12 Ways to Make Your Cruise a Success

Now, I get it.  Before our October cruise, I was nearly anti-cruise.  I like the freedom of going where I want, when I want, to where ever I want.  But, post-cruise, I’ve changed my tune.  On our Carnival family cruise from Galveston to Cozumel and Progresso, Mexico, none of us had to think about, nor plan, where, what, or when we did anything on our vacation.

There was plenty of options to hold our crew’s attention.  The teenager met up with other 13 year-olds.  Who are still sending Snapchats and text, post-cruise. The elementary kids played in the pool, ate ice cream on-demand, and watched movies under a harvest moon.  The ship’s magician entertained the two youngest (9 &11) during their French toast breakfast one morning. We adults drank, laid in the sun, people watched and took in the beautiful views of the Gulf.  At night we all sang karaoke, watched comedy, sang along at the piano bar, played trivia, and some of us even played a little B-I-N-G-O.

As wonderful as it was, there are things we’d wished we’d known before sailing out of Texas.  To make sure your next cruise is a success, consider this:

  1. Consider making a parking reservation. You can also hire a van or towncar from Houston to Galveston.  Our seasoned cruising friend, Rhonda, recommends Limos.com. They rent a Suburban that drops you off and picks you up right at the dock.  If you take that route, she recommends setting your pick up time a little later than you think you’ll need to avoid their hefty “wait” fee.  We opted to rent a car, so we could layover a few days in Galveston.  If you are arriving late in the day, I’d especially recommend reservations.  We parked at Dolphin on 81st.  They were friendly and safe.  Expect to pay $45 for uncovered parking.
  1. Bring beer koozies. There is nothing worse than a sweaty beer.
  1. Book your excursions before you cruise. We bought our cruise through Costco; $1,227 per adult and $197per child. We booked a suite, with plenty of room for four. Through their relationship with Costco, we booked our excursions with Shore Excursions.  Because we weren’t on the Carnival excursions, we didn’t have hardly anyone else on our trips. We booked a glass-bottom boat snorkeling trip out of Cozumel.  There were only 10 of us on the trip.  In two hours, we snorkeled three locations in that amazingly clear Cozumel water.  The first stop was full of tropical fish.  They all swam at different elevations.  The second stop was full of coral: fan, black, and others that my untrained eye couldn’t identify.  The third stop showed off the white, white sand.  We were in 40’ water, and you could see the bottom. In Progresso, we visited the Mayan’s Xcampo site on a semi-private tour.  It was only our group of eight on the tour.  Our guide shared details on how the Mayan’s still use the site today for their May ceremony and gave us a complete history on the excavation and ties to the Spanish explorers.  After a hot day of exploring the ruins, we finished our excursion at a hotel resort, Technotel, eating fresh fajitas and swimming in the Gulf. The excursions were reasonable priced:  $54 for the snorkeling (plus a $16 each way taxi ride) and $69 for the Mayan tour and inclusive resort respite.

Our snorkel guide took some great pics, worthy of their own post. Click here to see the Cozumel Barrier Reef.

Xcampo Mayan ruin
Xcampo Mayan ruin
  1. Order chocolate molten cake every chance you get. Enough said.
  1. Pack lotion, extra sunscreen, and your own shampoo and conditioner. We had a big, expansive suite (considering that you are on a ship, our room was huge). Our steward, Ivan, was wonderful and took care of all our needs.  But, there was only crappy shampoo and no lotion offered.  Despite being in 80% humidity, we all desperately wanted lotion for our sun-baked skin.  We also burned through an entire bottle of sunscreen in four days.  Buying sunscreen on the boat or at port was outrageous – $28/bottle.  So, pack extra.
  1. Get on the ship early. Extend your vacation by boarding as early as you can the day you sail.
  1. Book the steakhouse, at least once. The dinner service on Carnival is good, but not great.  My husband and I cruised to Alaska a few years ago on Celebrity.  Their food, and their service was five-star.  This was closer to three-star.  The steakhouse, was well worth the upgrade.  The food was deliciously prepared and the service was more up-scale.  You are on vacation, splurge!  We ate beef carpaccio, mushroom cappuccino soup, surf n’ turf.  The desserts were amazing.  Most fun part of our night at the steakhouse was watching an engagement proposal.  She said Yes!
  1. Carry a sweater to dinner. Cruising in October, the temperature drops at sunset. But, they don’t turn down the air conditioning inside the ship. With a sweater, you’ll be able to enjoy your El Diablo drink without complaint.
The Gulf of Mexico at Sunset
The Gulf of Mexico at Sunset
  1. Pick a lounge chair off the beaten path. Find your lounge-y spot off in an area that doesn’t lead to the kid’s area or their waterslide.
  1. Carry on a bottle of wine for dinner. Thanks to weird Texas laws, you cannot take advantage of the on-board pre-paid drinks program until day two, when you are out at sea. So, pay the $15 corkage fee and enjoy your carry on wine the first night.
  1. Bring a lanyard. Unless your kids’ swimsuit includes pockets, it will be way easier to have them wear their keycard/drink card around their neck. We had to buy the $7 Carnival lanyards.  Don’t be like us.
  1. Don’t buy bottled water at the first shop you hit when going to port. You’ll pay $8 for a half liter vs $6 for a full liter 100 yards further off the ship.

Can’t believe I’m saying this.  I was such a skeptic.  We all had a fabulous time, and we can’t wait to go again.

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View from the balcony. Carnival Liberty
View from our balcony before sailing out of Galveston. Pelican Island and the oil rigs in the background.

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