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Our First Cruise
Myths, Truths, Our Perceptions
(Not To Mention Our Wedding)

My new Bride and I just returned from our first Cruise. Our Cruise took place the week of February 1, 1997 on Carnival's Sensation. I am 49 and Beth is 35. We have 7 kids between us. Not only was this our first Cruise but we were married on the ship while we were docked in St Thomas.

As charter SeaLetter readers, Beth and I did a lot of research on our cruise and in doing so we created many pre-conceived ideas of what we should and would experience based on what we read here and in the CompuServe Cruise Forum. While on the cruise, Beth and I decided it would be helpful to future "first timers" if we shared the results of these pre-conceived notions. We will attempt to do this in the missive that follows.

MYTH: Lifeboat drills are fun and the life vests are comfortable.

No they aren't!

MYTH: There is a cruise for everyone, you just need to find the right ship.

I am afraid this does not appear to be the case. We sat at a table for 10 and we were exposed to several different personalities around our table. One of the couples, I will call them Mr. and Mrs. P, were Easterners. They were in their mid 60's and he was celebrating his retirement from the police force after 30 years and also their 38th Wedding anniversary. Mrs. P did some work out side the home but for the most part she had been a homemaker for all those years.

Mrs. P came to the table the first night complaining about the rocking of the ship, how cold it was in the dining room and how big the "boat" was. Upon being served her first meal she quickly announced the food was not at all what she expected and you could tell she was comparing it to her own cooking. Well Mr. P was certainly no dummy...he had been married to the woman for 38 years and he knew from that moment on he was to have nothing good to say about the food less he insult his bride. He played his part perfectly complaining about every meal they served him for the next six days.

Mrs.. P had bad knees and the size of the ship aggravated her delicate condition. They only went ashore one time during the entire trip and then we got to hear her complain about St. Thomas as well as the Sensation. Beth had the pleasure of sitting next to Mrs. P for seven days and she of course can now call all the P's children and grandchildren by their first name. Since Mrs. P couldn't eat the terrible food she had nothing to do but share her life's experience with Beth.

I don't want to paint the P's as a couple that might have trouble finding happiness anywhere they were but we did lean in that direction when Mrs. P indicated she would be so glad to get home where she didn't have to deal with all that silverware stacked around her plate and where she could get a simple plate of mashed potatoes.

No folks....there isn't a cruise for everyone!

MYTH: Always ask for the late seating at dinner.

Generally folks on here will suggest the late seating. We took that advice and asked for late seating. Luckily we were assigned the early seating.

I say luckily because the itinerary for Sensation made the early seating by far the most desirable in our opinion.

Our first stop was San Juan and we didn't dock until 6pm in the evening. Even though they moved up the seating time for both evening meals those of us with the early seating, 5pm on this day, were able to eat and leave the ship well ahead of those with the later seating.

Sensation only has three stops as I indicated, and as you see one of those stops certainly favors the early seating. We found no disadvantage at the other two stops in eating at 6:00pm instead of 8:15.

We found it a big advantage on the "nights at sea" to have dinner at 6pm as we were able to go to the early show (8:30pm) instead of waiting till after 10pm to see it. We could take in the early show, do a little night clubbing, or casino if you are so inclined, and make it to the late-late mini-show which started in one of the other lounges after the main late show was over.

Another thing my bride and I enjoyed was having an early breakfast for the days we were in port. We also liked having lunch at 12:00 as opposed to waiting until 1:30pm. I must say though that the majority of the cruisers didn't take breakfast or lunch in the main dining rooms as they opted for room service, Lido deck service or 24 hour Pizza which was available. We preferred eating in the dining room instead of standing in line so again the early seating was more preferable for us.

I hope I haven't confused you but the point here is there is not a "pat" answer to your question. Take the time to consider your itinerary and your normal eating habits and make your decisions based on that.

TRUTH: Book your Shore Excursions when you first board the ship!

When you get on the ship go to the Excursion desk (it won't be open) and pick up a copy of the shore excursions and order form. It will be laying there for you to pick up or possibly you will find it with other information left in your cabin for you. Fill the form out and there will be a sign at the Excursion Desk telling you where you can take the forms for collection. We took ours to the balcony entrance of the main lounge.

This was the very first thing we did when we got on the ship and by doing so we got everything we asked for. They ask you to mark a first and second choice. Have Carnival Reservations or your travel agent fax you the list of Excursions a couple of weeks before you leave so you will already have your choices picked out.

TRUTH: Beware the toilet.

This is something I can not describe and you will just have to experience. DO NOT sit on the toilet when you flush it or you might find yourself somewhere in the complicated plumbing they talk about. I was born and raised in Oklahoma which is called Tornado Alley but I have never seen anything with the force of a marine toilet!

TRUTH: It is a good idea to carry on some of your own beverages.

