Observations and Tips from a First Time Cruiser

Four passengers set sail that day for a seven day tour…okay, so my 1970s TV show theme rhyming isn’t quite laureate-worthy. But my recollection of my first cruise this past week and the tips and observations I’m about to impart on you, oh wayward blog visitor, are worth continuing.

The inaugural cruise occurred on the Disney Magic, sailing out of Florida’s Port Canaveral with scheduled stops in St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Disney’s private island in the Abaco’s, Castaway Cay.

The highlight of the trip was supposed to be Castaway Cay, however, two unexpected emergency stops to drop off passengers in need of immediate medical assistance and some equally unexpected rough weather kept us from the island. Bummer indeed. It may be the only real area where Disney’s impeccable customer service fell short over the entire week.

If there’s a book on the connection between service and brand, Disney is the only company worth studying. What should be a stressful vacation – close quarters, children, and did I mention close quarters and children? – is anything but. From the first step onto the dock to the last step back onto solid ground, Disney’s cast members not only took care of every single thing, but 99% of the time anticipated it. For example, the waiters grabbed knife and fork and cut up the kids’ dishes every evening so parents could enjoy their meals…and in the case of Tomislav and Lewellen (the dining team with us every breakfast and dinner) they actually fed them their first bite. You will not find a better crew dedicated to making your cruise as perfect as possible. On that, I put my word.

Below, for the benefit of the few readers I have and the almighty Google, are my random observations and tips from a virgin cruiser:

Plan early, plan often. My wife started the booking process at least a year in advance, giving us the opportunity to score an outside room with a veranda. There’s nothing like waking up each morning to sun and sea (or the occasional island), nor nothing like soaking in a sea of stars unimpeded by city lights.

Exercise early, exercise often. You might as well start putting calories in the bank when you start the booking process. You will eat, you will drink…you will pack on pounds.

Food and drink. I expected high gourmet vittles based on the reports I heard from more seasoned cruisers (and by more seasoned I mean those who had gone on at least one cruise). The food was good, but the foodie in me had higher expectations. Not Le Cirque, but not Cancun all-inclusive either. One of the things I enjoyed was the constant changing of menus between restaurants. Definitely an opportunity to try new dishes. Drinks were drinks. That said, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the wine lists at dinner. Good grapes and not overly marked up (seemed to me like roughly 2x).

Entertainment. I’m told other cruises entertain guests with fairly campy shows (although I did hear rumor that one of the other ships in the harbor at St. Thomas had Cirque du Soleil and Blue Man Group on it). On the Magic, we had a different Broadway-level original show each night, plus very funny comedians and other performers. I thought it would get stale, but the entertainment was, well, entertaining.

Excursions. We booked two: a beach day on St. Maarten and a snorkeling catamaran cruise on St. John. I hate feeling like a tourist when I travel, so I’d book separately on a future cruise. That said, the excursions were well managed and painless (and the crew of the Jolly Mon catamaran was a blast).

We’ve booked our second cruise for 2013 already, so, to wrap up, yes, I’d go again (this from someone who steadfastly fought going on a cruise for years). I no longer think of a cruise as a floating hotel; they are more like floating resorts. I’d go with my expectations in check about the food and wearing the Scarlet T every time I stepped off the boat. And I’d exercise more. A lot more.

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