Hacks from a cruising professional.
We love to travel, but we hate to pay baggage fees, wait at airport carousels for bags that may never arrive and we are loathe to drag a massive amount of luggage through small European towns.
“Pack light” they say. Often this is much easier said than done.
I have a couple of secrets that may help. In the past I have been a slave to my suitcases, where my desire to bring my entire wardrobe has won out over my common sense. In the past I wanted to take every outfit that fit, was the right color and could be jammed into my bags. Those days are over.
We have just embarked on a five week holiday. For this vacation we will travel on an eleven night cruise to the Caribbean, then embark on a fourteen day transatlantic cruise that will visit the Canary Islands, Spain, France and end in Italy. Once in Italy we will visit Rome and then take a train to Lake Como. The temperature will likely vary by at least 30 degrees.
How the heck do you pack for all of the different locals? We will be visiting twelve ports and two cities in Italy. We will travel by plane, boat, train and car. That’s a lot of moving around.
On a Viking River Cruise several years ago I spoke to a very seasoned traveler who commented to me that she only took one bag for her cruise which also included several weeks in France following the cruise. She mentioned that she loved the travel cubes that she purchased on Amazon. They kept her organized and allowed for her to pack smarter.
Once home I researched user comments on Amazon for E bags Packing Cubes and the Amazon brand packing cubes. I ordered one set for myself and eventually ordered a set for my husband. I love the bags because they allow me to organize my packing wardrobe and unpacking is even easier because many of my items remain in the mesh bags and are placed into the drawer of wherever I am staying. They’re washable and easily stored in my suitcase when we are not traveling.
For this five week journey I combined two strategies. I utilized the packing cubes from Amazon and I rolled all of my clothes. I also used rubber bands to make my rolled piles fit a bit more into the cubes. Dresses were placed together and rolled into two neat piles. Long sleeve shirts were combined with a couple of sweaters. Short sleeve and t-shirts were combined and rolled into one cube. When all the packing was completed I had packed 9 dresses, 11 shirts, 4 pairs of pants, 4 pairs of shorts, 2 sets of pajamas, 2 pairs of shoes (sandals and a wedge, 11 days worth of undergarments, a couple of socks and a jacket and two swim suits into ONE CARRY-ON AND ONE BACKPACK. Also included in my packing are some basic toiletries, jewelry, and jewelry-making tools such as wire, beads and a small set of pliers.
I began by placing all of the clothes that I wanted to take on my bed. In the end I edited one blouse..
I roll each set of clothing into tight bundles held together with rubber bands.
by the time I was finished everything fit. I then packed my husband’s clothes into his packing cubes and added three shirts and a pair of slacks.
I pack clothes that are relatively light weight, wrinkle free and don’t need dry cleaning. It is necessary to have use of laundry services and or a washing machine. If I get tired of an outfit I make sure it’s expendable on the trip. I wear my sneakers, a jacket and pants on the plane. Books from Amazon are loaded onto the IPad that my husband carries in his backpack along with my camera and a few lenses. Most of our souvenirs are photographs. To view some of the packing cubes follow the link below.
Discover the secrets to a perfect cruise
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I have cruised a variety of ships from the intimate, boutique river cruises to budget friendly cruise ships with many thousands of passengers. We have enjoyed beautiful state rooms with gorgeous balconies and cabins crammed with my husband, me and our three children. On all of the cruises, we had a good time. We laugh now when we think about my youngest “accidentally” stepping on his brother’s face while climbing back into his bunk after a midnight pizza run. But for all of the cruises we have taken, the one constant that seems to hold the key to having a good time is meeting interesting people.
We have been fortunate enough to meet people from around the world. I value the friendships we have made because of these encounters. After meeting several people who had business cards made up just for the purpose of exchanging information with new people, I ordered some. It may seem a bit odd at first, but since it includes information like our email, contact information and blog address it has helped us keep in touch with new friends.
We have just completed our fifteenth cruise and although we’ve made mistakes in the past, we have learned and grown from them.
On our most recent cruise we took a back to back cruise onboard the Celebrity Equinox in the Western and Eastern Caribbean.
Cruising offer some conveniences and benefits over other vacations:
Unpack Once. You settle yourself in your stateroom and you are done for the duration of the cruise.
Visit Beautiful Locations. On port days take a tour and see locals attractions, or stay on board and enjoy the amenities of a relatively empty ship.
Daily Maid Service. Miraculously, when you are away from your room a Room Steward Ninja comes in and tidies everything up. Amazing.
Exceptional Dining. Choices on our cruise ranged from burgers on deck to buffet, and sit down fine dining. By the second day our waiter knew our name and the bread and wine we preferred.
Entertainment. This cruise offered production style shows, jazz ensembles, party bands and “Quiet Disco” where each participants listen to a variety of music genres on color coded headsets and danced to their own beat. This was a real advantage to those of us who are dance impaired.
