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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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It’s sort of incredibly depressing being a full-blown adult (at least as far as Halloween’s concerned)

Being a “real teacher” now, with all the real responsibilities that go with it, is pretty fantastic. But it’s also slightly depressing and incredibly stressful. I wouldn’t mind so much any other time of year except for now, being a 1/4 of the way through the school year, in the thick of it, and being smack dab in the middle of my favorite month of the year. And barely having the time to plan a fabulous Halloween party, or attend all the haunted houses in my general vicinity, or find the perfect ensemble for Kevin and my Beetlejuice/Lydia costume (and also being too brain-fried to know if I even just worded that correctly. Kevin and my? Kevin and mine? Kevin’s and my? I don’t even care anymore).

Even though our house is finally decked out in all its creepiness (and the neighbors probably think we are psychos, which we might just be), and even though we have already attended several haunted attractions, and even though we have done the annual corn maze & pumpkin picking, I still feel like this holiday, my holiday, the best time of the year, is slipping out of my grasp. And fast. We’re already 15 days into October? Um, excuse me, when did that even happen? I wish I could just press the pause button on this month until I have a chance to catch up on all the things I wait 11 months out of the year for. Ugh.

Since I’m basically too busy/exhausted/apathetic to write anymore, I can say with 98% certainty that I won’t be publishing any sort of horror movie marathon list this year. So for those of you who have any interest, please refer to years’ past here, here and here.

And for those of you who don’t care, don’t like scary movies or are just too lazy to click an external link, here are some pictures of our “murder house” for you to delight your senses with. Happy Haunting. photo 3

photo 2

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Sometimes everything just goes wrong

You know how things can be sometimes. No matter how hard you pray for something good to happen or no matter how hard you will things to be different, they are just plain crappy. It doesn’t matter how much time and effort you put into planning something, either: sometimes everything just goes wrong.

So this weekend, my boyfriend and I were supposed to go on a fishing trip with my mom and stepdad. We left after work on Friday and drove the 4 hours to the east coast of Florida, pulling in late and exhausted just around midnight. Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico is great, and it’s awesome how close we live to the water, but we wanted a change of scenery, and the chance to catch some different species of fish, so we planned an overnight trip to West Palm Beach for some dolphin fishing (the fish, not flipper, calm down). Getting up at 5:45 a.m. is only possible when you have the adrenaline and excitement of a big day ahead of you, so dragging our butts out of bed yesterday was no big deal. Driving the 20 minutes to the dock and dropping the boat in was also no big deal; we’ve done this before, right? Right. Bill had checked and double-checked the marine forecast the whole week, making sure our day wasn’t going to be too rough (and also making sure it was worth the 4-hour drive). The Sea People claimed it was going to be 10-15 knots, with 2-3 foot seas. Shouldn’t be a bad day, right? Wrong.

Those Sea People are down-right lying assholes. Once we got out past the inlet (which had about 12 foot seas from where I was standing), we thought things would calm down. Probably, y’know, because the marine forecast only called for 2-3 foot seas. Well those bastards were wrong. It did not calm down. It made being on the boat uncomfortable, and it made even the attempt at casting, let alone reeling anything in, basically impossible. I don’t think any of us wanted to give up (after all, we made that long drive and planned this whole trip and all), but it was clear it just wasn’t going to happen. So we turned around and headed back for the dock. But not, of course, before I puked all over the side of the boat into the angry sea.

Everyone knows I get car sick or motion sickness if there’s too much going on (like say, going on any type of spinning amusement park ride or being on a boat that’s being tossed around like a cork in a wave pool). So it’s not really surprising that my stomach felt like it was upside-down inside of me the whole ride out and back. But usually when I get like that, I can control it and at least keep my breakfast down. Not this time. When it’s going to come up, it’s going to come up whether you like it or not. Thankfully I was able to spew it all over the side of the boat into the water and not fall over board in the process (my mom was not happy with this; she was afraid I’d fall in and wanted me to puke in a bucket, but who wants to puke in a bucket for everyone to see and smell when you can just let it go into the deep blue sea? sorry mom). Although I’m not thrilled I puked (especially since that means I’m now on the scoreboard with Kevin for who’s puked since we’ve been dating- but it’s 3:1 and I’m still ahead so it’s fine), I did feel a little better after the fact. So it’s probably for the best. And we all made it safely back to shore (where we checked the marine forecast again and those bastards were STILL CALLING FOR 2-3 FOOT SEAS THE JERKS). Being alive and back on land was really the end goal, so all in all, it was okay. We didn’t get to fish, and I barfed, but we got in safe, so none of us were mad (just disappointed and bitter towards those lying Sea People).

