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Hawkes

Some help for a first timer (first cruise in over 20 years)?

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Hello everyone!  Lots of great information on this site.  Thank you to everyone for their recommendations and opinions.  It's not technically our first time, but our last cruise was over 20 years ago before we had kids and boy have things changed!  We weren't ready to have to choose between drink packages and specialty dining options, etc.  It's really stretching our budget in ways we overlooked.  We just booked on the Harmony of the Seas for July 21st. 

I'd like to ask thoughts on the drink packages.  We would not drink enough to break even with the unlimited drinking package.  I am a beer drinker with an occasional frozen drink and my wife is a wine drinker for the most part, but usually no more than 2 glasses at a meal.  Also, getting all six of us the refreshment package can be a doozy too even with the discount running until tonight.  Any insider tips or secrets you all would like to share in this area?

I think this time around we are going to skip the Thrill Waterpark.  From a budget view, the cost of this for a family of six would crush any additional excursions for the week.  I believe there is still a lot to do on the island that is not so pricey.

I am interested in thoughts on two of the excursions that we are looking at in St. Thomas.  We have four kids... 11, 13, 15, and 19.  Not worried about the 19-year-old as she goes with the flow MOST of the time.  My wife is looking forward to snorkeling.  We are trying to decide between the St. John's Trunk Bay Beach & Snorkel OR the Pirates of St. Thomas Sail, Snorkel, & Beach.  My thought is why go to St. John's for snorkeling if you are in St. Thomas.  St. Thomas was beautiful the last time I visited almost 30 years ago.  Seems like a lot of time is spent in transit from one island to the other and that MAY frustrate the kids if the ride is too long.

I have a horseback rider in the family and she wants to do the horseback riding on St. Maarten.  Has anyone here done this one and have any feedback?

If my daughter and I do the horseback riding, the rest of the family is looking to do something.  Any suggestions on St. Maarten?  This will be our first time on St. Maarten.

Thank you in advance for any suggestions, comments, or opinions.

Best,

Hawkes

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Drink packages and specialty dining are 100% optional. If you know you're not going to break even on the drink package, there's no sense in getting one. If you do opt for a package, not everyone in the family needs to purchase one. (Except for the Deluxe/ Alcohol - in which case both adults would need to purchase a package.)   There are plenty of other dining venues that are included with the cruise fare, so if the budget is tight you can skip the specialty restaurants. Or if you do want to try one of the restaurants, some of them will have lower priced lunches (though a more limited menu).

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Hi @Hawkes, welcome to the forums!

As @KJones said, the packages are completely optional, so don't feel any pressure to get them. That said, if you think you would benefit from the Refreshment Package at least, but the cost is putting you off given you have a family of 6, there are a few things you could do to help make that a bit easier to swallow.

First, I'd recommend having a frank discussion with your kids about how much they'd really leverage the Refreshment package vs. a "more basic" one. If one of your kids is a soda junkie but doesn't think they'd care for any fruity mocktails with umbrellas in them, you could get that one a Soda Package instead. If one is a coffee junkie but otherwise doesn't drink anything but tap water or other beverages that will be complimentary, you could get that one a Coffee Card. Soda packages and coffee cards generally don't get any discounts for Cruise Planner sales, so you can buy those at any time. Which leads into the next idea.

I'm assuming you are booked for July 21st of this year since you didn't note a year, just the date. Even though it's a relatively short time until sail date, you're allowed to buy anything in the Cruise Planner up until a few days before your departure. You could take advantage of that by spreading out any Refreshment Package or other purchases over the next few months, so you don't get socked with a massive credit card bill in any one month. You could go in pairs -- you and your wife the first month, oldest two kids then, then youngest two -- getting each whatever you worked out as the best option. Don't worry if there's a sale on at that particular time; there will definitely be another sale on July 4th weekend, and you'll be able to take advantage of that to cancel and repurchase any packages that have dropped in price since the original purchase. Any savings will be credited back to your card.

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@JLMoran Yes, July 21, 2019.  Sorry about that.  None of the kids are soda drinkers, but I do have one who enjoys sports drinks and two who are coffee and smoothie lovers.  My oldest is the "up in the air" one.  I think I'm stuck with the refreshment packages for them.  For my wife and I, it's a tough nut to swallow over $800 for a week of just drinks.  We may do the refreshment package as well and just pay for the alcohol when we drink it.  We're not heavy drinkers to begin with and we will have the kids so that tames us a bit too.  It's hard to try and capture how much we would wind up spending this far in advance so we're just going to have to bite the bullet and roll the dice we break even.

