21 things to do on sea days

21 things to do on sea days

We often hear from people who tell us they would never want to take a cruise because they think they’d get bored. Somehow, the thought of a day at sea takes them back to their childhood, stuck in the middle of the backseat of their parents’ car for the entire eight-hour trip to Aunt Lavern’s house. We’ve learned firsthand that there is nothing boring about cruising. We think of cruise ships as floating resorts that give you a new view every day. They have so many things to do we can almost guarantee you’ll find yourself wishing you had more time on board to take it all in. And, we’re not just talking about the food.

We’ve taken five cruises so far, all with Celebrity, and not only have we never been bored, we’ve never had enough time to do everything we’ve wanted.

Here are 21 things you could do if you were on a ship at sea right now:

1. Test your knowledge

Trivia contests happen several times a day and cover a variety of themes including general knowledge, music, sports, and more. Plus, there are always prizes for the winners. In addition, they only take about 20-25 minutes, so they aren’t an all-day commitment.

2. Wine a little

We have taken several classes on wine while cruising, including everything from how to pair wine with food to why it is important to serve wine in the correct glass. We’ve also been to wine tastings and sampled some of the finest reds and whites available in the world.

We really enjoyed the Riedel wine glass workshop onboard a Celebrity Cruise a few years ago.

3. Relax in the spa

Nothing says vacation quite like a massage, facial, or pedicure. Treat yourself. For special deals, visit the spa on port days.

4. Read a book

How many times have you thought to yourself that you’d finish that book if you just had some time? Cruising is a great way to unplug from the world, and a couple hours reading on the veranda is a wonderful way to unwind. If you didn’t bring a book, check out the ship’s library and borrow one.

5. Watch the world go by

Speaking of slowing down, another thought is to grab a cup of specialty coffee (or maybe a cocktail) and go sit and watch the waves go by. One of my favorite pastimes on board is to head to the lounge at the front of the ship and simply sit and watch the scenery. Some of the most beautiful scenery in the world is found in the Stockholm Archipelago, as you can see in the video below.

6. Tour the ship

Ships are huge machines, and there is a lot going on behind the scenes to make things work. You can take a galley tour and see just how they prepare a gourmet dinner for 2,000 every night. Other tours might visit the navigational bridge, crew areas, and engine control rooms. You’ll learn so much about how they make all the magic happen.

There are so many interesting things to explore on the ship.

7. Cut a rug

I put this on the list hoping Ann doesn’t have any photos of me learning the dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” In any event, there are classes for everything from classic ballroom dancing to swing dancing, and so much more. If you like to trip the light fantastic, this one’s for you. If you have two left feet, don’t worry. This is your chance to let down your guard. Remember, you’ll probably never see these people again.

8. Deal yourself in

We have not been on a cruise where we didn’t see a group of people happily playing a game of cards. If you’re a bit more adventurous and want to try your luck, the ship offers card games in the casino, as well.

9. Craft a cocktail

One of our favorite on board activities of all time was a mixology class we took at the World Class Bar on the Celebrity Eclipse. We learned about the history of classic cocktails and the technique of making them. We even got to go behind the bar and try our hand at mixing a drink. I now understand why a Japanese jigger is better than a traditional one, and how an orange peel and a little flame can add a whole lot of flavor.

10. Learn something new

On Celebrity’s Solstice class ships, they perform demonstrations of glass blowing. It’s pretty neat to watch a blob of glowing orange gunk become a work of art right before your eyes. We’d never see that in Crete, America. There are also a variety of lectures on board, including talks about the ports of call, art history, and the engineering of the ship.

We enjoyed watching this glass blowing demonstration last summer at sea.

11. Raise your hand

Do you like watching cooking shows on TV? Have you seen Bravo’s “Top Chef?” Cooking competitions pair a volunteer contestant passenger with an experienced ship chef. It’s fun to watch, and would be a blast to participate. There area also game shows like Family Feud and The Newlywed Game that are always looking looking for volunteer participants. Don’t be shy!

