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Vacations for Canadians

Cruising - who me?

If you had asked me a year ago if I would like to go on a cruise, my answer would have been a hard no, not interested. So … now it’s time for me to admit I was wrong about cruising. Before working here at Vacations for Canadians, I envisioned some sort of 70’s love boat that would inevitably lead to seasickness and boredom. What I got was an incredible ship that had all the amenities of an all-inclusive and more! Read on fellow Sailors to hear how my first cruise on Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas went, what I learned (for my next cruise), and why I’ve turned the corner on cruising.

As a first-time cruiser, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but since I work with some pretty amazing travel advisors, I had the inside scoop. I traveled with my two teen daughters and we were already in Orlando for a cheer competition so it was an easy drive to Fort Lauderdale. We dropped our rental at the airport and grabbed a cab to the port. We had done the pre-boarding requirements on the Royal Caribbean app which made our embarkment quick and easy! Once on board we found our room, dropped off our carry-on, and headed out to explore. This ship is big (17 floors) so we wanted to get our bearings and locate the key areas before we set sail. I had pre-purchased beverage packages for the girls thinking I’d try a la carte for myself. Shortly after boarding I changed my mind and purchased a package for myself. We all got a souvenir RC cup that we kept filled with non-alcoholic drinks (you have to stay hydrated!) and the girls enjoyed plenty of mocktails. If you haven’t purchased packages or excursions in advance, don’t worry there are lots of opportunities to get them while on the ship. As the ship prepared to leave port, we headed to the top floor to join in the sail-away fun. The sun was shining, the music was pumping and with drinks in hand, we were ready for our vacation to start!

pictures of dinner options onboard a cruise hip

Food glorious food! I am so lucky my kids are not picky eaters but even if they were there is literally something for everyone on board Symphony of the Seas! Looking for a quick bite? Pizza, hot dogs, sandwiches and more can be found at the many complimentary restaurants. We did our first breakfast at the full-service main dining room but opted for the Windjammer buffet for the remainder of the trip. Lunch was at one of the “quick serve” restaurants or the buffet but dinner was where this foodie was in heaven! The main dining room had a rotating themed menu and not only was the food delicious but the service was next level. As someone who has spent my entire life in the service/tourism industry, I was blown away by the attention to detail, the personalization, and the genuine positivity of our wait staff (a big shout out to Mardave and Renalyn 11/10 service). The service everywhere on the ship was something that really stood out to me and my girls – every crew member went above and beyond. We opted to do one specialty dining and chose Hooked because we love seafood! The meal and the service were great. My oldest considered trying oysters but couldn’t choose between appetizers so we asked the waiter’s opinion. The waiter offered to bring her oysters to try in addition to the app she was eyeing and when it came it was a full serving which was a surprise as we expected one to try but it also gave me a chance to try them as well.

2 teen girls posing in the ocean in Nassau

Shore Excursions – sand, surf and sun! We had three stops on our trip which originally included Labadee in Haiti but was changed to Nassau, Bahamas, Falmouth in Jamaica, and Coco Cay back in the Bahamas. In Nassau, we opted to walk from the port to a nearby beach that was a 10 min stroll away. We rented beach chairs ($10 US each) and enjoyed soaking up the sun. In Jamaica, we chose to add a shore excursion as I wasn’t comfortable exploring on my own with the girls. We chose a beach transfer to Blue Waters Beach Club which included transportation and a beach chair ($34.99 US each). Both these beaches were beautiful with crystal clear water and white sands. Food and drink were available for purchase and washrooms were available as well. The only downside to these was that vendors were “hustling” to sell you stuff but they did accept a polite no thank you and move on. We spend a few hours at both beaches and returned for a late lunch on the ship.

