We spent a week sailing the western Caribbean last week. It was a great escape for both Kelly and me, kicked off with a two-day drive south to the Galveston cruise port. While I don’t recommend book-ending a cruise with a pair of twenty-four hour drives, I do recommend spending a week afloat.
There are a couple of practices we’ve come to enjoy while cruising. One is finding a largely unused pool and bar to lounge at. The trick is modifying how we think of the cruise as a vacation.
Four of the five cruises we’ve taken have been working vacations for Kelly, where she’s paired with our friend and quilt pattern and fabric designer Susan Emory of Swirly Girls Design, hosting quilt retreats at sea. Kelly’s three at-sea days are spent in the ship’s conference room assisting the quilters as they work through making Susan’s custom-designed quilt, providing give-aways, and running a small pop-up version of Kelly Ann’s Quilting.
It’s on these days that, aside from a handful of shipboard activities, the only thing to do is relax around the ship’s pools and populate the bars along with everyone else. In a word, they’re crowded. Our last three ships sailed with a passenger capacity in excess of 3000, and everyone is cooped up on fourteen decks of a thousand-foot-long ship. I’ve never seen longer stretches of occupied lounge chairs in my life.
The secret to enjoying the pools and outdoor bars is to wait until port-call days arrive. Spend the at-sea days on lounge chairs away from the pool, or in an upper deck lounge devoid of people. There’s a great view from up there. Cabins with a balcony provide a respite from crowds, too, with a front row view of the ocean.
Here’s the key: when the ship arrives in a port of call, roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of the passengers get off. They’re gone from roughly 8am until one or two pm, longer if the port requires the ship to drop anchor and use tender boats for ferrying people ashore. What a great opportunity to sleep late, grab a late breakfast at the buffet, and hit the pool while there’s still only a handful of people staking out lounge chairs. Hours of quiet relaxation, reading, taking a cooling dip in the pool and sipping a drink or two follow.
It’s about time to head in for a shower before dinner just as people hit the pools after returning from shore excursions.
The trick is making the ship the destination, rather than the ports of call. Think of it as a moving resort. There are three, sometimes four ports of call during a week-long cruise. Spend one of them ashore on an excursion, or take a walk around the port area and re-board. A largely empty ship is your oyster.
The handful of hours spent on an excursion rarely exposes much local color, anyway.
The other practice we’ve enjoyed is the advent of affordable high speed internet access throughout the cruise. Rough seas can render it patchy at times, but it works. Royal Caribbean offers two tiers – a non-streaming option for roughly $15 per day, and a higher-priced streaming-capable level. Discounts are available by signing up on their web site prior to departure.
One thing to consider when opting for the lower-priced tier: although it’s fine for email, texting with Apple’s Messages app, and casual web browsing, contemporary social media sites are often image-heavy and load slowly at this tier’s capped speed. Scroll quickly through a Facebook wall or a Pinterest board and there are noticeable delays.
One last thought about internet-at-sea. The goal of a vacation is to get away from the everyday. We’ve enjoyed the cut-off nature of cruising since our first trip, when we noticed that in the absence of the internet people actually look at and talk with one another. There’s not much more satisfying than setting my phone to airplane mode as the shoreline recedes.
Kelly signed up for the non-streaming internet plan before our most recent cruise with the idea of posting photos of our adventures each evening, but found she used it less than expected. I opted to borrow her login code on the last day for uploading my photographs, but found the upstream speed far less than the downstream. I’ll wait until we hit the first and second Starbucks on the way home for uploading my photos next time.
The more we cruise, the more little hide-aways and practices we find that enhance the experience. My next post will cover the mixology seminars and card room we found this time.
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