I’d never been on a cruise before – the half day chugging into the Gulf of Mexico when on a band trip in high school doesn’t count. I had no real idea what to expect, and so I thought I’d put together a bit of a guide for you, my dear readers, about what I learned.
Here’s the nutshell:
- Wherever you are in L.A., use the cabs that are there, don’t call for one from out of the district.
- Be prepared. Have luggage tagged and ready to go for the porters.
- On Carnival, get Faster To The Fun; if you’re not on Carnival, get whatever equivalent the cruise line offers.
- Set up your finances ahead of time. Carnival and Royal Caribbean in particular allow you to prepay your shipboard funds – helping to reduce overspending – and Carnival even has kiosks that let you check your balance while underway.
- NO PICTURES INSIDE THE TERMINAL AT THE PORT. They’re kind of like airport security that way.
- Bring small bills with you so that you can tip specific people who go above and beyond for you – the required gratuity that’s part of the cruise cost is split between everyone who is assigned to serve you.
- Take pictures in the moment!
And here’s the story:
The day we disembarked we got up early – well, earlyish. We wanted to be able to get ready in a leisurely fashion instead of rushing, so we could get to the port by about eleven. (This being my first cruise, I was completely willing to be guided by Don and Leanne, and Lee – the voices of experience.)
Breakfast was awesome, by the way. The Doubletree in San Pedro has a delicious buffet-style breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes, bacon, sausage, grits, oatmeal (stone rolled!) as well as assorted fruit, cereals, pastries and breads for toasting.
I kept moving around, from camera bag to backpack, from sitting to the luggage cart; I can only believe my constant motion was due to excitement. I finally settled myself in one place and made myself be still. Swimming, fishing, parasailing, CRUISE BOAT!!!! Who can possibly sit STILL?!?!?!
We took a cab to the Long Beach port – very reasonable, with six people to split the cost. And our driver was friendly, talkative, prompt, and very courteous. I got the feeling he was a little… hm… embarrassed isn’t quite the right word, but something close to it, when we tried to help load and unload the luggage – appreciating our offer, but really believing it was his job to do it for us. Given what he was saying about how strict the cab rules are in the city of Los Angeles, I could tell he takes his work very seriously. Apparently competition is so fierce between cabbies in different districts in Los Angeles, laws have been made restricting the drivers to where they can pick up fares. They can drop off anywhere; but they can only pick up in certain specific areas, that they have to pay for licensing in. A cabbie picking up a fare outside his or her area is fined, charged and convicted of a misdemeanor, and their cab is impounded for a month. The police even run sting operations, where they have squad cars waiting around a corner and plainclothes cops trying to flag cabs down. If a cab not licensed for that district stops and picks them up, as soon as they turn on the meter, the cop pulls out their badge and has the cabbie pull over to where the squads are.
That’s Tip #1 – wherever you are, you have to use the cabs that are there; you can’t call for one to pick you up, unless you’ve done research and know which company operates in which district. If you aren’t familiar with the cab companies, then choose by driver; which one smiles in a friendly fashion? Which one asks your name or where you’re from? Find someone who’s genuinely interested in you and not just the fare you represent.
We got to the port in good order, going over the bridge I’d admired yesterday when we were taxied to the Doubletree. We’d all tagged our baggage beforehand and the porters came right up to the taxi to take the bags that were marked with a Carnival luggage ticket.
That’s Tip #2 – be prepared. Have those luggage tags printed out and attached to the handles of your baggage ahead of time – otherwise you’ll have to do it at the port, wasting time you could be using to get to the gate, or you’ll have to carry all your luggage on board. And we had a lot. Six people, and with the exception of Don’s and Leanne’s laptop bags and my camera bag, this is all ours.
It was a rainy day on Long Beach; all the LA natives kept talking about how bad the weather was. Sixty-five degrees. Warm rain that pattered on the roof at the embarkation terminal and then cleared off to show (mostly) bright sun, interspersed with white, puffy clouds. Light breeze. Water at seventy-two degrees, for those bold enough to want to wander down to the shoreline. Meanwhile in Minnesota on the first of November…
Yeah. Weather in Long Beach is just awful.
But it’s all in the perspective, right?
They had us fill out these medical forms certifying that we weren’t sick and hadn’t been either in contact with anyone who had been to Ebola-outbreak areas, or been there ourselves, then they let us get in line for our boarding passes. (If you had been to a trouble area, or if you did have a cough or fever, you would be given a free examination by a shipboard doctor to determine that you were 1) not infected with Ebola and/or 2) healthy enough to travel.)
That leads to Tip #3 – on any Carnival cruise you might take, GET FASTER TO THE FUN; or if you’re not cruising Carnival, GET THE EQUIVALENT. Just like Diamond and Priority members, you get special lines that are served first, so you get on the ship faster, you get off faster (or not – you could spend the entire final morning on ship people-watching, taking one last stroll through the shops, the jogging track, the pools, the spa, the gym, the buffet-style restaurants, and then take your carry-on and head down to the gangway, where no matter who was still in line, you’d get to go in front of them), if you have a question during the trip you go to Guest Services and they will give you priority over anyone else standing in the “general” line, it’s AWESOME.
