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Dan and I just got back from our first cruise! We had a great time on our 7-day trip out of Galveston, TX, porting in Roatán, Costa Maya Mexico and Cozumel. Seeing as it was our first cruise, it was very different from how we usually travel. So if you’re considering going on a cruise, this post is for you. Or, if you’ve been on a cruise, how does our experience compare to yours? Sound off in the comments!
Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Costa

Benefits to Cruising

Dan and I travel quite a bit. We really like to engulf ourselves in new places and really experience the food, culture, and sites. Since the majority of time on a cruise is spent on the ship, this type of travel is a bit different. From our experience, here are some reasons you might consider booking that trip.

First, cruises are a very cost-effective way to travel if you find a good deal. With food, lodging and most transportation included, it’s really simple from a planning perspective. Being able to come back to the same room every night meant no repacking and unpacking throughout the trip.

Packing for the cruise itself was less stressful as well. Since we didn’t have to go through airport security, we packed 2 full-size suitcases, a carry-on, and a few smaller bags for port days.

Planning a cruise is very easy to plan.  This is one of the main reasons we took a cruise. We were pretty busy but knew we wanted to take a trip. Since you only have to plan your port day activities before you go, the time it takes to plan a cruise is minimal.

Most of all, cruises are ultra relaxing. With beautiful views, amazing onboard amenities, and no internet access, we were able to completely unplug and get a real vacation in. (No post-trip exhaustion!)

Things to Consider Before Booking a Cruise

There were some parts of the trip that might be of note if you’re not sure a cruise is right for you.

Seeing the Sights

Cruising is not a great way to explore new cultures and places. Cruising is basically an extended boat trip where you get off for a few hours every few days. We didn’t mind this, and as I mentioned above, it’s very relaxing. But in most cases, we were left wanting to see more of the ports than we were able to. This is probably why the majority of veteran cruisers we met don’t even bother getting off the boat on port days.Image

Rooms

We stayed in a lower-tier room, cost-wise. This meant the room had no windows or a balcony. We were cautioned with horror stories about our decision before we left, so I was worried how I would enjoy it. But to be honest, we didn’t mind it at all. Because we were towards the middle of the ship we didn’t really experience much rocking, and the fact that the room was completely dark at night led to some great quality sleeping.

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Additionally, we were able to get a room on a higher deck that put us close to everything. One heads up though, our beds were particularly hard, and I heard that some of the more expensive rooms had upgraded beds.

Demographics

The demographic of our ship was heavily in the 80-and-older category. Cruises are a fabulous way for older people to travel since they’re so relaxed and accommodating. One couple we met had been on almost 50 cruises, but most we met had been on at least 25.

We found this to be delightful and absolutely loved getting to know everyone. However, it heavily influenced the entertainment on board. The headlining comedian on our ship told so many “young people today are so stupid” jokes. It was actually entertaining watching the older people crack up laughing, but we eventually decided to spend our time elsewhere.

I imagine there are other ships with different demographics – a Disney cruise would attract families, and shorter weekend cruises may attract more of the partying crowd. The older demographic was perfect for us since we’re not partiers, we don’t have kids, and it meant most of the water attractions were never busy.

Tips

Research Your Ship

Your ship’s amenities can have an impact on how much you enjoy your cruise. When we were looking at cruises, we realized the shorter cruises had smaller ships. This meant fewer water slides, a small gym and fewer pools. We were attracted to the Liberty of the Sea because of the adult pool area, water slides, gym, dining options and most importantly for Dan, the Flowrider.

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Drinking Water

We packed 24 bottles of water in our luggage since we weren’t sure the water situation on board, and I’m glad we did. The ship charged $5 a bottle, though all of our excursions handed them out for free. There was plenty of water available in restaurants and poolside, just not for taking on the go.

Bring a Lanyard

A smart way to keep track of your room key is to put it on a lanyard. When you check in, they’ll issue your card and can punch a hole in it for you. You can then buy branded or sparkly lanyards to carry it on. Next time, we’ll bring a lanyard from home, so we don’t have to carry the card in our pockets or shell out $20 for a rhinestone-studded lanyard we’ll never use again.

Pack a Fan

Dan and I are light sleepers. At home, we sleep with a fan on to help moderate temperature and for a bit of white noise. We brought a small fan on board, which was really nice. That being said, the rooms were pretty quiet on their own.

Consider Time of Year

We chose a 7-day cruise during the shoulder season. Not as many children are able to get off 5 full days of school in February and March, which is probably why the majority of our cruise catered to an older demographic.

