What I Loved (and Hated) About My Cruise

So what does this nomadic backpacker think of the cruise he went on? IT WAS AWESOME. It was so enjoyable that when it came time to head home, I didn’t want to leave. I missed it. I was surprised, because before I left, I didn’t really have high expectations for my cruise. After all, a cruise ship is simply a floating resort. How great could all that sitting around and relaxing really be? Wouldn’t it get boring?

Apparently not.

I think cruises make for great vacations; everything is taken care of for you and you just need to show up for dinner. And that’s exactly what my cruise experience was like. It was filled with buffets, cheesy entertainment, lots of drinking, and large amounts of time at the pool. A cruise was pretty much everything I thought it would be.

But who would have known that could be so much fun! Not only did I find the whole experience fascinating and a great opportunity to people watch, but I actually liked being on the ship itself.

I wanted to stay longer.

What I Liked

Nomadic Matt holding drinks and enjoying cruise life

  • Starbucks – Being able to get my iced tea lemonade every day after the gym? Blissful.
  • The gym – Being able to actually go to the gym every day? Even more blissful. (Though I only went three times.)
  • The buffet – So many food options, so much eating. The ship had everything I could have ever desired, including a great salad bar. I think I ate healthier that week on the cruise than I have in months.
  • Sushi – The Oasis of the Seas had a Japanese restaurant and being able to get my sushi fix in the middle of the ocean was heavenly.
  • The friendly staff – The members of the staff on the boat were utterly amazing. The bartenders at the Schooner bar were hilarious; our room attendant was friendly, helpful, and put up with my million requests. But the real prize goes to our dining room attendants, who were some of the best servers I’ve had in recent memory. They made excellent conversation, it was interesting to learn about their lives back in India, and overall, they took good care of my friend and me. They deserved that extra tip!
  • The rising tide bar – In the middle of the ship, there’s a little bar that moves between the 5th and 8th deck. Cheesy but surprisingly fun.
  • The adventure area – Rock walls, mini golf, and wave pools = fun.
  • Late-night dining – Pizza at 3am? Dessert at 1am? You had me at “please make me fat.”
  • The comfy beds – I didn’t expect much from the boat’s accommodation, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well I slept. The bed featured one of those foam mattresses, and I rarely wanted to get up.
  • The casino – I actually made most of my friends at the casino bar. It turned out to be one of the best spots to meet people.
  • Daily trivia contest – A daily chance to show off my knowledge of arcane facts for cheesy prizes? Excellent (I say in a Mr. Burns voice).

What I Didn’t Like

Nomadic Matt on the ground asking for help to get back to a hostel

  • The lack of a movie theater – They played movies in the outdoor theater once a day, but why couldn’t there be an operational movie theater on the boat? If this is an entertainment complex on water, why can’t we go to the movies? It’s not like people are going to hide in their room 24/7. It would have been nice to take a break from the sun with some popcorn and a flick. Come on, Royal Caribbean (RCCL), Disney cruise ships have them!
  • Not enough pool area – 6,000 people on the ship and there are four tiny pools that were always crowded and loud. Seems like this would have been the most obvious thing to include when you’re designing a new ship!
  • Hairspray: The Musical – RCCL paid a lot of money to have these cast members perform on the Tony Awards to show off what you could see on the boat. But, really, when I saw the show on the boat, all I could think was “this sucks!” Poor casting, poor voices, poor everything.
  • Being nickel and dimed – When I went on my cruise years ago, everything (except alcohol) seemed to be included. Now it seems that everywhere you go, things cost extra. RCCL really knows how to take money from you with shopping sales, extra restaurants, expensive on- and off-board activities, charging for soda ($45 dollars for a week!), and four-dollar bottles of water.
  • No free water in Labadee – RCCL’s private resort area in Haiti only had free water during lunch time despite the cruise log saying that water would be provided. Apparently, they mean for a fee. Seems dangerous when temperatures are 90+ degrees!
  • Small showers – The bathrooms in the rooms were kind of small. You could fit inside them, but there was no stretching out.
  • The buffet closing – I didn’t get why the buffet closed in the middle of the day for an hour. What happened to all-day buffets?! How am I going to get fat if the buffet is closed?

My friend Jason asked if I would go on a cruise again. And you know what, I would. In a heartbeat. Before I went, I wondered if I would I hate my cruise. Would I be able to cope with such a sanitized travel environment? Would I be able to relate to people whose idea of “travel” is a trip to Señor Frogs?

