A to Z of Cruising – C is for…

Here is the third installment of my A to Z of Cruising, do you know where in the world most cruises visit?  What do I like to drink more than anything whilst on a cruise?  Read on to find out and don’t forget to let me know what else you’d like to feature in this A to Z of Cruising.

Crew

It wouldn’t be right to start off this post without mentioning the fantastic crew who help to make your cruise holiday so special.  The crew work tirelessly to keep everything running smoothly from the room attendants, restaurant servers, laundry staff and customer services personnel; there is so much behind the scenes work that goes on to ensure that you have a relaxing and enjoyable time on board.

Cruise ship staff typically work six to nine month contracts and many send money home to help support their families.  Living on board for several months at a time can be quite difficult and the majority will work 12-hour days, seven days a week but it does mean that they can save the majority of their earnings.

I’ve made friends and stayed in touch with some of those special crew via social media, it’s fascinating to learn about ship life and the countries that they are from. It’s here I’d like to give a special mention to Lucy from Mexico and Vinnay from India; both of these people made our cruises memorable.

Caribbean

With almost 40% of all cruises going to the Caribbean, it is one of the most popular destinations for cruising.  Itineraries range from two days to two weeks and visit multiple islands throughout the trip, generally there are less sea days on Caribbean cruises as the islands are close together which means you can wake up to a different port every morning.

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The beauty of Caribbean cruising is that you can pack lots of different islands into one trip and you can do a range of excursions such as cultural tours, water sports and beach days.  Check out my cruise guides to some Caribbean destinations here.

The most affordable time to take a Caribbean cruise is late summer and autumn but this is because it’s hurricane season.  Summer 2017 proved that hurricanes can have a major impact on the Caribbean islands and many cruises were either cancelled or their itineraries changed.  If you can, the best time to cruise in the Caribbean is between December and April as these are the driest months of the year.

Caribbean Princess

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One of the newly refurbished ships in the Princess fleet is the Caribbean Princess, which went into dry dock in April 2017 for a $8.2 million makeover.  To discover the ship’s new features, you can check out my blog post 8 new reasons to try the Caribbean Princess.

Carnival Corporation and PLC

Carnival Cruise Line, well-known for it’s iconic red funnel, is one of ten cruise brands owned by Carnival Corporation and PLC.

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Cruise brands in this group are: AIDA, Carnival, Costa, Cunard, Fathom, Holland America, P&O, Princess and Seabourn.

Cocktails

To me, a cruise wouldn’t be the same without a cocktail!  I’m by no means a heavy drinker but a cocktail is one of the little luxuries that I never get to enjoy when I’m at home.  Cruises have an array of delicious cocktails to choose from, with classics such as pina coladas to milkshake-style offering such as a Banana Banshee. Cheers cruisers!

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Did you enjoy reading this blog post?  I would love to know what other entries you’d like me to include in my A to Z of Cruising, if you have any ideas or feedback, let me know in the comments below.

Until next time – happy cruising!

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A Cruiser’s Guide to Montego Bay

Want to maximise your port time in Montego Bay?  Here’s my guide to the popular Jamaican port of call.

About Montego Bay

Montego Bay is a north Jamaican cruise port that is an alternative to Ocho Rios or Falmouth, which are two of the other nearby cruise ports.  Affectionately called MoBay, it is the second largest city in Jamaica by area and fourth biggest by population.

At the cruise terminal

Montego Bay’s cruise terminal is a large empty building and it’s here where you can meet for your day’s excursions.  From this building you can walk outside but just remember you will need to take your photo ID and cruise card in order to re-enter the building.  Outside the building you will find wooden kiosks selling souvenirs (at this point I purchased my obligatory Christmas decoration to add to my collection!).  A word of warning, be careful here, some of our friends came away with additional purchases after the market ladies put bracelets on them before they could say no.

You cannot get taxis inside this area, you need to go outside of the gates.  If you do decide to travel independently, ensure that you choose a government approved and licensed vehicle, which will have red licence plates with two letters and four digits.

For smokers, there is a designated smoking area on the grass, opposite the cruise terminal building.

