10 Lessons Learned from My First Cruise Vacation

September 1, 2015 Baltimore, MD, USA

I'm back from a much-needed vacation...on my first-ever cruise! Sean and I embarked on the Carnival Pride here in Baltimore for a week of days at sea as well as in Florida and the Bahamas. I'd definitely do it again, and gained some great takeaways for when that happens:

Credit: Carnival Dreams Studio
1. The adults-only deck is more enjoyable later in the day. I have to say, the pools were way smaller than I expected. We tried to stick to the adults-only Serenity deck since we aren't big on crowds...but when there are over 1,000 passengers and the pool capacity is 22....yikes! We skipped the daytime madness and enjoyed the area after 5 pm when most adults were getting ready for dinner.
First day on board...and the only day we snagged one of the four hammocks.
2. Try the ridiculous foods...because you can. I did it guys, I broke my vegetarian streak of 2.5+ years. Since you can order whatever the heck you want and then some, I took advantage of trying some crazier things I normally wouldn't, just to see what they were like: a tiny bite each of alligator fritter, escargot, and frog legs. It's safe to say I won't eat any of them again, but a cruise is the perfect time to try with no risk.
Trying a piece of an Alligator fritter
3. Don't be afraid to ask. I'd read reviews complaining that the beds on board were hard. I didn't stress out since it's a matter of preference...until we slept the first night. Yep, the beds were hard. But, one request to the cabin steward got us memory foam on our mattress the very next evening. It never hurts to ask.

4. If they say you don't need to pack it, you really don't. I'm paranoid and this overpack in preparation of everything. This is my second trip where I was told I didn't need to pack beach towels, which were provided. Both times, I packed one anyway, "just in case." Both times, I totally didn't need to. Lighten up on the luggage. Nobody's lying to you.

5. Paying to skip the lines is probably worth it. The only bummer worse than ending your vacation is waiting to end it. We all sat around in a room waiting to be called to leave the ship (I won't even mention the embarkation line). Carnival has a $50 "faster to the fun" option that gets you express embarkation and debarkation, and I'll happily pay for that next time.

6. Book your own excursions. We booked two excursions ourselves and one through Carnival. Guess which one had us waiting on the ship thinking "we could be on the beach right now?" Yep. On Freeport day, the ship docked at 7 and our excursion didn't leave until 8:30. Bummer. Next time, we'll do it all ourselves (plus, it's so much cheaper! We saved at least $100 by renting a car to go to Disney on Florida day instead of booking the excursion).

7. It will rain, but stick around. It rains every day in Florida. It rains every day in the Islands. It's a fact. Freeport was interrupted pretty quickly by a storm. We were bummed, but we stayed when most passengers opted to leave early...and that's when the fun actually started.
After the storm in Freeport...a much less crowded beach!
8. The best souvenirs are free. We played a ton of trivia games and other activities on the ship (and excursions) throughout the week. Nothing beats the items you won, in our case, three trophies and hat. Not bad.
Cornhole champs!

9. Bring snorkel gear if you're headed to a beach. We stopped at Atlantis one day and the fish swim right along with you...I so badly wished I had a snorkel at that moment. The resort, of course, is happy to price-gouge you to do so, but I passed. Lesson learned for next time.

10. Rum runners totally work. I was given a set of Bibber Buddy Plastic Concealable Flasks to review on Amazon a month or so pre-cruise. We were conservative and just used the two small ones, but Sean was able to get both on board with no problems.
*Bonus lesson: Bahamian drivers are the same (if not worse) than U.S. drivers. Our cab driver both answered his cell phone and read the newspaper while driving us back to the cruise terminal.

 What do you wish you'd known on your first cruise? Never cruised? What's your question?

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