How I Survived (and thrived) on my First Cruise!

MSC Divina Pool Deck
  1. I didn’t know how to get to the port the next morning, so I asked the hotel concierge!

I arrived in my port city of Miami to a wonderful hotel with shuttle service from the airport. I felt like a queen being picked up and shuttled from place to place. It truly made for a more relaxing arrival that you can experience too; many hotels offer airport shuttles.

However, one detail wasn’t yet resolved. How would my royal self make it to the cruise terminal the next day?

So I asked the Hotel concierge. They are willing to call a taxi for you, and my concierge also had a partnership with a $12 dollar shuttle per person. The queen rides again!

  1. I didn’t get seasick!

I was warned to pick up some Dramamine ahead of time since the seas affect everyone differently. However, I forgot.

Luckily my new friends assisted me with some natural remedies: green apples, and saltines.

Who knew that preventative medicine could taste so good?

If you are just booking and want to prevent seasickness, you can book a room that is on a lower deck and toward the center of the ship. This will lessen the effects of any movement.

However, if you did not book such a prime location, then quickly locate your remedies. Apples are available at the buffet, and Dramamine will be available in one of the shops or at the medical center.

  1. Cruise food is amazing! I learned the hard way that everyone gains weight, and then loses it quickly on the return.

Since I sailed on the Italian cruise line MSC, I have to rave about the pizza. I have yet to stop thinking about the pizza. It was so thin, warm, and had the perfect sauce-to-cheese ratio.

However, cruisers with more self control around pizza than me also gained weight. Since all of your food is included, you will likely eat far more than you do when you’re not on vacation. There is nothing wrong with this. When you see that key lime pie, treat yourself!

There are some things you can do to make this change a more comfortable one for you.

  • Wear your tightest clothes at the beginning of the cruise, and your looser clothes toward the end. Hello, yoga pants.
  • Take the stairs. You will get everywhere that you’d like to get faster, and you’ll have the added benefit of free exercise. I was even encouraged to climb from deck 4 to deck 13. That one hurt!
  • Give in.
  1. I knew what was happening without the Internet.

Each morning every stateroom receives a daily cruise program with the day’s weather, activities schedule, sales, and important announcements. When we were approaching Puerto Rico we experienced a time change and had to turn our clocks back an hour, so it was in our programs. When we received our disembarkation locations and tags, there were also detailed instructions in our programs. When our itinerary changed slightly due to an elderly passenger’s medical emergency, the new itinerary was in the program.

Everything is in the program.

However, if you prefer to get your news from the television there is also a morning show on MSC where the cruise director samples different parts of the ship while giving you the day’s news. It is silly, and he eats gelato, and it makes you want to eat gelato too.

However, if you didn’t read your program and didn’t watch the show, you can still get important announcements. On MSC the most critical announcements were broadcast over the intercom in the four most commonly spoken languages. The cruise director then repeated the information before the night’s live show. Important information is also added to most cruise line’s onboard apps.

Also, if you want to get in touch with another cruiser you can call their cabin phone. It will give you fun nostalgia for the 1990s as you twirl the phone cord around your finger.

You will feel disconnected, wireless, and carefree. You will feel relaxed. However, even as you’re relaxing, you will still know what’s going on.

  1. I wanted a queen bed and I got two twins! So, I got it fixed!

As soon as I met my room steward I reached out and asked for the beds to be moved together. “No problem,” he said! He would be moving bags for the next couple of hours but, “when you go to dinner, then I’ll fix your beds.”

I’m not a patient person. I did not wait until dinner. I tried moving them myself.

“Sugeng! I fixed the beds myself! Now you don’t have to!”

“No you did it wrong. I do it at dinner.”

I did it wrong. When he pushed our beds together he added queen size sheets and a comforter. This turned out to be very comfortable. No need for worrying, just go to dinner and it will be fixed.

  1. I lost my card, and it was ok.

First I did the panic dance. You know the one. Then I calmly took the stairs down to the main reception. They took my wife’s key card (since both are linked to the same bank account), had us sign on a clipboard that we were getting ours replaced, and handed us shiny new plastic. It really was that easy.

  1. I bought gelato and it didn’t break the bank.

I was really pleased with MSC that everything was priced fairly. My cruise cabin was the first place I’ve ever seen provide a price list for a mini-bar. Everything on it was what you’d pay to get that item in a vending machine.

All around, the prices were fair. I bought migraine medicine for $2.00 in the sundry shop. I bought a Guess purse for $30.00 in the accessories shop.

There is free soft serve ice cream, but the Venchi gelato beckoned me. I paid $2.50 for a small cup and no regrets. Then I took the stairs.

  1. I learned the Bachata, Salsa, Merengue, Swing and the Italian Tarantella.

What is there to do on a cruise? I learned how to dance. I played countless hours of difficult trivia. I took Italian lessons. I went to my first Art Auction. I watched a Katy Perry concert, and Pavarotti concert, on the lido deck screen. I tried new foods, and then binged on pizza and gelato. I went in the hot tub.

I dressed up for the formal night, got my jewelry cleaned for free, and then posed for a free photo shoot. I read on the balcony. I went to a Hannukah service and had some fantastic latkes. I tried new fruity drinks. I visited new places.

I people watched from afar, and practiced my spanish with fabulous people at the night time disco. I cheered on a shipboard version of “Dancing With the Stars.” I watched one of the Harry Potter movies on our cabin’s television. I wrote into the morning show and won a prize.

I found quite a few things to do on a cruise.

