Tag Archives: Advice

12 tips to cruise stress-free

Kevin and I just got home from our first cruise together (and his first cruise ever, shocking, I know). While this was my 3rd cruise overall, it was the longest I’ve ever taken, and my first time on Norwegian Cruise Line. My first was a 4-day Bahamian cruise on Royal Caribbean for my friend Karen’s 30th, and while that trip was a blast simply because of the company (how could you not have a great time with 4 of your friends, especially when all of you are wearing shirts with the birthday girl’s face on them?), I definitely thought NCL was a better choice than my RC experience. I’m not sure what Norwegian cruise ships are like for 4-day trips, but if the shorter trips are anything like the 7-day was, I highly recommend NCL for all your cruising needs. And I’m not even being paid to write this review (although, Norwegian, if you’re reading this, I’ll take payment in the form of a free cruise, thanks).

honduras view

View from the top: Roatan, Honduras. You can see our ship off to the right, in port.

I would choose Norwegian over any other for the food alone. We only ate at the buffet for breakfast and lunch (when we weren’t eating lunch in port), which was still good as far as buffet food goes. We ate dinner exclusively at the two complimentary restaurants on board, Versailles and Aqua, both of which required resort casual attire, had a nice ambiance, and featured a nightly changing selection of delicious appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Compared to the dining room included on my RC cruise, the atmosphere and food itself was of a higher quality.

The entertainment was also very enjoyable, and there seemed to be plenty of options for everyone on board. But this isn’t a post about how awesome Norwegian Cruise Line is (although it was for us). This is simply a compilation of all my tips on how to cruise, and do it in a way that will save you time, money, and aggravation. In no particular order, here are 12 tips to cruising stress-free:

1. Make sure your room isn’t directly under a high-traffic public space (like a dining room). I didn’t consider this one ahead of time, and we ended up a floor directly below the main buffet room. Which was convenient when we wanted to eat breakfast, but the early risers scraping chairs across the floor while we were trying to sleep in was definitely annoying. There’s always going to be some noise you can’t control while you’re trying to sleep, but this is at least one variable you can research and try to correct.

2. Book excursions & make dinner reservations before you leave for your trip. Most cruise lines will have at least one main dining room with complimentary dinner, and you want to make sure you claim the time slot you want, otherwise you’ll get stuck with a shitty dinner time or worse, there won’t be any more available reservations & you’ll have to eat dinner at the buffet. Which I guess is cool if you’d rather eat food that isn’t as fancy or delicious. It’s also a good idea to book excursions ahead as well to save yourself the hassle of standing in line once on board the ship. This also ensures the excursions you want don’t book up before you get a chance to sign up. Keep in mind this doesn’t guarantee they will happen (we had 3 of our pre-paid excursions canceled & had to re-book once on board), so keep a few backups in mind as well.

3. Book the Ultimate (unlimited) Beverage Package. We got lucky that NCL was running a promo when we booked that gave us the option of booking UBP free (although Kevin is still convinced it was factored into our fees somehow and was never truly free). But if you plan on drinking anything other than juice or water (and this even applies to soda), you’ll want to consider adding this to your booking. It may seem like a lot of money per person per day, but those drinks add up fast on their own. You’ll be glad you did when you’re going up to the bar every half hour for “just one more” delicious drink of the day; I wouldn’t want to see our drink bill if we were paying out of pocket, I might faint.

4. If you get motion sickness, keep a pair of Sea Bands on or nearby at all times. These things saved my life. Not literally, but they definitely made my cruise enjoyable, without the drowsy side effects of medicine.

