Monday, October 22, 2018

Cruising from New Jersey: Reviews, Tips, and Advice on taking a Cruise from NJ

Have you ever considered taking a cruise from New Jersey? Are you nervous about cruising, a first time cruiser, or wondering if you should cruise again? Well, I'm here to tell you all about our most recent cruise from Cape Liberty, New Jersey (Bayonne) on Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas. We visited Bermuda, which was AMAZING! Read on to see what we experienced- especially if you're a first time cruiser or nervous about what you'll experience. I hope I can put your mind at ease.


Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post! We took a cruise and this is my personal advice to you, that's all. I update my posts regularly and answer all comments, so please feel free to add your experience to the comment section below or ask questions if you have 'em! No time to read my post? That's okay! Pin the below image and save it for later. There is a lot of info here but there are bold headings for easy locating, and everything is bulleted for quick reading.

Also, my experience below is with Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas to Bermuda. If you are cruising a different cruise line or to a different location, my advice will still be helpful, but it might not be exactly the same for your cruise.


Parking at Cape Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey

Cape Liberty is easy to get to in New Jersey. There were attendants readily posted to direct us where to go once we reached the port. We were able to drop off our large pieces of luggage right at the curb and then go park our car in the lot/garage. The lot has plenty of space and seems pretty safe, since it's gated and there are people everywhere. Elevators are available if you're parked on the upper levels. But here's my word of caution. We did not see the parking cost posted when we arrived and we were not overly concerned with the cost because we were so excited to see our ship upon arrival. But our 5 day cruise cost $100 to park, so if you have a friend or relative who can drop you off, this might be a better option. I heard some people say they also chose to use Uber. Getting a ride or a car service also means you'll avoid a line at the garage when you return (when we returned home, there were about 5 kiosks to pay for parking, but only ONE was working and it was a cash only machine. Can you imagine??).


About Online Check-In and Cape Liberty Arrival

If you checked-in online (which you SHOULD), prior to arriving, the whole process at Cape Liberty is pretty painless.  There are lines but everything moved quickly, and when you check in online, you choose a time to arrive. Keep in mind that you WILL be able to board the ship after you check-in at Cape Liberty. I regret not making our check-in time a little earlier (we chose 2:00), because we could have had more time to explore the ship before our 4:00pm departure. So you could essentially board your ship, have lunch, explore, swim (if temperature allows), enjoy a drink, etc, all before your actual departure time! Click here for more info from the Royal Caribbean site about their online check-in process.


Tips for Boarding Your Ship

-Check in online before your cruise date so that you can board the ship quicker. Choose an appointment time at the pier that gives you enough time to explore the ship before you depart.

-We were allowed to go to our room as soon as we boarded the ship because it was all ready for us. Our luggage arrived shortly after, in front of our cabin door. 

-Bring a carry-on with you since you won't have access to your luggage for a little while when you board. If it's warm enough to swim you might want to bring a swimsuit or a change of clothes in your carry on.

Sailing under the Verrazano Bridge

Tips for Packing

-Unlike airlines, there was no restriction for bag size or weight for us. We were allowed to bring our biggest bags and I packed mine full of everything I needed. 

-I brought just about every medicine you could think of since we were traveling with children. Better safe than sorry, I always say. Keep essential medicines/prescriptions in your carry on.

-It helped to bring some extra plastic bags to put our dirty laundry and wet bathing suits in at the end of the trip.

-I highly recommend bringing some kind of cup or thermos for yourself. You are not supposed to refill water bottles directly at the drink stations (there are cups available), but you can easily fill a cup and dump it into your thermos (this is allowed and is the preferred method). Drink stations were NOT at every corner so it's a good idea to have something on hand or something you can bring back to your room and put in your fridge if you need a drink later. 


Cabins and Room Selection on the Ship

-We opted for a deluxe ocean view stateroom (which offers a little more room and a bigger window than the standard ocean view), which was located on the 11th deck at the front of the ship. This was a great suggestion from our travel agent, Travels by Randi (her link is at the bottom of this post if you're looking to use an agent!). Our view was AMAZING. The window was huge and we LOVED the extra space for our luggage and to sit comfortably near the window. Everyone told me that splurging for the balcony would not be worth it, because we "really wouldn't be in the room much." But I kind of wish we had a balcony. We did go back and forth to the room a good deal, especially when we wanted to get away from the crowds. It would have been a nice option to just sit quietly on our balcony when we needed some down time, especially for the two days we were docked in Bermuda.