We loaded up the car and decided just to hit the road and come back home to salvage the weekend (because at this point, it was only like, 8:30 a.m., and we really had no reason to hang out in West Palm). We got about 20-30 minutes in to our 4-hour drive home when the engine started smoking and we had to pull off the road. At first we thought we were just out of coolant, and that’s why the engine had overheated. So we used all the water we had, got back on the highway until we found a gas station and bought some. Problem solved, right? Clearly you should know where this is going by now.

Turns out the radiator was leaking and we needed a new one. We drove to the local Chevy dealership but they told us they wouldn’t be able to even look at the car until Monday. MONDAY. Yeah, because we can just sit around in some random Florida town for two days waiting for the car to be fixed. No thank you.

We had passed a sign on our way to the dealer that said “radiator repair” so we drove back that way to inquire, where we encountered yet another asshole to add to our shit list. While he rambled on about god knows what, we got in touch with NAPA, who told us they had a radiator for us. Finally, someone competent who could actually help us. We bought the part and struggled to find a body shop that was either a) open past noon or b) open at all. Apparently no one in the town we were stranded in liked to work on Saturdays. Assholes. Just when it looked like Bill was going to have to change it himself (and probably die of heat exhaustion in the process), we FINALLY found a shop that was open that would do it for us. They got it done in under two hours and we were (finally, actually) on our way back home. After all that, I am grateful it wasn’t any worse, but I’m still bitter towards the Sea People for steering us in the wrong direction in the first place. You know who you are, Sea People, and don’t think you are getting off so easy.

My friend Nicole sent me a book for my birthday called “Dear Asshole.” It’s filled with tear-out letters to send to all the assholes in your life, yet there isn’t one for Sea People. So I’d like to add my own (and hopefully the publishers will revise the book and release a second addition with my personal letter included, although probably not because they don’t even know who I am). Anyway, here it is:

Dear Asshole Marine Forecast Sea People,

You are liars. You continuously broadcast incorrect marine forecasts to innocent boaters and drive them (literally) into danger. We could have been killed out there (highly unlikely, but still possible). It’s your fault we were even in that situation in the first place, because if you had done your jobs correctly and told us what the seas would ACTUALLY be like that day, we never would have risked it. It’s your fault we drove all the way out there and didn’t get to fish and it’s your fault I barfed everywhere. It’s probably not your fault our radiator crapped out, but I’m going to blame you anyway because you’re an easy target and I hate you. Please stop being terrible at your jobs so people like me and my family can actually know what we’re driving our boat into.

Sincerely,

The girl who barfed

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Pain is endurable (unless you suffer severe gastrointestinal issues, then forget about it)

It’s incredibly interesting to me (okay, maybe not incredibly interesting, but definitely interesting nonetheless) the varying degrees of pain we feel as humans and how sometimes we overcome it and other times, we simply feel like this is it, there’s no possible way our body can withstand any further pain so we might as well just give up and give in. And then the pain finally subsides and you realize it was never really as excruciating as you made it out to be in the first place. Like, for instance, when a horrible, mind-wrenching stomach pain comes on out of nowhere and you feel as if someone is twisting a serrated knife deep into your gut and won’t stop until all your insides are shredded, and then it turns out it was just a bad case of indigestion and gas pains. Er, something like that. I blame all the Mexican food I ate today.

When I was fourteen, I broke my elbow pretty terribly. It’s the only thing I’ve ever broken and (knock-on-wood) will hopefully be the only thing I ever break in my entire life. I once wrote about my experience quite sarcastically (as usual) in a writing class my freshman year of college (and maybe I will share it with you sometime, but that’s for another day, let’s stay on track, shall we?) and though I tried to add as much wit and humor as I could to it, it didn’t change the (bitter) fact that breaking my elbow was the worst pain I’ve ever had to endure up to this point in my life- physically, that is, not emotionally, if we were talking emotions I’d be here all day crying about all the pre- and post-teenage angst and depression I’ve endured the last 10+ years of my life. So, thankfully, we’re not talking about that kind of pain, because I don’t think there’d be enough room on a page or enough energy in my fingers to type it all out. Anyway.

