Monday, February 14, 2011

Embarking on a Cruise Part 1

Our family of four took our first cruise on Jan 28, 2011 for 9-days aboard the Carnival Spirit. We traveled to the Mexican Riviera, which was the first time to Mexico for all of us. We are newbies, that have decided we like cruising, I hope you find the following posts helpful. Cheers!

After the muster drill aboard the Carnival Spirit, docked in beautiful San Diego

So I took last week off to decompress and get my life back in order after our 9-day cruise on Carnival Spirit to the Mexican Riviera.

My husband's BFF since elementary days has been on more than 15 in his lifetime. He and his family are fans of the cruising experience and we've always wanted to try it.

For our first cruise there were some things we took into account.

1. We didn't want to spend a bucket-load of money on a cruise without knowing if we'd be sea-sick, or go stir-crazy.
2. We haven't had a big vacation for two years, and this would work well into our plans.
3. We wanted to go on a cruise without having to purchase airfare to the port.
4. We wanted to go somewhere we haven't been.
5. Price was important to us.

So I spent many, many months online researching. I researched multiple cruise offerings, signed up for lists, mailers with DVDs, which I enjoyed watching. Eventually, I found a great rate from Carnival.

The details:
1. 9-day cruise to the Mexican Riviera (we'd never been to Mexico...and 9 days!)
2. Two rooms. One interior, connecting to a balcony. (I feel safer knowing the girls are sleeping without access to "kid overboard")
3. The port was in San Diego (we could drive - also I love SD)
4. Kids are still young enough that it was not a hardship to take them out of school.
5. The price of the cruise worked out to be about 67.00 per person, per night, all inclusive.
6. We purchased one excursion through Carnival - a whale watching, snorkeling, catamaran for 7 hours in Puerto Vallarta.
7. My husband's BFF went with us and own a time share in Cabo - where we went for just the price of a cab ride.

We purchased our cruise back in May. It was a great price, and we knew that if the price ever dipped lower than what we purchased, we could contact Carnival and receive the difference via on-board credit (OBC). Usually, you can get some OBC as cruise lines tend to have lower rates in advance, and then raise the price until 1-2 months before sail date, where they lower it to fill the ship. Unfortunately for us the Splendor happened, and many of the future Splendor travelers re-booked onto our cruise. So, no such luck for us with OBC.

Our one consolation was, the price never dipped lower than ours - so we got a great value. OBC is useful for excursions, the spa, drinks, photos, etc...

Our itinerary:
Four Sea Days
Puerto Vallarta
Cabo San Lucas
La Paz

We were hoping, that with the incidents that happened recent to our cruise in Mazatlan, that Carnival would skip it and change the itinerary like Disney Cruise Lines to spend two days in Cabo. That didn't happen. I think it had to do with the money already paid to Mazatlan for the docking, and in Cabo we have to tender into port, which was just too much hassle for Carnival to deal with. Needless to say, we stayed onboard that day, and enjoyed the pools onboard.

Some useful sites:
1. Cruise Critic: Huge wealth of information, articles, deals. I thoroughly enjoyed the message boards. It helped with researching excursions, advice on what to pack, what to expect, pros and cons of cruise ships, etc...
2. Cheap Cruises: Offers a comparison shopping guide.
4. US Dept of State travel site: guidelines and info on traveling abroad
5. Individual cruise sites
6. Ship Mate iPhone application: I liked this as it had a countdown to the cruise, and had the entire ship's layout. I used the map onboard. It also had other information that was helpful to read.

Note - the message boards are helpful in determining excursions. We had wanted to do a horseback riding on the beach in Mazatlan. We found a great outlet, via the many good reviews online, but canceled due to what we thought would be best for our family.

I will also add a caveat. The message board for our cruise had people saying that the best whale watching was in Cabo and to not waste our money in Puerto Vallarta. I was nervous, as we had already booked, and it was too late to back out of the excursion without incurring penalty fees. Turns out, we not only saw whales, jumping manta rays and dolphins, we also saw these off the side of the cruise ship, out our balcony on the way to Puerto Vallarta.

Sailing out of San Diego to a sumptuous sunset.

Tomorrow I'll talk about our preparation/organization and packing.

ps. I am not being compensated in anyway to post about cruising. I like information, and am sharing information that I would want, if I were considering my first cruise.

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