My first cruise…
I have to admit I’ve always been a bit suspicious of cruises. I had prejudices and no shortage of them. I don’t know where it all came from – after all I loved watching The Love Boat as a kid, just like any of us who are old enough to remember. So what did I think cruises were?
1. Old folks. I thought the majority of people booking themselves on a cruise would be 80% retirees. Isn’t that what they traditionally do? Book cruises because they’re easygoing and slow and not too stressful?
2. Expensive. I could have sworn you’d have to sell your first born to afford a cruise. After all you get to see a number of countries in a relatively short amount of time, with accommodation, food, entertainment and transportation included. Surely that would cost you a limb and a half?
3. Restrictive. I would be bored, right? I mean, what do people do all day on a boat? Just the thought of it made me yawn.
Despite all those preconceived notions, I said yes when the invitation came around to attend an NCL cruise. Since becoming a mother 2 years ago I’ve changed my mind on a lot of stuff regarding travel and I had a feeling that a cruise could be quite enjoyable for my son and I, after all I would get to see a lot of stuff without the hassle of moving from A to B. When does that happen? I was pumped to try this…
Fast forward a few weeks…
Just as my first first day came to an end I typed these lines while sitting on my balcony, listening to the sound of waves and sipping a glass of Shiraz that conveniently came included in my Premium package. Atlas and I had a pretty great time discovering the pools, marvelling at the AMAZING slides, meeting the many nice young families on board, giggling at the funny Muslim grandma who danced to the loud pop music on deck as if no one was watching, enjoying some pretty awesome roast beef and equally amazing Nutella crepes for dinner and watching a cartoon from our large and super cozy bed – sea views included.
So what about my preconceived notions? Well, I do have a few more days to go but I can already review my early judgement for the better.
First of all, the age thing. I’m not sure why this idea circulates as much as it does, because the only elderly I saw on board today came here with their whole family, and this is really what Norwegian Cruise Line’s ethos seems to be all about: fun for the whole family. Perhaps the elderly prefer different cruise lines for their trips. From what I’ve heard, timing matters as well as location, but when traveling during summer you can be sure of a lot of families and their kids on board.
Second, financial aspects. Bottom line, cruises are amazing and I mean AMAZING value. Maybe not all of them, but certainly this one. Truth be told, it can sometimes be cheaper to book a cruise than a plane, when traveling cross-atlantic between Europe and the Americas – who’d have thought it? Naturally balcony cabins cost more than those with just a window, which in turn cost a fair bit more than those with no window at all. But there is such a mind-boggling wealth of stuff to do and daily changing entertainment that you’d be silly to spend more time than a good night’s sleep in your room. Rates for my Mediterranean Adventure cruise on the Norwegian Epic start at as low as EUR500. You see, it’s really your call as to how much this will cost you.
Finally, my concern about restrictions. What would I do all day on a cruise? Well, first of all, most time spent out on the ocean happens at night, so you can spend the entire day in the city the cruise has reached that morning. Even if you have a whole day on the ocean (the Mediterranean Adventure spends all of day 2 at sea) there is still more to do than you could ever have time for. Animation on deck, live music, pools and slides are all waiting; so is the spa, the restaurants, the casino….
Day 2 came and went in what felt like only a little more than a heartbeat. Ironically so, since it was spent entirely at sea. No making plans to see another amazing destination, no roaming the streets of a new city to soak in a new culture for 8 or 9 hours. Just the ship and all it has to offer.
So what did we do? We started our day with a leisurely breakfast at the Garden Cafe and I was very pleasantly surprised to find my favorite breakfast here: lox bagel with cream cheese and red onion – YES!! Even after 4 weeks of fine breakfasts in some of the world’s most incredible 5-star hotels and pretty much living on scrambled eggs and bacon the whole time, a lox cream cheese bagel was just right.
Afterwards we went for a tour of the boat. Had a look at the casino, the many restaurants, the theatre, the nightclub and the play room, where we spent a good while trying out toys. The Norwegian Epic has 2 designated areas for children, with Guppies being a room for kids 3 and under, featuring a few toys and half an hour entertainment each evening at 7. Kids here must be supervised by their parents only. Older kids can go to the Kids’ club, where professional supervision is available.
