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Ship Tips

Your First Day

by Douglas Terhune

I'm getting old - heck, we all are. Do you get as excited about Christmas nowadays as you did years ago? I bet not. Do you look forward to the new fall line-ups like you did way back then? Uh uh. Does the mere idea of next year's car models drive you to dream? Nope!

What then can we old folks do for excitement? Well, I may have an answer for you. Take a cruise.

If you have never been on a cruise, this article will do it's best to give you as virtual of an idea of what the first day is like as it can. If you are a cruise veteran - than read along and relive some of your favorite memories.

First, I must let you know that there are other Ship Tips columns that I have written that can help you prepare for the first day. This column will look solely at the wonder of the first day of a cruise.

My favorite day of a cruise is the first one. Emotions run the gamut. But before we can get on the ship - let us start early in the morning - very early.

Ship Tip: The first day is (can be) the most exciting day of a cruise.

If you listened to my expert advice...., you would be waking up in the city of your Embarkation the day of the cruise. (I cannot overplay the importance of this in planning for a successful cruise.) ' So, let us assume you did listen. Twenty of my cruises have left from southern Florida - mainly Miami. There is an opportunity for each of you that leave from Miami. It happens early in the morning - say around 6:00 am.

Try your best to stay at the Marriott on Biscayne Blvd. - which is right on the harbor that the ships arrive (others are the nearby Sheraton and the Hyatt) Request a room that faces the water. Set your alarms for six and open up your window (or sit on your patio) and enjoy the scene. The city of Miami is silent - the stars are giving way to a blueish pink sky in the horizon. The colors of the dawn are unmistakable. And as you gaze out into the harbor, you see your ship (or perhaps some other ship) coming into the harbor.

The majority of the ships docking at Dodge Island (Port of Miami) come into the harbor and turn around right in front of the Marriott. But the way the ship turns one hundred and eighty degrees is a sight to behold. Here you have this self-perpetuating floating city of fun and food spinning silently in the warm Florida waters. It is a spine tingling event that is hard to match.

Ship Tip: You have waited a long time to see your ship come in - so don't miss it!

And, for those of you coming in the day of departure to your port of Embarkation - you have a lot to do! Obviously be sure you are packed the night before and set a series of alarms clocks. If you are traveling with other people, it is wise to have a phone brigade in place to call and make sure everyone is up and out the door at the required time. Whether you are flying, driving or taking the train/bus to your point of Embarkation, you cannot afford to be late!

Ship tip: Get to bed early - Ships do not wait for you!

There are many ways you can first see your ship - either early in the morning when the ship is entering the harbor, flying over the ships as you land, or taking a taxi or bus. Either way, you will be excited to see your ship - rest assured of this one. And if you have never been on a cruise, you will be impressed with your ship. You will be shocked as to just how big the darn thing is.

Ship tip: Be prepared to be excited and shocked when you approach your ship (get the Fibulator out!)

Now that you have finally made it to your floating home for the next 7 days, you need to get on that bad boy! Only thing between you and it is getting your bags on and checking in. In other articles, I mention that I prefer to "wheel" my bags on - I do so because they have wheels and are extremely easy to roll on - but most importantly, I don't like waiting for my bags to arrive at my cabin later in the day.

The lines have made the check-in process much smoother than in years past by staffing the check-in desks appropriately. I have never had trouble checking in - but have had to wait about half an hour. The greeters are friendly and you immediately can tell this is not your regular run of the mill hotel you are staying at. They process you quickly (be sure to fill out all your boarding forms), give you your keys and or cruising credit card, and send you off to the "Gangplank of Love". First though, just one quick stop to get your picture taken. This is the 'before' picture - which usually has you looking nice and pasty and quite stressed.


Ship tip: Buy your boarding picture and compare it to one of you at the end of your cruise.

Now you are walking across the gangplank - and voila! - you are on the ship. You will probably enter a towering atrium and the first thing you will think is, "Am I at the Mall"? Someone will guide you to your cabin and you will, no matter how tired by now you are, find the energy to almost run to it. You will be very happy once you are in the cabin. You will not really care that it is smaller or bigger than you thought, or that the colors may not be your cup of tea - it is your home - the one you had been planning and researching for months.