  1. I slept in a balcony cabin and did not fall off the balcony.

This is important. I am a child-sized adult. Standing tall at 4’11” I am eye-level with many second graders. Only my shoulders, neck, and head are above the balcony. It is very large and thankfully see through. I can rest my arms on it, but your children may not be able to. This is fine. I am frequently asked if children fall off of the balcony, and the answer is a resounding “no.”

  1. I went on a shore excursion and did not get left behind at the port.

When I went on a cruise line specific shore excursion, one nervous man was very concerned that we would get left behind because our excursion ended close to the all aboard time of 5:30.

This was a silly concern for quite a few reasons. We as the customers would have loudly voiced our opinions in reviews of the cruise line were anything to happen, and should we have been left behind.

We as the customers would have loudly voiced our reviews of the excursion company if anything were to happen and we were left behind.

MSC provided our tour with two “escorts” who would have been horribly heckled if anything were to happen and we were left behind.

There was no chance of us getting left behind.

  1. I brought my passport on shore excursions (because we had to) and didn’t lose it!

On our kayak, hike and snorkel tour we were concerned about guarding our stuff while we skipped through nature. Luckily at the beginning of our tour there were bathrooms, lockers, changing rooms, and appropriate clothes for sale.

The rule on our excursion was that our group’s locker wouldn’t be opened until our full group was accounted for. And it wasn’t. My passport and me came safely home.

  1. We couldn’t get to our last port-of-call due to a medical emergency- so the cruise line worked to try and get us to a different port!

I was impressed by this. Health comes before all. All passengers were kept abreast of the situation via multilingual announcements, but I still was personally saddened to miss the last beach day.

MSC worked tirelessly and rerouted us to Nassau instead. They announced that all shore excursions to the original port would be automatically refunded and then arranged new excursions for the new port-of-call all from onboard the ship.

I was personally amazed by this entire process, and I found it educational as well. If your cruise line cannot get to a port for reasons out of your control they will try and accommodate you. They want you to be happy.

  1. I sat at mealtimes with many new people and enjoyed their company.

As a new cruiser, they all had great tips for me for what to do at the upcoming ports and how to navigate them in inexpensive ways. I also learned about Hawaii, Scotland, England, Canada, and the great state of New Jersey.

I enjoyed my long meals with varied and interesting people in the dining room. However, if you prefer a faster meal or different company, there is always the free buffet as well.

  1. I got water for free!

Tap water is free in the ice machines in the buffet. Waiters will also bring you mineral water on MSC, and pitchers are available at meals on most other lines. I refilled using the tap in my cabin’s bathroom sometimes. I drank like a fish and I didn’t need a water package to do it.

  1. I got my preferred dining time (by asking nicely) and snuck into the early theatre show!

I am a young person with an old soul, surrounded by similar young people with old souls. We like our 5 pm dinner and 7 pm show because our eyelids are closing by the 9 pm show. In fact, I’m yawning just writing this.

I originally was booked with the late dining time. However, miracles can happen if you ask nicely. I nicely asked the maitre d’ if there was room for two at the early seating. There was! He moved us! With luck, availability, and kindness, you can be moved too!

Now usually, if you sit at the early dining time, then you are expected to go to the late show. However, if you are like me, then you can game the system by eating at the early time quickly in the buffet, and then going to the early show. I recommend my methodology for families with small children, and adults who who have the bedtimes of small children. I fall into the latter category. Goodnight folks!

  1. I got a massage for half off!

On embarkation day massages were half off. That was the first thing I did upon arrival (before all the appointments were booked up.) Massages are also often discounted at least 30% on port days since many people are away. Look in your program for these discounts!

If you know for sure that you will be getting a massage, schedule it 6 months ahead of time. MSC has rates that range up to 60% off for early bookers, and I promise you a Balinese massage is worth it!

Keep this sage advice in mind for other purchases as well. Do the math for yourself to see if a drink package is worth it for you when you book. Go to the ship’s stores on port days for extra discounts. Fully indulge yourself for less!

  1. I attended every show I could.

On MSC we had a show every night. I know that this is more than the other cruise lines, but they also have quite a few shows. I was thrilled at my chance to see Opera singers, circus acrobats, a hula hooper, a contortionist, and world class dancers. What’s more, each night had a theme, and these artists had their talents woven into a great storyline with exceptional costumes and choreography. I love the theatre personally. With shows this spectacular, I think that you will as well.

  1. I carried my own bags off the ship and got to disembark early.

MSC has a program called self-assist where a cohort of early risers can opt to meet at 6:30 for disembarkation while carrying their own luggage. This is the best option for passengers with early flights! I was lucky. The kind man at the reception desk let me switch to self-assist the night before we disembarked.

*I should note that most passengers on the ship do not do this. Most passengers leave their luggage outside their door the night before so that the porters can do the heavy lifting. They then reunite with their bags after clearing customs at the port.

  1. I arranged a shuttle from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale at the very last minute, and it was ok!

American Airlines changed my flight time, so I changed airlines to a Southwest. This meant that on the last day of my cruise we were scrambling to determine how we would get from Miami, where the cruise docked, to Ft. Lauderdale, where the plane would be.

We quickly called the Florida Super Shuttle first thing in the morning, and for a flat fare of $35 per person, he came and took us the 30 minutes to Ft. Lauderdale.

However, had we not arranged our transportation via phone, we still would have been ok. There were taxis, and shuttles lined up outside the cruise terminal; outbidding each other while trying to get our business. They were all-set, and ready to go to both the Miami AND Ft. Lauderdale airports. In fact, one taxi driver seemed genuinely hurt that I had prearranged my transportation 20 minutes earlier. We’re just cruise passengers breaking hearts.

  1. I had a great time and can’t wait to go back again!