The Big Questions asked when Cruising….??? An experiment to determine the answers-

-Interior vs Balcony staterooms, are they worth the extra money?

-Drinks package vs No Drinks package, will I get my money’s worth, and are any drinks included?

-Cruise company shore Tours vs Private company shore tours?

-Specialty Dining vs Included Dining Options?

My opinions might surprise you!

 

Everyone who has Cruised before will have their opinions on these 4 common cruise questions. These questions are things the majority of Cruisers will need to consider when they are about to embark on their next Cruise holiday with no matter what Cruise company you have chosen.

I have Cruised before several times and have had my preferences without having tried all the available options. As a travel agent in Australia I often get asked which options are the best? I wanted to make a true comparison of these options and give my opinion based on tried and tested experiences on the same ship.

My experiment involved back to back Cruises on the Oasis of the Seas. I have just disembarked after Cruising the Eastern & Western Caribbean and choosing each of the above options for 1 of the 2 weeks I was onboard. With this direct comparison of 2 Cruises I will also give my opinion on which itinerary was the best. I have reviewed the whole Cruise on my Facebook Business page KB 4 Travel. I would love you to take a look and like and share my page, I do several cruise and holiday reviews as well as write a regular travel blog.

Interior room vs balcony rooms, are they worth the extra money?

Interior rooms are the cheapest rooms available on any Cruise. Many people are concerned they will feel boxed in or claustrophobic without a window, balcony or any fresh air coming in at all. I was no different prior to experiencing this room but did not feel these things were an issue at all once using the room. Interior rooms are also often considered less fancy or smaller. I have been on several ships and they are decorated much the same as the other rooms onboard apart from the suites. They are also similar in size. This was the case on the Oasis of the Seas, our Interior room was exactly the same as our Balcony room the following week in décor and size.

You do have the extra space of the Balcony itself. Some people will use this Balcony to eat breakfast, or to have a quiet moment to themselves looking out to the sea and others won’t find it much use at all. I was travelling with my family and I didn’t really like the Balcony for that reason, I was concerned about my children being out there unsupervised. I have a bit of a fear of heights and didn’t like being on the Balcony as we were on deck 11, which was pretty high up. Our interior room was on deck 3. It was very quiet, very dark when the lights were out and very stable. In fact, this whole week we did not feel any movement of the ship at all whilst in our room. In contrast to our Balcony room, movement was quite regular, it seemed to shake in the wind more than rock over the waves. As our Balcony was over the Boardwalk looking out towards the wake of the ship it was very noisy at night. Noise came from all directions as there was the pool theatre with night shows below, the carousel below and the teens club and zip line above, plus, people on other balconies, as well as the shaking vibration noise.

Since Balcony rooms are often several hundred dollars a week more than the interior rooms I don’t think I would waste the extra money again. My pick for my next cruise would be an Oceanview. It is nice having a window to see what is outside, if you are in a port yet, what the seas are like, what the weather is like etc. Within the interior room you could get this information off the television where they had a channel that had bridge pictures, however I do like the idea of some outside contact.

Drinks packages vs No drinks packages? Firstly, let’s just put it out there that I am not a big drinker. I like a drink every now and then but I don’t find it a necessity. Royal Caribbean like many other Cruise lines have various levels of drinks packages. There is the soda or soft drink package where you get a reusable cup that you can fill up at any time at one of the soda machines throughout the ship. There is the refreshment package where you get drinks such as freshly squeezed juices, soft drink, bottled water, speciality teas and coffees (not Starbucks which is also on board) or virgin cocktails. Then there is the premium drinks package which includes all the things in the refreshment package as well as alcoholic beverages up to the value of $12.

Without the drinks packages, you are not going thirsty. In the windjammer buffet area and the solarium buffet area there are several drinks on offer which are included. You can get several types of tea bags and hot water as well as caffeinated and decaffeinated basic coffee. Water (not bottled), juices and cordials. They will also offer a glass of sparkling wine when you enter the buffet area for lunch or dinner dining. In the main dining room, they will pour you a glass of water and continue to refill.

So, the question about whether to get the drinks package comes down to whether you think you will get your money’s worth? I found the refreshment package suitable, I could get virgin cocktails, which, let’s face it goes down nicely whilst sitting by the pool. My husband however, would not go without the premium package, he was determined to get his money worth. By starting off with the freshly squeezed orange juice and a cappuccino each day you would only need about 3-4 drinks more to make it worth it, so it is not only for the big drinkers. You’re on holidays, a drinks package helps with the relaxation required.

oasis-beach-pool.jpg
Beach Pool Area- Great place for a cocktail!