Excursions

A lot of advice online suggests that you should book excursions for your visit to Montego Bay for your safety.  There are many options to choose from:

  • 4×4 Jeep safari
  • Catamaran trips
  • Zip lining
  • Horseback riding and swim
  • Rafting on the Martha Brae River
  • Rose Hall
  • River tubing
  • Beach trips

Martha Brae River Rafting

Based on my research before the cruise, I pre-booked the rafting on the Martha Brae River.  I discovered by booking this excursion directly with the Jamaica Rafting Company at $60 per person, it was cheaper than the same cruise-led excursion ($70pp), saving $20 in total for myself and Mr S.  What was even better was that we found we were still with the cruise ship excursion (small triumph, fist pump).  To contact the rafting company directly, you can email info@jamaicarafting.com.

The small bus we boarded to Martha Brae comfortably seated 21 passengers and we were introduced to our driver and tour guide who was able to point out landmarks and gave us a flavour of life on Jamaica, including teaching us some common Jamaican phrases such as “Ya man” and “No problems”.  It was this journey that reassured me that booking an excursion had been the right decision.  We drove past many homes without proper roofs, burnt out cars and people loitering on street corners.  These sights were punctuated by luxury, gated, all-inclusive resorts in juxtaposition to the real Jamaica going on outside the high walls of the complexes.

Arriving at the river rafting, we were greeted with a complimentary fruit juice and a life jacket and shown to our raft for the journey.  Each bamboo raft seats two passengers and is owned by its raft captain, who builds and maintains the raft.  These rafts have a lifespan of around four months.  They are the Jamaican equivalent of a Venetian gondola.

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The Martha Brae rafting was so tranquil and relaxing.  The light shone through the bamboo trees, which lined the river and creaked faintly in the breeze as we snaked our way along the river for an hour and a half.

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On the way we passed a few vendors on the river bank selling t-shirts, artwork, carvings, towels and beer.  Once we said “No thank you” they didn’t hassle us any further and wished us a good day.  There was only one vendor we bought from and we had to give him top marks for his sale technique.  This involved him throwing his miniature bamboo raft model into the water next to us.  We picked it up for closer inspection and he shouted “$5!”.  “But how do we pay?” I shouted back, still drifting down the river away from him and with that he waded into the waist-deep water to collect his money.  When we returned to the tour bus it was apparent that almost everyone had bought one of his miniature bamboo rafts!

The rafting was an excellent excursion choice, it certainly lived up to my expectations and I would definitely recommend this for a half day excursion whilst in port.

What else can I do?

On the return journey to the cruise port. the tour stopped at the Shoppes at Rose Hall – a lot of cruise excursions stop here.  There were a lot of souvenir and jewellery shops in a pleasant setting and if you want to grab some souvenirs quickly, this may not be the cheapest but it will save you time – our tour guide gave us 15 minutes to explore!  We opted for window shopping before discovering a guy fresh coconut water, served straight from the coconut, only a straw needed!

Once back at the cruise port there are a number of options available to maximise your time in Jamaica for the afternoon.  Why not try one of the following:

Food: Go for a late lunch at Margharitaville’s rooftop terrace and enjoy beautiful sea views, and remember it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!  Thrill-seekers can take the 120ft water slide from the terrace into the sea.  Margharitaville, Gloucester Ave (Hip Strip), Montego Bay is a 10 minute taxi ride from just outside the cruise terminal.

Top food recommendation: try a Jamaican Patty, which can be purchased from one of the kiosks immediately outside the cruise terminal building.  Delicious snack!

Beaches: Visit one of the stunning beaches near the cruise port such as Doctor’s Cave Beach.  It’s $4 per person by taxi and $6 entry, you can also rent chairs and umbrellas for $6 each.

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Other options

Although we chose the Martha Brae river rafting, our friends decided to visit Rose Hall and go horseback riding, which includes a sea swim on the horses.  Both groups of friends enjoyed their respective excursions so I would not hesitate to go with their recommendations for my next trip to Montego Bay.

Most importantly, make the most of your time in Montego Bay, whatever your plans may be.

 

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Visiting Pearl Harbor, Oahu

December 7th, 2016 commemorated 75 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor.  National Pearl Harbor Rememberance Day was an opportunity to honour the sacrifice and dedication by those involved in this tragedy, which thrust America into World War II.

We visited Honolulu last October and there was only one place that we had to go to whilst we were there – Pearl Harbor.

Firstly, before you go, don’t feel that you have to use the official cruise excursions to make your trip to Pearl Harbor.  We found that this was a really popular excursion that had sold out before the cruise so with a bit of research we were able to book advanced tickets independently at a fraction of the price with US Parks and Recreation.  These tickets can be booked up to two months in advance.