Audience participants are teamed with professional chefs in this onboard game show.

12. Go to the movies

Many ships have huge screens on the pool deck that show movies throughout the day. Others show them in theaters. Either way, it’s a fun way to pass some time and catch that flick you’ve wanted to see without having to pay the high cost of a movie theater ticket you would back home.

Most cruise ships have either indoor or outdoor (or both) screens for watching movies onboard.

13. Introduce yourself

We’ve met so many interesting people while cruising. Whether at dinner or at one of the bars, there are always wonderful people around who are willing to visit. We’ve always enjoyed meeting new people and hearing about their travel adventures. Who knows? Maybe you’ll make a life-long friend.

We’ve met so many nice people on cruise ships including this couple from Chicago.

14. Shop till you drop

Believe it or not, ships host an entire mall of duty-free shops. Whether you are in the market for high-quality spirits, jewelry or cosmetics, the ship probably has it and they will price match what you can get in port. There are actually some good deals on board. What’s more, you can use any onboard credit you might have to make those purchases!

15. Put on your walking shoes

Ships are huge, often 1000 feet or more long, and well over a hundred feet wide. In addition to a walking track designed for those who want to get exercise, there are plenty of outdoor and indoor spaces for you to explore. Meander around and see what you can find. On Celebrity’s Solstice class ships, you can even take a stroll on a lawn with real grass. Just watch out for people enjoying a game of bocci ball.

We love being able to walk not only on a walking track, but also on the lawn.

16. Feed your inner foodie

Another on-board activity we enjoyed was a cooking class in Q Sine restaurant on the Eclipse. We learned how to prepare favorites like disco shrimp, slider party, and taco royale, and then we got to eat our creations! (In the video below, check out my knife skills compared to those of the chef!)

17. Reconnect with each other

Cruises are a great opportunity to really connect with friends and family with whom you’re vacationing. No cell phone coverage and limited internet access make it really easy to put aside distractions that we all have on land and really talk to face-to-face to one another. Cherish those moments.

Meghan and Steve relax and visit in the lounge.

18. Write a postcard

We usually dedicate some time on sea days to write postcards to send home to loved ones and to our Postcard Jar. We’ve also taken time to write a note to crew members who have gone above and beyond to make our cruise special. They put in a lot of work and those notes mean a lot to them.

We often use sea days to write out postcards to our jar back home or to friends and family.

19. Try a tournament

From slot and blackjack tournaments in the casino, to pool volleyball and ping-pong tournaments on the lido deck, there are competitions all over the ship. Take an hour, and join in the fun!

20. Take a dip in the pool

This one is pretty obvious. Ships have multiple pools, including indoor pools, so you can always take a dip even on that early-season cruise to Alaska. There are also hot tubs galore on board and plenty of deck chairs to use to soak up the sun.

21. Enjoy the view

Sometimes, the most enjoyable thing to do on a sea day is simply enjoy the view. We’ve watched sunrises and sunsets, listened to glaciers calving, admired the mountains in the distance, and waved at townspeople below when we’ve left port. There is nothing like the view from a cruise ship, and we never miss the opportunity to take in one more look.

Enjoying the view from our veranda while cruising in Alaska.

This is by no means a complete list. On board, you’ll find “Celebrity Today,” a daily newsletter published that shares useful information as well as a list of the dozens of different activities offered every day. If even five or six items on this list piqued your interest, you’d have a pretty full day. Our guess is that by the end of the cruise you’ll find yourself wishing for more time at sea.

Which of these things do you want to try? Is your favorite activity on this list? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Cruising the Caribbean: St. Maarten

Cruising the Caribbean: St. Maarten

I’ve always loved airplanes and flying, so I was really looking forward to our stop in St. Maarten. Situated at the end of the runway of St. Maarten’s Airport sits Maho Beach, a wonderful spot to take in some rays and bob in the waters of the Caribbean Sea. It is also a prime spot to watch airplanes as they come in to land on the runway which is located right across a narrow street from the beach.

