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The 12 Day of Cruising: 7 Cruise Line Restaurant Recommendations



As we continue to countdown to Christmas, there’s one thing that brings everyone together: food. So to celebrate the best of cruise ship dining, we’ve made a list of seven restaurant recommendations (although it was pretty difficult to narrow it down to just seven!).

1. Animator’s Palate (Disney)

photo: Disney

Amazingly, this is the only restaurant on our list that is actually a main dining room. You’d never know it though, as everything about its interactive dining experience is on par with (if not above) the surcharged restaurants. At Animator’s Palate, the walls are quite literally illuminated with the diners’ illustrations made on interactive pads found at each table. Between the interactive experience, artful decor, and delicious food, this restaurant is a must. Search Disney Cruise Line sailings here.

2. Cagney’s Steakhouse (Norwegian)

Although almost every cruise ship at sea features a steakhouse, Norwegian’s Cagney’s Steakhouse is our go-to recommendation for several reasons. At just $30 per person to dine, it’s the most affordable steakhouse price at sea – and probably on land, too. Not to mention, Cagney’s is consistently rated among cruisers as one of the best steakhouses at sea in terms of quality, so you’re truly getting the best bang for your buck here. Finally, if you’re sailing on a Breakaway or Breakaway Plus-class ship, you can even enjoy oceanfront seating while you dine.

3. Jiji Asian Kitchen (Carnival)

Found on Carnival Sunshine and the new Carnival Vista, JiJi Asian Kitchen is one of our recommendations thanks to its Asian-fusion menu, low cost ($15 for adults and $5 for kids), and the variety of flavors offered. Whether you’re craving Chinese shrimp pot stickers, Vietnamese Bo Kho beef short rib, or even some caramelized dessert crepes with a Filipino flare, this restaurant has it all. We can only hope the venue is introduced on more Carnival ships in the future.

4. Lawn Club Grill (Celebrity)

There was no question that this dining experience would make this list because it is an industry first, and a pretty awesome one at that. On Celebrity Silhouette and Celebrity Reflection, cruisers can dine at the Lawn Club Grill, an open-air restaurant featuring outdoor grilling. As if that doesn’t sound cool enough, each dining party has the option to elect a “Grill Master” that will work alongside the chef to prepare the meal. Or, if you’d rather sit back and let the professionals handle it, that’s fine too. Either way, you’re getting a gourmet grilled meal from a menu featuring a salad bar, flatbreads, and beef, poultry, and seafood, all while enjoying the fresh sea air. The cost is $40 per person if you book before you cruise, and $45 once onboard.

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5. Culinary Arts Center (Holland America)

The Culinary Arts Center, found on many Holland America ships, is a culinary learning experience presented by Food & Wine magazine that features a farm-to-table concept and hands-on cooking classes, some of which are visited by celebrity chefs. However, specifically on the new Koningsdam ship, cruisers can skip the “class” part of the Culinary Arts Center and simply dine here. The perks to this restaurant are that you get to watch the chefs prepare your food, so you know it’s being made fresh and can study their techniques. This restaurant also offers more options for vegetarians, which is a nice break from the typical cruise ship steakhouse. Oh, and did we mention that with the $39 surcharge you get unlimited wine with dinner?

6. Sabor (Royal Caribbean)

photo: Royal Caribbean

Although the menu is not very extensive, Royal Caribbean’s Sabor packs a punch in flavor. This restaurant fills a void of quality, elevated Mexican and Latino food that is lacking on cruise ships, and we still think it could go even further than what it offers. That being said, Sabor’s guacamole, made for you fresh at your table, is famous among Royal Caribbean cruisers, and that’s just to get things started. The menu features tacos, burritos, and quesadillas among soups, stuffed jalapenos, and other dishes. You’ll have to see – no, taste – for yourself. Search Royal Caribbean cruises here.

7. Qsine (Celebrity)

Celebrity has a reputation for having some of the best food at sea, even among its free dining options. However, the restaurant Qsine is a must-try. Here, the food’s presentation says as much as its flavor, with the menu featuring whimsical yet elegant items such as “sushi lollipops.” After diners order their food on the restaurant’s interactive iPads, the waiters bring the globally-inspired dishes to the table served family-style, making this food sharing experience unique and worth the $45 per person charge.