-The cabin we were in, 11502, was really nice. It was spacious and spotlessly clean. Beds were very hard but comfortable enough. Our son slept on the pull-out couch, which was made up for us every night by housekeeping. Our attendant, Berrata, also made some fun towel animals! He was wonderful. 


-You're in close quarters on a cruise ship, so you're bound to hear your neighbors and the slamming of doors. But I am absolutely floored by the rudeness of some people, and how little they care for others around them. We had the WORST people next to us, who would come in around 2:00am and SLAM their door to the point where the walls shook. Then they'd proceed to -roll boulders?- into the walls or perhaps they were bowling in their room? Who knows?? All I know is that we would hear them until 5am or so, banging things around, slamming doors. I don't get it. It's not like it was 10pm. I probably should have complained to someone, but what could I say? I didn't hear their voices, just things slamming around. They obviously weren't considerate people but how does one complain about that on a cruise ship? I'm just mentioning it here so that you remember to be kind to your neighbors if you're traveling on a cruise. That was just ridiculous.

-We hit one night of choppy water on the way back from Bermuda and we heard a lot of clunking in the front of the ship (where our room was located- not from neighbors but possibly waves or ocean water). My husband thinks it would have been quieter in the middle or back during choppy weather, but I can't attest to that. If you have a better recommendation, perhaps you can list it in the comments section for us.

-You'll see your room attendant often. They usually introduce themselves and take good care of you during your trip. At the end they will leave an envelope for you to tip them, which we always do if they do a good job. 


Food and Beverages on Board

-On Royal Caribbean, meals are included, as well as some drinks. Check your ship info carefully and figure out where (and when) you can eat without an extra charge. The TV in your stateroom actually lists full menus and tells you which places charge extra fees (hint, most of the good ones charge!). 

-Before our trip I heard so much advice about which restaurants to try. I'll be honest, some of them looked amazing! But it just wasn't in our budget. As a small family who already paid for a trip that included food, we found it hard to justify splurging and paying for expensive meals on the ship. Everyone is different and you might feel the exact opposite from this, and if that's the case, go for it! There are plenty of restaurants to choose from.

-I was not overly thrilled with the complimentary food on our Royal Caribbean cruise. We wondered if maybe the quality of food is not great in the complimentary areas because they want you to pay extra to go to their higher quality restaurants. The Windjammer Cafe, where you eat most of your meals, has just about every type of food you can imagine, and people sure seemed to love it! But it reminded me of the food from my high school cafeteria as far as taste goes. We really liked the pizza at Sorrento's, and the hot dogs at Seaplex were also pretty good. We preferred having breakfast at Cafe270, which was much quieter than Windjammer. It had a smaller selection of food, of course, but we didn't mind. 

Donuts at the Windjammer

-Regardless of where we ate, we had to look carefully at their hours of operation. I went on board thinking food would be available whenever I wanted- which was sort of true. But it always seemed that when we were hungry at 3:30pm (or some time in-between meal hours), we had to search around for something that was open (usually Sorrento's). 

-The main dining areas on our ship (Icon and Silk) were actually not identical. We found the food and service to be MUCH better at Icon (many thanks to our waiter, Pina, who was fabulous- if you can ask to be placed in his section on the Anthem, I totally would!!). I don't know if this is the case for every trip, but that's how I felt with ours. We chose 'my time dining,' and I picked an early time each day (5:30pm) in advance of our trip (I actually booked our dining reservations online in our cruise planner). If you like your waiter, the restaurant, and even your table, you can actually arrange to sit there every evening during your trip if you like.

-I recommend reserving your dinner times online before your trip. You don't have to, but the ship does get busy and crowded, and going to customer service to make your arrangements on board seemed like a bit of a hassle if you ask me. I didn't want to worry about that stuff on board. Of course you can change your mind and your plans at any time, but I liked knowing my schedule each day and where we would be eating dinner. 

- I have heard that Solarium on the Anthem is excellent. It's located in the adults-only area of the ship so I never visited, but looking back, I wish my husband and I took turns getting food from there because I saw some YouTube videos of the Solarium food selections and they looked much better than some of the Windjammer choices. So keep that in mind.

