Help a Cruise n00b!
September 15, 2006 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Tomorrow I embark on a cruise (Carnival) for the Caribbean. (First time cruiser!) Specifically Nassau, Saint Thomas and St. Maarten. Looking for any tips, things we shouldn't miss, and a couple of ship-related questions inside...

We're looking for any tips, things to do or see, etc. I really have no idea what to expect - I have an image in my head of being dumped off at a dock, sucked into foot traffic that corrals me into shops that sell overpriced trinkets to the people fresh off the boat. I usually like to get away from the 'tourist traps', but don't know if there is much to see besides the 'touristy things' - plus I am nervous about going off the tourist paths and possibly not getting back to the boat on time. Also not terribly interested in activities high in physical exertion. I do like photography so any good photo spot recommendations would be appreciated.

Also - regarding the ship itself, I suppose this would apply to any ship in Carnival's line:

- I have heard of people's alcohol bill exceeding that of their cruise ticket price. I plan on drinking frequently. How could I bring my own supply of alcohol on board? We were told to put locks on our luggage, but then I read elsewhere that they go through your luggage. That seems rather invasive. Are they x-raying your luggage looking for bottles of liquid? Any other suggested methods of getting alcohol on board? (I do plan on buying drinks on board, but if I can get a bottle of vodka through I'll be a happy man.)

- Internet access: I know they have an internet cafe, and they say they have WiFi if you bring your own laptop (which I intend to do - gotta get my MeFi fix!) I thought that if they offer WiFi, then it would be free internet, but the person I'm traveling with seems to think that would not be the case. Does anyone know if the WiFi is free? How would they make you pay for it otherwise? If they do charge, does anyone know what the going rate is?

- Onboard Casino - anything wrong with hitting the blackjack tables? I like blackjack and I know that's one game they can't fix in their favor - unless the rules are somehow different than the standard. (Dealer plays to 21? :-) I'd love to play some Texas Hold 'em but I doubt they have those kinds of games on the ships.

- Tipping: I know gratuity is included in a lot of the things, but is there any benefit to tipping additionally? IE, if I leave a few dollars as a tip after dinner should I hope for better service the next time, or if ordering a drink at the bar could I expect my next drink to be a little bit stronger? Is that just a waste of money? Or do they even accept additional cash tips?

- I'm a smoker - I imagine all rooms are non-smoking as we weren't asked a preference. Are there designated smoking areas? Or are the cruise ships 'all smoking' a la Las Vegas?

Any other onboard things two people in their early 30s should make it a point to see or do, anything I should avoid?

For specifics, I will be leaving from Port Canaveral on the Carnival Glory.

Thanks for your suggestions and sorry for the long post! :-)
posted by MarkLark to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
From the Carnival website FAQs:

Can I Bring Liquor On Board?

A liquor and beverage consumption policy was created in order for Carnival to be able to control the liquor consumption of minors and the quantities consumed that lead to the disruptive behavior of others on board.

Liquor and Beverage Policy

Bringing Alcohol On Board - Embarkation

Guests are prohibited from bringing alcoholic beverages on board. However, wine enthusiasts may bring fine wine or champagne on board only during embarkation at the beginning of the cruise. A $10 corkage fee per bottle will be charged should you wish to consume this wine in the dining room or a $14 corkage fee per bottle in the Supper Club. Guests may bring a small quantity of nonalcoholic beverages. All liquor, excessive quantities of wine and nonalcoholic beverages, to be determined at the discretion of security and/or embarkation personnel, will be confiscated and discarded without compensation. Guests may purchase a variety of beverages on board the ship. Alcoholic beverages will not be sold or served to anyone under the age of 21. We reserve the right to refuse the sale of alcoholic beverages to anyone. Alcoholic beverages purchased in the ship’s gift shops or in ports of call will be retained by Carnival until the end of the voyage.


Alcoholic beverages of any kind purchased in any Port-of-Call will be confiscated at the gangway, stored on board and retained by Carnival until the end of the voyage.

Ship Gift Shops

Alcoholic beverages of any kind purchased in the ship's gift shop will be stored on board and be retained by Carnival until the end of the voyage.

posted by essexjan at 11:15 AM on September 15, 2006

St. Maarten has a really lovely zoo that most people miss. It was probably my favorite thing on the island. They also have a shortish (3 mile roundtrip) hike through what they call a rain forest. I had to google a lot to find these kinds of things though.

