luggage tags in the usual evening “freestyle” package, but fortunately figured it out. unless you want to walk out with your luggage (which I read online can result in a long wait in line), you get a colored tag which corresponds with a particular time frame to leave the ship. since we had no flights to catch, I got a tag for the last time frame (10:00am).
In the morning we went to breakfast in the buffet, vacating our room by 9 as requested, and sat around with a small bag of items that we didn’t want to pack away last night. when we got bored with that, we went outside and sat in the sun until our time was called. by then there was zero line to get out, and zero trouble getting our bags in the port and exiting through customs. We’d filled out our customs forms the night before and had them ready with our passports, and they barely glanced at them. that’s it. we were out front where we started, waiting for Mom to pick us up.
overall, I left with roughly the same impression of cruising as I had before going. It’s still not and will likely never be my preferred method of tourism, but it’s convenient, and has many perks. Neither my husband nor I are drinkers, and don’t much like crowds, so we stayed away from much of the action that took place by the main pool deck. that’s just not our thing, and other than that there really were not that many activities on this particular ship. a few performances in various lounges (which we avoided because of the drinking, although it probably would have been OK to sit there with a glass of ice tea). a few games and “lessons”, but not very many, and of course the evening shows. most of the activities listed every day on the “freestyle daily” were “demonstrations” of things which were available for sale (such as spa services). I went to one of the shopping talks, and it also focused mostly on where to buy high end jewelry and watches,(at places which had deals with the cruise line) and not much about local arts and crafts. Perhaps they had more of that for other ports.. I only did the Cozumel one. The spa was a good investment, as was the balcony, however we probably could have done with just one or the other as a means of getting away from the masses. I think next time I’ll try to book on a ship that has the spa area for free, and just get the balcony to avoid people. One nice thing about the spa was that it was generally quiet, with no kids or rowdy folks out to have a good time. not that I object to such people, just that it’ good to have a place to get away from them when a more peaceful time is desired. The food was certainly plentiful, and usually fairly good. i felt no particular need to spend mont in the “specialty” venues. My only “on board” expense at the end was the spa passes, and a“deal or no deal” game card that I bought to play along (I didm ’t win anything), as well as some T shirts I got on sale the last day. I had paid gratuities and shore excursions up front, and we didn’t drink anything other than water or ice tea (or juice when available) for free.
My husband LOVED it. this is really his sort of thing. He would probably have happily spent his entire time on the ship, rather than shore excursions. me, I’d have avoided sea days happily to spend more time on shore visiting various places. at least the cruise did let me visit multiple ports in one trip, but then you only got a very superficial taste of the countries visited.