Carnival Cruise Vacation + Things We Learned from Our First Cruise

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to have sworn that I’d NEVER (ever, ever, ever) go on a giant boat after watching Titanic for the first time. I’m not about that “boat splitting in half, slipping into the deep blue frozen waters (or shark-infested waters)” life. No, thank you! I’m not even a “cruise-type-person” (whatever that means), but after 24 years of living, I somehow ended up on a cruise and I’m definitely NOT mad about it. In fact, I’m about to make a pretty bold statement but it’s the total truth when I say it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve EVER had!

I’m always excited for adventure and travel, but I can honestly say that I thought this cruise would be a “one and done” sort of deal. I didn’t think I’d have the urge to sign up for another cruise the second I stepped off the boat (so you’re timing with your “Sign up for your next cruise” email was spot-on, Carnival Cruise line). The whole cruising experience was something that’s hard to put into words. It almost reminded me of a summer camp experience mixed with a relaxing spa resort experience mixed with a trip to New York and Las Vegas.

It wasn’t ANYTHING close to what I expected, which is why I want to let you in on 1o things I learned from our first cruise. Hopefully they’ll give you some insight into whether a cruise is right for you, prepare you for your first cruise, or just give you a little peak into our travel adventure!

10 THINGS I LEARNED FROM OUR FIRST CRUISE

1. The boat is way less crowded than you’d expect.

Before our cruise, thinking about how crowded it might be on the ship gave me a little anxiety. I don’t like massive crowds and my husband doesn’t like ANY crowds at all. He won’t even go into a store if it looks like it’s going to be too crowded. And just like any normal human being, we don’t like long lines. The thought of having to stand in long lines to get our food, get into shows, etc… didn’t sound like a very “relaxing” vacation to us. BUT we were willing to give the cruise a chance since it was a lot more affordable than staying at a tropical resort.

We were both surprised by how few lines there were and how deserted most parts of the boat were throughout the 5 days of our cruise. There were around 2,000 guests on the boat, but it didn’t feel like there were even close to that many! Because there were so many events and different activities for guests to participate in at all times, we never had to wait in line to get our food, shows weren’t ever that crowded, and we found that the activities we wanted to participate in (mini-golf, the steam room in the spa, etc.) were pretty much void of crowds. The longest we ever had to wait in line was whenever we got off the boat.

2. Dramamine or Bonine are must-haves.

I was actually way more worried than Connor was about getting seasick, as I’ve thrown up on almost every boat I’ve ever been on (which has been a lot, since I worked at a fishing lodge in Alaska.) Oddly enough, Connor actually felt a lot more seasick than I did throughout the cruise. The first day was especially rough for him. Things got better on days 2-5 but the water got choppier again as we headed back to Long Beach. Moral of the story: Even if you don’t think you’ll get seasick, I highly recommend bringing a lot of Dramamine or Bonine (BTW: Bonine made us less drowsy than the Dramamine did and still worked just as well.)

3. Everything felt very personal.

The personal touches on the cruise are part of the reason I got those “summer camp” vibes. From the personally addressed letters that were placed on our door throughout the day to the cute animal towels that were placed on our beds each evening when our room was cleaned to the “Happy Anniversary” gift cards we received, it all felt very personal! We felt welcomed and appreciated, which made a huge difference!

4. The boat rocked us to sleep… a little too much.

We found ourselves wanting to sleep WAY than we ever do at home, which was probably our bodies way of telling us we needed to take a chill pill and stop going NON-STOP. (Also, I think there’s some science behind sea waves making people feel sleepy… ) The rocking of the waves and the fact that our stateroom was PITCH black when we turned off all the lights made it hard to resist an occasional nap here and there and to fall asleep earlier than we normally do (and wake up later than we normally do). But, whatever, we were on VACATION!

I do want to mention that we were glad we bought some healthy energy drinks before getting onboard. Those kept us going when our bodies just wanted to keep sleeping all day. The energy drinks onboard were $5, so we’re glad we purchased quite a few of them before we got on board. No way were we going to spend $5 on a Rockstar!

5. Unplugging from our electronics was one of the best parts of the cruise.

The fact that we were going to have to be COMPLETELY unplugged from electronics while on the boat was the thing I was probably most looking forward to. There’s so many distractions at home that it can be hard to pull yourself away from- from work emails to video games to binge watching TV shows to scrolling the web. When we got on the boat and Connor said, “I think we might actually have free WiFi on the boat,” my heart sank. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case and the only thing we could access for free was the Carnival app.

It was SO wonderful to have absolutely NOTHING to distract us from each other’s company (besides the book I brought that I got a little sucked into at some points). But really, it was a good reminder that to spend quality time together often means putting away distractions, which is something we need to make more of an effort to do at home. It is possible to put away all distractions from time to time, even at home. It’s a lot tougher than on a boat in the middle of the sea (when the only way you can access WiFi is if you spend $20 a day), but it IS possible and SO important.

