Welcome to the fifth installment of my A to Z of Cruising, bringing you everything related to cruising, beginning with the letter E. Read on to find out about what to expect from embarkation to entertainment, from enrichment lectures to making sure you have your ESTA!
One of the best things about cruising is that so much is included in your cruise price and one of the best things is the entertainment on board. Every day you can expect a variety of things to keep you busy and entertained, detailed in your daily cruise newsletter. The newsletter is usually posted to your stateroom the evening before so that you can take a look at what’s on offer to you the following day.
The on board entertainment team will organise competitions, activities and games during the day. Whether it’s a quiz, dance class, sports game or craft workshop, there always seems to be things happening on a cruise ship and the beauty of this is that you can get involved and take part as much or as little as you wish. Sometimes I simply like to be a spectator and watch an activity by the pool or if I’m feeling a bit more energetic perhaps join in with a dance class.
There are lots of different entertainment venues on cruise ships, with some of the mega ships having special features such as water slides, ice rinks, escape rooms, surfing simulators, high diving, outdoor cinemas and race tracks. On the flip side if you can always find a stylish bar with a piano player to sip cocktails in. Wherever the mood takes you, there is so much choice when it comes to entertainment.
Every cruise ship has a theatre or cabaret lounge for evening entertainment in the form of stage shows. It’s likely that you will be able to enjoy musicals, comedians, magicians and impressionists here and most theatres will offer two performances each night to allow you to catch a couple of shows. I always know when a show has finished because you see a herd of people walking from one show to the next in order to fit in two each night. If you love live entertainment, a cruise has lots on offer.
Many cruise ships have original shows produced specifically for the cruise line so you will not see them anywhere else. There is also well-known productions on board some cruise lines, for example, Grease: The Musical is currently being performed on some Royal Caribbean ships and Cirque de Soleil is performing on MSC Meraviglia (please note that this comes at an additional charge to MSC cruise passengers).
Top cruise tip: get to theatre shows early to ensure you get a seat. Some cruise lines even allow you to pre-book seats to avoid disappointment.
Part of the ‘entertainment’ on board a cruise ship is the opportunity to learn about the destinations on your itinerary, culinary demonstrations, insights into how a cruise ship functions and opportunities to learn more about a range of different subjects such as history and the natural world. This has become so popular that websites and agencies have been created just to connect professional enrichment lecturers with cruise ships.
Examples of enrichment lectures I’ve experienced:
- On my cruise to Hawaii, the cruise ship put on daily lectures about Pearl Harbor, which helped me to learn more about the history of the place before I visited
- My partner attended a photography lecture, which helped him get the most out of his GoPro camera whilst on shore excursions
- At the end of a culinary demonstration by the Head Chef we were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of (one of) the ship’s kitchens.
All were insightful and very interesting so I would definitely recommend taking the time to attend one during your next cruise.
If you are cruising in the United States, it is likely that you will need an ESTA. If you’ve never heard of an ESTA, you may be wondering ‘what is an ESTA?’
An ESTA is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization which lasts for two years. You can apply for an ESTA on the official website and costs $14 (approx. £10).
If you live in one of the following countries, you will need to apply for an ESTA before travelling to the USA:
Embarkation day is so exciting, you are just about to get your cruise holiday started and all you want to do is get on board! Here are some key things to consider to help embarkation day run smoothly:
- The cruise line is likely to give you a designated time slot to board, you can arrive at the port earlier but you may have to wait before being able to board. On our last cruise we got to the port early hoping to get on the ship earlier than our time slot but there was a power cut at the port and so there was a massive delay for everyone – so we ended waiting even longer to board.
- Make sure you have some cash on hand to tip the luggage carriers, they will take your luggage when you arrive at the port and it’s always good to keep them sweet if they are responsible for getting your suitcases on the ship!
- Keep all the important documents with you including your passport, it’s best to check if you need to take it. Our American friends were able to cruise without a passport due to the itinerary but if you’re travelling to another country you’re going to need it.
- Pack anything your going to need when you board in a carry-on bag, for example, medication. Your luggage will be delivered to your stateroom but it may take a few hours to appear.
Excursions are one of my favourite elements of a cruise and I do tons of research to ensure that we find the best excursions. My thought behind this is that I want to see as many different places as possible in my lifetime and have some great experiences to remember so realistically I may only visit a place once. This means I want to get the most out of every port day.
I’ve compiled a list of places with the excursions that I’ve experienced so far (in no particular order):
Jamaica – Martha Brae River rafting
Grand Cayman – swimming with stingrays
St Maarten – aeroplane beach (Maho Beach)
St Thomas – Magens Bay
Fort Lauderdale – Everglades airboat tour
San Francisco – Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, China Town, Lombard Street, trolley ride
Princess Cays – private cabana
Maui – snorkelling
Oahu – Pearl Harbor, Wakiki Beach
Kauai – Fern Grotto, Wailmea Canyon
Hawaii Big Island – Helicopter ride over a volcano with the doors off!
Madeira – basket sled ride
Gibraltar – Monkey rock
Monaco – F1 circuit
Lisbon – Belem Tower
Barcelona – Sagrada Familia, Las Ramblas
Each cruise ship excursion deserves a blog post of its own and it will be my resolution to share them with you in 2018.
Top cruise tip: shop around for your shore excursions, it is likely that if you book directly with the local tour operators or attraction you wish to visit, you can get it at a fraction of the price charged by cruise lines.
That’s it for this installment of my A to Z of Cruising, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and look forward to reading your comments about your experiences and top tips.