Don’t Worry So Much About What To Wear

As we were packing for the cruise, I was really daunted by all the different dress codes I was expected to be prepared for; “casual,” “smart casual” and “formal.” Just how formal is formal? What does “smart casual” mean? Luckily, the internet is full of information about what each of these mean for different cruise lines. Since we didn’t have to limit our baggage, I packed 3 dressed that could pass for Royal Caribbean’s Formal Night standards.

We quickly realized once on board that these dress codes are to be taken very loosely. Some people were in tuxes and ball gowns, but the majority of women wore cocktail dresses or dress pants. No one was turned away and no one really cared if you walked in wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

I only ended up wearing 4 types of shoes: flip flops for poolside, heels for formal night, sneakers for the gym and excursions, and a pair of slip-ons for walking around the ship.

Dan had one pair of vans, dress shoes and flip flops for his feet with t-shirts, polos and a suit.  He mostly wore anything with a collar to dinner and pants until later in the cruise he wore shorts one night and did not feel out of place.

Plan for Sea Sickness

Though our ship was actually fairly steady and we didn’t have any sea sickness issues, we came prepared. Since Dan has had issues with seasickness in the past, we purchased every kind of medication we could find, drowsy, non-drowsy, chewable, an oil to put behind our ear, and bracelets that push on pressure points. We used everything but the bracelets whenever there was a bit of turbulence and never had a problem. You don’t want to be caught on a rocky ship when they run out of supplies on deck!

Prebooking Cruise Amenities

Leading up the cruise, we were sent regular emails asking us to book services available onboard.  There were promises of discounts compared to prices on board, but I found the pricing online confusing so we only booked one reservation at for “half off” dining the first night of the cruise.

I was a little worried our options would be limited and prices would go up once we got on board, but that was not an issue.  First, our half-off dinning was not really half off so we canceled that. The spa treatments were always available and the pricing was fixed on board where it varied online based on when you booked your appointment.  A few things were actually more expensive online than onboard, so feel free to wait till you get onboard to book anything.

Booking Excursions

As you plan your trip you have to decide to book excursions through your cruise or with a local tour company.  If you book with your cruise you will pay more, but it will be stress-free when you get to the port.  The ship makes it very easy to find your tour group and you won’t have to walk much.

If you book with an independent tour company, you will need to do your own research, find your tour operator at the port and likely have to walk further to get to them. The big difference is you will save money booking your tours independently of your cruise.

One Last First Timer Heads Up

On your first day on-ship, there will be a mandatory safety training. Ours was loud and chaotic. The stress was mostly due to the large crowds of people trying to get to their assigned location, not to mention the instruction speakers on board were set to full volume. Based off that experience alone I was worried I’d hate the rest of the cruise, but am happy to report that once that was over, the rest of the trip was smooth sailing

About Our Cruise

The Liberty of the Sea was, at its creation in 2006, the largest ship available. It had so many activities for us to choose from. There were 3 water slides (we rode the boomerang-style tube slide multiple times each day!). Dan enjoyed the flow rider, and we both tried the rock climbing wall. There was a large kid-specific water area, a general use pool, and an adult-only pool. With so much to do, we were always eager to get up and out in the morning!
Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Sea Pools
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Our ship had a great gym with lots of cardio and weight equipment. Each morning, I took a 2-mile run on the outdoor track overlooking the ocean, which was lovely. The ship offered fitness classes for an additional charge. There was also a nice day spa and sauna.

Tip: Don’t waste your time on the giveaways. Our first day on the ship, we entered a drawing to win $500 of spa credit. We soon learned that to win you had to attend an hour-long seminar and then stay present for the drawing. With so many other great things to explore on the trip, we decided it wasn’t worth it to stick around. There were also advertisements to win another cruise. We found out this was done by winning a specific round of bingo. Buy-in started at $30 and by this time, knowing the demographics of the ship, we knew this wasn’t our game.

Meals on the ship are generally included with the cost of the cruise, but you can pay extra for specific restaurants on board. We also packed our own snacks and water bottles. I’m very glad we did on both counts! Water was readily available on the ship but only in cup form, so it was nice to have bottles to carry around. And you can never have enough snacks. Desserts on the ship were great but usually on the richer side, so when we had a hankering for sour gummy worms we were prepared.

Most mornings we had breakfast in the Windjammer, the buffet-style cafeteria. That way we weren’t waiting for service and could get on with our daily activities. The food quality wasn’t quite as high as dinner but still pretty good. Each morning, I had a fried egg or custom omelet, potatoes, fruit, and a bran muffin. We avoided the juices since they tended to be very watered down.