I did—and I even enjoyed myself. While it wasn’t perfect (nothing ever is), the cruise wasn’t the dreadful experience I thought it had the chance to be. I’m a cruise convert now and will go on one again soon.

Because sometimes it’s good to withdraw yourself from your normal routine. Sometimes you just want to sit around with a frozen drink in your hand and get a tan.

And it turns out a cruise is the perfect place for that.

Editor’s note: Royal Caribbean covered the cost of my cruise.

  1. Camels & Chocolate

    Three times working out in a week on VACATION is pretty darn good. That’s the total number of times I worked out on the ship I was working on last fall…over a four-month period! :-)

  2. It’s pretty ridiculous you would have to pay for soda and water on a cruise ship. I always thought cruises were ALL-inclusive! Sounds like the good outweighed the bad though! :)

  3. I really wish I could go on a cruise. Perhaps next year – I’m looking into options leaving from Italy and going to Turkey. Like you said, I want to something where I can actually be on vacation – body and soul – not on a trip.

    Did you have to pay for every single one of your meals on board?

    • NomadicMatt

      Meals are free unless you go to a speciality restaurant. I only went to the sushi place. Otherwise, I never paid for any food on the boat.

    • Frances

      Look into Regent Seven Seas – they include everything, leave your wallet at home. All restaurants, all drinks, shore excursions, etc….

  4. The reason the pools are tiny has to do with naval engineering. Basically, pools are heavy, and having water up high on a ship can be bad if you hit rough weather or something else that causes the ship to heel over.

  5. One of the comedians I saw on a cruise made a joke about the fact that you can get steak and lobster and all other kinds of fancy food for dinner every night, but pop open a 35 cent can of soda and hold on to your SeaPass card!

  6. Pat

    As a travel agent I like to tell my clients, especially my firs timers, what they can expect in the way of what is included. Cruises are not all inclusive for the most part but that doesn’t mean that you have to be nickel and dimed.

    Surely you don’t NEED to drink soda. And the soda package is only worth the price if you drink more than 4 canned sodas a day.

    You don’t NEED bottled water. The ship’s water is actually very good. You should have tried it.

    You don’t NEED to eat in a specialty restaurant. There is ‘free’ food to eat somewhere 24 hours a day. It just changes location so they can clean the area. You certainly do want that to happen.

    No one claimed there was Broadway quality entertainment but I’m sure it was entertaining. On Norwegian Epic they have Blue Man Group. From a person who has seen it – it is awesome. On some Royal Caribbean ships they have ice skating rinks. It’s a moving venue – you don’t think you are going to see Scott Hamilton skating. But for what they have to work with they do a pretty good job.

    All in all I’m glad you’re going to give it another shot one day. As to your disclaimer – wish Royal Caribbean would pay for my cruise! LOL

      • MikeC

        Travel agents do not get free cruises, contrary to popular belief. They do on rare ocassions offer us reduced rates, but sometimes even those can be higher than what the public pays.

      • Pat

        Yes you must be reading a board where there is nothing but misinformation about travel agents. Send me your address and I’ll invite you on my next free cruise. Wait – don’t bother to send it – I’ve yet to get the illusive free cruise everyone thinks we get. But then again I love to cruise so I don’t mind paying full fare to blog about it. And pretty funny that he got a FREE cruise and couldn’t even say enough nice things about it but rather things like he couldn’t stretch out in the bathroom, there was no movie theatre, he didn’t like the entertainment. Royal Caribbean – I’ll give you a much better review for a free cruise!

        • So, not that Matt needs my defending, but here goes. First, he did say nice things about his “FREE cruise” — there is a full list of both likes and dislikes.

          Second, I don’t think you are really grasping the point of press being comped free trips. It’s certainly not to sing the unconditional praises of anyone who send you a freebie. I’m sure Royal Caribbean would love if every blogger or writer they sent on a cruise wrote nothing but stellar reviews — but that’s not who the writer or blogger’s loyalty should be to. It should be to their reader, and readers want a full, clear, picture; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

          • Amber

            Well put Alex, can we all just stop complaining and take the blog for what it is: an opinion. If you disagree with it write your own blog.

        • Based on Pat’s comments I’d much rather have Matt as my travel agent than you, I’ve often assumed I’d hate cruises, but Matt gives a really honest review that made me think I’d probably quite like it – and giving the negatives (which are fair enough) makes it comes across better – and you appear not to have noticed that overall he says he loved the experience!