5. Pack clothing for all occasions. At the risk of over-packing, make sure you have a variety of outfits & footwear. Obviously bathing suits are a must. Beach/pool towels are unnecessary (and will just take up valuable luggage space), as the ship provides them. Bring a few nice outfits for dinner, and a sweatshirt for those cool, windy nights on the top deck. If you plan on doing water excursions, like snorkeling or dolphin encounters, bring a rash guard and board shorts to throw on over your bathing suit. I also recommend water shoes or Teva sandals (or something similar) for these as well. If you plan on hiking or doing tours with a lot of walking, bring sneakers & socks. Bring a small backpack or beach bag for any excursions off the ship. You’ll need a place to stow towels, water, cameras, change of dry clothes, and anything else you might want on shore.

6. Take bottled water with you when you board. You will need plenty of it in each port and on your excursions, and cruise lines allow you to bring your own on with you when you check in. You may feel like a nerd walking in with a case of water, but you’ll be glad you saved yourself the money later. I spent $3 on a case from Walgreens & we drank all 24 over the course of the week. Times that by roughly $2-$5 a bottle you’ll end up paying if you wait & buy as you go, and that’s a lot of dough you’ll save for more important things. Like souvenirs.

7. Bring a waterproof camera or phone for excursions you’ll get wet on. Whether you splurge on an expensive waterproof phone case or buy a $20 disposable water camera, make sure you have some way to capture memories on water excursions. If you want to go above and beyond with your photography, I recommend a Go Pro (especially for things like ziplining & cave tubing).

8. Bring reading material. Whether it’s a few books or magazines, or the novel-length instruction manual for the new gadget you just bought, bring something to occupy the downtime you will have at the pool, on the beach, if it rains, etc.

9. Make sure you have plenty of small bills. While it’s not always necessary to have the local country’s currency (most countries accept USD), it is a good idea to have $1s, $5s and $10s, and not just a stack of bigger bills. Even having a wad of $20s can be inconvenient, because if you plan on doing shore excursions, or need taxi rides, or plan on ordering food/beverages off the ship, you’ll want smaller bills to tip the drivers, tour guides and waiters who provide you their services.

10. If you have a full day at sea, get up early enough to snag a lounge chair by the pool. We had two full days at sea, and wanted nothing more than to lay by the pool, soak up the sun and some fruity drinks and relax. Cruise ships ask guests not to reserve pool chairs for more than an hour (as a courtesy to other guests), but no one follows this rule, which ends up screwing over good people like us who try to play by the rules. The first sea day, we barely found chairs that were together, and they were off on the side, away from the pool and near the basketball court (not the ideal deck location for sunbathing). So on our last day on board, our second sea day, we got up a little earlier and dropped our things off before heading to breakfast. This way, we were able to get a good spot on the top deck above the pool and away from the chaos, but still close enough to feel apart of the action and take a dip when it got too hot. We also only left our things unattended for about an hour while we ate breakfast and went back to our room to freshen up, so we were still able to “follow the rules” and be courteous to the other guests. Nothing more annoying than trying to find a place to lay out only to have them all covered with towels that no one ever comes to claim. People can be quite selfish, so keep this in mind and find a happy medium when it comes to claiming your chairs.

11. Whatever your budget, add an extra $100-$200 per person. When you book your cruise, the cruise line will let you know (at the end of all your paperwork, in very small print) that there will be a daily service fee per person charged to your account once on board. This helps take care of the housekeeping and waitstaff that will take care of you once on board, so I’m totally fine with it. However, it isn’t paid up front, so be prepared to provide a credit card for these fees as well as any other on-board charges that you may find yourself spending. All ship purchases that aren’t included (like souvenirs, extra drinks, taxes, etc.) will be charged to this card, so make sure you budget for this when saving for your trip. It’s also customary to leave an additional tip for your cabin steward (as you have the same person the whole trip who makes up your room and provides daily ship info and leaves you fun towel animals), but this can be given directly to that individual, and in cash.