Pools. Our ship had large family pools, complete with party games and dancing and The Solarium, which was an adult only quiet enclosed pool and jacuzzi
Gyms. The gym offered fitness classes, and a large variety of machines and weights. Now why didn’t I go more?
Spa Services. Everything was offered from massages to Botox.
Casinos. Table games, as well as slot machines were popular. Lottery cards and Bingo were also offered on the ship.
Bars. The Equinox had outside bars at the back of the ship, inside bars for quiet conversation as well as an ice martini bar, complete with flair bartenders. If you choose to drink, it may be a good idea to to check into an all inclusive alcohol packages before you book your cruise.
Otherwise, the cost of your bar bill may overtake the cost of your cruise.
SEVEN SECRETS TO A PERFECT CRUISE
1. Budget Ahead of Time For Your Cruise. Cruising can be a relatively inexpensive way to visit a variety of ports. Look for deals, pick a cruise line and ship that you are comfortable with. Some cruise lines’ loyalty programs offer perks such as early boarding, free laundry, drinks etc. Whenever possible, try to be flexible with your travel dates.
2. Smile and Relax. The entire point of a cruise is to have a good time. When you smile, other people reciprocate. Relax.
3. Participate in Activities That You Might Not Otherwise Engage In. Try something new, take a dance lesson, kiss a stingray, meet the locals, eat something you’ve never tried before.
4. Disconnect From The Outside World. As much as possible try to unplug and not think about your responsibilities outside of the ship. Life will still be there when you get home.
5. Talk To The Person Sitting Next To You. Regardless of whether you are sitting at a bar, a show or the pool ask questions and learn about someone else’s life. You will definitely learn something new, and maybe make a friend.
6. Look Out At The Ocean. It is calming, relaxing and beautiful.
7. Enjoy The Journey. Because that is exactly what this life is, a journey.
Review of Azamara Journey cruise
We enjoy cruising. Really, what’s not to like? You are provided with food, lodging, maid service, entertainment and alcohol and get to visit beautiful spots in the world.
When my children were very young we embarked on several low cost cruises that allowed the five of us stay in the same 120 square foot room. What the heck were we thinking? What parent doesn’t want to get into a closet size room with their spouse and three active children? My kids loved cruising because there was 24 hour pizza, ice cream and a family vacation all rolled into one. But once we went to bed, NO ONE could get up, unless everybody got up. Since there were bunks on top of bunks, I’m pretty sure at least one of my three kids needed to step on another to get in or out of bed.
Things have changed. We’re retired now and our adult children don’t usually cruise with us. When we choose a cruise we look for great itineraries . We found a fabulous itinerary on the Azamara Journey eighteen nights from Singapore to Sydney with stops in Bali, Komodo Northern Australia and The Great Barrier Reef. We had never heard of Azamara before but after some researching, we decided to try this cruiseline owned by Celebrity. Customer ratings were positive so we booked our cruise.
Things Azamara does differently
1. The food was exceptional. Because the kitchen staff is only preparing meals for 600 or so passengers the quality and preparation of the food was spot on. At every meal you can eat at either the Windows Cafe or Discovery dining room. There is not assigned, fixed seating so you have an opportunity to either enjoy your meal as a couple or ask to be placed at a group table.
2. The entertainment was diverse. Guests can enjoy dance lessons, card games, painting, trivia, destination lecturers as well as small and larger scale musical shows. One interesting note about the entertainment was that the Cruise Director, Eric was also an amazing performer. He sang, danced, skated, told jokes and performed in drag on our eighteen day cruise. There is really nothing quite like watching a six foot six performer skate, sing and dance in drag.
3. On every cruise Azamara hosts a White Party where guests and employees alike all dress in white and enjoy a sumptuous lobster barbecue on the deck, complete with drinks, entertainment, line dancing and also a few people in the pool at the end of the night (myself included). The night was a brilliant seventy degrees with clear skies and a full moon.
4. The people that work at Azamara are friendly. Not the fake smile and nod friendly, they are really friendly. From the room steward to the captain everyone greets you on the ship and they will engage you in a conversation. You can’t fake that.
5. Azamara also hosts an AZAMAZING EVENING at one of the ports where locals provide a night of culture and entertainment for the guest. On our night in Cairns we were treated to face painting, dance and music as we learned more of the natives aboriginal culture.
6. Azamara has only two ships, each hold approximately 600 passengers. They are often able to get into much smaller ports than the mega ships. The ships were refurbished recently and are decorated in warm gray hues. They change the itineraries frequently and often stay at a port late or remain overnight. This really allows the opportunity for passengers to spend time enjoying the destinations. For my husband and I, really IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DESTINATIONS.
7. I may be new to Azamara but we are not new to cruising. Azamara does things differently. They use technology throughout their ship, from the USB plugs by the bed lamp to photos from the ship’s photographer that can be viewed on your stateroom television. The same was true for your bill.