Soda is $1.50, Drink of the Day, with Souvenir glass, is $5.50 and everything else is somewhere in between. Our ship served only Coca Cola products. No one gave us any trouble about carrying on soft drinks. You're asked not to bring your own liquor to your room and if you do bring one of the boxes of liquor, that the stores pack up for you, on the ship it will be confiscated and delivered to your room the night before you get off the ship. They do not search your sacks as you come on the ship so if you would like to sample a little of what you bought on the island then pack it in with the 19,000 T-shirts you are bringing back on board.

An endless flow of ice is available from your cabin steward. All popular mixers....uh, I mean fruit juices, are also available at no charge.

MYTH: Placing calls from the ship is cost prohibitive.

The price is dropping rapidly on this. As of our trip, calls to the U.S. were $4.95 a minute using the ship-board satellite service and if you carry your cellular phone with you it is very convenient to use that at or near any of the US Territories such as San Juan and St Thomas. Cost is $1.95 to place the call and $1.95 a minute. If you sail anywhere close to these islands your cellular phone will work just fine. A pre-paid calling card is the safest way to place cellular calls.

MYTH: Marriage at sea is still performed by the Captain of the ship.

No they don't do that anymore. You pay Carnival to handle the ship board accommodations. Carnival also provides the cake, flowers, champagne, souvenir champagne flutes and a photographer. Getting married in St Thomas we hired a service recommended by Carnival to make all our legal arrangements with the government and they secure the minister as well as paying all local fees.

You must get off the ship to go before a judge and swear that all the paperwork you submitted weeks in advance was all correct. You then go to the ship for the ceremony. Our wedding was held in a beautiful room called the Oak Room. I understand some of the newer ships being built have chapels.

We were very pleased with how it all went and we were lucky to have Al Rubenstein, who is in charge of all Wedding Services for Carnival Cruise Lines, sailing with us and he attended our wedding. Mr.. Rubenstein was thoughtful enough to buy a couple of 8 X 10 portraits of the ceremony for us. First Class person and a First Class ceremony.

Our photographer was great and took 115 shots in various locations all over the ship. He also did about eighteen 8 X 10 professional portraits in a Studio environment. It was very hard not to buy all the pictures - they were so good. All the pictures, including the portraits, were developed in the ships studio and were ready that evening.

MYTH: The twin beds in your cabin can be made into a queen size bed by your cabin steward.

Not if all they give him are single size sheets to make the beds up with. Sure you can push the beds together and that at least gets you a little closer to the one you are wanting to get close to but don't expect to sleep tail to tail like you do at home. Of course our experience of pushing the beds together came AFTER we got married on Tuesday....our mothers are going to read this.

MYTH: You only need to pack shorts for daytime wear.

This is not true if you are the least bit cold-natured. We noticed as did many folks I visited with that had cruised before, that the ships themselves are pretty cool inside. Ladies you might want to take a couple of pairs of jeans or slacks, sweats or wind suits for the days you are going to enjoy activities such as gambling, bingo or afternoon shows that are held inside the ship. Definitely take a light jacket or sweater for those nights you want to stroll the deck while at sea.

MYTH: Expect to spend much of your time playing volleyball, ping pong and shuffle board on the deck during days at sea.

Folks, if you play well in gail force winds you are going to love the deck games. Keep in mind that much of the time you are sailing 20 knots into a 15 to 20 knot wind. I am an engineer and I can tell you that you add those two components to get the sum total of the wind velocity on deck. If you do plan on playing volleyball be sure you leave your "sign and sail" credit card with the sports desk so they can chalk up the balls as they sail over the side of the ship.

MYTH: The reason there are waves in the pools while sailing is that they use seawater in them.

Yes most ships still use seawater in their pools but after studying this quite closely I don't think the "type" of water has a whole lot to do with the waves in the pools.

MYTH: Be prepared for the longest ordeal of your life embarking and debarking.

I hate lines....I was really dreading getting on and off the ship. We had a pleasant experience and so did many of the travelers we visited with about this. The cruise lines must be doing better. From the time we got off the plane to the time we walked into our cabin on the ship was 55 minutes. It was almost the identical time leaving the ship and getting to the gate at the airport.

I highly recommend paying the $15 a head, or whatever, to the cruise line for airport transfers even if you do fly on your own.

A WORD OF CAUTION: Customs is very superficial and they only do spot checks. If you just have to have one of those T-Shirts that you can buy in the Casino that says JACKPOT WINNER, for the love of pete DO NOT wear this during debarkation! It is a 100% sure way to get pulled out of the line and to get to spend the morning with the customs folks. One of our table-mates learned this lesson the hard way.

Well I hope you enjoyed our observations. If you found this interesting please let us know as we will be able to do a sequel after our upcoming Thanksgiving Cruise on the Carnival Destiny. As big as that ship is we ought to have lots to share with you.

If you'd like to send your CONGRATULATIONS to Jerry & Beth, you may contact them at: 72700.2735@compuserve.com.

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