12. Be prepared to gain 5-10 lbs. With the amount of food and drink you will consume (and it’s all so delicious, you will want to try it all), it’s not uncommon to gain extra weight while on a cruise. Unless you are one of those super health-conscious people who makes use of the ship’s fitness center, don’t worry about the few pounds you’ll walk off the ship with. If you’re really that concerned about it, try to cut back on the extras you usually eat or drink before you go, as well as when you return home again. As well, take the stairs on the ship as often as possible, and only use the elevators when absolutely necessary, such as boarding and disembarking (with all your luggage). Once your body recovers from the overload of food and drink that it’s not used to and goes back to it’s normal diet, you should be fine.

Whether you’ve been on a cruise before or if this is your first time, these tips will all help when booking and planning, and when it comes time to actually set sail, you’ll be cruising stress-free and at ease.

ship pano

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If I was into the whole “New Year’s Resolution” thing, this just might be mine

This is my first post of the new year, but it’s by no means one of those “new year, new me” inspirational-type posts people get crazy and write at the beginning of a new year. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, and I plan on being the same mediocre writer this year as I was last year and years’ past.

That just came off super pessimistic, and I didn’t really intend it to. I just sometimes wonder why I can’t be a more dedicated writer. After all, after putting minimal thought into what I’m about to say next, I’ve realized that I’m not really “great” at any one particular thing, except maybe writing. I’m good at a lot of different things, and that’s cool. It’s what has made me so versatile over the years, and probably what’s also made me feel like I’ve never really fit into one specific type of “person” category (whether that’s a positive thing or not, I’m not really sure). I’m blessed with the natural ability to dance and move my body in a way that isn’t awkward or terrifying to the people around me, but I would very likely lose to someone else in a dance-off. Mainly because I repeat the same dozen dance moves over and over, and tend to incorporate a lot of head bobbing and face making into my improv routine. I’d like to think doing that makes me look like a female version of Ne-Yo, but more than likely I just end up looking like this:

kristen wiig.gif

I also have the natural inclination of being musically-talented; though never formally trained, I inherited a good set of pipes from my mother, and the ability to, like the rest of my family, play the guitar in a good-enough manner to resemble music. But I never had the range of both my mom and my sister to hit the high notes, and my guitar-strumming abilities are limited to the 10 or so main chords that make up any basic hit (but I guess that’s mainly my fault because I refuse to learn bar chords or anything that has to do with Bm). I’m good at yoga, but don’t do it frequently enough to call myself a yogi. I’m naturally athletic (enough to the point that I shocked all of Kevin’s colleagues on our co-ed softball team when I was able to proficiently catch, throw, hit, and run the bases during our intramural games; I honestly didn’t think catching a softball and throwing it to the next baseman was all that difficult, but apparently a lot of women can’t do it), but I haven’t been faithful as an athlete to any one particular sport since I played soccer in high school 10 years ago. As far as hobbies go, I’ve never really stuck with anything long enough to become skilled at it. I usually try it, get good enough to where I can perform above a beginner’s level, and consider it mastered. I’ve always been difficult to please, and it isn’t necessarily that I get bored with things easily, I just want to try so many different things I don’t feel there’s enough time to stick with one thing for a prolonged period of time. Except for writing.

For me, writing has always been the one go-to that I was just naturally born talented at (at least I think I am; people tell me I have a way with stringing groups of words together, but who can really say?). Maybe that’s why I neglect it so much more than I should. In a way, I’m probably taking it for granted, just assuming my talents will always be there no matter what. Because really, just like anything else, if I don’t hone my craft, it will probably just wither away, won’t it? Like an ill-watered houseplant, so desperate for a drink it’s willing to sacrifice its beautiful leaves in a last ditch effort to preserve its roots, its soul.

See? I can totally write things.

As I said before, I don’t make resolutions. I think it’s good to have goals, but resolutions seem too fleeting, like, the moment you achieve it, you will give yourself a nice pat on the back and revert to your old ways. I also don’t like the idea of using a new year as an excuse to stop being one way and start being another. If you want to make a change in your life, just fucking do it.