-Water, lemonade and iced tea are complimentary, as well as water (no bottled),  milk, tea, coffee (regular and decaf), lemonade, iced tea, flavored waters, juices (at breakfast and see note below about them) but I was a little dismayed that it was challenging to find drink stations. Years ago we sailed Carnival and I felt like drink stations were around every corner. They might have changed this through the years due to health concerns, who knows? But we had to trek to the Windjammer Cafe or other eating areas to find drink stations, and it was often hard to find lemonade, especially if the restaurant was closed. 

-Just a note that the orange juice and apple juice are not real juices. They are concentrates and taste somewhat like a mix (Tang, maybe?). I was bummed about this. Why skimp on something so small, Royal Caribbean? :(

-There was a free ice cream station located by our pool area, which was fun and always a favorite to stop by and try. I've heard people say they like to bring little paper bowls on board with them so they can make a sundae (you can sneak some toppings out of the Windjammer, too- chocolate chips, fruit, etc). 

- We actually were permitted to bring some food aboard, although I have heard mixed things about this from other ships/cruise lines. My son carried on some prepackaged, sealed packs of goldfish crackers, which actually came in REALLY handy before meals and at night when he got hungry. They did not have complimentary packaged snacks on our ship- no chips, pretzels, etc. So I was glad we brought those few on board. As an adult you probably don't need to carry any snacks on board, but it was definitely helpful with a child.

Johnny Rockets on the Anthem (it always seemed to be closed when I wanted to go)

Alcohol

-If you like to drink and can afford the drink package, than go for it! I wish we could've done it. They tack a lot onto your overall cost and you'd probably have to drink about 5 drinks a day to get your value out of them (plus, each adult over 21 in your stateroom has to purchase the package, you can't just get one). When you see the cool fruity drinks being offered at the pool, or the mimosas at breakfast- well, all of a sudden you start thinking it might have been worth it to order that drink package after all.

-You are allowed to bring two bottles of wine on board per stateroom. We took advantage of this and it was a great decision. You can even bring a bottle to the main dining room with you (but uncork it first, otherwise they charge you an uncorking fee). If you buy alcohol on board or at port, they will hold onto it for you until you return home (you can find GREAT prices on rum if you're headed to Bermuda!)

-Each day Royal Caribbean offers a "drink of the day." These drinks are $8.95 each, which is much cheaper than their $11-$15 mixed drink charge. We tried to take advantage of the drink of the day and it was fun to see what they'd be offering up.


-We enjoyed visiting the Bionic Bar on Anthem of the Seas. They are two robot arms that make your drinks for you (ordered from a little iPad type kiosk). My husband thinks the drinks were just 'meh,' but we enjoyed watching them being made! They can even make non-alcoholic drinks for the kids.


On Board Activities and Shows 

-Best advice that I can give is read your cruise itinerary for each day. Look at what's available and try to do as much as you can. Attend the belly flop contest! Check out the BMX demo! Participate in the games! Whatever it is, go for it! Otherwise, you tend to do a lot of wandering around the ship. That's okay, too, but I think we had more fun on the days when we had plans or tried to check out the fun activities.


-The Anthem had an indoor and outdoor pool, as well as a whirlpool and hot tubs. There was even a splash pad for the littles. Lifeguards stood at EVERY swimming location at ALL operating hours, even in the rain, even when the pools had no occupants.



-Book some of the free activities online before your trip. We booked iFly and the Northstar Experience before our trip and I'm glad we did! If you're on the Anthem, you can also try rock climbing, bumper cars, even trapeze/circus fun (when available). There's also a flo-rider surf experience. There's a lot to do if you just check out your ship plans and your itinerary (which is delivered to your room each evening in a little newsletter).



-Anthem of the Seas also had character meet and greets with the Dreamworks gang (Shrek, King Julian, Alex the Lion, Puss in Boots, Kung Fu Panda, etc. It was fun to have our pictures taken with them! There is also a character breakfast you can sign up for if your kids are interested (sadly, mine wasn't!). 


-We saw the early shows on the Anthem (6:30pm or 7:30pm). We loved Spectra's Cabaret! That was our favorite. Our Spectra was played by Terry Lavell and he was incredible. Do me a favor and dance and sing along with the songs if you're in the audience- I'm convinced the audience at our show was dead and Terry deserved more! We only caught half of We Will Rock You. I liked it, but our son was not too interested. It featured the music of Queen, which he was not familiar with, and there was some language and sexual innuendos in it that I wasn't crazy about for kids (but I loooved the music and the performances were wonderful!). We did not see The Gift as it was a little too long for our taste. 