I don't know about the boat deal, but there are plenty of low cost internet cafes on the island itself.
posted by stormygrey at 11:17 AM on September 15, 2006

You'll probably find much of the info you're looking for in the FAQs.
posted by essexjan at 11:18 AM on September 15, 2006

Let's see:
-They will find the alcohol you are bringing onboard it it's in any kind of normal bottle. Sure, you could try putting it in canteens or something so it won't look obvious in the xrays, but how much could you really get on board that way.
-Internet access: Not free. Nothing on a cruise is free except food, which you have already paid for anyway. Don't know how much it will cost you or how they keep non-payers off of it.
-Casino: Their tables are as fair as Vegas. Like any casino, they want you back, so everything is above board.
-Tipping: Of course, additional tipping may always get you something, but there's no guarantee. Stick with the automatic tipping, it's all that's expected.
-Smoking: yes, like Vegas you'll find smoking to be allowed most anywhere.
posted by poppo at 11:26 AM on September 15, 2006

Response by poster: Re: Liquor policy: I'm aware of their liquor policy. I'm also aware that while they say this is to prevent minors from drinking they charge exorbitant amounts of money for their liquor and it is a cash cow for them. And I'm also aware that people have been successful in bringing their own supplies on board. I was looking for suggestions or information on exactly what and how they search for this. I don't mind buying my drinks. I do mind getting overcharged for them.
posted by MarkLark at 11:28 AM on September 15, 2006

Then why are you going on a cruise?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:33 AM on September 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

Pardon me, but I would like to rescind this statement:
-They will find the alcohol you are bringing onboard it it's in any kind of normal bottle. Sure, you could try putting it in canteens or something so it won't look obvious in the xrays, but how much could you really get on board that way.

I have been on many cruises before, and family members have brought booze. They do x-ray your carry-on, but not your luggage.

What I mixed this up with is trying to buy liquor on the islands and then bringing that onboard the ship to drink. This they will catch you on. But sneaking it from home in your luggage will be OK.
posted by poppo at 11:38 AM on September 15, 2006

Eh, now I'm not sure. Maybe they bought them in the store on the ship.

MarkLark, as you can see, I have been drunk on too many cruises. Please disregard all of my comments regarding alcohol on cruises. The other comments still stand.
posted by poppo at 11:41 AM on September 15, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks poppo. Yes, I was concerned with bringing it onboard when we board the ship at the port of origin, not while returning from a daytrip to the islands. I know that they search you for 'contraband' such as that.

I also meant to ask: I've heard that you can get Cuban cigars in the islands. Are those considered contraband as well? If I wanted to bring a couple back with me, will they be taken from me when I attempt to reboard? What if they are in my pocket? I can't imagine they frisk you and make you empty your pockets before getting back on the boat.

>Then why are you going on a cruise?

Um... to have a good time, visit locations I've never been to before? Or maybe it's to be drained of every last cent the cruiseline can get out of me?
posted by MarkLark at 11:47 AM on September 15, 2006

For St. Martin / St Martaan - go to Sunset Beach, sit at the bar, and watch the planes land. And take pictures. If you want a quieter place get off the ship and get in a taxi to the french side right away, it's much nice

As to tipping, generally boats are cashless. You'll have an onboard account - tip the waitstaff etc at the end of the cruise. As to bartenders you can add to the included tip on the bill if you like, and sit in the same place a lot (which you may do as a smoker).

We've brought cases of wine on Celebrity cruises, not sure about Carnival. It's really luck of the draw on what they decide to stop and what they let on.

When we were on a cruise earlier this year they were testing out a hold'em table, it may have spread to other ships. The blackjack rules tend to be the same you would find in a bad casino, slightly to the house but not fundamentally different. If you want a casino fix ask the staff where they go on shore days - there are generally casinos in most of the ports as well.
posted by true at 11:55 AM on September 15, 2006

Go to St. John once you get to St. Thomas.

Well worth the trip.

There should be some excursions run by the boat. We did the jungle hike and saw honeymoon beach, which ruled.
posted by Lord_Pall at 11:59 AM on September 15, 2006

might be useful: my dad frequently smuggled whiskey in a listerine bottle. he never got caught.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 12:15 PM on September 15, 2006

In re: internet access -- per this press release, both wireless and internet cafe web access will run you the bargain basement rate of 75¢ per minute or $45 per hour, plus a $3.95 setup fee. Forget about being screwed on the cost of alcohol!
posted by Dreama at 12:33 PM on September 15, 2006

Wash out a big plastic bottle of mouthwash, add vodka + food coloring. Your martinis might look a little funny, but at least they're not $9 a pop.
posted by Addlepated at 12:47 PM on September 15, 2006

On St. Martin / St. Maarten, you can visit Orient Beach / Waikiki Beach. Orient Beach is a nude beach, and Waikiki is a nearby non-nude beach (though beware! the nude do wander). It was fun to just walk around and check out all the little shops - I didn't get a chance to check out the mall when we were there, but I heard it was nice!

Oh, also, you should know that while your cell phone will get reception in the Virgin Islands, they will ask you to pay an additional fee use it.
posted by geeky at 12:47 PM on September 15, 2006

This tip comes from my sister that worked on the Disney Cruise lines for two years. You will be assigned the same person to take care of your room, questions, etc. for the duration of your trip. It is not required, but customary to tip that person at the end of the trip. My sister recommended that I tip this person at the beginning of the trip instead of the end. This would result in better room service and general care. I tipped him $100 USD on his first visit to our room (they come and introduce themselves as an ice breaker kind of thing). As a result he cleaned our rooms two or three times a day, he brought us bottles of Vodka, wine and champagne. The employees of the ships are allowed to bring bottles back to their rooms so he hooked us up.

We meet another couple that did not do this and they said they only had their room cleaned once a day and it was not that well done.