Because of this unique location, you can get an amazingly close view jets landing and taking off. And while many of the planes that land in St. Maarten are small planes that hop around the islands of the Caribbean, there are also some really big planes that arrive from as far away as Paris and Amsterdam.

To give you an idea of just how close you are to the runway, as you approach the airport you’ll see this sign: “Danger. Jet blast of departing and arriving aircraft can cause severe physical harm resulting in extreme bodily harm and/or death.” They aren’t kidding.

This sign warned people of the dangers of the aircrafts taking off and landing but people didn’t seem to care.

Check out this video taken by someone named PilotDynan who was willing to stand in the jet blast of a departing Air France A340. We don’t have one of those videos nor do we advise standing where he stood! As soon as we confirmed that we were taking this cruise, I started planning our trip to Maho Beach to see the planes.

It was surreal to watch these planes land literally yard from where we standing on the beach.

Shortly after our ship docked in St. Maarten, Ann, Meghan and I headed off the ship with a plan of finding our way there. It should be noted here that the day we were in St. Maarten, there were six ships in port, (four of them from Celebrity!) meaning that there were something like 16,000 extra people on the island. We headed past the visitor’s center and found our way to the crazy-chaotic taxi stand. Seeing that the price to Maho beach was $9/person each way but $8/person if you had more than six in your group, we promptly found another family headed the same way and made our way into the “Maho Beach” line at the cab stand.

The reality, though, was that the cabs were 15-passenger vans, the lines were more like fiefdoms run by cab stand “managers” who would argue with each other, and they just stuffed people into the cabs from what they perceived to be the front of the line. Apparently, the front of the line was determined by who could weasel themselves closest to the curb. Vans were stuffed until they were overflowing with humanity.

People swimming in the Caribbean Sea would stop every once in a while to watch planes come in the landing just above their heads.

As we drove to the beach, I chatted with the driver (as I was wedged-in up front) while Ann and Meghan, crammed in the back, chatted with some folks from England. I learned a lot about the island–it is divided into two halves, the French side and the side belonging to the Netherlands Antilles. There are two official forms of currency there, the Euro and the Netherlands Antilles Guilder, although the reality is that the U.S. dollar is the only one that anyone uses. Finally, due to a treaty signed between the French and Dutch about 350 years ago, people on the island can pass between the two countries and do business anywhere on the island at any time. This was a good idea then as well as now as the island is only 37 square miles and is the smallest land mass in the world to be shared by two countries.

We got to Maho Beach, paid the cab fare, and made our way out to a prime spot just to the right of the end of the runway. The beach was remarkably narrow but incredibly packed with people; only about 15-20 feet of sand separated a narrow road from the beautiful blue water.

We didn’t get in the ocean at Moho Beach, but we did enjoy soaking in the sun and people watching.

On the other side of the narrow road was a fence, and the airport’s runway went right up to that fence. At each end of the beach there was a bar/restaurant to serve the flocks of tourists who came each day for the plane spotting. One of them even had a board with the projected arrival times of the bigger jets.

We found a spot to sit on the curb by the road and waited for airplanes. We watched a few small planes land and a few small planes take off. The sun was strong, and we knew we probably didn’t want to sit and wait over an hour for the next bigger plane without having some shade, so we headed to one of the restaurants, stepping carefully to avoid stepping on anyone as virtually every square foot of the beach was covered by someone.

We had a great table at the Sunset Bar and Grill where we could enjoy a sandwich and guava berry colada while watching airplanes come in for landing.

We grabbed a bite to eat, watched some folks snorkeling off a boat nearby, and saw several smaller airplanes make their final approaches to the airport. It seems so matter-of-fact as I type it, but it was an amazing, unique place. Where else can you eat a chicken wing while seeing planes close enough on final approach that you can make out the people in the windows? We picked our way out onto the beach in time to watch the arrival of an A320 from the U.S. It was a very cool (and surprisingly loud) experience to be that close to a commercial jet in flight.