-There are also movie nights by the pool, trivia games, and all kinds of shopping raffles and giveaways (which I thought were totally cheesy and very reminiscent of Atlantic City, but maybe you will like them more than me). We loved the entire gaming area and bumper cars. They had a small arcade but lots of fun foosball, ping pong and air hockey tables (beware, though, there is a charge for the air hockey- I think it was $1.45). 


VOOM Internet Service

Many people told me not to bother with the VOOM service because I shouldn't be on my phone during my vacation and blah blah blah. But I need to keep in touch with the outside world. I need to keep an eye on this blog and my incoming emails. I also wanted to keep in touch with my parents, who were watching our dog. So I purchased the VOOM service for one device (MINE!). It worked SO well, and was so easy to sign on (they leave instructions in your cabin when you arrive). I did not sit around on my phone for the whole trip, of course, but it worked great when I needed it. I did not purchase the streaming service so I can't attest to how well that works.


Tipping

Just a reminder that you are charged a daily gratuity fee aboard Royal Caribbean per day, per person. So if you are budgeting for your trip, you need to figure that in to the overall cost. We had a $75 onboard credit to use, but it disappeared in a flash because of the daily gratuity fees. Ours was $14.50 per person, per day. That adds up to a lot, right? Then you usually tip your favorite waiter and your room attendant at the end of your cruise, too (well, you don't have to, but they really do a great job so it's well earned).


Shore Excursions

-I can only give you tips about our trip to Bermuda, so if you are headed elsewhere, you might just want to use these tips as a guideline. We booked two excursions through Royal Caribbean: a beach trip to Horseshoe Bay, and the Wild West Kayak Tour from Fantasea Diving and Watersports. We booked through Royal Caribbean online before our trip, although you can book on board, too.


-Getting on and off the ship was easy, and your excursion people usually meet you right outside on the dock and tell you what to do next. 

-The beach excursion was by bus. It took the bus company a little while to get organized at port- I believe we left about ten minutes late, and we were getting anxious to get to the beach. It was kind of a long trip (30 minutes, maybe?), and the roads were winding and narrow. I was glad we had the bus to get us there. I heard you can hail a taxi or try Uber, but it was not cheap to go anywhere on the island, so the bus was a good value.


-Horseshoe Bay Beach (known for its pink sand) was gorgeous and unforgettable. It's something you have to see if you're visiting Bermuda! But it got crowded VERY quickly. I recommend you go as early as you can (OR late in the afternoon after excursions or other cruises have left!) and walk well beyond the entrance if you want a quieter spot to sit. The area closest to the snack shack/bar and chair rental was so crowded you could barely walk through it, but this did not seem to bother most people!


Horseshoe Bay before...and Horseshoe Bay after (below)...


-Our bus was late returning for us as well, and they claimed one broke down which held up the others upon return. We were so hot and tired by this point, and I was dismayed that the bus was late. They also had to stop for gas on the way back ($8.50 a gallon!).

 -The best excursion of our trip was the Wild West Kayak Tour. We absolutely loved this tour and I highly recommend it to everyone! Our son is 10 and he enjoyed it, too. You do not have to have prior kayaking experience. Our guides were two locals named Donald and Mika and they were awesome. We got to the kayak site by boat, and it was a fun ride with lots of narration about the island from our guides. They showed us a shipwreck and stopped to feed some fish in the beautiful water. The kayak adventure was amazing- we saw the most beautiful sites (including sea turtles) during our trip, and it's something I will never forget!




-If you have questions about Bermuda or what you see at the actual port (including what you can walk to), feel free to ask in the comments section below. Bermuda was absolutely stunning, the weather was beautiful, the locals were friendly, I just loved everything about it! I hope we can return again soon.


Tips for Disembarking When You Return

-When you arrive back at Cape Liberty, the general plan on Royal Caribbean is that you put your suitcases outside your room the night before you dock on your final day. Then you're assigned a number, a gathering place and a general time for disembarking.

