IT'S funny how once you’ve worked on ships, you feel at home on every cruise.
As a former cruise ship worker, I have a unique understanding of the behind-the-scenes dynamics and logistics that can impact a guest's vacation.
I recently took my first cruise vacation in several years.
The week-long voyage was also my first since my last contract as a cruise ship performer.
I spent nearly two years working as a singer and dancer on different cruise ships, entertaining guests as I sailed around the world seeking sunshine, sand, and adventure.
Now, sailing as a guest with the perspective of a crew member – and a knowledge of the inner workings of ships – definitely impacted my experience.
The trip reminded me why I fell in love with cruising many years ago, and why it remains my favorite way to travel.
It also reminded me of several crucial tips that can make or break your cruise.
MAKE CHANGES ASAP
Depending on how you booked your cruise, you may receive onboard credit to spend during your vacation – or, in some cases, you might receive a credit towards an excursion.
It's strongly encouraged to book day trips and excursions ahead of time as they tend to fill up quickly.
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However, don't be discouraged if you get shut out of the adventure you had your sights set on.
On the day you embark your cruise ship, go immediately to Guest Services and/or the Shore Excursions desk.
Usually, these are located near each other mid-ship in the atrium.
The line might be long, but it's best to wait it out and chat with someone as soon as possible to snag any last-minute spots.
This was one of the first things I did upon embarking the ship, and I was able to book the two shore excursions I was told were sold out when I had called weeks in advance.
The same can be said for dining, as most ships have specialty restaurants on board.
Reservations do tend to fill up quickly for these as they're a popular alternative to the complimentary dining rooms.
However, as with the shore excursions and day trips, be prepared to shell out extra fees for these experiences.
WALK THE DECKS
It may seem silly to say, but walking the decks of a ship will help you get your bearings.
More likely than not, you've done your research on the ship prior to boarding and are familiar with the various offerings and features.
However, reading about the ship’s Irish pub online and walking through it to discover all of the sports memorabilia for yourself is a completely different experience.
Exploring for yourself can lead to the discovery of nooks and crannies of the vessel that others may overlook.
On the particular ship I sailed on, there was a small reading cove on Deck 15 filled with comfy wicker benches that I discovered during one of my first walks.
Ship walks are also a great opportunity to check out the menus for specialty restaurants, bars where you can imbibe in a pre-dinner drink, and theaters that host nightly entertainment.
MAKE PERSONAL CONNECTIONS
Many of the crew members you'll encounter during your voyage hail from around the world.
Crew members may speak other languages and have different customs, and, more than likely, would love to have the opportunity to share that with you.
A crew member's time on board varies in length depending on their position and maritime law, with a single contract typically lasting anywhere from five to nine months.
By taking the time to make a personal connection with a crew member, you could be making a genuine difference in their day and even week while they're away from their families.
Don't be afraid to ask where they're from and make an effort to learn about their culture, especially those employees you deal with regularly throughout your voyage, including servers, bartenders, and housekeepers.
It's also important to fill out any surveys or comment cards at the end of your trip.
Depending on the cruise line, crew members may receive incentives or awards for outstanding service mentioned in surveys and comment cards, so don't overlook this opportunity to highlight a positive experience or interaction.
ALWAYS ARRIVE EARLY
This may seem counterintuitive to those looking for a genuinely relaxing vacation, but it’ll save you strife later on.
If your ship has freestyle dining instead of assigned seating for dinner, be sure to arrive early unless you're keen to wait in long lines.
The same can also be said for special events and shows in the ship's theater.
If there's an event or performance that you're really looking forward to, it's best to arrive early to ensure that you get a seat.
These theaters and venues aren't designed to accommodate an entire ship's worth of passengers and fill up quickly.
If you aren't proactive, you may miss out on a chance to enhance your trip by experiencing world-class entertainment or exciting event.
TRY SOMETHING NEW
With people from around the world all convening to work and play, there's a good chance that you'll have the opportunity to try something new.
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This could be something as big as snorkeling in the tropics or ziplining through a rainforest, or as small as trying new food or cuisine.
It’s worth risking your comfort for a new lived experience.
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