        • NomadicMatt

          I wouldn’t trust you then. A free trip should not be in exchange for a glowing review. That’s dishonest. “Wow! I love company X because they give me free stuff!” The purpose was to write about the cruise experience, which I have over a many posts now. While they aren’t my preferred way to travel, I believe the underlining message through all of my post has been “Ok, this was a lot more fun than I thought and I want to go again.”

          I think if Royal Caribbean can turn me into a cruiser, that’s a pretty damn good review of their product.

          P.S. – I drank the tap water on the boat. I was referring to the paid water on Labadee, which is OFF the boat but RCCL owned. Unsafe to have people walking around 90+ heat and no water.

        • Agent's Daughter

          Um my mother has been a travel agent for 30 years and now owns her own business that does nothing but sell cruises – and she does not get cruises for free. Only exception to that is if she’s “hosting” a group that she sold, she can go as their “escort”, but then she’s working on the cruise and not on vacation.

  7. Colleen

    Here’s a tip for how not to gain weight on a cruise. Always take the stairs everywhere. A ship is a vertical environment and if you trot up and down the stairs everywhere you go you can actually lose weight if you’re active on board and reasonable about choosing your food. You can still eat great and lose weight if you don’t just pig around the clock. I lost 11 lbs once on an 11 day cruise!

  8. The food is awesome on Royal Caribbean! I enjoyed the rock wall – though they make you go back into line after you climb one route, so it’s a bit tedious to do a real climbing session. They’re a fun way to travel occasionally.

  9. Steve

    I don’t know when you last cruise was, but I’ve been on at least one every year since 2001, and the sodas have never been free.

    Some of the older RCL ships do have movie theaters. At least the Monarch of the Seas did when I sailed her in 2002. Perhaps they stopped putting them on ships because nobody was going to them. My wife and I watched “A Beautiful Mind” all by ourselves in that theater.

    If you want a bigger shower, pay for a suite. If you want to save money, put up with a small shower.

    If you want Broadway quality entertainment, go to Broadway. I saw Hairspray on the Oasis of the Seas in 2012 and thought it was the best production at sea on any line.

    I never found every single buffet line closed at the same time. They do need to clean and re-stock for meals, but they usually go through a rotation. My guess is that you didn’t look hard enough to find the one that was open. Plus on the Oasis of the Seas, there are plenty of places to eat other than the buffet lines that are not extra cost, such as the Park Cafe, which is very good.

    I agree with you about being nickle and dimed. I never found the pools that crowded, but we sailed in the fall, with less kids on board. The cost of bottled water on cruises, whether at Labadee or elsewhere is a ripoff.

    • NomadicMatt

      I don’t need Broadway entertainment. I want good entertainment. My community theater could do a better Hairspray. And if this is the best, that’s really sad.

      Park Cafe is really good. I ate their a lot! amazing chicken soup! I’ll agree with that.

  10. Lyn

    Disney Cruise Line offers all day and night “free” sodas from soda machine on pool deck and in restaurants. You will have to pay for can of soda from a bar or delivered via room service. “Free” food and non-alcoholic drinks are available on Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. Water dispensers are placed throughout the island. They show first run movies throughout the day in the theater and on the “funnel vision” poolside.

  11. I am not really a cruise person, but after reading this post I think I may give it a try. The charging for water part sounds scary though…

  12. Irina

    I’ve been on two – European and just recently from homeland Australia to South Pacific. Unfortunately I have to say that European cruise was much better, our own cruiseline was disappointment. The distance in South Pacific is far greater so in 7 days we had 2.5 stops, the rest was spent on the ship with lack of adequate entertainment to cater for all age groups. The European one, MSC was all inclusive, apart from alcoholic drinks where on Aussie P&O we also had to pay for soft drinks and water. Food was also far better on MSC.

  13. Got me tempted to go cruising, Its a nice way to tick off the Caribbean which is little distant for us Europeans but tempted known the less.

    Have to pay for Water and Soda! Thats crazy balls because it doesn’t actually cost allot to put on for free.

    Agree on the cinema its my medatation house, always run along to catch the latest movies, just not the same on a TV.

  14. Eileen

    I LOVED my first cruise; and second & third. By #5 on big ships I was over it. Sailed a smaller ship (Seabourn) this winter and fell in love with cruising again!
    I always think I’m going to the gym every day and make it once or twice. I think three times is great too.

