I recently returned from a Caribbean cruise.   The occasion was my son’s high school graduation and the event was coordinated by parents and school administrators.  And while I had some reservations with being on a cruise ‘super carrier’ (Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas), I enjoyed the experience very much.   The ship, the food and the entire experience were above my expectations.   Indeed, cruising has changed a bit since my last cruise vacation, as a 12-year old, on The Queen Elizabeth in 1968!

The Consumer Team:  "Know Before You Go" on a Cruise

The Consumer Team: “Know Before You Go” on a Cruise

As a consumer, I was generally very satisfied with the experience.   However, I learned a number of things that I’ll pass along here to anyone who might be considering a cruise vacation.

Shop Your Rates:    Since I paid for my cabin as part of a school trip, I didn’t feel it appropriate to negotiate on price.   However, as I started to compare what I paid for my cabin (Balcony Room Level 6) to what was available on ‘deal’ websites such as Priceline, I soon discovered that I paid on the high side of rack rate.   I found my exact cabin for $600 less on the very next sailing of The Navigator of the Seas.

Internet Connectivity is Expensive and Bad:   For $210 for the week, I was able to get on the ship’s WIFI network.  When it worked (about 50% of the time), I had connectivity somewhere between very slow dial up and very, very slow dial up.   It was so bad at times, that I had to purchase an additional cellular digital package for $60 .    Any business person who is counting on internet access should realize that “your results may vary”.

Beverage Packages Are a Bad Deal:   Royal Caribbean cleverly offers a number of ‘all you can drink’ packages.   They sell it saying that, once you pay the fee, you pay no more for any drinks on theship.   But there’s only one problem.  Unless you’re going to lug one of their 64 OZ big gulp type cups along with you, there’s no way to take drinks back to your room.    Before you fork out money for one of these packages,  I’d recommend spending a day or so on the ship to observe your own consumption habits.

Beware of Ports of Call:   Our cruise stopped on Cozumel, Belize City and Roatan, Honduras.    Royal Caribbean’s promo literature touts the unbelievable experiences that vacationers can have in these exotic ports.  Nowhere in the cruise literature does it disclose that each of these cities is very dangerous for tourists who leave the secured, near-the-ship tourist areas.   My son and I hired a car and driver in Roatan to ‘see the town’.     As soon as we left the guarded tourist area, the complexion of Roatan changed dramatically.    Instead of friendly merchants, we now encountered desperate looking people living in intense poverty.   Seeing AK-47 packing, Banana Republic looking guards in front of the mayor’s office was very telling.  If the mayor doesn’t feel safe in his own town, why should we?  After just 5 minutes in the ‘real Roatan’, we requested that our driver return to the ship.    Later that night, when I was able to get on the web, I learned the real story of the ports.   The attacks on tourists are frequent and, in some cases, very violent in each of the ports we visited.   Royal Caribbean’s obvious lack of disclosure regarding these facts is troublesome.

Be Ready for LOTS of People:   You can’t quite grasp the enormity of these cruise operations until you’re getting on board.   This is a huge community.    With the crowds, you’ll commonly find lines for just about everything and sold out excursions.   In fact, many of the excursions sell out before the cruise leaves the home port!   On my next cruise (and yes I want to cruise again), I’ll be looking for a smaller ship and ports that don’t require you to have bodyguards.

As is the case with all consumer decisions, information is power.   Do your due diligence before you go and you’re more apt to have a rewarding and memorable vacation that doesn’t break the bank.   If you have comments about getting a better deal on a vacation, let us know.  Please comment below or email me at Pete at myconsumerteam dot com.   And stay tuned to The Consumer Team.   We’ll be doing several segments on cruises in the near future.

Pete Thomson

Founder – The Consumer Team

Editor’s Note:  The Consumer Team talk radio program is broadcast Saturdays from 5-7 PM (Central) on CBS Radio’s 1080 KRLD in Dallas/Ft. Worth.   The Consumer Team is produced by McQ Media Inc, Dallas, Texas.