Therefore, I’m not going to make any resolutions for 2016. But I will say that I’d like to try to be more dedicated to my craft, because writing is basically all I’m really great at. And I’m okay with that. But if I don’t stop ignoring what I was pretty much put on this earth to do, I might not be able to do it well anymore. And that would be a tragedy. So hopefully for you, my faithful followers, you’ll be hearing a lot more from me this year than you did last year.

Who knows, maybe I’ll become so dedicated to my writing in 2016 that I’ll actually finish my novel and get it published, and my non-resolution this time next year will be writing a follow-up, or better yet, retiring early.

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7 things to do and see in New Orleans (according to me, which makes it true)

So naturally I did not write while I was in New Orleans, but hey, I was busy having a blast so who has time for things like blogging when they’re having fun? I absolutely loved the city, and had a great time sightseeing with my favorite person. Although I won’t be back anytime soon, I would definitely love to go back again in my lifetime just to spend a little more time in such a cool place. Among all the greatness, here are a few things we did that I highly recommend to anyone visiting this historic (albeit falling down around you) city.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Never did figure out why all the graves were above ground.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Never did figure out why all the graves were above ground.

Check out the cemeteries. The notable ones are the St. Louis Cemeteries, of which there are several, but of which I’m sure people really only go to No. 1 (we went to No. 2 as well and it was deserted, clearly no one cares). We went on our own and just wandered the plots (which were surprisingly unorganized), and whenever we’d happen upon a tour group, we just sort of hung out near the back and caught whatever history lesson the guide was giving. It might be cheating, not paying for a tour, but I recommend it. Spend your money elsewhere, and just jump in on a group whenever you come upon them, they won’t even notice (and are probably used to it anyway).

Eat a lot of good food. Jambalaya, gumbo, etouffee, po’ boys, the list of delicious food is endless. I highly recommend Jacques-Imo’s and Joey K’s.

Ride the streetcar. Talk about a time warp. That thing looks like it’s from the 50s, and probably is. It’s loud and usually crowded but it’s a fun way to travel around the city besides walking. It also feels like a piece of history, so you kind of have to, at least once.

My future home (the crappy one in the middle).

My future home (the crappy one in the middle).

Walk the French Quarter. This is obvious but worth naming anyway. Known mostly for its quaint, old homes and drunken adventures on Bourbon Street, there’s much more to do in this bustling neighborhood than just that. Wander the streets during the day and take in the scenery. You’ll encounter the traditional Nawlins architecture the city is known for, as well as one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants. If you follow the streets down to the river, you can also take in a great view of the Mississippi and the city together. At night, as well as during the day, you’ll find an array of street performers and craft fairs to delight everyone’s tastes. And of course, with the city’s lax open container laws, you can get drunk and wander the streets with your beverages. Perfect for toting a 64 ounce fishbowl. Man, I miss that thing.

Book an airboat/swamp tour. If you’re at all interested in seeing how most people live and thrive, take a ride through the swamps. The airboats are a loud, but fun way to get out on the water and learn about “swamp people culture.” We booked with  Jean Lafitte Tours and were not disappointed. I was hoping to see alligators, but since it’s winter, they were hibernating. Our guide did let us hold a baby gator he brought along, though, so I was satisfied.

Drive through the 9th Ward. It’s definitely still rundown, but it is the best way to get a glimpse of what happened to the city during Katrina. Although it’s certainly eerie seeing the abandoned houses with the rescue codes still spray painted on the outsides, almost as if it just happened days ago. Don’t expect to feel happy traveling through, but I do recommend it to anyone passionate about the area’s history, as well as anyone interested in gaining an understanding of what the people there endured.

I wouldn't have minded owning slaves here. Just kidding. I'm from the North.

I wouldn’t have minded owning slaves here. Just kidding. I’m from the North.

Visit Oak Alley Plantation. While it is an hour’s drive outside of NOLA, this plantation is definitely worth the trip out. With beautiful grounds and main house, and absolutely stunning oak trees lining the entrance, you’ll feel like you just stepped back into pre-Civil War times (although sans slavery, that would just be weird now). There are also several other plantations nearby, so if you need more of a plantation fix, there are many others to tour as well.