  15. Now that you’re living in Stockholm you need to try the cruises from Stockholm to Finland. It’s a bit different… Not sure if you’ll like that one thou 😉

  16. Tom

    Bleh – cruises are in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately for this beholder, I’m not a fan, but heh to each his own.

    But of course you liked it, it was free!

  17. Jeff

    Hey I just discovered your blog and am really enjoying it! Do you have any sidebar to jump around your different blog posts?

    Anyway, glad to hear you had a good time. My parents took my whole family on a Disney cruise (mainly for my neice and nephews) and it was great. It was the only cruise I have been on and loved it. Free soda and soft serve ice cream too.

    I’m now curious about trying a gay cruise (sans the family obviously). I’ve heard mixed things. Maybe you can try one out next time? lol.

  18. Dude, they had a Starbucks???? I can’t even get a Starbucks unless I take the train over to Copenhagen. Btw, Jarmo up there’s got a good idea. Slutboat from Stockholm –> Helsinki is an experience you must have before leaving. Think we talked about it.

  19. Ashley M

    You had me sushi!!!

    Actually don’t tell anyone but you really had me at gym. My absolute favorite part of vactioning is having time to actually enjoy working out and not feeling stressed about the other things I need to be doing.

  20. Pete

    I’m hesitant to go on a cruise because I’d probably enjoy it too much. I wouldn’t be surprised if I left with diabetes by the end of it.

  21. Great article. Definitely provides some insight on what I should expect if I end up taking a re-positioning cruise from Florida to Spain =)

    Is this your first ever blog post? Because unless I am just plain awful with site navigation, it doesn’t look like you have a way to access blog posts any older than this one (the ‘Travel Blog’ page only lists 10 posts). Did I miss the Archive somewhere?

    Please point me in the direction of older blog posts =P

    • Perhaps I should have read through some of the comments before posting, they proved insightful.
      I now realize I can navigate your older posts by topic (but not chronologically) through the doodad in the sidebar.
      Thank you for your time =)

  22. Adrienne Morton

    So psyched now after reading about your cruise. Am going on my 1st on Dec 14- RC Vision of the Seas, Eastern Caribbean! You clearly had a fabulous time. I hate when people get snobby about traveling, & are above honest relaxation in the sun/sea w a frozen drink in hand….anyone who’s done that knows its a priceless experience!

  23. I agree about the pros and cons. I fully took advantage of 3 am pizza and ice cream.

    I can’t wait to the last week of September for our cruise to the Bahamas.


  24. lynn

    I’ve been on 6 cruises. NEVER AGAIN! Got stuck next to a SCREAMING BABY, IT SOUND LIKE A COLIC BABY, NO SLEEP FOR 7days.

    The cruise b4 that I got majorly sick because they do drills and I was packed in with 15+ ppl one was sick.

    The 2nd and 4th cruise I was on was NASTY! I found ants and hair constantly in food.

    I find it’s heard on your body while the boat is moving. Gravity pressure, sea sick if the waves are rough.

    The drinks are outrageous priced

    They made me pay 200-400$ in tips bc they don’t pay their staff

    You never get enough beach time!

    I lose weight, food is pretty bad!

    If you complain Disney is the ONLY CRUISE THAT RIGHTS WRONGS


    POA….. ALL INCLUSIVE CAN BE JUST AS CHEAP WITH DRINKS INCLUDED:) I’ve had way more fun with a sandles.

  25. lynn

    My dads girlfriend does 2 cruises a year for the past 10 years and she said the ripping was as much as the cruises and quality has bottomed out.

  26. I guess I didn’t expect someone who travels as much as you to enjoy cruising this much! I had a slightly different take on it, but then I travelled on a different ship, in a different part of the world. Having said that, I’m not convinced it would be very different.

    Itoo came away from our cruise wondering why I hadn’t had the time of my life, and I wrote this post to break it down. Not surprisingly, there are far more articles raving about cruising than stating the negatives. I do hope people do read up a bit more before they book – I don’t believe cruising is for everyone, and it is hard to back out on day 3 of a 10 day trip.

  27. Kaylee Anna

    I went on a cruise with my friend (Allure of the Seas!) and I loved it. It was my first vacation outside of the US and it really opened my eyes to the different cultures out there. We were the first ones off the boat at port and the last ones to get back on. We stayed away from the tourist areas and met locals who showed us around on every island we went too. I would definitely cruise again.

    (PS, just got your book. Thank you thank you thank you. You are a legend.)

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