Tickets for the USS ARIZONA Memorial are free with just a $1.50 booking fee, which is well worth it as you can book a time slot.  We booked a morning slot, which was fortunate as the time slots in the afternoon were cancelled due to high winds. The boat that transports passengers over to the Memorial will not operate if weather conditions are not safe.

We opted to get the Passport to Pearl Harbor tickets which included entry to the USS ARIZONA Memorial, USS BOWFIN, BIG MO and the Pacific Aviation Museum for $65 each.  If you choose this package, plan to be there for the whole day.

On the day we came into port in Honolulu we got off the ship early and caught a taxi outside the cruise terminal with ease, costing us around $25, which took around 20 minutes. Pearl Harbor was quiet at this time, before the cruise excursions and tourists arrived and we quickly visited the information desk where we were handed our tickets and earphones.

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Above: cruise port at Honolulu

The USS ARIZONA Memorial is definitely worth the experience, it was very interesting and a poignant tribute to the those who lost their lives.  The Memorial has the names of all those who died and the atmosphere is respectfully quiet.  If you look into the water, you can still see the oil forming on the surface from the USS ARIZONA, 75 years on.

Pearl Harbor is a must for anyone visiting Oahu, for those of you who just want to visit the USS ARIZONA Memorial, you can do this in half a day, leaving the rest of the day to explore Honolulu and visit the iconic Waikiki Beach but we opted to spend the majority of the day visiting all of the sites, still leaving a few hours to hot foot it over to the beach.

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Princess Cruises offered daily lectures on sea days on our way to Hawaii, which allowed us to learn more about the Pearl Harbor attack from experts, before visiting.  For someone who didn’t know a lot about Pearl Harbor before the cruise, these lectures really helped put things into perspective during our visit.

 

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Cruising from San Francisco

Waiting to board your cruise ship is so exciting, if you have some time to spare before you board, why not make the most of your time in San Francisco and start your holiday early?

Last year we started our cruise from San Francisco, a popular port for many cruises to start from, in particular those going to Alaska, Hawaii and Mexico, with around 80 cruise calls each year.

From the airport you’re looking at around a 45 minute drive to Pier 27 on the Embarcadero, be aware that traffic can get pretty bad along this road so make sure you leave plenty of time to arrive.  We did… we had no other choice, our internal flight from Las Vegas was early in the morning, like, 6.00am in the morning, which meant that our airport transfer picked us up at the airport and we were dropped off and stood waiting to board with all of our luggage by 8.15am.  We stood and watched the passengers from the previous cruise disembarking, which was fun – I love people watching but after a while we started to get a bit hungry and decided that we needed to get some breakfast.

We spotted another English couple who had been on our flight stood nearby waiting also, so we struck up a conversation with them to try and devise a plan to get breakfast.   Our predicament was that we had all of our luggage with us and there was nowhere nearby that was serving food.  In the meantime I was also speaking to my Mum who was back in England.  She got straight on Google Maps and started looking to find nearby places to eat (in hindsight we should have done our homework before we got there – thanks Mum!).  So with our new friends looking after our luggage, we headed off in search of breakfast.

The first place we came across was called the Pier 23 Café but it was closed (we found out later that it opened at 10.00am) so we crossed the Embarcadero and found a lovely little place called the Blue Barn Café  a few streets away that made delicious sausage and egg rolls, made to order.  We headed back to Pier 27 with sausage and egg rolls, one in each hand, for our new friends looking after our luggage, feeling triumphant that we had found something to eat.

Depending on when you arrive at Pier 27 (or Pier 35 on days when there are multiple cruise ships docked), you may not have to wait as long as we did.  Perhaps consider staying somewhere the night before and take advantage of a late check-out?  This would allow you time for a leisurely breakfast and the chance to take a stroll down to Fisherman’s Wharf, without being lumbered with all of your cruise luggage.  We were fortunate enough to spend two days in San Francisco after disembarkation and so we were able to do some sightseeing at the other end of our holiday.  It’s such a great city it would be a shame to fly in and out without stopping to experience what it has to offer.

If there is anything I’ve learnt from this, it’s to make sure that I do my research on facilities around the cruise port in advance – toilets, restaurants etc. and to make the most of our time, before and after the cruise, to maximise our holiday.

 

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