OUR FIRST CRUISE: WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN?

We've never really been cruise people. We had this idea that cruises were for the older generation and wouldn't offer much more adventure than an all-inclusive resort. Why stay on a cruise ship when you can stay in the actual city and experience its culture/nightlife/food? Why participate in the shore excursions when you can visit places on your own schedule for less money? We didn't understand the concept.

And we were (partially) wrong.


When planning our trip to Greece, we reluctantly signed up for a mini (4 night) cruise of the Greek Isles with Celestyal Cruises. We couldn't imagine flying halfway around the world and not seeing a few of those famous islands, so we spent a lot of time researching how to make it happen. We looked into different travel packages and excursions and tried to figure out when the island ferries/hydrofoils operate, but given our short time in the country during the off season, a mini cruise seemed to be the best option. We could visit several islands in a few days and rely on the ship for transportation.


The cruise turned out to be a good decision for this particular trip. Were some of our preconceived notions about cruises right? Yes. But it was still an amazing vacation.


A few pros and cons of our first cruise vacation:


PROS

  • We were able to visit several places within a short time (seven ports in four days!). We didn't have to change rooms or repack our luggage.
  • Meals were included in the price of the package. No cash needed. No surprise credit card bills when we returned home. We also appreciated the availability of healthy foods (i.e., the salad bar!).
  • All-inclusive alcoholic/non-alcoholic drink packages. We appreciated having easy access to bottled water and felt less guilty about ordering that tea or (third+) cocktail. 
  • Group seating. We enjoyed meeting new people.
  • Shore excursions. The excursions were the first groups off the boat once in port. We didn't have to worry about buying tickets or figuring out transportation. We also felt less anxiety about being stranded at port since the ship will wait for the group to return if delays occur.

CONS

  • Short port times. Because we booked a mini cruise, we only had a few hours at each island, which didn't leave much time for independent exploration. We also only experienced each island during the peak tourist times.
  • Meals. Most of the food was just okay to good, depending on the meal and restaurant choice. We also felt like we were missing out on the traditional foodstuff in town. We missed finding those special restaurants and tasting those local foods. (We still did a few takeaway meals off the ship anyway.)
  • Group seating. Sometimes we just didn't want to make awkward small talk with strangers, especially after a long day of sightseeing. We took advantage of the buffet on those nights since there was private seating.
  • Shore excursions. We missed the flexibility of being on our own schedule. We would have liked to spend more time at certain sites and skip the surprise detours. Sometimes it was difficult to experience a place with a large group of people, and the excursions were expensive compared to the cost of doing it on our own.
  • Rough seas. One of us had motion sickness the entire trip.



^^ disembarkation by tender boat ^^


OTHER THINGS TO NOTE
  • Sign up for the all-inclusive package, if available. It's worth having access to unlimited bottled water. Plus, there's no guilt ordering a tea/cocktail/etc. because it's already been purchased.
  • Depending on the location, the ship might collect your passport and hold onto it for the duration of the cruise. This is done to expedite clearance with local immigration officials.
  • Cruise passengers who arrive at sea ports and intend to visit the seaport city or nearby provinces for touristic purposes are usually exempt from any visas provided their stay does not exceed 72 hours. Check on the specific requirements for your trip, but our cruise ship obtained our visa for our stop in Turkey.
  • Be mindful of the ship's dress code. Some cruise lines are more formal than others.
  • Pack medication for motion sickness relief.
  • Pack light. Those standard cabins are small.
  • Keep in mind the currency may change at the different ports. For example, if we withdrew Turkish lira from the ATM in Kusadasi, it would have been worthless at our next port stop in Greece.
  • Consider the pros/cons of shore excursions before booking them, especially the time available to you in port and how far you want to travel.
  • Be aware of those port departure times. Carry the ship's daily schedule with you if necessary. Unless you booked a shore excursion with the cruise line, it's your responsibility to get back to the ship on time. If you miss the boat, you'll have to get to the next port of call at your own expense.

Would we sign up for another cruise? Absolutely.

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