A Day In The Life Of A Cruise Vacationer

Every day of your cruise vacation will be different, of course, but they will all follow a certain tempo. In port and at sea most ships schedule activities like port talks, lectures, games and fitness programs on a nonstop basis. It’s easy to tailor your cruise vacation to fit your lifestyle  you can participate in any or all of the scheduled activities or do nothing more taxing than sip a margarita by the pool while reading the latest best seller.

Shipboard activities

Your best source for information about onboard activities is the ship’s daily newsletter. Go over the list of activities the night before and note the ones that appeal most to you. If you want to be active, you can take exercise and fitness classes, often starting as early as 6:00 a.m.; on some cruise ships you can also shoot hoops, run a track or hit golf balls. If you’d rather be primped and pampered, sign up for the salon and spa services, which have become very popular in recent years.

Before every port call, ship’s staff will present port talks, including shopping tips, and guest experts will usually be aboard to give history lectures and to offer programs on such topics as health, fitness and lifestyle management; some ships also offer culinary demonstrations, wine tastings, and language classes throughout the day. Other activities might include bridge lessons and tournaments, pool games, pingpong or shuffleboard, art auctions, dance classes, and computer lessons and classes on how to work popular software programs. Most shipboard activities are offered at no extra charge, but some (wine tastings and computer classes, for example) might carry a fee.

But your day needn’t be structured at all, and there are many places aboard ship where passengers go just to relax and unwind. On sunny days, the swimming pool is one of the most popular spots for lounging and socializing. The library and card room are available for quiet pursuits, as are many of the ship’s lounges, and many people retire to their cabins in late afternoon to rest before dinner.

At night the ship’s lounges come to life with live bands, and every night the main showroom will host a Vegas-style revue, guest comedians, singers or other professional act. When the ship is at sea, the casino gets a lot of action when by day staff members offer gaming lessons, tournaments and bingo games and where at night table games and slot machines become busy with after dinner gamblers. It’s a great place to end the day, talking with new friends and trying your luck.

Dining pleasures

Your cruise vacation will also be organized around a series of wonderful meals and receptions. Breakfast and lunch are usually casual affairs with open seating in the dining room drop-in service in the ship’s buffet restaurant and an English-style tea is usually offered in the afternoon.

Most cruise lines offer guests several choices for evening dining, and some offer a lot. For example, under Princess Cruises’ ‘Personal Choice Dining’ plan, you can eat in the dining room, at a steakhouse, on a balcony, at the buffet, in the pizzeria, at the wine and caviar bar, at the burger grill, at Sabatini’s, Princess’ wonderful Italian trattoria; in fact, you can find a dinner spot somewhere aboard ship from 5:30 in the afternoon to 4 o’clock in the morning. Outside the main dining room, some venues may require reservations along with a nominal fee.

Most ships offer one or more ‘formal nights’ per cruise. During the first formal night, the captain typically hosts a reception for all passengers. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by the ship’s hostess, who will introduce you to the captain. Complimentary beverages and hors d’oeuvres are usually served, and the captain will introduce his crew.

Of course, if you prefer some privacy at mealtime, you can always order from room service, which offers a set menu 24 hours a day.

Ports of call

One of the best things about a cruise vacation are the port calls. On some cruises you wake up every morning in a new port, and set out for another one late in the day. The time in between is yours: You can go ashore, stay behind, take a tour, or strike out on your own the decision is entirely up to you.

Most cruise lines offer shore excursions that appeal to a wide variety of tastes: sightseeing, hiking, biking, sailing, swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, and a host of other actives. Some lines also have some exclusive offerings. For example, Princess Cruises offers a dog sled summer camp in Alaska and a hike to the Seven Sisters waterfalls in Grenada. These excursions are continually scouted and monitored for quality control by the cruise line and are a good experience for the money.

If you prefer to do your own touring, you can book a private guide, hire a taxi, rent a car or use public transportation to explore whatever interests you. To make the most of your hours ashore, research your options ahead of time. Guidebooks, Internet sites, and local tourism offices are all good resources. Just be sure to get back to the ship in time for the scheduled departure or the ship just might leave without you!

Life aboard a cruise ship has its own distinctive rhythms, and yet every day will be different. Step aboard and enjoy the voyage.

Anita Dunham-Potter is a Pittsburgh-based travel journalist specializing in cruise travel. Anita is a weekly travel columnist for http://MSNBC.com and Tripso, and she is a contributor to Fodor’s “Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises 2007″.

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