I decided I wanted to go on a cruise.  I wanted to go on a great big shiny ship where people brought me things anticipating my needs and wants, where I could eat as much indulgent food as I want, and where I would be gently rocked to sleep every night by the ocean waves as we traveled port to port.

A number of people said things like, “Paul, you are all into your adventure travel like Laos and Vanuatu and Botswana and National Parks.  You’ll be bored on a cruise ship.”

Oh naysayers I was never once bored and loved everything about a cruise.  The amazement of these huge cities at sea and everything about them still shines fresh with me. With that, I begin a short series written by an inexperienced cruiser (which is me) about my cruise ship experience.  And what a wonderful experience it was.

Why go on a cruise ship?

As a novice cruiser, here are my thoughts on why go on a cruise.  I know there are some frequent cruisers who follow this blog, and I would be curious your thoughts.

In my homework I realized that different cruise lines emphasize different things.  I chose an Alaska cruise on Celebrity Cruise Line (Celebrity Solstice) round-trip from Seattle.  Upon reflection, here is what I most liked about the cruise.:

  • It is so relaxing.   You can just sit there and people bring you things….hot towels, cold towels, sorbet, drinks, periodicals, snacks.
  • Waking up every morning in new ports, or better yet with the wide open ocean around you.
skagway alaska
Waking up in the 6 am hour and look outside on your own private balcony at another beautiful port.
  • Being rocked to sleep at night by the ocean waves.
  • Meeting new people and making new friends (if you want to).
  • There is always something to do.  Or not, depending on your mood.
a cappella
Music was abundant throughout the ship and the musicianship and entertainment value were very high.

Pick your cruise wisely!

I did my homework and was glad I did.  Here are 6 things that I was told to consider and yes they are all important.

Do you easily get seasick?   “Easily” is a subjective word.  If you are really bad, you can probably stop reading this post and maybe go to an all inclusive resort.  If you are moderate, factors such as ship size, cabin location, and route will come into play to minimize sea sickness.  Maybe try a 2 night “cruise to no where” if you are not sure.

How much money are you willing to spend?  Prices vary wildly, and you get what you pay for in many cases.  I am a huge advocate of spending within your means, so be realistic and don’t forget things like the cost of getting to the port, port excursions,  and alcohol.

Where do you want to go?  Where do you want to leave from?  One way or round trip?    Ships go pretty much anywhere these days and leave from a great many ports.

celebrity solstice glacier
Cruising Tracy Arm Fjord in Alaska with a glacier in the background.  A fascinating naturalist named Brent Nixon gave enriching commentary throughout the cruise.
celebrity solstice solarium
Even if you go to a cold weather destination, many of the cruise lines offer a large heated indoor solarium

What size ship do you want?  General rule of thumb: the smaller the ship the more intimate and elegant the experience, but the more costly too.  The larger the ship, the more extreme activities on board.

Celebrity Solstice Arrium
A few decks of the central atrium on this large ship.  One level had a library, another a game room.

How long of a cruise?  Cruises range from as short as 3 or 4 nights to over 100 nights going around the world.

Which cruise line is right for you?  The features and highlights of the cruise line vary quite a lot.  See below for some thoughts on common cruise carriers that leave from US ports.

There are the mainstream lines and high-end small-ship lines.   If your answer to ‘How much money are you willing to spend?’ is $10,000 a person or more, by all means go with the high-end small-ships.  Otherwise you probably want to pick a mainstream line.

Reviewing a bunch of blogs for the lines common in the United States, this is the conclusion I have come to:

  • Carnival – Its about the fun
  • Celebrity – Its about the food and drink, but with more of an urban edge
  • Disney – Its the Disney experience at sea, especially good for families with kids
  • Norwegian – Its about their “Free-style cruising”
  • Princess – Its about the food and drink, keeping it more traditional
  • Royal Caribbean – Its about gigantic ships full of cool and extreme features

For us, food was a big determining factor in picking Celebrity and we were enthusiastically pleased.

Beef Wellington
Beef Wellington
Filleting dover sole
“I would be delighted to filet your Dover Sole for you tableside.”
Celebrity Solstice Breakfast Buffet
Keeping it healthy but tasty from the breakfast buffet


Cruise Ship Considerations

Once you pick you cruise line, itinerary, and dates, there are a few other things to think about:

What kind of cabin do you want?  For me personally, a cabin with a balcony is a must.  To feel the ocean breeze come in the cabin every night, to have room service breakfast every morning, to enjoy a glass of wine with someone in private watching the ocean flow by, it is worth the extra money.

celebrity solstice veranda cabin
Veranda Cabin.  I had my own private deck overlooking the ocean and ports.

Other people may be fine with a window to the outside (Oceanview), and some are OK with an inside stateroom (I would get claustrophobic).  Still other must have a suite and everything that comes with it.

When should you arrive at the port?  If the port requires a flight, I am a huge advocate of arriving the day before just in case.  I know a couple from Pittsburgh who went on a February Caribbean cruise.  There departure date was the same day Pittsburgh was getting clobbered by a snow storm.  They made the cruise by leaving in a hurry without a hotel the day before – should have just planned on it.

Should you pre-purchase anything like a beverage package?  On the cruise lines I listed above, drinks are included except soda and alcohol.  If you plan to drink a lot of soda and/or alcohol it is probably worth buying a package.  With alcohol they have the basic package (that is well drinks) and the premium package  (call brands).

Celebrity Solstice to Alaska

Using my own criteria, we picked an Alaska Sailing on the Celebrity Solstice, and picked dates where we traveled over the summer solstice.  The Celebrity Solstice holds 2850 passengers and is a 122,000 ton ship making it a large ship.  We all chose staterooms with balconies, mine in the center of the ship and everyone else’s in the rear of the ship.

I will be beginning a series about our cruise experience. Like I mentioned, Celebrity is known for food and drink, so that will be an emphasis of the posts.  I will probably write about:

  • Food on a cruise ship
  • Drinking on a cruise ship
  • Food on a cruise ship – behind the scenes
  • Highlights of the Celebrity Solstice Cruise ship
  • Activities on the cruise ship
  • Ports

Enjoy dreaming of a cruise if you think you would love it as much as I did.

Comments are encouraged.  Thank you for reading.