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A Supposedly Fun Thing that Will Hopefully Actually Be Fun
January 2, 2014 5:41 PM   Subscribe

Cruise recommendations for two female BFFs in their 30s?

My best friend of many, many years has had a rough year (cheated on, divorce, yadda yadda). We had been talking about going on a cruise for a while (originally with our husbands). Neither of us has ever been. I want to surprise her with cruise tickets for the two of us. Tragically, however, I am not rich, so we are limited in how fancy we can get.

We'd be leaving from Port Canaveral or possibly Fort Lauderdale. Any recommendations as to destination or cruise line?

Carnival is tempting because of the price but I've heard not so great things about it...

We like chilly chill relaxing things like fruity cocktails, pedicures and hot tubs. We also are into cultural stuff and would definitely be interested in exploring the ports we go to. We also like some measure of cheesiness like karaoke or midnight taco bars but we are definitely not looking for the full "spring break" experience, if you will. So tacky, yet tasteful, basically is what we're after. Oh and clean rooms, good food and no norovirus!
posted by Jess the Mess to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
We've been on two Carnival cruises (one in September and one in August, so not "spring break" times, I guess) and had a ball both times. Tacky but tasteful, totally! There's so much room on those big ships and so much going on, you can definitely find whatever kind of fun you're looking for! The last ship we went on (Carnival Glory) had a great adults-only ship on the back deck with huge round loungers to sun in; so great! And we always enjoyed spending our nights doing karaoke or piano bar time. Check out; we booked our first cruise on them and got a great deal (plus a free bottle of wine our first night in the dining hall! score!).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:51 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]

I've been on two NCL cruises and had a blast on each. They do a two-for-one happy hour from 4-6pm at all bars each night. Great value and tons of fun. The Norwegian Epic had a fantastic spa. We loved the warm stone lounge chairs with a view (and we had more than a couple afternoon naps on them). Food is good in the complementary restaurants and very good in the restaurants with a cover. Great service, everything seemed clean and well maintained on both ships... I would wholeheartedly recommend NCL.

A note on culture: cruises are great, but not a great way to learn about local culture. Every port is drowning in the same mass-produced, Made in China kitsch. You really have to venture into the side streets to get something authentic--but it's worth it when you do! We had a lot of fun poking around grocery stores. We tried to buy things that were made in the Caribbean or Central America. And I had the best banana of my life from a man with a wheelbarrow stationed a block behind the security gate. Be brave! But also be wary. Pickpockets and worse are a legitimate concern.

Oh, and hit up They have very thorough reviews of every ship and every itinerary on every line.
posted by possumbrie at 6:33 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

Royal Carribean has cruises departing from Fort Lauderdale. I took an RC cruise through South East Asia and would recommend it. The ship was one of their older ones and super-kitschy, but in a fun way (think gaudy artwork and lots of chandeliers). It was very clean, and the food was fine (most of the guests on my cruise were Singaporean Chinese, so there was a good mix of Western food and Chinese dishes) - we had dinner in the "formal" restaurant once, and stuck to the buffet stuff after that. I personally wasn't a fan of the assigned seating in the restaurant.

The "entertainment" was mostly of the so-bad-it's-good variety (LOTS OF FEATHERS AND SHOWGIRLS), and there was a super-cheesy "Casino Royale" gaming area. I don't remember there being a huge number of children on board, even though it was during summer vacation. I also got an excellent pedicure on board! The boat we were on wasn't as big as some, but it still had stuff like mini golf, a climbing wall, a gym etc, as well as quiet spaces like a library and a mah-jongg room.

It's not the most "authentic" way to visit other countries, but it was cheap, convenient, well-organised and super relaxing. You can go off the beaten track when you're visiting a port; you don't have to join a tour so long as you make it back to the boat before it leaves. I managed to get food poisoning on our Thailand stop, which not only made me feel super-authentic but also meant that I left the ship the same weight that I boarded.

TL;DR: Would recommend Royal Carribean for the sort of trip you seem to be looking for.
posted by jaynewould at 6:50 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

I just got back from a carnival cruise - though cruises aren't my kind of thing, I had a pretty good time. I went with my family, so I mostly socialized with them, but there were definitely lots of activities on board that would satisfy your "cheesy fun" desires. Rooms were nice and clean, food was good and plentiful. The drinks are a little expensive if you always get the fancy fruity ones, but alright if you order basic things like vodka sodas. They also had wine specials with dinner, so keep an eye out for that. the decor was kooky and over the top, but fun. Our cruise toured the Caribbean, stopping at Nassau, st Thomas, Puerto Rico and grand Turk. The old forts tour of puerto rico was terriffic, and the other ports had nice beaches to play on.