Featured photo: Animator’s Palate  – Disney Cruise Line

Read our previous entires in the 12 Days of Cruising series:

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Ultimate Guide To Booking Your First Cruise



Booking your first cruise can be a daunting prospect. Sure, you could just randomly pick a stateroom on any old ship and you’re likely to have a decent time. However, if you do a little research to make sure you book the right stateroom on the right ship, you’re going to have the best possible vacation. But how does a first-timer know what to ask? By reading on as we look at the questions we wish we’d asked before our first cruise!

Part 1: Figuring Out What Type of Cruiser You Are

Nassau Bahamas

This might be the most important series of questions, because it will help put you on the right ship. Ask anyone in the travel industry – whether a travel agent or the president of a cruise line – and they will tell you that finding the right ship is crucial. (It’s worth noting that for the purposes of this article, we’re looking at the mainstream lines such as Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean as opposed to their smaller, more expensive offshoots like Regent or Seabourn.) Studies show that the vast majority of first-time cruisers have such a good time that they decide to take another… but that good time is dependent on them being on a ship which meets their particular vacation needs. So here are some things to ask yourself in the planning stages.

1. How laid-back do I want to be?

Finding the cruise line which you’ll be most comfortable on can, in some ways, be as easy as looking at how they market themselves. Carnival plays up on its reputation as being more laid-back by dubbing its line the “fun ships” and running ads (featuring “Chief Fun Officer” Shaquille O’Neal) suggesting you “Choose Fun.” Norwegian’s promotional materials play up their freestyle concept, which basically advocates you be as flexible as you choose to be. For example, Norwegian does not offer an official “formal night” but rather features Norwegian’s Night Out, where guests are free to dress up or not. Looking for something a bit more upscale? Princess and Holland America trend in that direction, with the former skewing a bit younger than the latter.

2. How important are “bells and whistles”?

Are you the type of person who wants to simply relax… or are you looking for some adventure? Do you want to sit and stare at the ocean… or are you afraid that without the ability to race a go-kart or jump on a surf simulator, you’ll be bored? Even within individual cruise lines, the options vary from ship to ship. For example, Norwegian Gem is a smaller, older ship where the most exciting feature is probably the rock climbing wall. But the line also has ships like Norwegian Breakaway and the upcoming Bliss on which there’s everything from freefall waterslides to laser tag and the aforementioned go-karts. The same is true of Carnival Cruise Line, where smaller ships like Sunshine offer fewer thrills than do the new Vista class ships.

3. Who do I want to cruise with?

If you’re looking for fewer kids, it’s a pretty safe bet that Disney Cruise Line is not going to be for you. Likewise, cruisers who aren’t looking for onboard go-karts, thrills, and spills are likely to gravitate toward a line’s older, smaller ships.

4. What am I willing to pay extra for?

If you’re a first-time cruiser poking around message boards, you’re going to come across the phrase “nickel-and-dime” quite a bit. This phrase is most often used by people complaining about things cruise lines charge extra for on top of the initial price. It’s important to know exactly what is – and what isn’t – included in your cruise price, especially if you are someone who is budget conscious. Don’t get excited about the fact that a ship has 30 restaurants if 24 of them charge a fee and you only want to eat in the complimentary venues.

Part 2: Narrowing Down Your Choices

Carnival trip report

With any luck, answering the above questions has helped you at least narrow your choices down to a particular cruise line. The next step is figuring out which ship you want to be on… and where you want to go. If there’s one thing we would definitely advise against, it’s making decisions simply based on price point. What good is getting a great deal if you wind up going somewhere you have no interest in on a ship that doesn’t offer you the amenities you want? That brings us to our next set of questions.

1. Where do you want to sail from?

The answer to this question will have a major impact on your final destination and ship. Why? Let’s say that New York City is the most convenient port for you, and you’d rather not fly somewhere else. Well, only a few ships sail year-round out of Manhattan’s main port (or the nearby port in Bayonne, New Jersey). If, however, you’re near (or willing to fly to) a port such as Miami or Fort Lauderdale, you’ll have far more options to choose from.

2. What size ship do you want to sail on?

Given that we are talking about the mainstream lines, this really becomes a question of “big” or “mega.” For example, Norwegian’s Jewel class ships carry around 2,500 passengers each, while their Breakaway Plus class ships ferry over 4,000 passengers. Similarly, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas welcomes over 6,000 passengers on each sailing, while Empress of the seas sails with under 2,000 passengers. As we mentioned before, the older, smaller ships tend to have fewer bells and whistles. But a first-timer wanting to get their sea legs before tackling one of the megaships might very well enjoy something a little more old-school.

