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Have you ever had one of those moments where you just feel completely badass? Not in a boasting kinda way, but more in a ‘I can’t believe how freakin’ awesome my life is right now’ kinda way? Well, this was me as I sailed out of Sydney Harbour on a cruise ship. I felt like that cat that got the cream, only with a hella lot of sprinkles on top as well.
This was my first ever time on a cruise and sailing out of one of the most famous harbours in the world was just insane! In all honesty, cruising was something I’d never considered before and I associated it more with the older generation of globetrotters. I love that cruising allows so many people to travel in a comfortable and easy way, but I’m more used to hauling my backpack through streets in Thailand more than sitting down for a 3-course dinner. I couldn’t help be curious and wonder whether cruises are for 20 (something) year olds or not.
As I stepped onto the magnificent Royal Caribbean ship, The Explorer of the Seas, I was gobsmacked. This ship was not only obviously huge, it quite literally was a floating hotel. Once I’d picked my jaw up from the floor and wiped the drool away, I saw that there was a bit of everyone on here. Families on school break, young honeymooners, old friends having a good old catch up, wheelchair users as well as the older folk, quite frankly, living the dream. It’s safe to say, there was a huge variety on this cruise and after spending 9 days travelling to 4 islands in the South Pacific, I think cruising has no age limit.
Tom and I were lucky enough to be taking this trip with his parents who were visiting from the UK and it was a great way to spend time together whilst still being able to do what we wanted. So my perspective of my first time on a Royal Caribbean cruise comes from that of a family as well as a young couple. Here’s what to expect on a Royal Caribbean Cruise for first timers and some top tips, too!
Where did the 9-day cruise go?
The cruise involved 2 days at sea before we reached our first destination and then we spent 4 glorious days visiting 4 South Pacific Islands. I got to experience what it’s like to wake up in a new place each day which was completely different to how I usually travel.
The cruise took us to the Isle of Pines, Lifou and Noumea in New Caledonia and Mystery Island in Vanuatu. All of these islands were as picture perfect as you might imagine them to be. The beaches are incredible, the water is perfect for swimming and snorkelling and we could really relax and get into the island lifestyle.
Each of the islands are pretty small and (one was so small I could see the whole thing from the ship) and we were always dropped off at a good location for exploring and relaxing. The ship sells a variety tours but we didn’t choose to take any of them as they are pretty pricey. If you decide to not go for these tours, don’t worry too much if you change your minds as there were always loads of local tour operators when you get off to choose from.
What are the cabins like?
As with hotel rooms, there are different types of cabins on board, such as outside cabins with windows, balcony rooms, suites and inside cabins. Tom and I stayed in an inside cabin and found it to be surprisingly spacious. It had no window but didn’t find it to be claustrophobic, and in actual fact, the darkness meant I slept like a log.
The room was laid out super smartly, with maximizing space in mind. There’s a really good size, full-length wardrobe with loads of hanging space as well as shelves, a desk full of draws and wall mounted cupboards. Every bit of space had been utilised for storage without overcrowding it. As well as this, there were so many mirrors in the room I had no excuse for leaving with lipstick on my teeth or a visible VPL!
Despite the limited space, the bathroom was a decent size. The shower was a small pod-type one with shelves for your products and also a pull-out washing line which was so useful for drying out swimmers. The sink area was actually pretty big and there were 2 small cabinets for storing other bits, well, if you’ve somehow managed to fill the 1000 other cupboards anyway.
Something that I love to do to switch off is to stick the TV and switch my brain off. It was great to have a sofa and small TV screen to chill out on and there were actually plenty of channels to choose from. Even better was that the TV was on a pull-out stand – helloooooooo TV in bed! Talking about the bed, it was seriously comfy and huge as it was 2 single beds pushed together. The sheets were great, the pillows were great. I loved it!
How do you pay for things on the ship?
When you go through the customs process, which is pretty much the same as at the airport, there is a section where you will need to hand over your cruise papers and get your sea pass. The Seapass is pretty much the only thing you’ll need with you whilst on the ship. It’s your cabin key, your method of paying for things and also your ticket on and off the ship.
Your Seapass is connected up to your account so everything you buy whilst on board gets put on your tab and you just pay the bill at the end. They’re great as everything you need is connected to one little card.
How is the Explorer of the Seas laid out?
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have no sense of direction at all so staying on a gigantic ship was always going to be a bit of a directional challenge for me. The Explorer has a whopping 15 decks from the cabins on deck 2, to the Skylight Chapel on deck 15 and everything else in between. The main restaurant stretches over decks 3, 4 and 5, the theatre over decks 3 and 4, and the swimming pools on deck 11.
One important thing to get used to is that you can’t walk across the entirety of every deck. Sometimes, to get from one end of a deck to the other you might have to go down a deck to walk across and go back up at the other end. You can see why I might have got lost a few times!
A normal day on board the Explorer of the Seas
Well, I say ‘normal’ but to be honest, life on a cruise ship is far from my usual ‘normal’. But here is what I generally got up to during the days we were at sea before stopping off. What you mostly need to know is that I really like my food, so much of my day is centred around eating and worrying about it later.
The morning starts off with, yes, you’ve guessed it, food! There are 2 main options on the cruise ship which is either the Windjammer restaurant which is an all you can eat buffet or the Main Restaurant which has a small buffet as well as a la carte menu. The food in both is great and it also caters for different dietary requirements and cultural preferences too. Whether you’re sticking to your health kick or couldn’t care less, there’s such a huge selection you’re bound to find something delicious.