With all this New Orleans talk, I miss it already. I’m going to go cry into a pillow now and long for the days when I could aimlessly walk the streets of the French Quarter with my fishbowl, without a care in the world. Excuse me.

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How to get past “not wanting” to write (if only I knew)

There’s nothing worse than being afraid of the thing you live to do, the thing you exist for. Writing may not (yet) be how I make my living, but it always has been, and probably always will be, who I am, an integral part of my existence. I couldn’t ever see myself not being a writer, unless someone paid me never to write again, and even that would probably never happen (c’mon, I’m not that easily bought. I hope).

But writing means sitting down with my thoughts, and that is pretty terrifying. I have several projects going at the moment (ADD at its finest), and while working on them (and one day completing them) is something I want to do, it’s also something I don’t want to do. Because writing means dredging up the past, and reliving the bad parts is just not something I’m eager to do. I know it’s a part of healing and letting go (and it’s definitely a necessary part of my writing process) but bringing up memories of the things you’ve done and had done to you, and the people you used to know isn’t always easy or fun.

I often wonder what would happen to me if I didn’t write. Would my thoughts just back up into my brain until they explode? Would I go on living my life exactly as I have all along, unchanged? I’m constantly in a battle with myself over what to do: to write or not to write. Obviously the answer is to write, so I guess the better question is to ask: how do I go about doing it in a way that isn’t going to completely destroy me? How do I write about the things that used to tear me apart inside without letting it tear me apart inside now? How do you keep the old you from seeping back in and taking over the new, much less stressed, much less anxious, much less neurotic you?

I’m hoping I find the answers to my questions. Because to not write is to not be who I really am. To not write is to deny myself the satisfaction of doing what I know and love. To not write is to deprive you, my devoted readers, of my hilarious and sarcastically-delivered stories of randomness and idiocy. And let’s face it, that would just be criminal.

Now it’s off to tackle the thing I love and hate more than anything in this world: writing.

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Proper concert etiquette

As someone who is obsessed with music, there’s nothing I enjoy more than a good concert. I spend a good deal of my hard-earned dollars on concert tickets every year, so I want to make sure I get the most of my money’s worth when I go. Sometimes you can’t account for certain things, like whether a band is just going to be absolutely terrible live (there are truly some artists who simply can’t produce what can be considered music without the help of auto-tune), but as you take into consideration your fellow concert-goers, here are a few simple rules of concert etiquette to remember to make sure the show is enjoyable for all.

Smoke. There’s nothing people love more than the overwhelming smell of smoke while they’re trying to jam out with their favorite band. This is especially appreciated when you’re at an indoor venue, or if you exhale directly into the face of the person next to/behind you.

Don’t use manners. What’s the point in saying “excuse me”? If you’re trying to get by someone, just be obnoxious and inconsiderate about it. Extra points if you push and shove your way through when there is clearly no room for you. Besides, who wants to be polite, anyway?

Have a regular conversation with your friends at loud volumes. This is social hour, after all, right? It’s not like the people standing near you paid money to hear the music. I’m sure they would much rather listen to you talk about what an ass your ex was and how ugly his new girlfriend is.

Be “that drunk guy.” You know the one I’m talking about. The one that gets completely shitfaced and mean, and pisses off everyone around him because he’s ruining the show. Yeah, be that guy.

 

Hit the Rise Against concert two nights ago; awesome performance by the band, less-than-awesome audience interaction, mainly thanks to the guy in front of me blowing smoke all night.

Hit the Rise Against concert two nights ago; awesome performance by the band, less-than-awesome audience interaction, mainly thanks to the guy in front of me blowing smoke all night. Oh sorry, am I bitter much?

If you do any of these things at a show, you’re a huge wanker and you probably deserve to get punched in the face. Which I’m sure you will by the end of the night.

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