3. Where do you want to go… and for how long?

Another crucial element is figuring out your itinerary. Many first-timers – worried about whether they’ll get seasick or perhaps be bored – decide to try a shorter sailing. While that’s not necessarily possibly out of all ports (you’ll be hard-pressed to find a sailing of less than seven days out of Manhattan, for example), there are plenty of three and four-night options available, especially out of Florida. As for where you’ll go, statistics from the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) indicate that a majority of first-time cruisers head to the Caribbean. And this isn’t particularly surprising. After all, who doesn’t think of blue waters, white beaches, and tropical cocktails when they think of cruising? Another popular destination for first-timers: Alaska.

Part 3: Picking a Stateroom

nice sized stateroom

Answering the questions above should help you narrow down your cruise line choice and, beyond that, point you toward a ship. But this next set of questions will help with a really specific topic: What type of cabin should you book on the ship?

1. How much time do I plan to spend in the room?

For some folks, a stateroom is where they will sleep, shower, and change clothes. It’s basically a pit stop as they race about enjoying their vacation. For them, an inside or perhaps oceanview stateroom is fine. But others know they will spend quite a bit of time in their room and want something more… like a balcony on which they can sit and read, enjoy their morning coffe,e and just contemplate life. And those who figure “What the heck, let’s do it up right” can consider taking things to the next level with a suite… although warning: Most people we’ve talked to said that once you live “the suite life,” it’s tough to do a lesser category stateroom!

2. Where do I want to be… and just as important, where do I not want to be?

When it comes to stateroom selection, we have two words for you: Deck plans. Seek them out (they are easily accessible on the Web) and utilize them. If you are using a travel agent, make sure they know that you’d prefer to be in a cabin “sandwiched” between other cabins. If you’re booking the cruise yourself, take a look at the deck plans to see if there is a nightclub above you, or a theater below, or any other venue which might result in your late-night or early-morning beauty sleep being disrupted.

READ MORE: Why Stateroom Location is Important 

3. Should I expect an upgrade?

Basically… no. Longtime cruisers will wax poetic about the time they booked an inside room and got a free upgrade to a balcony but, for the most part, those days are over. Booking a stateroom in hope of being upgraded to a higher category is a foolhardy risk. This is especially true as cruise lines have begun looking at ways to monetize upgrades. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line now offers cruisers the opportunity to “bid” on available upgrades. But even those come at a risk, as you are bidding on a specific category, but have no control over the actual stateroom’s location. Translation: You could wind up in a better category, but in a stateroom that isn’t in an ideal location. At the end of the day, booking the stateroom you want is the surest way to make sure you get the stateroom you want!

Part 4: Other Questions to Consider

The above categories should help guide you toward making some of the basic decisions regarding a cruise line, a ship, and even a stateroom. Finally, let’s look at some of the other, more generic questions you should ask yourself during the planning stages. We know it seems like a lot to process, but think of it this way: You’re spending a fair amount of money on your cruise… you want to make it as special as possible, right? And if that means taking the time to do some research – whether on your own or with the help of a travel professional – that’s what you want to do… right?

1. Should I buy trip insurance?

If you ask us, this is a no-brainer… and the answer is yes, every day and twice on Sundays. Many first-time cruisers assume that this is unnecessary or even a way for someone to make more money off folks who don’t know better, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. While you hope that nothing bad will happen during your cruise, it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry. If you’re wavering even a little bit, click here for more information on why you should definitely be purchasing insurance.

2. Should I purchase a drink package?

This is one of the most-asked questions on every cruise-related message board and Facebook page, and with good reason. Drink packages are popular, but they’re also pricey. Obviously, folks want to know if they are going to get their money’s worth. Unfortunately, it’s a question each individual cruiser has to answer for themselves. The best advice we can offer is to check and see what the package offered on your cruise does and does not offer, and then think about how much of that applies to you. If you’re the kind of person who has a glass of wine at dinner and a Bloody Mary at breakfast, it’s probably not going to work out in your favor. It also might depend on how many sea vs. port days you have, and whether you plan to spend more time exploring ports or staying on board during those visits.

