Tuesday, March 29, 2016

5 Tips for Cruising with a Group

Do you prefer to spend your cruise time cuddling on cruise ship deck chairs with your sweetie, or do you like to travel with groups of friends?

Costa Maya, Mexico
Fred and I have enjoyed three cruises during our almost thirty-six years of marriage. The first was our honeymoon cruise from New York City to Bermuda, and the second was a Western Caribbean cruise from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Last fall, we received an email from a golfing friend who had booked a seven day Exotic Western Caribbean cruise that would sail in early February, 2016 from Port Canaveral, FL. He wanted to organize a group to sail on this mid-winter getaway.

Although we had been to Cozumel, this voyage offered the opportunity to visit some additional ports that were not covered in our prior cruise--Belize, Isla Roatan (Honduras) and Costa Maya, Mexico. So we asked around and found several friends who were interested in joining us on this winter vacation.
Cozumel, Mexico
Our two previous cruises were strictly “us time,” so we thought it would be fun to enjoy a journey with people we already know and like. This traveling group was comprised of five couples, including three individuals who were first-time cruisers.

I imparted all of my cruising knowledge to guide the newbies through the process, which truly does involve many details that require attention. Knowledge is power, and I wanted to be certain that they were well-informed. Cruises are not one-size-fits-all. It is helpful to decide whether you want a casual or a more formal cruising experience before you book. A little bit of research goes a long way to educating everyone about the ships, accommodations, styles, ports, prices and options.

If you are planning a cruise that includes friends and/or family or a combo of the two, here are some valuable tips for you:

1-Some folks like to dine early, some prefer to dine late. Discuss the dining room seating time in advance and be sure everyone is in agreement. Some cruises also have a flexible time dining option, so it is helpful to iron this out for everyone to be on the same page if they want the group to dine together. Adjustments can be made to a reasonable extent, but it is far better to settle this issue in advance.

2-Establish that breakfast is “on your own” unless there is some reason why it is essential for everyone to meet for breakfast. This gives each person ample flexibility in the time they wake up and make themselves presentable for the other passengers to see. Some folks love to see the sunrise from their balconies and then embrace an early morning work out in the fitness center. Others enjoy sleeping in while they are on vacation and are in no rush to hit the deck running. In terms of trying to corral everyone to breakfast at the same time, frequently it is not that easy to secure a table in the breakfast buffet area that will accommodate a cast of thousands or even dozens. Keep it simple first thing in the morning. Let everyone relax and do their own thing.

Mayan Ruins in Belize
3-Be certain that each individual in your group carefully reviews the excursion options and chooses what THEY want to do. Some excursions require physical agility, and not everyone in your group may be able to keep up or navigate difficult terrain or steep stairs. Booking an excursion for each port is not a requirement, and not everyone is comfortable in a tender (small boat) that may be bouncing along on rough waters to take passengers from ship to shore and back in some ports. Read the reviews which have been written by others who have taken those same excursions. You will receive a great deal of insight from these testimonials. Not everyone has the same experiences, so you will read the good, the bad and the ugly and then make your own decision. Excursions are not usually cheap, so choose the ones that appear to give passengers the best encounter for the relatively short time you are in port. Just remember that if everyone makes their own choices, they cannot blame you if they are not charmed by the experience.

4-Encourage everyone to invest in non-drowsy Dramamine and motion sickness wrist bands. Seas can swell during any season when a storm pops up. It is far better to be prepared for the worst and not have to use these items than to need them and either not be able to buy them or have to spend a fortune to acquire them.

Port at Isla Roatan (Honduras)
5-Please remember that when traveling with folks who have never cruised before, there is always the potential to have someone in your group who becomes cruise-phobic once you are already out to sea and they get antsy because they are locked into following the program for the next seven or more days. Occasionally, there is a cruiser who feels confined or trapped by not being able to simply say after a couple of days, “I don’t want to do this any more.” It really is not their fault. They have never been in this situation before and could not predict that they would feel this way. Try to encourage them by keeping them busy with activities and the multitude of fun things to do that are available to them on the cruise.

Warning! One last tip that comes to us from Cruise Expert, Kate Jensen: For any travel outside the U.S. borders, be sure that everyone in your party has a valid passport that does not expire within six months from your trip departure date. That sounds like a no-brainer, but Fred and I actually have a friend who was on his way to the Newark Airport for a fabulous golf trip in Scotland with his buddies and discovered that his passport had just expired. He had some serious scrambling to do to get to Connecticut to obtain an expedited passport renewal and re-book a flight to catch up with his friends. He missed most of the golf outings and spent a fortune securing a last minute flight.

Back to the benefits of cruising, Fred and I believe that cruises are a fabulous way to experience a variety of destinations for short periods of time, gaining insight on whether or not we would have the desire to return for a longer stay. A cruise offers the opportunity to do as much or as little as you wish. You can stay busy from morning until late at night, or you can kick back and do nothing. The sunrises and sunsets from your balcony can be amazing and unforgettable. One thing is for certain--you will never go hungry on a cruise, and each port is a new adventure. 

If you have any questions about cruises, contact Kate Jensen who is an expert resource: Kate Jensen, ECC CruiseOne-Myrtle Beach (843) 655-5158 cell phone

Bon voyage!!

See you soon for a visit to another fabulous location...
Mary Anne Benedetto, Author/Speaker