If you’ve been following this whole Family Cruises series, by now you’re probably convinced that cruises are indeed an ideal family vacation and even those who think they are too-cool-to-cruise (guilty as charged!) can be dissuaded.
Now that the thought of stress-free, sun-drenched days where everyone in the family is being catered to are in your horizon, it’s time to take note of some top tips to make the most out of your cruise vacation. No matter how short or long your cruise, or the destinations you’re heading to, there are some basic tips that will make your time on board and off even more relaxed.
#1. Pack lightly. You do want to pack lightly because the cabins are comfortable, but offer little room for a family of four. You will have to really organize your packing list before you leave because the reality is that you do need 2-3 changes per day on most cruises if you like to go on-shore, hit the pool, a restaurant and a show or party at night. And trust me, you do! On cruises like the Norwegian Cruise Line, you don’t need to worry about fitting into a particular dress code because of their Freestyle setting where you wear what makes you feel good, but even that can add up. You’ll also have the option to have laundry done on board, but we survived without it and carried two lightly-packed suitcases for a family of three. We did want to leave space for the souvenirs we brought back from Europe!
#2. Make sure you’re aware of service charges and the tipping policy. I hadn’t realized that we would be charged $12 per person, per night during our trip on the Norwegian Epic. I inquired about it onboard and the Cruise Director explained to me that they did it this way so passengers wouldn’t have to worry about caring cash all around the ship and have to dish out dollar bills here and there for service all day. This way, the service charges are divided amongst all the service providers on board and you don’t need to do anything other than accept the charge on your credit card. We did leave an additional tip for our Cabin Steward because his towel animal figures were something my girl looked forward to every night!
#3. Prepare for satellite internet! This was a hard one for me, but a much-needed internet break. The Norwegian Epic did have wifi service available for a charge, as well as an internet café. However, when the ship is at sea (which is also when you’re more free to connect), it accesses satellite internet, meaning it’s horrendously slow and those minutes you purchased will immediately decrease to half their worth. My advice is to make sure you’ve taken care of all your business and truly prepare to be disconnected for some precious days.
#4. Research your ports of call and the available shore excursions. Some cruise destinations are easier than others. We went on a Western Mediterranean cruise so we had to really get organized and decide how we would spend our precious 6-10 hours in destinations like Napoli, Rome and Barcelona. Your options are usually a) to go out on your own and explore; b) to reserve a private tour beforehand; or c) to book one of the shore excursions offered by the cruise line. We opted for C because that was the only way we would be guaranteed that if there were any delays, the ship would wait for us, and also because we would leave our daughter at the Kid’s Club for Port Play and they could contact us through the tour operator if anything happened.
#5. Arrive at the ship at least 2-3 hours before it departs and get to know the cruise deck layout. These boats are massive and it’s so hard to know the front from the end without looking for signs. Spend a moment just exploring the ship together and familiarize yourself with where the main restaurants are, the pools, game areas, etc. There are usually maps and signs all over the place so you won’t get lost. Norwegian Cruise Line also has a nifty app that you can only use once onboard the ship. It keeps you up-to-date with everything, including times and locations.
#6. Attend the Kid’s Club open house. The day we boarded there was an open house for the Recess Kid’s Club on the Norwegian Epic. Our idea was just to go check it out in case we could convince our girl to hang out there a couple of hours the next days. To our surprise, she got ridiculously excited about the place and we registered her immediately. Insert sigh of relief…
#7. Read the cruise’s daily newsletter carefully. Every night we’d get back to our cabin and find the Norwegian Epic’s Daily Freestyle on our bed. I would go to it immediately to check out everything that would be happening the next day and mark what I thought my family would enjoy. In all honestly, we’d end up freestyling it most of the time, but it was nice to know I was in the know and didn’t miss any must-do’s.
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