I always approach sea days with a bit of dread. I like to explore the world and a ship is a great way to explore ports without having to repack your bags every time you move. Some places are most easily accessible from a ship. But some days you need to be moving from place to place, and unlike a car, you just can't pull over when you see something interesting! The mass market large cruise ships are trying to solve this problem by making things more interesting ON the ship! And boy, is it getting interesting!
The photos below are from many cruises we've sailed.
How to have fun, and NOT to get taken for a ride by the WALLET...
Many people wonder, whats included, and what is not...Sea Days are often designed to help part you with your money, so here are my tips for enjoying different on board activities and whether to expect them to be included or not!
1) Sports and Fitness: Most ships have a fitness room, some also have elaborate sports decks with basketball, gold, rock walls, and ping pong tables. The cruise staff also runs dance classes, sunrise walks, and some ships feature on board 5 K races. (although its a lot of running in circles!) The good news is most fitness activities are included in your fare. Watch for specialty fitness classes offered by the spa, some of these include an added fee. Sometimes this can be noted with a $ in the activity schedule, but ask anytime someone asks for your cruise card!
2) Spa and Health: Many ships are all in on the spa experience, with special spa cabins, decks, or day passes, but almost every ship has a spa. Booking these service on a sea day will always cost a bit more or be harder to appointments to get than waiting for a port day, when specials are offered. Hold on to your card (and remember it's directly attached to your wallet!) in the spa; prices are often more for basic services than what you pay at home, the estheticians will often do a hard sell to get you to upgrade treatments and buy products. Some ships carry a physician on board who will analyze your feet, teach weight loss classes and even do cosmetic procedures. Ask yourself if you think it's ok for your health to take medical advice and treatment from a stranger rather than your personal caregivers. Plus, the ship will take your cruise card, but not your medical card...you might have insurance coverage for some of the health advice the cruise will make you pay for!
3) Cooking and Mixology Classes: Some ships offer cooking demonstrations (usually free) or classes (usually with an extra cost). Some ships have gone so far as to have passenger kitchen stations for these classes and offer a series taught by the chefs on board. Bar classes and tastings often have additional costs, and if they are free, expect to get the hard sell to buy liquor on board to take home with you (It will be held for you till after the cruise, and watch your customs "allowances" too!
4) Trivia and game shows: There are no end to the games offered on board. Trivia is popular and easy to join, gather a team or join one, these usually free events are held in a lounge and can be good fun, especially if the weather is bad. Game shows exploit your fellow passengers with funny intrusive questions about their marriages, modeled on popular tv game shows or participating in crazy scavenger activities. They are usually in good fun, but one year our 17 yo daughter was recruited to captain a team in a game that often involves some state of undress. We gave our assent, but told her and the cruise staff, at age 17 - the clothes stay ON! The more you have had to drink, they more careful you have to be...what happens at sea stays at sea, until it ends up on Youtube!
5) Casino and BINGO: There is a reason that people joke about going to "make a donation at the casino"! Ships are under no obligation to follow gaming commission rules about odds like land based casinos, and you can bet they'll be in the ships favor, and probably even change based on the revenue the ship needs to make. BINGO and slots are gambling "lite", but again, it's considered paying for "entertainment", but it's best to decide ahead of time, how much you can afford to spend on that type of entertainment and walk away when its spent!
6) Port and shopping lectures: On the smallest, most destination focused ships these are interesting lectures given by experts. Sadly, on most mass market ships, these talks are usually given by a salesperson whose job it is to "sell" advertising to port shops on board in exchange for directing guests to the shops that participate in the "program". They are sometimes joined by the salesperson whose job it is to sell the ships shore excursions. At best, you'll get a little detail about what else there is to see and do in the port, at worst, it's a straight sales pitch. Same with cruise line provided port maps...usually the only useful unbiased info I find on one of these is the name of the port agent- who you could call if you miss the ship!
7) Store Sales, raffles and extravaganzas!: Usually the shopping area of a mass market cruise ship will offer all kinds of "sales". Which are really just promotions of items at the price they want to sell the merchandise for. Remember, they will run this same "incredible deal" next week, and the next week, and well, you get the idea! Packaged in fancy packaging and presented in a shiny centrum shop, goods look luxurious, but try to remember what it would cost you at home. Could you get it for less at Walmart? The raffles and giveaways offer a low value trinket in exchange for your attention and to drive traffic into their shops.
On one cruise, we sailed with quite a few Chinese guests who misunderstood the "sale" and thought the shops were giving away $10 watch sets. The crew made a big show of covering all the merchandise before the time of the sale, then dramatically uncovering it when the sale "started". As scores of Chinese guest started grabbing armfuls of watch sets and heading back to their cabins without paying, the crew hastily began covering the merchandise again in a blind panic. It was one of the funniest shows of the week! Eventually, their tour guide managed to explain the blunder and most of the sets were returned! As always, my advice is to recall that your cruise card is directly attached to your wallet and remember, nothing is "free"!
8) Movies, Bands and Shows: These are usually free and entertaining. Occasionally, guests artists will offer their CD's for sale, but this is very low pressure! One of the best things about cruising is all the free musicians and singers who pop up all around the ship. Some of the included shows can be as elaborate as what you would pay $100 per person in Vegas or Broadway.
9) Ziplines, Waterslides, and Bumper Cars, OH MY: Mass market cruise ships are constantly adding new entertainment features to grab attention in the media and offer something new to cruisers. Usually, these are worth a try just because of the "cool factor". They are usually free since they are marquis attractions for the ship. Because of their newness and popularity, I recommend checking these kinds of attractions early in the cruise, and early in the day (or at dinner time or when the ship is in port, if offered) Sometimes things break down or weather causes the attractions to shut down till they return to port and as more people discover them, the lines and waits can build up by the end of the cruise.
10) Ahhhh! While you won't find it listed in the cruise program, relaxing by the sea in a deck chair is one of the most popular and least expensive ways to relax on board (depending on how much you care to drink while cruising!) Fortunately, there are always more than enough deck chairs for everyone. Although those closest to the pool will go fast, there are usually plenty of chairs on the upper pool decks and around the walk around "promenade" decks on the ship. Some ships feature adult only pools which can be a bit quieter than the main pools. Find a quiet spot and relax!
And all of this happens before you even step off the ship for the first port!! Check back tomorrow, for more pictures from our first port of call in Roatan, Honduras, along with a report on our delivery of supplies collected by the GFWC Marlborough Junior Woman's Club to Familias Saludables on Roatan through Pack for Purpose.