I was curious to see if a cruise would be good for traveling with smaller children and to be honest, it’s not my number one recommendation. I personally feel the ways between restaurants and attractions to our room are long and carrying a 13 kilo boy around all day is arduous. I did see many strollers around but my kid just likes to be carried. The pools are fun but quite small and consequently very full which leaves limited capacity for a toddler to jump and enjoy and can even feel stressful. One day I asked Atlas several times whether he wanted to go swimming and he declined each time – a big first on these 4 weeks of travel.
A pitfall for me personally is the lack of internet. Wi-Fi at sea comes at a price, since no satellite reaches here and cruise lines have to invest huge sums into having their own satellite in space allowing guests to browse the web and check emails. It comes as little surprise that the network isn’t the fastest either. 7 days of Wi-Fi cost about $200 which is an ok deal under the circumstances and in my opinion the better option over spending EUR125 on 250 minutes (I sometimes spent 15 minutes just opening a webpage). That said, there is an internet manager on board who will be happy to credit all “lost” minutes back to your account. In fact, he was so nice and generous that I ended up with well more minutes than I had truly wasted on slow server issues.
All in all, the positives prevail. I have actually found myself planning a cruise adventure for the coming year, maybe somewhere a bit further away, this time traveling with grandparents. This is something I saw on the ship a lot – large families traveling together, which is beautiful! It’s in the nature of cruising to have full-board and not worry about who foots the bill at meal times. Match this with the incredible offer of entertainment, games, places of interest which any hotel would have a hard time rivalling, and the relative low cost overall, and you do have a perfect family adventure.
On day 3 and the first day we reached a new destination: Naples! I’ve been lucky enough to visit this wonderfully vibrant and quirky city a few times before and I love how uncomplicated and slightly rough it is for Italy. Getting off the boat was easier than I expected and the walk to the center was ok, but pushing a stroller not the most convenient. In hindsight I’d recommend hiring one of the taxis that await as you exit the ship’s terminal building. The Norwegian Epic is offering various daily excursions which are great for people who really want to get the most of their time in a place. The tours do come at a price and children from 2 often pay not much less than adults, so it’s smart to pick wisely. Prices range from $29 to $375 per person and most cost around $200. Whole day tours do include lunch.
Of course no one stops you from putting in your own research and exploring your stop of the day on your own. That ferry ticket to Capri is quickly booked and walking around might after all still be the best way to get to know a new place for the first time.
Naples makes that easy. I like to get lost in the little alleyways, marvel at fruit shops that are set up like pieces of art, exchange a few friendly ciao’s with shop owners – and always, always, always taking hundreds of photos. Photos of balconies, passing Vespas, old people chatting in the street; Italy is magic like that.
We got back to the boat early, after just 3 hours in town since Atlas needed a nap and frankly, so did I.
I decided to keep a low profile for the rest of the day, because a holiday shouldn’t feel like stress. We watched Transylvania on TV (which by the way is HILARIOUS), enjoyed some mother-son quality time in the play room and had an afternoon snack by the pool – Nutella crepes and watermelon slices.
The next few days looked a lot like that; we created a routine for ourselves quickly. Waking up, eating a nice big breakfast before heading out into whatever city we had pulled up in that morning. Rome…Livorno… Nice… We would always be back by noon, take a nap and spend the afternoon on the boat.
Some days we retired to our room early to enjoy a little picnic on our balcony while watching the sunset (it’s OK to bring food to your room!), other days we’d indulge in a lovely seafood dinner followed by a show. One night we went to watch Burn the Floor, a really amazing dance musical that was put on at the Epic theatre at 7pm. Atlas loved every minute and actually couldn’t stay on his seat for a few songs, he just HAD to dance along. Those standing ovations by the audience for a truly brilliant performance were well deserved.
All in all I can say I enjoyed the experience very much, it’s definitely very different from all other forms of travel I had done thus far! I believe a cruise is best suited for families with older kids but also friends, couples and groups. NCL offers a wide range of options as far as destinations are concerned and their cruise ships operate year-round. Have a browse of their website to see what else is out there and to check out whether one of their options might be suitable for you.