For our first lunch on board, we paid a bit more to eat at a steak house called Chops. We had some of our best dishes of the trip at that restaurant, and since lunch was half the price of dinner at that restaurant, it was a great deal. We ate our other lunches in the general dining room. This was when we got to meet some other really great (generally much older) couples. One lunch, we sat with 2 couples where the men were 90 years old, one a WWII vet!

For dinner, we chose flex dining, which means we could eat dinner whenever we wanted. At first, we made day-of reservations but soon learned that we never waited longer than 15 minutes just showing up and asking for a table. The dinner menu was always good. Each menu included several appetizers, entrees, and desserts. The portion sizes were smaller than at a regular restaurant so we didn’t feel bad ordering as many of each as we wanted! I had one of the best plates of lasagna I’ve ever eaten, and we usually topped off the night with at least 2 desserts. When that wasn’t enough, we found the Ben & Jerrys shop and paid a little extra for a scoop.

Roatán, Honduras

Couple in Roatán Honduras Beach

Our first port stop was a little island called Roatán, the least developed of the 3 ports we visited. Everyone we met was very kind, professional, and accommodating, including our driver, Eric. Eric showed us around town on the Best of Roatan tour, sharing a bit about life on the island. We stopped a few times, once at a great souvenir shop with goods made by locals, and another time for a great view of the bay. Finally, we made it to the zip line facility.

Roatán Honduras Zipline Bridge Crossing

The team at Zipline Tour Roatán provided an incredible experience. After we had gotten comfortable on a few legs of the zip line, they helped us more adventurous folk to do a “superman” pose or even zipline upside-down! On one of the last legs, they let Dan and I go at the same time. It was these extra efforts that really made this zip line experience stand out from others. We had a great time!

Capuchin Monkey on shoulder in Roatán Honduras

Sloth in Roatán Honduras

At the end of the tour, they let us hold a sloth! I thought my heart was going to burst. We also got to hold monkeys and toucans.
Eric found us again and drove us to a beach for some rest and relaxation. We ordered some food and played in the water a bit. Then we headed back to port with plenty of time to spare.

Costa Maya, Mexico

Having majored in Anthropology in college, one of my dreams was to visit some Mayan ruins. I expected that we would get to the ruins, walk around for 10 minutes, and head back. But our experience was way more than that. Our tour guide was so knowledgeable about Mayan history and culture, I was in heaven. We walked through a number of different sites and structures, lasting around an hour and a half. They provided plenty of water, time for pictures, and the guide let me pick his brain about what we were seeing.

 Costa Maya Chacchoben Mayan Ruins

We had some extra time before we needed to be back on the ship, so we confided in our guide that we wanted to find a beach and some food. He connected us to a driver who, at no charge, dropped us off at an absolutely gorgeous beach, and recommended a great little restaurant where we had some of the best seafood of the trip. We knew this was an additional treat since we overheard other taxi drivers charging tourist $60 for the same service we got for free! Not to worry, we tipped everyone we could. They were all so helpful.

The beach was an absolute dream and we’re all motivated to come back for a longer stay.

Roatán Honduras Beach

Cozumel, Mexico

On our last port day, we went on an ATV tour we booked a tour with This Is Cozumel. This was my first time riding ATVs and was wary considering the stories I’ve heard of people really hurting themselves riding them. Our tour put safety first, and I never felt in danger at all. I had such a great time! I honestly felt like a much safer Indiana Jones. I forgot to bring my sunglasses (don’t forget to bring your sunglasses!) and tour guides lent me a pair of goggles. They also had handkerchiefs for sale, but if you have your own I’d recommend it.

After riding for about 45 minutes, we made our way to a cavern of water. Everyone was invited to take a 25 ft jump into the sulfurous pool. I declined until right before we planned to leave. I looked over the edge of the cliff and suddenly it didn’t seem so scary. Jumping from the cliff was so fun, and the water was great! It was the kind of adventure you only usually see on episodes of The Bachelor.

We drove ATVs back to where we started and were then picked up by drivers and taken to another beach to go snorkeling. As we snorkeled, the guides brought in a bit of fish food so the gorgeous fish surrounded us, as a photographer took under water photos. We never buy souvenir photos but we bought this one. Snorkeling lasted about an hour, and while we had the energy to go longer there wasn’t much left to see.

The guides then invited us to rinse off and take a dip in their gorgeous private pool overlooking the ocean! We ordered quesadillas and chips and guacamole and had the time of our lives recreating some of the onboard performances we saw.

This port day was probably my favorite since it was full of me trying new things (ATVs and jumping into cave water), and pretending to be really wealthy in a private beach-side pool with my friends.

After our last port stop we had one day at sea before getting back to Texas. As we disembarked we had a pleasant surprise as my uncle was the agent who checked us coming back to the USA.