After that, the next bigger plane wasn’t due for over an hour, so we headed to a nearby gift shop, bought a postcard and t-shirt and then found a cab (with with 12 complete strangers) back to the cruise port.

Once back at port, we took a moment to wander around and look at the other ships in port. It isn’t common that one cruise line will have so many of their ships in the same port the same day. On this particular day, Celebrity Cruises hosted a concert by Demi Lovato exclusively for the passengers on their ships. We didn’t go to the concert, but we did sit high up on the back deck of our ship, (Celebrity Summit), and listen to what we could while sipping cocktails.

Demi Lovato performed on the stage with the black cover in the center of the this picture.

If you visit St. Maarten and Maho Beach, I’d recommend that you know the arrival schedule of the planes you’d like to see. The big planes take off and land more frequently on YouTube than they do in real life. Waiting in between those planes could be a hot proposition in the Caribbean sun, so wear a hat, bring plenty of sunblock, and maybe a bottle of water. Still, it is impressive to be that close to a working runway even if you see only smaller planes. For me, it was an item checked off my bucket list — although if I ever return to St. Maarten I’d go there again.

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Checked another item off our bucket list when we went to Maho Beach in St. Maarten to watch planes landing just just yards from the beach.

Five things we’re NOT looking forward to on our next cruise

Five things we’re NOT looking forward to on our next cruise

As you may have heard from our Facebook “LIVE” event, we are headed to Europe for a Baltic cruise this summer. While there are tons of things we’re looking forward to (i.e. visiting the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; exploring Stockholm, Sweden; and seeing Tallinn, Estonia for the first time) we thought we’d share a few of the things we’re NOT looking forward to, as well.

1. Not having to go to the store, cook, or do the dishes.

Modern grocery stores are amazing places. I recently read that in the 1990’s there were about 9,000 products in grocery stores. Today, there are about 40,000. None of this matters when we’re on-board the ship. Someone else has done the shopping and preparation and all we have to do is take a seat and enjoy the food. It’s glorious!

Celebrity Cruise

Our server, Sambal, presents a trio of oversized meatballs at QSine aboard the Celebrity Millennium on our way to Alaska.

Often, Ann and I will put in a little extra effort to make a special meal at home. Ann has become quite a cook, and some of her recipes require multiple steps and many ingredients mixed in several bowls. It’s delicious, and less expensive than eating out, but the cost is a pile of dishes at the end that need to be washed, dried, and put away. (And we all know that nothing puts a damper on a romantic evening quite like dishpan hands.) However, when you are on-board a cruise ship, you can sit and savor a delicious gourmet meal secure in the knowledge that those plates, bowls, cups, spoons, saucers, etc. will all be expertly cleaned — by someone else. It is such a luxury and if we can enjoy it a few days a years, we do. 

2. Not knowing anyone.

There is a certain freedom when you’re in a place where don’t know anyone. We don’t have that much in our daily lives in small-town America (pop.7,200). We typically can’t go to the grocery store without running into someone we know and most of the time, we don’t mind that. However, there’s something intriguing about being on a ship with people you’ve never met before. We love meeting people from all over the world, the new accents, customs, and cultures. We have made friends on each cruise we’ve taken and enjoyed interesting conversations over meals or relaxing at the bar. For us, meeting new people is invigorating and downright fun.

Celebrity Cruises

We really enjoyed having cocktails with this Chicago couple we met at the Martini Bar on the Celebrity Constellation in the Caribbean.

3. Not having to pack every day.

One of the best things about a cruise vacation is that we board the ship, unpack, and then don’t have to pack again until we leave. We are able to put things away in drawers and closets and personalize our cabin a little bit — after all, this vessel serves as our “hotel” for a while. What we love most is that we get to see lots of places and view new cities each day, and the hotel moves with us. No unpacking and packing, no figuring out a new TV remote, and no finding our way around a new place.