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READ MORE: Why I Always Buy A Drink Package

3. Do I want an early or late dinner seating?

Granted, this question is increasingly becoming unnecessary as more and more cruise lines offer their passengers flexibility when it comes to dining times. But for those who prefer traditional dining – meaning that on nights you choose to eat in the main dining room, you have an assigned table (and tablemates) at the same time each evening – there is the question of early or late seating. Some prefer an early seating so that they can do a show after dinner. Others prefer going to the early show and then doing a late dinner. There are all kinds of reasons to pick a particular dining time, from wanting to be on deck (as opposed to in the dining room ) when the sun sets to feeling as if there is less rush to a late dinner seating (as there aren’t people waiting to take your table once service is finished).

Final Thoughts

Maya Chan

Obviously, a first-time cruiser will have all kinds of other questions not covered here. But we thought this might be a good primer to get things started. And we know, it might seem daunting and like a lot of work. But here’s the funny thing: By taking the time to do it right, you’re going to have an amazing cruise… and you’ll immediately want to start planning your next one. And when you do, you’ll realize that all this “work” is actually a lot of fun. For most people, the planning actually becomes something they look forward to… in many ways becoming an “extension” of the cruise itself!



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5 Waterproof Travel Items You Cannot Forget On Your Next Cruise



The blissful view of an endless horizon, the sound of the ocean and the constant excitement of a new destination are all part of the reasons why we love cruise vacations so much. But this blissful existence can be shattered in the event of bad weather and the ruin of some of your most precious belongings. By their very nature, cruises bring you in close contact with water so it’s best to always be prepared for the worst. Thankfully, there are now many ingenious and attractive ways to weather-proof all of your packing items. Here are some of our favorite objects you shouldn’t leave land without.

Be Ready For Anything


When we think of cruises, we think of glamour and fun, not soaked-through clothes and malfunctioning electronics – and that’s the way we want to keep it! Firstly, it’s as important to know what not to pack as what is essential, and how to ensure everything will return in one piece. These are our best bets on things that can withstand even the most severe sea-dunking while offering daily usefulness.

1. Aqua Shoes

Flip flops might suffice while on deck but if you disembark and are hoping to indulge in some rock pooling or water sports then a pair of aqua shoes are an excellent all-weather option. Sturdy, light and easy to slip on, these specially designed shoes offer enhanced grip on slippery surfaces while protecting your feet from sharp rocks. What’s more, they are comfortable, quick to dry, and take up far less packing space than traditional chunky sandals.

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2. Underwater Camera

The fine sea mist that feels so refreshing on your skin in the hot sun is the same damp air that can ruin your expensive digital SLR camera. Moreover, as anyone with kids knows, you are never safe from a hefty splash when sat by the pool. For these reasons, having an underwater or water-safe camera is a great addition, meaning you can keep your high-quality shots for the safety of land and still have fun on the beach and at the pool.

3. Dive Watch

Just as you might be worried about fine jewelry tarnishing amongst the waves, so too might you be concerned about wearing your expensive watch. However, many elite brands sell models that can operate at great depths. For instance, HydroConquest models from Longines are renowned dive watches that can be submerged at depths of up to 300 meters, and are actually cheap to pick up if you know the right place to look.

4. Water-Tight Phone Case

For many of us, it has become our most treasured item, so don’t run the risk of breaking it on your first day by the pool deck! A waterproof phone case is essential when aboard a cruise ship, where your general proximity to water makes all electrical items potentially disastrous. Tough, durable and letting you move with confidence, many of these watertight pouches are large enough to let you even keep all of your belongings, not just your phone, in a safe place.

5. Water-resistant Sun Cream

It’s important to distinguish between sun creams that can withstand exposure to moisture and those that can’t, as a nasty burn could be awaiting you otherwise. Look out for labels marking the product as ‘water-resistant’ and clearly stating the period of time they can be relied upon to withstand water contact, such as 30 minutes or 60. Moreover, if you plan to be doing some scuba diving or snorkeling excursions as part of your cruise, take a look at these reef-safe sun creams that will ensure you won’t be damaging the delicate ecosystem with harsh chemical agents.

What do you take on your cruise? 

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Review: Maya Chan Costa Maya Beach Excursion



If you plan on taking a Western Caribbean cruise, there is a good chance that your ship will be stopping in Costa Maya, Mexico. Located on the Southern end of Mexico, just north of Belize, you will find the Costa Maya Cruise Port. As with any port, you’ll find that the ship offers a wide variety of excursions. (This is, after all, another way for them to make money.) But if you’re the type who doesn’t mind breaking free from the heard — and are responsible enough to get yourself back to the ship on time so as not to be left behind — the all-inclusive resort of Maya Chan might be a good fit.

