Q is for Queasiness, Queuing and Quantum Class
Queasiness is something many novice cruisers worry about. Before our first cruise I was very concerned that we wouldnt find our sea legs and might suffer but once on board I discovered that the you hardly feel the ship move and we enjoyed 14 nights on a Caribbean sea that resembled a mill pond. Id packed sea sickness tablets and those elasticated pressure point wristbands but thankfully we didnt need them. Weve since sailed in much rougher waters, including the infamous Bay of Biscay and only on one occasion did I reach for the medication when my son Finn was a little green. Modern ships have stabilisers which cancel any rocking and help passengers avoid motion sickness and the larger ships are so huge that they cope extremely well in even the roughest of seas. In the very unlikely event that you do suffer while on board then the shops do sell medication, wristbands etc. and in extreme cases if you visit the ships medical centre theyll give you an injection that should help you enjoy the rest of the cruise.
Queues are occasionally inevitable on board and when a ship carrying 4000 passengers docks and everyone tries to depart at the same time there can be problems. Likewise if everyone decides that 8pm is a good time to dine then there could be a lengthy wait for a table at dinner. We always take a sensible approach and have a leisurely morning, allowing the crowds to depart the ship before heading ashore or try and dine that bit earlier when youll be seated within minutes and get great service. Plan carefully and you avoid the frustration of a very British pastime.
Quantum Class is Royal Caribbeans latest addition to their fleet and are spectacular looking family friendly ships. They have been specifically designed for colder weather itineraries so they include lots of fun indoor activities such as dodgem cars and indoor skydiving. The interior rooms even have a virtual balcony, a great concept where one interior wall has a projection of what is actually happening outside. Weve not yet had the pleasure of sailing Quantum Class yet but its definitely on my must do list!
R is for River Cruises and Reviews
River Cruises feature much smaller ships than ocean cruises and the itineraries take in the sights, sounds and destinations of many of the worlds greatest rivers. Some of the ships look stunning and many are luxuriously appointed featuring seven star cruising with ultra all inclusive packages. Sadly they just arent family friendly. We enquired when at the cruise show last year and the staff confirmed they werent suitable for travelling with children. My river cruising adventures will just have to wait until Finn heads off to university!
I love reading what people thought of a cruise ship and online reviews are a great place to find tips and to research a forthcoming cruise. My favourite review sites include Cruise Critic and Cruise.co.uk but there are also a growing number of blogs on the subject too so thanks for reading this one!
S is for Speciality Restaurants, Swimming Pools and Sail Aways
Speciality restaurants are an additional dining option on board and have a small cover charge which is paid in addition to your cruise fare if you wish to dine there. Many ships now have celebrity chef themed establishments, premier steak houses or high class Oriental or Indian eateries. The cover charges vary depending on the cruise line or the restaurant choice but as an example weve just paid £20 per head to dine at Atul Kochhars East on Ventura. Id definitely recommend you treat yourself while on board if your budget will stretch. The food and service is usually exceptional and theyre a real bargain compared to the cost of fine dining at a similar establishment on dry land.
Swimming pools can usually be found on the top deck and there are usually two or three pools and maybe even more on larger ships. Be warned they can be very deep and very often they dont actually have life guards so you may want to pack arm bands unless your kids are really strong swimmers. For younger children there are often splash zones or shallow paddling pools often close to the kids club. Please note that toddlers in nappies (even swim nappies) will most likely not be permitted in the pools for health reasons.
Sail Away Parties are a highlight of any cruise and usually happen 3 or 4 times during a 14 night break. The entertainment team take to the top deck and whip the crowd into a frenzy as waiters ensure the drinks are flowing as the ship heads out of port. Be sure to head up and join in the fun.
T is for Tips and Tenders
Cruise ship staff work their socks off and the quality and standard of service far surpasses that of any hotel on land. The majority of the team on board are paid a modest salary and take an additional share of the tips as well as the daily gratuities which are added to your on board account. This is a daily charge of around £5 a day per passenger and is a way most cruise lines try to simplify tipping and ensure backroom staff you might not see also benefit. Gratuities are then divided between all the staff on board but you can also tip extra to an individual if you feel youve received amazing service. The daily gratuity is technically voluntary and you can go to guest services at reception and remove this if you wish. Personally Ive never done that as I think the staff work tirelessly and deserve every penny, in fact we usually tip over and above the charge for team members who have gone out of their way to make our holiday special.