It is great to be able to visit several cities while always coming back to the same, comfortable room.

It is great to be able to visit several cities while always coming back to the same, comfortable room.

Staying in the same room for the duration of our cruise allows us to visit lots of new sites, experience new cultures first-hand, learn history and see the world without ever having to “check out” in between stops. At the end of each day, we return to our cabin, clean up, go to dinner, and maybe catch a show before going to bed. And the next day, we are someplace new and we do it all over again. It’s a comfortable rhythm that we can get used to easily.

4. Not having to worry about what we’ll do tomorrow.

On a cruise, there is always something to do. When we’re feeling energized, we can take a walk, go for a swim, see a show, or test our skills in trivia. When we’re eager to learn, there are plenty of opportunities to take a cooking class, tour the ship, or pick out a new book in the library. And when we want to simply rest and relax, a cruise ship is the perfect place to do that. We’ve spent hours just sitting at a lounge at the bow of the ship watching the horizon or sitting by the pool with a cool drink and not a care in the world.

Our daughter, Meghan, loved hanging out in the Cosmos Lounge where we could watch the scenery pass by or take a dancing lesson (yes, we learned all the moves to Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

Our daughter, Meghan, loved hanging out in the Cosmos Lounge where we could watch the scenery pass by or take a dancing lesson (yes, we learned all the moves to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”)

In port, the options multiply even further with opportunities to explore local cuisine, culture, architecture, art, or even beaches. We have been on three cruises, and I have never uttered (nor have I ever heard) the words, “I’m bored.” The truth is, we almost never have time to do everything we want to do. We love that you can do as much, or as little as you’d like on a cruise ship. It’s the perfect vacation for us and a great mix of rest, relaxation, and exploration.

5. Not being disappointed with the view.

Sometimes if you stay in a land-based hotel the view can be less than stellar. We’ve had views of roofs, the air-conditioning units, and the wall of the next building over. Last summer, we blew a bunch of Hilton Honors points on what was described as a scenic “Rome View” room. In actuality, our view was of the pool and tall trees which completely blocked the view of City. Even if you score that coveted room that looks out onto the beach, the view never changes–it is the same day after day.

We looked forward to waking each morning to a fantastic view of a new city like this one south of France.

We looked forward to waking each morning to a fantastic view from our balcony of a new city like this one in Ajaccio, Corsica. And we didn’t have to do the dishes!

On a cruise ship, the view is almost always fabulous, and it changes every day, sometimes every minute. When we’re cruising, one of the things we look forward to most is opening the curtain in the morning and discovering the new view that day. They rarely disappoint.

If you’ve been on a cruise, what are things you don’t miss? Let us know in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you. 

 

Travel Tip #4 – When cruising, book the spa on port days.

Travel Tip #4 – When cruising, book the spa on port days.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I enjoy a trip to the spa. I know a lot of men think the spa is “unmanly” but they only think that because they’ve never been there. Once you get a good, deep tissue massage with hot rocks, you’ll put your pride aside and realize that the spa is a pretty nice place.

Onboard the Celebrity Millennium.

Onboard the Celebrity Millennium.

Cruise ships pride themselves in their spas and the services they offer. We were amazed by the huge variety of options available when we took our first cruise to Alaska last summer. But we were also taken aback by the high prices — almost quadruple what we’ve paid at home. Then we learned something important. Those high prices apply on days when the ship is at sea. When the ship is in port, the prices come way down.

If you are cruising, be sure to look at the on-board publications and announcements for the daily spa specials. We picked a port day for a spot at the spa when we really didn’t have any off-shore activity planned. My wife and I each had 2 hours worth of treatments for about $80. We visited the spa in the morning, swam in a pool (which we had all to ourselves), and then still had time to go ashore, relaxed and refreshed, in the afternoon.

Have you stayed on the ship part of the day while at port? Tell us what you did on board in the comment section below. We’d love to hear from you.