In the last post I shared all the adventures of our seven day western Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Dream. Today I want to share some of the behind the scenes stuff. Things like packing for the cruise, booking tours, money and expenses, and some other random details.
Packing for a Cruise
Let’s start with packing. I read somewhere that most people over pack for a cruise. I think most people actually over pack for most every trip, not just cruises. This used to be the case for us too.
I grew up with the mindset that I had to be prepared for anything, and I packed like I needed to be prepared for anything. That included lots of extra clothing and various other odds and ends that I should bring “just in case.” Our typical luggage included a small roller suitcase, two huge duffle bags, and a bag for shower items. The bags were so heavy it was a major effort to lug them around.
That all changed a few years ago when we started looking at being more minimalist. We experimented with a long weekend away and packing just a single backpack for each of us. The freedom and ease that came with packing light forever changed the way we packed for trips.
There is one problem with packing for cruises. That problem is the variety of clothing required for a cruise. You’ll need warm weather clothing like shorts and t-shirts, you’ll need swimwear, you’ll need dinner wear, and maybe some stuff for your excursions.
We managed to pack most of our clothes and our shower stuff into one backpack each. That’s the same we normally do. We use travel size containers of shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and shaving cream. Since I minimized my wardrobe, I didn’t even have seven days worth of clothing, so I packed 5 t-shirts and 3 pairs of shorts and did laundry half way through the cruise. Even that turned out to be overpacking, as I only wore one pair of shorts for the entire cruise. Part of the time I wore bathing suites instead of shorts, and the other days I just wore the same shorts over again. I did need a fresh shirt every day as they got stinky from sweat.
Dream and Faith both managed to pack enough for the entire seven days without doing laundry.
The problem we had was dinner wear and snorkel gear. The cruise had two formal nights, so I brought my suit and two dress shirts and Dream and Faith each brought two dresses. Of course we all had to have appropriate shoes for these nights as well. This meant we had to bring a whole suitcase just to hold our formal dinner wear.
We also had a duffle bag full of our snorkel gear. This was a trade off, as we could either rent snorkel gear or bring our own. Renting meant crappy equipment and added cost. Bringing our own meant better equipment, lower cost, but more to carry. We opted to carry more, but after doing it, we’re thinking about leaving the flippers at home next time and just bringing the mask and snorkels.
For a long cruise, bring enough for half and do laundry half way through. It lets you pack a lot lighter. You’ll need a clean shirt every day, but shorts can be worn for multiple days.
I’m not sure what to recommend for formal wear. It’s fun to dress up, but that dressing up required us to bring an extra suitcase.
Late dining vs early dining
We always favored late dining. Somewhere along the line we heard that’s what all the cool kids were doing. We were also night owls and preferred staying up late. Things changed sometime in our thirties. Maybe having a child helped change that. On our most recent cruise, we chose late dining and towards the end we wished we would have picked the early dining.
Here are the things that are affected by your choice of late or early dining.
- How much time you have to get ready and rest up after an all day shore excursion. Late dining gives you more time, but I think we would have been fine had we chosen early dining.
- Many of the good shows and activities occur after dinner. The big shows usually happened after dinner, and after a long day, we were often too tired to make it after the late dinner.
If you are a night owl and don’t have kids, then the late dinner is best. If you have kids or like to turn in early, then the early dinner is best.
Another option that I didn’t realize was an option was open seating dinner, where you could eat any time between certain hours. Carnival had this option, but Disney did not. We might check it out on our next Carnival cruise.
Disney vs. Carnival
We really enjoyed our trips on both cruise lines. Carnival is less expensive than Disney, but in a way you get what you pay for. Here are some examples of some differences.
- The buffet dining on Disney was better. When we got on the ship they had lots of seafood, including crab legs. Carnival had more standard buffet items like you might find at a mid tier buffet restaurant.
- The staff on Disney was just a little bit better. They were more friendly and made us feel special. On Carnival our dining staff made us feel this way, but most of the other staff did not.
- We liked the dining better on Disney. On the three night cruise we took, they had three different themed dining rooms and we ate in a different one each night. Carnival has one big dining room and you are in the same place each night.
- We like the music better on Carnival. The Disney ship played Disney music the entire time. We liked the party music on the deck of Carnival better.
- The Disney ship had a movie theater, and that was pretty cool. They were playing the latest movies from Disney’s studios.
- The kids club was better on Disney. They had a much larger space and it may be obvious, but they had more kids.
- The mixed drinks were much stronger on Carnival. The ones on Disney had no kick at all.
So Disney sounds great, right? It is, but it’s so much more expensive, that we wouldn’t choose it every time. We spent more on our three day cruise Disney than we did for an entire week on Carnival. Carnival isn’t quite as good, but it’s still really good. My biggest requirement for any where I stay is cleanliness, and both Disney and Carnival are top notch in keeping the rooms and common areas clean.
Motion of the ship
We noticed more motion on our seven day cruise than we had on any of our other cruises. We noticed that when the ship was moving faster it seemed to rock more. It rocked front to back rather than side to side. We were also in the very front of the ship. I think next time we’ll try to get nearer to the center.
I think all cruise lines have great shows. We have enjoyed every show we’ve seen on a cruise ship.
On our recent cruise, we noticed a huge emphasis on shopping. They had shopping info on the TV, half of the daily newsletter was full of on-ship shopping and sales. I would have preferred to see more useful information in the daily newsletters. They had some time of shopping show on the ship every day. Every port we entered had a shopping mall that we had to walk through to get through the port. Most vendors weren’t too pushy, but it was annoying to have to walk through all that retail before starting our daily excursions.
What you pay for on the ship
Many things are included in the price of the cruise. All the meals are included. There are some special dining options that you can pay extra for, but you can get all your meals for no extra charge. On Carnival, the drinks included are water, tea, and lemonade. On Disney they also included sodas, whereas on Carnival you had to pay extra for soda. Alcoholic beverages were an extra charge on both cruise lines. All the shows are included as are many activities. Kids club was included until night time. At night there was a babysitting fee.
Tours on-ship booking vs. private booking
Ship tours are really expensive. The benefit is that it’s easy, doesn’t take much research, and you meet up either on the ship or inside the port area. Private tours are less expensive, but you typically have to walk outside the port gates to meet the tour.
We booked private tours on our latest cruise before we left. We found all our tour companies by reading the posts on the Cruise Critic forum. They were much cheaper and we enjoyed all our tours. Meeting outside the gates wasn’t a big deal. We just walked through the port malls and the headed out the gates.
One thing we didn’t think about ahead of time is that you will need to tip your tour guides. That cost us a bit extra that we hadn’t originally planned for.
That’s it for our behind the scenes coverage. If you have any questions about cruising, you can ask in the comments section.