I know I already posted this picture once before, but it's probably the only surviving photo I have of the RoboJulie 3000 robot arm.

I know I already posted this picture once before, but it’s probably the only surviving photo I have of the RoboJulie 3000 robot arm.

As I was saying, breaking my arm was the worst physical pain I’ve ever had to live through in my short 25 years of existence on this planet, and near the end of my 5-month stint trying to fix myself and willing my arm to just heal already, damnit, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. Sure, by then the physical pain had worn off and the emotional pain was starting to take its toll, but even from the beginning I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, that my body would simply decide the pain was too much and say fuck it. Which it very well could have, I guess I just happened to be stronger than I thought at the time.

It just makes me wonder how our bodies can withstand the things they can withstand, and also why they don’t withstand certain other things. It makes me wonder how the whole “mind over matter” thing actually works, how your brain could possibly trick your body into thinking it feels no pain at all, or how, reversely, you can exaggerate the pain more so in your mind than it actually is in reality. I know there is an actual science behind it, one involving nerve endings and brain waves and messages sent to the epicenter that is your mind (and back), but I’m not smart enough to get into any of that, or even want to anyway. So instead I’ll just ponder and make up my own reasons and not share them with you because if you don’t mind, I think whatever was tying up my insides has finally decided to move its way down and make an appearance. Which just leads me to link you here. You’re welcome.

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Ideas for Halloween you probably already had (but should repeat again anyway)

With just a week left until Halloween (cue my approaching sob fest), there are still so many ways left to celebrate this most beloved (albeit scary) time of year. I’m sure no one is as much of a horror/Halloween enthusiast as me (read: crazy person), but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the same means of haunted celebration as I do. For those of you last-minute tricksters, here are a few fun holiday ideas you can still squeeze into this last week of the best month of the year (best for me, anyway…).

Jack the Pumpkin King and Zero. BFFs.

Jack the Pumpkin King and Zero. BFFs.

Carve pumpkins. I mean, duh, c’mon. It’s sort of a no-brainer when it comes to this Halloween tradition. The last week of October is actually the perfect time to do it, so that you can have a chance to enjoy your carvings but so that they don’t rot before the trick-or-treaters arrive, like some people’s pumpkins will who tried to be all overachievers about it and carved them weeks ago. Just saying. My twist this year, though, is to make it something worth a little more to you than the standard toothy-grinned pumpkins of Halloweens past. Surprisingly, I have never carved a Nightmare Before Christmas pumpkin (shocking, I know, but that’s mainly because I can’t draw for crap and no one has ever offered to stencil something for me until now), so it seemed only fitting that my boyfriend and I carve our first pumpkins together using his skills as a graphic designer/artist and my skills as an obsessed NBC fan. Errr, yeah. But they came out awesome, so whatever.

Indulge in cinematic horror (but not actual horror). Ever the scary movie fanatic, I highly encourage you to indulge in at least one or two horror movies before the month is up. I have so many favorites, the list could go on forever, but if you’re looking for a good variety, check out my posts from years past here, here and here.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. And if you are, I’ll just come for you in the night while you sleep.

Terrified. And the Three Little Pigs.

Terrified. And the Three Little Pigs.

Attend all the scary things. What would Halloween be without haunted houses and other scary attractions of the like? I took a break this year from the overly-commercialized Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios, mainly because of how long the drive is, how expensive tickets are and how much of your night is spent standing in line (because the quality of scare is 10 out of 10, but the other factors make it drop pretty low on my favorites list). Instead, I sought out some local haunts I’d never been to before, dragged all my friends to them, and I have to say I was incredibly satisfied with both the level of scare and the price of admission (definitely adding The Haunted Angelus Scream Park and The Radley Haunted House to my list of annual Halloween events in the Tampa Bay area).

If anyone has anything to add to my (rather dull) list, let me know. I’m trying to hold on to Halloween as tightly as I can in hopes that this year, maybe, just maybe, it will last a little longer than its usual 31 days…

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