After breakfast, the cruise ship world is your oyster. Every evening an itinerary for the next day is left in the cabins so you can find out what’s going on, where and at what time. The ship does such an awesome job of catering for everyone in terms of things to do that there was something for everyone no matter what age. For me, I spent my time swimming or just bobbing around in the whirlpools, playing minigolf or deck side games, I went to free beauty lessons and got my free bellini from the Casino just for the sake of it, watching films on deck and generally just relaxing. I can safely say I was never bored!
After spending the day chilling, we mostly opted to eat dinner in the Main dining room rather than the Windjammer buffet just because, well, it’s so nice in there! We sat at the same table each night and had the same incredibly lovely waitress staff. On the face of things, it might sound a bit much but it was honestly so nice. I love talking to people and being able to get to know a couple of staff members was really interesting.
The evenings were my favourite time of day on the ship (apart from when I was stuffing my face) because there were loads going on. Each night there was an awesome show on in the theatre, karaoke, live music, a night club and loads of places to get a great cocktail. The shows were on twice a night as well so no matter what time we ate, we managed to catch one of them. After watching the shows, we could carry the night on for as long as we wanted to.
What about the days when you get off?
3 of our 4 stops were in locations where the water is not shallow enough for the cruise ship to anchor up right by the shore, so this means everyone has to jump on a smaller boat, called a tender boat, to get the island. It might sound like a crazy operation trying to get a few thousand people off of a huge cruise ship onto a few tiny boats (they’re actually the ship’s lifeboats) but it was, in fact, really easy.
We would always opt to get up and have breakfast fairly early so we could be off the cruise ship for about 9am and get the full day out of the island. The tender boats ferry people too and from the ship all day long so we could even go back to the ship for lunch in we fancied. To get on and off each time we just had to show our Seapass, no passports or anything else was required. Generally, by about 4.30pm everyone had to be back on the ship before it set off again and there were signs everywhere letting us know the exact’all aboard’ time. Because let me tell ya, if you ain’t on it, it’s going without ya!
What is there to do on the ship for 20 something year olds?
As I’ve mentioned, cruises for me were just for the older generation so I was really curious about what there would be to do for young couples. It’s probably also worth mentioning that I’m not a huge drinker so the idea of sitting in a bar all day doesn’t really appeal to me either. But I really was spoilt for choice. Here are some of the best things to do on a cruise ship for people in their 20s:
- Enjoy the spa and the beauty classes they put on
- Play Mini Golf on the top deck
- Laugh till you cry or sing (till you make everyone else cry… only me?) at the evening shows
- Splurge on the shopping deals and enjoy the duty free
- Grab a free Bellini at various points throughout the trip
- Have a gamble in the casino
- Explore the ship and get the instagra worthy photos – I recommend finding the Helipad right at the front of the ship!
- Watch a film on the awesome outdoor Cinema
- Grab a drink at any of the bars
- Scoff late night cakes from the Windjammer restaurant
- Take a look at what the Captain is up to from the Bridge
What’s included in the cruise?
To give it to you in a nutshell, pretty much everything. From the activities to the shows and the food in the buffet and main restaurant and café on the Royal Promenade, it’s all included in the cost of your ticket when you book so will cost you a big fat nothing extra.
The Explorer of the Seas (and I believe most ships) does however have some speciality restaurants to eat at but these will cost you extra. How much more will depend on which of the speciality restaurants you eat at and of course, what you order. I did see package deals being offered for dining in these restaurants so if this something you might be interested in it might be worth taking a look at these once you’re on board. As you would probably expect, spa and salon treatments are also not included. Trust me though, if they were I would have spent 90% of my time there! The gym, however, is completely free and has a great toasty warm whirlpool to take a soak in after.
Now, time of the big thing that is not included in the initial cost – alcohol and soft drinks. Yes, I know, what sounds better than sipping on cocktails on the top deck, or a cold coke on a boiling day? Well, of course, there’s nothing stopping you buying drinks from the bars, but you’ll just need to remember that it’s going to be added to your bill at the end of the trip. Alternatively, you can also purchase a daily drinks or soft drinks package in advance. Personally, I think they are pretty pricey but it might be worth it if this is a big part of your holiday.
So, are cruises for young couples and people in their 20s?
In short, my answer is ABSOLUTELY! But let me break this down a bit more. Cruising is a completely different way to travel compared to my usual mode of backpacking or taking city breaks. Before I went on this one with Royal Caribbean, I was worried about getting cabin fever which I know sounds ridiculous because the ship is massive. I think it was more a fear of boredom and not having anywhere to go. But I was chatting to someone at some point and they said this to me: it’s you’re own fault if you’re bored on here. And it’s so true!
There’s definitely a misconception that cruises are going to be catered towards older people but this cruise proved that to be completely wrong. There was a proper mix of ages on board and as someone in their 20s, I found there was more than enough for me to do. I actually feel there was more for people my age to do on this ship than I can often find in my hometown!
So, if you’re looking for a holiday where you want the home comforts at your fingertips, with plenty of things to fill your time and the chance to see some incredible places, then you should definitely look at taking a cruise. I found it to be the perfect way to switch off from the outside world and really spend time with the people I’m with, and that’s a recipe for an awesome trip, no matter what your age!