 

Cruise Company Shore Tours vs Private Shore tours? Cruise companies have us all petrified that we are going to miss to ship if we don’t do their shore tours which they guarantee to wait for, if delayed. Many of the Caribbean islands have private companies that also do shore tours that are reliable and trust worthy operators that will also get you back to the ship on time at a fraction of the price. There is also the option of just getting off and doing your own thing in port at no extra cost. With all options, it is important to know what time you are required back on the ship and whether there is a time change on the island visited. We toured several islands that had a different time to the ship. The ship stayed on the time it had when leaving Port Canaveral in the USA. This can be tricky as if depending on phones they often change without you doing it yourself.

For the first week, we did our own thing. I researched the ports of call on trip advisor and Facebook I found the best things to do and booked two reputable tours for St Thomas and St Maarten and we did our own thing in Nassau. All were enjoyable days, we walked to the beach in Nassau spending some time in souvenir shops along the way. We toured the island in St Thomas with a very hard working couple on Brenda & Franko’s Tours. We had an enjoyable day seeing everything we wanted and hearing all about the special island of St Maarten with Mailman of Bernard’s tours. All options I would recommend. There was never any concern we were not going to make it back to the ship on time. Tour operators were very professional and passionate about their islands, they seemed happy to share their knowledge and seemed to want you to enjoy your day so you would recommend them to others. This is how they make their money. Your opinion and recommendation is important to them for future business and they go out of their way to please their customers. Both companies supplied drinks throughout the day.

The second week we did Royal Caribbean Shore tours only. Our first port of call was Labadee, which is a Royal Caribbean operated area of Haiti. A lot of the shore options are related to activities in the ‘compound’. We chose to do the aqua park and the dragon coaster. Both options you paid for a turn on each item. At the aqua park, you had an hour to play on the equipment in the water and on the coaster, you paid for a single ride on it. There were many options here, like zip line or you could even pay for the private hire of beach cabanas. We enjoyed this port of call.

At our other two ports, we did tours prearranged with Royal Caribbean, both these tours cost significantly greater than the tours we did in the first week. In Jamaica, we chose the Dunn’s river falls climb and inner tubing on the river and in Cozumel we chose snorkelling within a cenote. We did enjoy our time on both tours but in comparison to our first week I was left a little disappointed. There was no passion from the tour guides, no commentary between destinations, no drinks and little enthusiasm. I guess these tour guides do not depend on recommendation from client satisfaction for their next day’s business. They were all very happy to ask for tips though.

My choice for shore tours would be private companies as long as you have done your research. Not only will you save a lot of money but they are in my opinion better tours.

 

Specialty Dining Options vs Included Dining Options? All Cruise companies have specialty dining available that they will charge you an extra amount for the exclusivity of dining in that particular restaurant or restaurants. Often there is a celebrity chef who has worked in collaboration with the cruise company to bring the specialty restaurant to life. Royal Caribbean has several specialty options, we only tried 2. People often feel a bit special if they pay extra to dine in these venues and it is the staffs job to ensure this is the case. Many people will claim the food is on another level and see value in dining at these places, others don’t. I personally found the food in the main dining room very nice, the menu changed daily so you did not get sick of eating the same thing all the time.

There were also several favourite options that were available every day. This was lucky for me, as I really enjoyed the crème brulee and had it most nights. If you did not feel like getting dressed up there was always the option of the more casual windjammer buffet. This too changed often, there were so many options to chose from it was hard to just have one serve. The danger in going to the buffet is you always ended up eating way too much. It was always enjoyable though. I did not feel like the specialty dining was a necessary extra expense.

In summary, besides getting the drinks package, our budget week was our preferred cruise. This was also the preferred itinerary (Eastern). I am not sure if this is related to having better shore tours but we did enjoy those islands a lot more than the Western. In saying that, I would be happy with any of the Cruises in the Caribbean. What is not to love, you’re on holidays and you’re in the Caribbean!!!oasis-aft.jpg

I have had a passion for travel for years. I love talking about Travelling and Cruising, I write regular travel stories as part of my blog, Talking Travel with KB 4 Travel, that can be accessed through my Facebook business page KB 4 Travel. I work in Australia as an independent home based travel Agent, I am available anytime to help plan your travel. I can be contacted via email at kylie@kb4travel.com.au

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