8. Azamara Includes the price of your basic alcohol and tipping with the price of your cruise. It makes it so much easier to budget cruise costs this way. You do have the option to buy premium alcohol packages, internet packages as well as dining in the two specialty restaurants.
9. We usually choose an inside stateroom. Basically we would rather spend our travel dollar on more travel rather than on a more expensive cabin. We also were very pleased with our room, the comfortable bedding, linens and the fruit and fresh flowers in our state room daily. Who else does that? Especially for an inside stateroom. Azamara has some terrific common space that made it easier to spend time getting to know new friends.
9. Timing is everything. Our ship, The Journey arrived at our final port of Sydney at sunrise. Passengers were all informed that we would be sailing by the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge as the sun was rising. We were met on the top deck to greet the new day in beautiful Sydney with mimossas and pastries.
We know that we will sail with Azamara again. They are not the cheapest, the largest, the newest, but for our money they are the best. They are a cruiseline with heart.
We have enjoyed a number of cruises and decided to end our trip with a twelve day British Isles cruise on Princess. I think that a cruise vacation is perfect for fun family trips, and it is a great opportunity for diverse friends to enjoy different aspects of their cruise at the same time. We have met some great people on cruises as well. Sharing a meal with others is just a nice way to get to know others.
All large cruise lines seem to offer similar things on their boats. Entertainment in the form of live music, shows, food, art auctions, the sale of jewelry, gambling and some form of passenger competition, whether it be singing, egg drop contests or dance contests and more food and drink.
Tasty desserts on the ship
The great thing about a cruise is that there are very different levels of fitness onboard. I see the passengers hitting the gym each morning or running up on deck as well as those who are unable to walk but can participate in a lot of activities. For me it is a reminder that as long as my body will allow me, it is my obligation to stay fit. But I did not go to the gym, just the stairs and lots of walking in the ports.
When we’re on a cruise we generally eat too much but do try to walk and climb stairs all the time. The fact of the matter is we probably eat more than we exercise, but we try to comfort ourselves in the knowledge that the cruise will not last too long.
Last year Greg promised me that we would take dance lessons. I was just in awe of passengers with the rhythm and grace to dance every dance. Well the fact of the matter is that we are both without rhythm or grace. I am quite sure if I did get Greg to a dance studio we would have been asked to leave. As a child my mom signed me up for dance lessons with my sister. I had the bag, the outfit, the ballet, tap and jazz shoes. After one lesson, the girl next to me recognized what a klutz I was and told me I was doing everything wrong. I quit dance, refusing to ever go back. Even now I fail to hear a beat, have no rhythm and am as clumsy as a bear. Greg is not far behind me. We continue to watch the dancers on the boat and know that that will never be us.
We enjoyed all of the ports we visited. Overall the weather was pretty good, cloudy and only a little rain. We loved all of the musicians in the ports, except for maybe the bagpipers. Not a big fan.
I’m sure he’s a nice guy I’m just not a fan of his music
At night it is difficult not to notice the old lady hecklers who delight in giving the singers a difficult time. They keep yelling a request for the same song over and over again. It is with great aplomb that the performers handle such pains.
At breakfast on one of our last days we sat with two other couples. One gentleman was originally from the UK, he and his wife had traveled to over one hundred countries, mostly on their own and not with tours. It would have been easy to admire him except for the fact that when he ordered a five course breakfast and the pepper was not delivered at the same time as the Tabasco for his tomato juice he yelled at the waitress for not bringing everything in a specific order.
Cruise Dos and Don’t
1. Don’t take the elevator, if you can walk, take the stairs
Take the stairs
2. Do research and plan your own excursions to give your trip a personal touch.
3. Do check out the entertainment, it is often really good.
4. Do go off the beaten track, see things that all of the tours don’t go to.
5. Don’t miss the iconic places too, there is a reason they are so popular.
6. Shop for cruise prices. I often get an inside stateroom, and if that means I go on more cruises then that’s fine with me.
7. Make the cruise your own. Do what you want on the cruise.
9. Do enjoy the food, but remember you can’t eat like that forever.
10. Don’t be a bully to the waitstaff, it’s amazing how much people appreciate the “magic words” I taught my students of “please” and “thank you.”
11. If you decide to sing karoke after a few drinks, pick a song that everyone knows and can join in with, so no one notices your bad voice.
12. There is limited wifi onboard so unplug and enjoy the time without having the distraction of email, Facebook etc.
13. Kismet- Destiny, fate, luck, chance. Leave room in your life for it. We asked the driver who picked us up as the airport if we could possibly visit Stonehenge. The answer was “yes” (for a fee) we were delighted to get to see this iconic sight.
14. Listen to the people you meet, ask questions, we learned so much from the people we met onboard.
15. Go with friends, make friends, and remember to have a good time.