Ship tip: If you carry on your luggage, unpack first - you will feel so much more at home by the day's end.

Once you have unpacked or just placed your carry-ons in your cabin, it is time to go and explore the ship. You will be amazed at a lot of what you are about to see - so bring your camera.

Soon you will find the dining room that is serving lunch. Grab a plate and go through one of the buffet lines, and remember that you have paid for the food already and that they won't run out - so sit back and relax. In fact, if you can, take your plates outside and try and find a nice table with a view of the water or the ship.

Afterwards you can go and find the Piano Lounge, Casino, Spa, Purser's Desk, Theater, Disco, Champagne Lounge, Main Pool/Hot Tubs, Jogging Track and Poolside Grille. Be prepared to sit in the sun if you board early enough too - you will not be alone if it is a nice day.

The biggest surprise of your day though will be experiencing friendly people. People who have never seen you will say hello - and for folks from the parts where I live now (Boston), this can be a scary experience!! I don't know what it is that causes everyone to be happy on a cruise - but, it happens. And the earlier you get out of your grouchy skin, the more you too will enjoy the cruise.

Ship tip: You are not allowed to be grumpy on a cruise.

As the afternoon winds down, so will you. Find a nice bar stool and have yourself your favorite adult beverage. The ship will be leaving soon and you need to start relaxing. One note of some minor importance here is that do not expect a Bon Voyage party like they had every episode on the Love Boat. The reality of it is that no one is standing on the pier and due to the environment, seldom are there streamers.

As you prepare for your first dinner, remember that it is informal. Some people do not even get their suitcases till after dinner - so this is the only night that just about anything goes as far as clothes are concerned. If you have a chance while roaming the ship - try to find your table ahead of time. This saves time and confusion later in the evening when 500 passengers are in search of their tables.

One of the most important parts of your cruise will be whom you sit with at dinner. I am a pretty easygoing person that likes most people, but I believe that I asked to have my table switched once or twice in the past. Do not be afraid to do so if you find the people not up to your liking, but understand that each seat of each meal is already accounted for. Occasionally a set or two become available, but your HeadWaiters cannot work miracles.

Ship tip: Seating arrangements are very important, but if you ask to move, be understanding of the Head Waiter's limitations.

But rest assured that way more than the majority of passengers make instant new friends with their dining partners. Many a time I did not think I would have anything in common with my assigned tablemates, but given time, just about everyone on a ship is happy and ready to have a fun time. (Alternative dining and room service also alleviate this situation.)

Now that you are nice and stuffed - it's time to sit and see a show. Usually the Cruise Director will welcome you at the first show and give you some pointers. The first one I'd give is to stop walking around with your mouth open saying "gosh, I can't believe how big this boat is!". After that, hit the casino and then maybe one of the lounges. More than likely, not many people stay up late the first night - in fact, many ships no longer have a midnight buffet the first night because numerous passengers are sawing logs in their cabins!

Ship tip: Be prepared for a full first day and, and early exit to your cabin!

Between using public transportation a good portion of the day, standing in line more than you care to do, walking way more than you are accustomed to, and eating more than you thought possible - the first day will bring you to your knees. The only other day in your life that you might compare it to, is your wedding day. And isn't it funny that some people spend as much time preparing for a 7 day cruise as they do a 20 minute ceremony?

I will have another first day 10 days from now, and this column has me tired just thinking about it! But I am excited!!


Doug TerhuneDoug Terhune is quite the experienced solo cruiser and is a regular columnist and reviewer for the SeaLetter. His Ship Tips columns are very popular with our readers.

Doug's special interest is interviewing various officers on his cruises, including interviews with the Tropicale's head chef, the Inspiration's Chief Engineer, and the Grandeur of the Sea's Captain. To find all of Doug's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, visit our SeaLetter COLUMNISTS Index.

Doug is always interested in your comments and suggestions and may be reached at: Doug@sealetter.com.

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