During your cruise you may visit some smaller ports that dont have the facilities for a large ship to dock. If this happens you will visit the port by tender, a smaller boat used to shuttle passengers between the ship and the port. The captain will drop the anchor some way out of the port and generally uses some of the larger motorised lifeboats to transport everyone who wants to go ashore and back. The tenders pull up alongside the ship and youll make your way down to the gangway where you step off a platform and into the smaller boat. It can feel a little daunting if the seas are choppy but dont worry the crew are always on hand to manage this safely. Occasionally if the seas are rough then the tenders will be delayed until it gets calmer or alternatively the port visit may be cancelled if the captain feels theres any risk. I quite like tenders, its an exciting way to arrive at a new destination and you can often get some great photos of your ship on the way back. Just remember not to rush off for the first one into or back from port if you dont like queuing.
U is for Upper Deck
Upper Deck is one of my favourite places on board especially in the sunshine. Its a great place to watch the world go by and there are usually quite a few bars dotted around as well as hundreds of sun loungers for those who want to catch some rays.
V is for Voltage, Visas and Vaccinations
There are a huge range of cruise lines and they all offer different voltage plug sockets so be sure to check before you travel. P&O have standard English 3 pin plugs, RCI and Carnival use American style sockets and MSC hasa mix of both. You can see a comprehensive list here http://www.iglucruise.com/faqs/what-type-of-electrical-outlet-plugs-will-be-in-my-stateroom but my advice is always pack a few worldwide adaptors and you are covered for all eventualities! Many of the widescreen TVs found in modern ship cabins also have a USB charger that is handy for charging phones or iPads.
Be sure to check for any visa or vaccinations you need before travelling, you can usually find details of this in your online check in information. Remember you can only disembark in some ports if you have a visa, such as Russia for example. If you are booking a ship excursion they will often arrange this as part of the package but double check to avoid disappointment.
W is for Wi-Fi, Wristbands and Waterslides
Wi-Fi is a necessity in our family as we run our own business and need to keep in touch with work while away as well as live blogging our adventures. At sea it can be slow and expensive but many cruise lines offer weekly or fortnightly packages which help with the cost a little, just dont forget to log in and out each time. It often helps to draft emails or posts off line to save valuable minutes particularly if your package is for a set number of hours during your holiday. Although 3G data costs in European are now capped please remember then when out at sea youll only be able to connect to the ships GSM network which is charged at International rates not European rates so be sure to turn data roaming off on phones and iPads or you could end up with a nasty surprise on your next bill. If you can manage to wait till you reach port to get online then simply follow the crew, they always know where the free Wi-Fi spots are or failing that you should be able to find a McDonalds with complimentary internet connection in most towns!
If you are travelling with small children theyll be given a wristband on boarding, this is compulsory and shows their muster station. If your child is in kids club and theres an emergency that requires you to go to the muster point the staff will bring them to and you should meet them there.
There are waterslides on many of the large scale American and European ships that often twist and turn above the top deck providing adventurous thrill seekers with hours of amusement. Some ships even have huge spray grounds with water shooters, power drenchers and much, much more.
X is for Xbox and other games consoles
My little boy is computer games obsessed so thankfully the kids clubs at sea generally feature Xboxs, Playstations or Wiis as well as child friendly games they can play for free. Some family cabins also offer them as standard too and there is usually a small video games arcade on board where you can pay to play usually by swiping your cruise card. Watch out for free gaming hours advertised in the ships daily newsletter.
Y is for YouTube
Youtube is a fantastic resource when researching your cruise and thousands of cruisers have posted videos of ships, cabins and ports of call but be warned, they do range in quality from the woefully amateur to Hollywood style productions. When we booked on Independence of the Seas last year I found a video online showing me every inch of our gorgeous aft cabin, which I absolutely loved. In addition to videos by fellow cruisers you may well find some of the official cruise line videos, travel agents reviews and occasionally a full length TV show about your ship. I spend many a happy hour ahead of our cruises scouring YouTube and if you have something like Apple TV you can even view the videos on your television, its like having your very own dedicated cruise TV channel.
Z is for Zip Lines, Zoos and Zzzzz
Zip Lines can be found on Oasis class ships on Royal Caribbean enabling the bravest cruisers to fly across the boardwalk suspended by just a harness approximately 40 ft above the deck. I did it once and it was absolutely terrifying but a real sense of achievement!
Zoos are a fantastic alternative to a cruise line excursion and are usually on easy to use public transport routes too. We often head to a zoo or aquarium when in port and nearly all big cities seem to have them. Theyre a sure fire way to entertain kids and can be a preferable option to pounding the streets in a sweltering city.
Zzzzz is for sleep and nothing in the world beats being gently rocked to slumber in a beautifully comfortable bed, with gorgeously fresh clean linen. Ive had some of my best nights sleep ever on a cruise ship and always wake up relaxed and refreshed for the next days adventures.