6. We’re glad we didn’t book excursions prior to the cruise.

Carnival sent us about 294,284 emails telling us we MUST book our excursions prior to our cruise but fortunately we’d gotten a little insight from Connor’s siblings as to why we shouldn’t do that. There’s a few reasons I’m glad we didn’t book our excursions through Carnival, one being that they charge more than if you just book once you get to your shore destination and two being that we didn’t know what we would feel like doing once we got to the destinations.

OH, AND… another reason we’re glad we didn’t book them before hand is because we were pretty disappointed in one of our stops and would have felt like it was a waste of money had we booked something to do there before seeing the destination.

Our first stop, Catalina Island, was our favorite! We’re glad that we had time to explore and decide what we wanted to do there instead of scurrying to make our appointment for something we’d already booked. We ended up spending about $40 to ride electric bikes around the island, which was probably my favorite part of our whole cruise! The weather was perfect, the bikes were SO much fun (I want an electric bike so badly now), and it was the perfect way to see the island!

7. I would give us an A+ for packing.

Before the cruise, I did a lot of research on what we should bring. I even wrote a whole post about what I packed for the cruise here. I can honestly say I think we packed really well for this cruise! I never thought, “I should have packed this,” or “I should have packed that.” So, if you’re wondering what you should bring on your cruise, I highly suggest you go read that post! The nice thing about cruises is that it’s not a hassle if you do end up overpacking. I would say I brought a few too many shirts but I rarely ever had to haul my bag around (only when I got on and off the ship the first and last days of the cruise), so it didn’t bother me at all to have a few extra clothing pieces. In fact, I liked having options!

8. The food was actually really great.

I was worried that Carnival’s food would be like the McDonald’s of fast-food (I say as I stuff my face with SpaghettiOs), but it was actually really tasty! We loved the Guy’s Burger Joint and Blue Iguana taco shop eateries the best, but we’re glad we ended up trying the evening dining room food early on in our trip because it became a fast favorite, as well. We weren’t huge fans of the buffet style food (except the desserts… those were GREAT), so we ended up sticking to those three places for most of the trip.

The kinda-fancy dining room (as Carnival cruise line calls it) was always such a fun experience! We’re not ones to go out to eat at fancy restaurants often, so it was nice being served a three-course meal and being waited on hand-and-foot. We found ourselves saying we prefer cheaper food to fancy food (like cheap taco shops), but that’s just our taste-buds preference. It was still a cool experience to feel a bit “fancy” for a few breakfasts/dinners!

9. We had to remind ourselves to relax.

There are so many exciting things going on at all times that we had to remind ourselves to take time to actually relax. In fact, even with all the “super cool” stuff we got to do, one of my favorite parts of the cruise was when we took some time to go sit in the steam rooms that are part of the spa (there are two steam rooms- separated by gender). You can go sit in the steam room even if you don’t pay for any spa treatments. It was nice to just sit there and do absolutely nothing for awhile. We also enjoyed laying on the deck (especially when everyone else was on shore because it was even less crowded, when we stopped in Ensenada) with our ice cold lemonades and books in hand!

10. “Sea legs” are a real thing.

It’s been 2 days since we stepped off the boat and the world still feels like it’s spinning. Believe it or not, I actually feel MORE dizzy and seasick now than I did felt ON the boat. Last night I was holding onto the side of our bed for dear life because I thought it was going to tip over. SO, that being said, just be prepared for some dizziness after you get off the boat, even if you didn’t feel anything while on the boat. Taking Dramamine, going for a walk (or doing anything that gets your body up and moving), and staying hydrated can help you get your “land legs” back more quickly.

I’D LOVE TO HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS!

Have you been on a cruise before? What surprised you about the experience? If you haven’t been on a cruise, what questions do you have about cruisin’? Is there anything I mentioned that surprises you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Author: Coral Allen

Just a passionate introvert with the desire to help you create a life you love and learn to love yourself for who you are.

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  • We just got back from our first cruise and it was the best thing ever. I swear the boat rocked me to sleep too. By the time we got to our room, we would fall asleep FAST. The only thing I didn’t like was the amount of walking lol my legs were so sore after the 2nd day.

    P.S. The Carnival Chocolate Lava cake was MY FAVORITE.

    • I just read your blog post about your cruise and I LOVED it! It looks like you had a blast! I saw that you had the Chocolate Lava Cake, as well. That stuff was so good. We got it every day, haha! 🙂

  • You work so hard so I’m glad you took time off to relax and enjoy yourselves. I’ve never been on a cruise, but I definitely would love to go on and I now feel prepared for it now that I’ve read this post and you’re packing post haha. Great post 🙂

    • Thanks, Kellie! It’s nice to hear someone say I’m working hard. I really appreciate it! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post! Since we’re so similar and I love cruises, I’m sure you would too! 🙂

  • Haha! Had to giggle when I read your opening about Titanic. Yup. I literally conjure up all kinds of horrific scenarios… I’m so glad I’m not the only one! It was so refreshing reading about your trip: the highs and the lows, thanks for sharing! I think I’m a little more open to going on a cruise now. I’m also not a fan of crowds and neither is my husband, so it was nice hearing that you didn’t have to stand in queues for ages to get food, etc. And YAY for having quality time and a good excuse to unplug good and proper – we need to do this kind of thing more often!