This was easy the best $100 we spent on the entire trip. If you have the extra cash, I say do it. In fact, if I ever go on another trip I will do it again.

Have fun, it was one of the best vacations I have ever had.
posted by birdlips at 12:48 PM on September 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

I was recently on a Carnival Cruise. The wireless internet is definitely not free. It cost us $12 to send a single email!
posted by saucy at 12:57 PM on September 15, 2006

On St Thomas, go to Magens Bay, a fantastic beach. Eat at the Greenhouse for cheap eats, and go to Paradise Point for the Bushwackers and watch the sunset. Take the ferry from Red hook over to St John and hang out at Cinnamon Bay or Trunks...
posted by quibx at 12:58 PM on September 15, 2006

Forgetting the alcohol for a minute, enjoy the FOOD! Being surrounded by free food at all times is lots of fun. Make sure you visit at least one of the midnight buffets. Enjoy lunch by the pool instead of in the dining room. I remember a pizza cafe on one of my cruises which was fun too.
posted by kdern at 1:02 PM on September 15, 2006

On St. Thomas, think about going on this walking tour. Between the beaches, expensive cruise-sponsored excursions and the shopping, many people forget the amazing history of the islands.

The ships will encourage you to shop, as they get a kickback from some of the merchants. Some of the shops vary their prices based on the number of ships docked. There's usually 3 or 4 but I think there can be as many as 6. By walking into the historic/shopping district, you can avoid the taxis, the lines and some of the sales pitch. It takes about 20 minutes to get into town (the taxis won't be going much faster if there are more than a couple boats unloading passangers at the same time) and the walk is pretty pleasant. Just remember they drive on the wrong side of the road.

I wouldn't go to St. John unless you are sick of crowds. Magens Bay in St. Thomas is an excellent beach and it's easier and quicker to get to. That said, St. John is incredibly laid back compared to St. Thomas. If you're not interested in shopping and history isn't your bag (or you've had your fill) St John might be worth the time it takes to get there. Cruise ships can't dock there, so it won't be as difficult to get a decent spot at Trunks Bay.

If you want to do any kayaking, snorkling, or SCUBA, set it up yourself. For instance, this tour (which was great and uncrowded when my wife and I went when not on a cruise) goes for $65 and a taxi might cost $5, but the people from cruiseships end up paying almost twice that. This also goes for the ferry to St John if you choose to make that trip.

Internet access: There is a large internet cafe in the shopping district of St. Thomas with very reasonable rates, somewhere in the range of $5 for 30 minutes. There are also 2 or 3 free computers in the upstairs cafe of a jewelry/handbag/other expensive things store called Swiss Exchange or something like that. The connection is awful and you need to buy something at the cafe, but it's air conditioned and away from the bustle of the street.

I've only been to St. Maarten on a cruise, never overnight so I don't have much to offer there. We did exactly what true did and we didn't regret it.

I'm pretty sure you can buy Cuban cigars onboard the ships when not in a US port. I imagine bringing them with you from shore is OK. Just remember to smoke them before returning to the US.
posted by jaysus chris at 1:06 PM on September 15, 2006

We brought alcohol on in carry-on backpacks, in 20oz water bottles (empty the water, insert vodka). Packed 1 or 2 in each person's backpack, and we had a week's supply.
posted by knave at 1:15 PM on September 15, 2006

Oh, and the Greenhouse is nice (and very crowded) but there's nothing there you can't get at Bennigans when you get home. I'd recommend Cuzzin's for some Carribean curried chicken. It's near the post office, as I recall.
posted by jaysus chris at 1:24 PM on September 15, 2006

we chartered a private boat to go to st johns and snorkeled, and it was the coolest thing i've done ever. we landed on st thomas, took a taxi to the boat and then had a day trip. i'd reccomend our guy, but he was kind of a jerk. but you see cooler things and are less crowded than on the cruise chartered trip
posted by gilsonal at 2:11 PM on September 15, 2006

My friend lives on a cruise ship, as her husband is crew. She told me that you just make friends with some of the staff and ask them if they can buy you a bottle from the duty-free. She told me they do it all the time. Crew can buy duty-free beverages whenever they want.

Also, what knave said. But do watch out if you are taking these things through customs, as you don't want to do anything illegal.
posted by acoutu at 2:19 PM on September 15, 2006

Magens Bay on St. Thomas is a good choice. Don't bother if the cruise offers a pre-pay trip there - just hop off the boat and find a cab. You have to pay to get on the beach too, but doing it that way is a lot less than the package deal.

I've only been on one cruise, and it was on Carnival, so I don't have a lot to compare it to. Had a fun time though. Some of the service on board was uneven, but nothing annoying.

On your last day, they try to pressure everyone into going to a meeting about the disembark procedure when you arrive back home. Skip it, enjoy your last few hours, and read the same info in that day's newsletter.

Experiment with different food choices! If you try something and hate it, you can just stop eating it and get something else. On the flip side, try not to gain seven pounds like I did.
posted by mikepop at 7:50 PM on September 15, 2006

You can buy Cuban cigars and bring them onboard, you just have to smoke them all before you get back to the US.
posted by gatorae at 8:16 PM on September 15, 2006

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