-We opted to skip all that and keep our luggage (self-carry). A lot of people are trying to get off the ship, remember, so you'll wind up waiting a bit no matter what you choose to do. But just to give you a general time frame of things, we ate breakfast, left our room by 8:30am, met at our required meeting place with our bags at 8:45am, and were off the ship by roughly 9:00am. You do a lot of walking with your bags, show your passport and sea pass, stand in front of the facial recognition scan, then you're out of there!

-The parking lot was a bit of a mess since the machines were not working correctly to pay, and it cost us $100 cash for parking. Then we hit a ton of Jersey traffic on the way home, but hey, that's life. Welcome back from vacation, right?


Fears and Anxieties

I decided to add this part because so many people told me they were scared of cruising and I couldn't figure out why. So let me address some of the things that freaked people out:

Cleanliness: I know you've all heard the horror stories about people getting sick on cruise ships. But I can attest that Royal Caribbean has gone through great lengths to keep things clean. I swear I did not see a fingerprint anywhere on board! There were constantly people cleaning doors, handrails, bathrooms, etc. It was really spotless. There are handwashing stations (actual sinks with soap) at the entrance to the buffet that you must use before entering. There are Purell hand sanitizers everywhere you go, and all you have to do is wave your hand under them. People can still be pretty gross, such as sticking their water bottles under the water machines to refill when it clearly says NOT to do this, or skipping the hand sanitizer before the ice cream self serve, even when it's RIGHT THERE in front of them. Come on, people!! 

Seasickness/Rough water: there's not much you can do about rough water and no predictor as to whether or not you'll get seasick. I have a pretty sensitive stomach so I bought all of the necessary items in advance (be sure to get the non-drowsy dramamine). I only used the dramamine one morning when I felt queasy, but it's possible that I felt that way from my greasy breakfast sausage and not the ship itself. I also wore sea bands on my wrists because I was scared of getting sick. I didn't get sick, so maybe they worked? Who knows? But if you're unsure about how you'll feel and still want to cruise, then opt for a shorter cruise- 4 or 5 nights, just to be on the safe side (with a short cruise like this you are really only at sea two full days, spaced apart between your port of calls). *note that there is actually a doctor on board the ship if you need them, and they DO sell dramamine on the ship if you forget to bring it.

Crowds: there's no denying it, people can be pretty awful. Sure, ships can get crowded but they're also HUGE. It's like being in a floating building. SO it's not like you're going to be packed like sardines or anything. Crowds are avoidable, and there's always someplace to go on board without as many people if you just look for it. I had heard stories about people being unable to find a chair to sit on, but this was totally not the case on our ship. There were tons of chairs available, and there were even signs saying that you were not allowed to reserve them in advance (I had heard people would arrive at 5am to put their towels on the best chairs -but our ship did not allow this).

Dining: this might seem like silly fear, but I can't tell you how many people I've heard say, "I don't want to eat with strangers!" Years ago, cruises used to have communal dining, where they'd put you at dining tables with people you didn't know. I can't think of a cruise that still does this. Dining on most cruises is freestyle, meaning you can sit with your own family and eat whenever you want.

The Promenade shopping area could get very crowded, especially when there were sales or events at the shops

Lifeboats: you go through a safety drill at the beginning of your trip (which entails a movie and check-in- everyone MUST attend). Lifeboats are giant boats that look more like little submarines than boats. They have tops and doors and can fit 150 people (so stop thinking about those dangling lifeboats hanging off the Titanic, okay?)


Did I cover everything? I tried my best! I would totally go on another cruise, whether with Royal Caribbean or another line. And I would definitely LOVE to visit Bermuda again - it was stunning. If you have your own advice about cruising or something to add about a certain cruise line, feel free to add it to the comments below. I do allow anonymous comments, so feel free to be honest! 


This just in: Royal Caribbean has confirmed that Anthem of the Seas will no longer be sailing out of New Jersey after 2019. So if you're considering a cruise on Anthem, book her now! Stay tuned to see what ship replaces Anthem in Cape Liberty...

Helpful Links

Royal Caribbean website: www.RoyalCaribbean.com
Fantasea Diving and Water Sports Bermuda website: https://fantasea.bm/
Bermuda tourism website: https://www.gotobermuda.com/
Travel by Randi (the wonderful travel agent we used for our trip): https://travelbyrandi.com/


And check out some of my Amazon affiliate recommendations for cruising below:



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