What’s Your Cruise Sail away Style? 

Couple dancing on deck - photo courtesy of Blend Images/ShutterstockAh, sailaway! Even if you’ve been onboard for hours, sailaway is the official start to a cruise vacation. The lines are pulled in, the ship’s horn blasts, and you can feel your excitement grow as the vessel glides away from the pier and starts to pick up steam. It might be one of the best moments of the entire trip.

Yet so many people don’t give a thought to how they embrace this sailaway moment. You’re distracted by the muster drill, perhaps your luggage just arrived, and your thoughts have already turned to where you’ll get dinner and what to do on your first evening onboard. Get too bogged down in fighting over closet space and — bam! — you’re half way to the Bahamas.

What’s your sailaway style? Do you live it up to the fullest, mark it with a token gesture or skip it completely? If you don’t want to miss the magic moment on your next cruise, try one of these rituals to enhance your first few minutes at sea.

The Classic

Pool side enjoying a drink - photo courtesy of wavebreakmedia/ShutterstockRitual: Head to the ship’s top decks to join the crowds dancing by the pool or lining the balcony as you sail out of port. This is your chance to enjoy the party music while it’s fresh, before the oft-repeated opening strains of “Hot, Hot, Hot” make you want to cry. Just be sure you don’t drop your drink as you get your groove on.

Drink: the Drink of the Day (preferably a fruity, frozen cocktail) in a souvenir glass

Song: Pink’s “Get This Party Started”


The Romantic

Couple on deck - photo courtesy of Maridav/ShutterstockRitual: Skip the crowds, and cuddle up to your sweetie on your own private verandah. You get the same sailaway views of land slipping away without having to elbow your way to the railing. Just remember: other people can see you on your balcony, so don’t get too caught up in the moment.

Drink: Champagne or a glass of wine

Song: Rod Stewart’s “Sailing”

The Shutterbug

Friends taking a picture - photo courtesy of Nikkolia/ShutterstockRitual: Sailaway is a perfect time for memorable vacation photos. Some people pose for the same shot on every cruise.

Facebook fan Tania Mongar‘s husband “has to take his traditional ‘drinking a beer in front of the funnel’ pic on the first day of every cruise.” Other cruise travellers do the obligatory “drink in everyone’s hand” shot, or they wear matching T-shirts or outfits for that first group photo.

Drink: a bottle of beer — easy to hold while managing a camera

Song: Outkast’s “Hey Ya” (especially if you can “shake it like a Polaroid picture”)

The Bliss

Lounging on deck - photo courtesy of Denys Prykhodov/ShutterstockRitual: Why wait to fully embrace the relaxation that comes with a cruise vacation? Cruise Critic editor Brittany Chrusciel waxes poetic about enjoying sailaway from the thermal suite in a ship’s spa. Whether you’re soaking in a hot tub or getting Zen on a heated lounger, you can enjoy fabulous views while letting your stresses melt away.

Upside: You can be first in line when they announce the spa raffle winners. Downside: You might fall asleep and miss the sendoff.

Drink: herbal tea or fruit-infused water

Song: Enya’s “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)”

The Oblivious

Unpacking for the trip - photo courtesy of Hasloo Group Production Studio/ShutterstockRitual: Some folks are too busy unpacking or exploring the ship from stem to stern to even notice that the ship has already left. You might pass them on the stairs and overhear a confused “wait, is the ship moving?” If you plan to miss sail away, at least do it with intention: Throw open your window curtains as you unpack, or take a detour via the promenade deck as you make your way around the ship.

Drink: Red Bull — these travellers are on the go!

Song: Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop”

The Interior

Relaxing indoors - photo courtesy of Ondine C/ShutterstockRitual: Maybe it’s cold outside, or maybe you like a bit of peace and quiet, but if you’re like Cruise Critic editor Ashley Kosciolek, you enjoy sail away from the ship’s library or a quiet lounge — any place with large windows, small crowds and comfy seating.

Drink: something to sip like a latte or a gin & tonic

Song: Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea”

The Selfie

Couple's selfie - photo courtesy of Halfpoint/ShutterstockRitual: You just have to stick it to all your non-cruising friends: You’re on vacation while they’re hard at work. So do as Cruise Critic editor Gina Kramer does, and take a selfie to quickly post to your favorite social media site before your land-based mobile service cuts out. Eat your heart out, Facebook.

Drink: anything with bright fruity colours and an umbrella on top for full effect

Song: “If My Friends Could See Me Now” from Sweet Charit

22 Do’s and Don’t’s for Your First Day Onboard a Cruise Ship

22 Do’s and Don’t’s for Your First Day Onboard a Cruise Ship 

cruise-ship-first-day-do-dontLong-time cruisers often have an embarkation day routine. Some make a beeline for the atrium or poolside bar, while others head to the buffet. Some like to explore the ship, posting photos online to make Facebook and Twitter friends jealous. Others meticulously spray down their cabins with Lysol, start popping seasickness medicines and unpack all their belongings into their proper places.

If you’re a first-timer or haven’t settled into a familiar cruise routine, here’s a list of embarkation day do’s and don’t’s, culled from our many years cruising.

DO start your vacation off with a tropical drink in a colorful glass with umbrellas and plastic monkeys a-plenty. Just don’t assume that drink proffered by a waiter is free … or that you can’t get it cheaper by opting for a regular, non-souvenir glass.

DO tour the ship, get your bearings, and identify which bars and eateries you want to hit first. We recommend starting at the top and working your way down … unless you want to get in a workout by climbing all the stairs.