The boat had 2 pool and hot tub areas, one of which was adults only, a waterslide, deck parties and film screenings, trivia games... I think you guys could have a lot of fun. memail me if you want to ask anything, it's all pretty fresh in my mind right now.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:49 PM on January 2

I've been on three cruises -- two Carnival cruises and one Royal Caribbean. My understanding of the market is that Royal Caribbean is supposed to be a cut above Carnival. However, my experience was that Carnival did things really well, such that I didn't think Royal Caribbean was any better. In fact, I think Carnival was actually slightly better. (It's been years since I went on one.)

I got the sense that Carnival is so huge and established that even though they are cheap, they still do a really good job.

You won't be lacking in the cheesiness you are seeking.

One of the pleasures of cruises is people watching all the gross people who do not regard the experience as cheesy at all.
posted by jayder at 7:49 PM on January 2

Our first cruise was a Princess Cruise (west coast), in March. It was more on the luxurious end of the spectrum, however, it was like 75-80% retirement age and above, and 20-25% closer to our age (late 30's). Lots of cruise veterans. My hubby got a good deal on a travel website about 3-4 weeks before the date we left.

We managed to hook up with some people on that cruise by connecting on the Cruise Critic forums. Hooking up with a group beforehand actually allowed us to have a really good time. Most of the people in our group were cruise veterans, and had good advice regarding excursions and activities. Whenever we went to dinner, or joined an activity, there was already at least one couple there that we knew. (I don't think that we hung out with any non-couples/friend pairs, but they would have been welcome all the same).

Our next cruise was on Carnival (also west coast), in December. Both in terms of the food, and more importantly the clientele, it was like going on a cruise at Hometown Buffet. In my experience, Carnival is the one you go on with your own established group, and expect it to be a booze cruise, nothing more.
posted by vignettist at 11:03 PM on January 2

Six time cruiser here; once on Carnival. I'd gladly go again on Carnival, even though all else being equal I'd choose Celebrity or Royal Carribean.

A cruise ship is a great time to do some things you'd never do otherwise; from playing shuffleboard to karaoke. Even the art auctions tend to be strangely entertaining. Odds are good you'll never see your fellow cruisers again.

If you do much drinking, it's great to find the bar of your choice early on, so you can establish a relationship with the bartenders. In addition to being extremely entertaining, they'll take good care of you.

We've always enjoyed talking with the staff as much as we've enjoyed meeting other passengers.

Also, consider a voyage which includes a stop at the cruise line's private island or beach.

I'd live on a cruise ship for the rest of my life if I could afford it.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:44 AM on January 3

I went on the Carnival Breeze in July and had a blast. And they have some great off-season deals! Also, the buffet is included so you can eat all your meals there to avoid spending a bunch of money. If I recall correctly, food delivered via room service was also included, and you can each bring a bottle of your own booze. (Like, those really big bottles of grocery store wine . . . those count!)

There was definitely cheesey-cheeseness if you want it, but I didn't. I spent most of the time on the adults-only deck with a fruity drink, rotating between a huge hammock and the hot tub and it was perrrrfect. The rooms were clean though I did get sick, but that was tequila + rough seas and only lasted a day. There was a spa that seemed really nice but I couldn't be bothered to leave the deck!

I also spent a lot of time in the piano bar and in the ship's library (there is a wine dispenser!). They had formal nights, too, so it was fun to dress up all fancy.

Pick your excursions carefully based on what you want to do and your tolerance for crowds. If I go again, I'll probably skip most organized excursions and just sit on the beach for an afternoon, but there is quite a variety of things you can do.
posted by mibo at 4:36 AM on January 3

Also, the buffet is included so you can eat all your meals there to avoid spending a bunch of money

Huh? All the food is included on a Carnival Cruise- the sit-down dining room, the buffet, room service (though you pay for delivery), the late night sandwich place- everything except the steakhouse, which is very reasonably priced at $30 a person.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:31 AM on January 3

If you search at vacationstogo you can use their custom search. You can put in exactly what you want (up to four departure ports, how long you want the cruise to be, the class ship you want [there I'd choose 4.5 to 5.5], and the dates you want to go). I have purchased many cruises through them and havent had a problem.
posted by beccaj at 7:37 AM on January 3

Thanks guys - very helpful info all around! I'll let you know what I end up booking.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:03 AM on January 3

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