Any opinions on the snorkeling I mentioned?

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57 minutes ago, Hawkes said:

Any opinions on the snorkeling I mentioned?

Sorry, I haven't been to St. Thomas so can't comment. However, regarding the horseback riding on St. Maarten -- My family and I had looked at that ahead of our trip there last year, and found reviews noting that the horses showed signs of biting each other and other minor to modest past injuries, along some other concerning indications that maybe they weren't cared for the best. Not long after seeing that, the horseback riding excursion was no longer available on the Cruise Planner site. Might have been coincidence since you seem to have it available now, but something to keep in mind. Check Trip Advisor and see if reviews of that excursion or the company that runs it have improved in the last year or so.

If you find that the reviews still aren't the best, another option for St. Maarten that would also satisfy the desire to snorkel is Soualiga Destinations boat tour around the island, specifically designed and timed for cruise ship guests. That's the excursion we ended up doing, and it was an absolutely fantastic day. You book directly through them rather than through the cruise planner, but not to worry -- they have a sterling reputation and have never had a group get back late to their cruise ship as long as the ship is departing at 5 PM or later. We had an absolutely fantastic time with them, and several others here have toured with them as well. Do note that they tend to book up ahead of the cruise, so if you decide to give them a try I would email Capt. Bob ASAP to see if he has enough open seats on one of his boats.

1 hour ago, Hawkes said:

For my wife and I, it's a tough nut to swallow over $800 for a week of just drinks.  We may do the refreshment package as well and just pay for the alcohol when we drink it.  We're not heavy drinkers to begin with and we will have the kids so that tames us a bit too.

If that's the case, I'd definitely just buy your alcoholic drinks a la carte. You'll definitely save money vs buying the deluxe package. Depending on how much you expect to drink on the non-alcoholic front that actually costs money, you may even be OK with just buying those a la carte as well.

For reference, all of the beverages served "in the open" in the Windjammer in bulk pre-filled glasses (lemonade, strawberry-kiwi punch, I believe iced tea, etc.) is complimentary, as are a good number of beverages you can get in the MDR. If you're not particularly snobbish about your coffee, the free stuff in the WJ and MDR is serviceable; just drink it hot, it's not so great once it cools. A lot of other beverages offered around the ship are complimentary as well, and anything that isn't is very clearly marked. If you just want the occasional mocktail or want to indulge in the cocktail that's served inside a hollowed-out pineapple, or have your nightly glass or two of wine, go on ahead and don't stress about it; you're still going to be saving money over any package with all the other complimentary beverages you're enjoying.

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3 hours ago, Hawkes said:

@JLMoran Yes, July 21, 2019.  Sorry about that.  None of the kids are soda drinkers, but I do have one who enjoys sports drinks and two who are coffee and smoothie lovers.  My oldest is the "up in the air" one.  I think I'm stuck with the refreshment packages for them.  For my wife and I, it's a tough nut to swallow over $800 for a week of just drinks.  We may do the refreshment package as well and just pay for the alcohol when we drink it.  We're not heavy drinkers to begin with and we will have the kids so that tames us a bit too.  It's hard to try and capture how much we would wind up spending this far in advance so we're just going to have to bite the bullet and roll the dice we break even.

Any opinions on the snorkeling I mentioned?

Personally, I have 4 kids and would never get the refreshment package. Only 2 of my kids drink soda, so they get the soda package.  First for one who enjoys sports drinks, powerade is in the freestyle machines which is covered by the soda package.  Just note that Starbucks is not included in the refreshment package.  It is about $3 for specialty coffee at the cafe promenade and $6 for a smoothie in the vitality spa.  Just make sure that makes sense for you as you are paying for it even on port days.

Don't forget you can bring on 2 bottles of wine per stateroom and 12 17 oz  bottles of another non alcoholic beverage (sports drinks) per stateroom.

Also, to save money have you looked at non-RC sponsored excursions?   I've never snorkeled with RC as I don't like the "herding cats" mentality plus my youngest who is a great swimmer doesn't meet RC age requirements.  Check out Trip Advisor for reviews.  

There is a nice beach walking distance to the pier (or take the water taxi over for about $7 rt).  Rent some beach chairs for about $20 for 2 chairs.  If you are Star Wars fans, check out the Yoda Guy which is walking distance from the beach.

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