The beach and restaurant on Royal Caribbean's private Island, Cococay

Coco Cay – A Perfect Day! Our final stop at Coco Cay was by far our favourite. It is a private island owned by Royal Caribbean which means the same service standards as you find on the ship are adhered to on the island and you can use your beverage packages and sea pass for purchases. The beaches are stunning and there are also pools, a waterpark ($), and an adults-only area. We opted to stay in the Chill  Island section and found beach chairs with an umbrella close to the water. There are several complimentary restaurants on the island including Chill Grill which was in our section. The buffet-style menu included salads, BBQ, tacos, and an ice cream machine for a sweet treat after lunch. There is seating available or you can bring food and drink back to your spot on the beach. We stayed most of the day at the beach and visited a few shops to get last-minute souvenirs. 

The stage for the Hairspray show, ice skating show and dancers in water show on cruise ship

The entertainment and activities on Symphony of the Seas were spectacular. We saw a performance of Hairspray that rivaled any theatre shows we’ve seen. HIRO the aqua show was incredible and we were awed by the multi-talented performers. The ice show was fantastic and it’s hard to believe you’re on a ship watching this. Every show we saw had incredible performers, sets, and production. Make time to see these shows, you won’t be disappointed. Both my teens loved all three shows and thanked me for “dragging them” to see them.

Images on cruise ship of teen room, pool deck and Central Park

Seas days are fun too! When not in port there is still plenty to do. On our ship the adventurous had waterslides, The Abyss (a gigantic slide), Flowrider, and more. Looking for something more relaxed? Enjoy lounging by the pool or in the hot tub, playing a round of mini golf or spa services ($).  There are daily activities with the entertainment team, a fitness centre, and a walking track. Chill out in Central Park, teens will love that they have their own place to “hang”, and families can head to the Boardwalk for games and an actual carousel ride.

Girl sitting in cruise ship port window looking out at the sea at night

Our stateroom was an oceanview on Level 3 (midship) which was a great location and once we figured out port and starboard we could find it quite easily. We also added a VFC magnet to the door for quick recognition. We had a bed and a day bed which fit 3 of us comfortably as pictured (excuse the mess but I have teens). What we really loved was the big window, it was a favourite spot for everyone to sit and watch the waves roll by. 

Girl on the deck of a cruise ship at sunset

My top take-aways

  1. Download the App – Use the RC App chat feature with your kids/friends/partners. Everyone can have time together and time apart without worrying about how to stay in touch. Plus you can manage dinners, activities, entertainment, and more without wifi (sorry no free surfing the net). 
  2. Photo Ops are everywhere – capture those sunsets and memories from the ship to the shore!
  3. Buy online in advance – cruise lines often offer discounts prior to cruising on everything from beverage packages to wifi, and beyond. Watch for offers and save money by purchasing in advance. 
  4. Research destinations – many of the on-shore excursions sold out in advance and because I didn’t know which locations were walkable and which we needed to be more prepared for I missed out on some opportunities.
  5. Bring a dressy outfit – I (wrongly) assumed that I shouldn’t wear heels for fear of the ship rocking but seriously I felt like I was on land so I could have brought some fancy shoes to go with a nice cocktail dress for the formal night.
  6. If you don’t know…ask –  There were so many seasoned cruisers aboard that were more than willing to help when I didn’t know how things worked. Of course all the team members on board were available as well as guest services.
  7. Guest Services – a great source of information but they were very busy on embarkment and departing days.
  8. Tipping – Although you pay gratuities (18%) there is still the option to tip which I struggled with a bit as everyone was so helpful. In the end, we left a cash tip for our wait staff in the main dining room as they went above and beyond.
  9. Value for your Money – I thought cruising was expensive but all in with excursions and beverage packages we still paid less for our cruise than our last all-inclusive vacation. We got to visit 3 locations instead of one, there were waterslides and activities galore along with pools, hot tubs, bars and more!
  10. Take advantage of deals – if you can get a deal that includes on-board credits/perks you would normally buy (do the math) it helps keep costs down.
 
I can’t wait for my next cruise…I might be converted ; )

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