DON’T head straight to the buffet — it’s one of the most crowded places onboard on embarkation day because everyone comes hungry for lunch. Instead, check out your dining options. Sometimes other venues are open for a first-day lunch, and they aren’t such madhouses.

DO take photos — lots of them. Get that first “Hooray, I’m on vacation” shot of your family by the ship’s rail; snap a pic of your cabin in pristine condition before it’s wrecked with daily schedules, towel animals and your assorted laundry; capture interesting spots onboard before they’re overrun with passengers; and do feel free to post them online to make your friends drool.

DON’T take the elevator if you don’t need to. The lifts are super-slow on embark day and crowded with passengers and crew ferrying luggage between decks. Take the stairs. Then have no guilt when you tuck into dessert at dinner.

DO arrange your spa and salon appointments, as the most popular treatment times book up quickly. Not sure what you want? Take a spa tour. You might get to sample a massage or win a free treatment in the first-day raffle.

DON’T spend the day in your winter, workday or travel clothes. Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on so you don’t have to wait for your luggage to arrive for you to slip into sandals, shorts or swimsuits.

hot-tub-royal-caribbeanDO take a dip in the pool or hot tub. They’re often uncrowded on the first day because many people haven’t followed the advice above and brought a change of clothes. But why wait to begin your vacation? The pool is open!

DO make specialty dining reservations if you haven’t done so online before your trip. Choice dining times can sell out.

DON’T forget to check in at the kids club and sign up your little ones for the onboard camp activities. There’s often an introductory session for kids and parents to meet the counselors and get acquainted with the facilities. Better to sign up on day one, even if you’re not sure your kids will want to go; there’s no requirement to attend.

DO book shore tours, and ask the tour desk any questions you might have. Some tours have limited space and sell out, so book early (if you haven’t pre-booked).

DO buy a soda card or alcohol package to get the most use out of them on your cruise. Just do the math beforehand to make sure the packages will actually save you money.

DON’T settle for unacceptable dinner seatings. The maitre d’ is typically available to take questions and make changes, if possible, on embarkation day. If you wanted early dining but got a late seating, want to switch from set-seating to flexible dining or just want to find out if you’re at a two-top or 10-top, make a visit to the dining room a top priority. It’s also good to check in with the maitre d’ if you have dietary restrictions to make sure you’ll be taken care of onboard.

DO reserve space on any fee-extra sun decks (such as Princess’ Sanctuary) or cabanas, especially if you want to book them for a sea day. Space is limited and can sell out.

man-ship-cell-phoneDO make your last phone calls, texts and tweets while your phone can access land-based cell towers and you’re not paying sky-high satellite Internet and roaming fees.

DON’T assume your cabin is pristine and in working order, if you tend to worry about such things. Test out the TV, the toilet and the lights; check for bed bugs; sanitize anything you need to. Set your mind at ease early. Then go and enjoy your vacation.

DO unpack your suitcases, and get that task (and your luggage) out of the way early. Decorate your cabin and door if you like to personalize your home for the vacation.

DO meet your cabin steward and make any requests you have. Some travelers like to tip their cabin stewards on day one to ensure good service throughout the cruise (but this isn’t necessary).

DON’T skip the muster drill. It will provide important information in case of an emergency. Plus it’s mandatory, even if you have cruised before.

DO take a nap or lounge on your balcony (even if the view is just of an ugly port building). It’s your vacation; you can be as active or as laid-back as you want.

DO head up on deck for sailaway. It’s festive, with live music and flowing drinks, and it’s a fun way to kick off your cruise.

DON’T automatically eat dinner in the main dining room. Embarkation day can be a great night to dine out in the specialty restaurants, as they’re often less crowded and, on some lines, carry a reduced cover charge.

DO watch the sun set over the ocean, go to the welcome show, hit the casino, sing karaoke and shake your booty at the disco — your cruise starts tonight!

A muster drill that’s life-saving and lively

A muster drill that’s life-saving and lively

By Tom Stieghorst

*InsightHave you have used your cell phone or tablet during a cruise ship safety demonstration?

During a recent muster drill, a crew member stopped me from using my phone to send a tweet. No pun intended: It was the right call. Passengers are supposed to be paying attention to the safety message.

Except that there were long stretches when nothing happened. No instruction, no videos, nothing but waiting. Some sort of communication seemed to be happening behind the scenes. And granted, sometimes it takes more than a few minutes for everybody to report to their assigned muster stations. But in the meantime, passengers are cooling their heels.*TomStieghorst

Getting attention for routine safety messages is a problem that has plagued many companies in the business of transportation. On every flight, airline personnel are required to tell passengers something that most of them have already heard. The natural impulse for most listeners is to tune it out. Social media and portable devices (cameras not forgotten) are just the latest means of avoiding a mind-numbing couple of minutes.

The recent fire on Grandeur of the Seas offers a reminder of why it’s worth it to pay attention to the safety message. Passengers roused at 2:50 a.m. had at least some idea of what was happening, where to go, what to do.

And of course one of the lessons from the Costa Concordia tragedy, which occurred just hours after leaving an embarkation port, was the need to conduct a muster drill before sailing and to compel every passenger’s participation during the drill.

But still, some thought and effort should go into the presentation of these life-saving exercises. Perhaps some sort of interactivity is called for. Or a quiz at the end. A cruise credit for the passenger that correctly demonstrates they’ve been paying attention.

Cruise lines also owe it to passengers to make the drill as effective as possible. Please keep it moving, to minimize the boredom. Make whatever is said audible, especially announcements on the ship’s public address system.

And try to involve the crew in communicating to small groups of guests. The more personal the safety demonstrations are, the more attention and respect they will command.

And now one long tone signals the end to the muster drill. Back to your phones!