Carnival also runs a cashless system aboard ship. (I suppose that should be a tip in itself, too. All right, then!) Tip #4 – Set up your finances ahead of time. On the Carnival site, you create a profile and link your cruise to to your name. Then you can check in, print your boarding pass(es) and luggage tags, schedule excursions, and set up your cashless account. You could simply link a credit card to your shipboard account, but I wanted some checks on what Jerry and I were going to spend on board, so I prepaid our account with my travel card (it’s kind of like a debit card that’s not directly linked to a checking or savings account – you can’t spend any more than you have on the card, and your accounts are safe in the event the card is lost or stolen because they’re not directly associated with the card. I absolutely love mine). At check-in, then, when you present your boarding pass, you’re given a little credit card-sized magnetic strip card with your name, cabin number, dining assignment, and Muster Station on it. Ours also had our Faster to the Fun stickers on them, and a VIFP club number on it. That’s your access to your account, your cabin, and how you pay for stuff while on board – really slick.
There was a delay in boarding – we never did find out what it was all about, but after waiting for a couple of hours at the terminal doors, two women came out just shouting vitriol at the top of their voices. Don was saying that maritime regulations are such that nobody can board the ship until every passenger checks off and the ship registers as empty; none of us could get on until they were off. It wasn’t a waste of time, though; I got to know some folks from California, from Arizona, a B-52 tailgunner who talked about serving with WWI and WWII vets on the B-52 and the stories they told – a wealth of history!
The folks from California talked about the water rationing; they’re in the middle of a bad drought, and have been for a few years now. Southern California is semi-arid anyway, so having less than average snowpack and rainfall several years running is enough to dry everything out – including the resevoirs. Hence water rationing. There are three tiers, determined by water usage on the water meters; slip into Tier 3, and you will be paying three times as much on your water bill. Folks with pools and rich green lawns have to choose which they’d rather; luxury or lower cost. Coming from Minnesota, Land of Ten Thousand Lakes (and a gazillion mosquitos), and having our own well as we do, it’s a bit of a shock. First to realize again that city people have to pay for water, and again to realize that water can be a scarce and therefore precious resource. Water is precious in the midwest, yes, and a severe drought has correspondingly severe consequences for farmers and therefore for anyone who eats what America’s Bread Basket produces, but… water rationing. It’s such a foreign idea to my mind that it’s hard to compute.
The Carnival Imagination was finally cleared, and we started boarding. The terminal reminded me a bit of airport security – though we didn’t have to take our shoes off.
Oh, and Tip #5 – NO PICTURES INSIDE THE TERMINAL. Don’t even take your camera out. They’re very nice about it, but also very firm. And no walking up the escalators, not even to catch up to the rest of your group.
(No, I am NOT a troublemaker! Just a first time cruising tourist who habitually takes pictures of everything and in doing so falls behind.)
Because we were Faster to the Fun, we were allowed into the cabin areas of the ship to drop off our carry-ons in our stateroom (That sounds so sophisticated! Stateroom. Brings to mind images of grand canopied beds and soft feather pillows, thick carpets, large mirrors, and bubblebaths.) Our luggage was arriving just as Don was warning us we might not see our belongings until eight that night!
And thinking of that… Tip #6 – bring ones and fives in cash with you. Jerry and I prepaid the required gratuity of $11.00 per day per person, but if you have cash, you can offer rewards to those who go above and beyond for you, or if you just want to be generous.
Ted was in the cabin next door; Don and Leanne, and Lee were directly opposite us, on the port side of the boat.
(Ship. It’s a ship. You can ship a boat, you can’t boat a ship. The Imagination is a ship, and it has boats for emergency evacuations of the ship.)
So we all had windows… portholes. We all spent a bit of time unpacking, putting clothes away, and in my case, exploring the amenities. It was a much bigger room than I was expecting; I had visualized a closet-type thing, like on a military ship, but this room had closets, and a king bed, a TV, the head had a decent-sized shower that was more than two steps away from the commode. Our steward stopped by to let us know there would be a safety briefing at our Muster Station before we got underway, tell us where the safety vests were located, and then tell us to leave those vests behind when we attended the meeting.
Once we had everything stowed away, lunch was the first order of business.
Oh. My. Word. On-demand food is served almost 24/7, it’s all delicious, and the variety is AMAZING. Rotisserie, salad bar, Italian, Mongolian, a deli bar where whoever’s on duty makes your ideal sandwich for you! Chocolate milk, regular milk, coffee, water, lemonade, juice, HOT CHOCOLATE that you can add HALF AND HALF to for extra richness, and if none of those strike your fancy, there are bars dotted around the restaurant area. And the food is oh-so-good. Roast beast from the rotisserie, salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, RADISHES, with provolone cheese on the side and ranch dressing, and don’t even get me started on the desserts!
That leads, indirectly, to Tip #7 – Take pictures in the moment! Don’t tell yourself that you’ll go around later with the camera and get the ones you missed, because you won’t. Trust me. You won’t. And you don’t want to kick yourself later for not doing it.
So don’t pay any attention to people who roll their eyes and say, “You’re taking pictures of that?” or “Are you ever going to put that camera down?”
Next up – getting around dietary peculiarities, and touring the ship!