The price for all-day access is $59 per adult. The price per child is $19 for those up to three years old; $39 for kids aged 3-17, and $49 for those between 8 and 17 years old. (They do offer a bit of a discount if you have a large group. To find out if you qualify, contact them directly when you’re making your plans)

And what do you get for the price of admission?

Maya Chan

  • An English-speaking Maya Chan representative who will meet you at the port
  • Round-trip transportation from the pier to the resort and back
  • Beach chairs and day beds
  • A pre-assigned, private shaded area for each party
  • An all-you-care-to-eat Mayan food bar as well as open bar
  • Free WiFi
  • Changing areas
  • Facilities
  • Kayaks and snorkel gear

It’s worth noting that for planning purposes, they request that guests make reservations in advance. Once you do, they’ll generally respond within 24 hours and request payment via Paypal.

Upon Arriving in Costa Maya 

Maya Chan

On many itineraries, Costa Maya winds up being the final port of call before the ship begins heading home. It also often ends up being a relatively short visit, with the ship both arriving and departing earlier than it does other ports. It’s not at all unusual for the all-aboard time to be around 1:30 p.m. That was the case during my recent visit, when the ship arrived at port before I was even awake, and we set sail again at 2 p.m.

The pier is Costa Maya is pretty long, so give yourself plenty of time to disembark and make your way down the pier. Once you exit the cruise terminal gates, you’ll see someone from Maya Chan waiting for you at a clearly marked tent where guests board shuttle buses. And while the resort is only about four miles away from the actual terminal, it can take almost a half hour to make the journey. Because of this, the folks at the resort makes sure to stay on top of the departure time of your ship so that they can have you on a shuttle back in plenty of time.

Welcome to Maya Chan

Maya Chan

Once we arrived at the resort, we were immediately greeted by a guide who took us on a quick tour of the property. Given that we had pre-paid before even setting foot on the ship, we were able to bypass that step and head straight for the beach. There, we were introduced to our servers and brought to the private area where we would be spending the day. There were a line of chairs and two day-beds, and the area had our name on it so we knew it was intended for us. The sun was shining, the water was sparking and it was clearly going to be a great beach day.

Food & Drinks

The food was very impressive (and gluten-free). The chef, who has been cooking authentic Mexican cuisine at Maya Chan for years, fires the grill up around 9:00 a.m. and they begin serving foot at 11:00 a.m. Trust me, by then you’ll be salivating thanks to the incredible smell of the steak, chicken, pork and fish coming from the grill.

Maya Chan

Unlike some resorts where the drinks come at an additional costs, they were included here. And this isn’t a situation where they basically limit you to a pre-made rum punch. In fact, we had quite a bit of fun getting creative with the bartender, who whipped up all kinds of frozen concoctions for us.

A Few Useful Tips About Maya Chan

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  • Get there early. Like I said before, many ships wind up having relatively short stays in Costa Maya, so you want to make the most of the time you have available at the resort. Consider getting off the ship as soon as the gangway opens. Yes, that could mean that you’re walking off the ship at sunrise, but it also means you’re sitting on the beach sipping a drink that much sooner. (Hey, you’re on vacation!)
  • Bring sunblock. The Western Caribbean sun can be brutal. Even though there are umbrellas and plenty of shaded area throughout the property, it doesn’t hurt to be protected. Especially if you plan to walk the beach or go for a swim!
  • Take advantage of what’s available. Heck, take one of the floating mats out on the water and the staff will even bring you out a drink! (Did we mention you’re on vacation?)
  • Pamper yourself. Massages are available on site for a nominal fee.
  • Bring your appetite. If you’re hungry — and you definitely will be — head for the lunch line a little bit early. They start serving at 11, and the line can get long really quick. Since most items are made-to-order, it can take a bit of time… although it’s definitely worth the wait!

Final Thoughts

I thought this was a great excursion if you’re looking to experience the authentic Costa Maya. The resort has character, friendly staff, amazing food and is far enough away from the cruise terminal that it tends not to be overly crowded, and yet doesn’t take forever to get to. It’s worth noting that like Costa Maya in general, the Maya Chan does not have the most pristine beaches. But the staff works very hard to keep it clear of sea grass so you can enjoy the property.

I’ve only been to Costa Maya a handful of times, and this is the first trip on which I’ve had a chance to experience a port day that wasn’t experiencing the area immediately around the pier. The chances I’ll be returning to Maya Chan are very high.

Read More: Carnival Magic in Costa Maya


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