Cruising through your retirement is one thing: being good at it is another. Rob the cruising novelist is quite the expert, and we picked his brain for tips, tricks and the things he's learnt from more than 60 cruises in the last few years.
From picking the right cruise line to ensuring the best bang for your buck, watching your waistline around the omnipresent buffet and even having your clothes washed and ironed for you, there's more to this than stepping aboard and heading to the pool!
Choose your cruise line
Rob and May almost exclusively cruise with Princess Cruises. There are a few reasons for this - they are used to the line, they like it, and they also appreciate the friendly staff.
Rob says, "From the upper echelon down to the guy who looks after the deck lounges, there are always familiar smiling faces when we board."
However, there's a more practical consideration in the decision to stick to a particular line, whichever one it may be. Most offer loyalty programs, and if you're cruising back-to-back you'll quickly rack up some perks. Rob and May are Elite members of Princess Cruises' Captain's Circle, and they are entitled to some great things when they cruise.
"We know we can get on a ship's tender when we want to. We know can usually get the table we want in the dining room. But perhaps the best aspect, from May's point of view, is that they do our laundry."
Laundry done for you? Now that's a bonus!
Keep costs down
Although Rob writes while he cruises (you can see and buy his novels on Amazon), he says that this is a creative outlet rather than a serious source of income - but cruising can be cost-effective!
"We always get an inside cabin, a cave. We don't worry about a window or balcony. In a 'cave' we get great value for money. Works out at $100 to $120 a day but for that price everything is done for you. Bed made, clothes washed. It costs $30 for one meal in Brisbane alone!"
Stick to a schedule
Rob and May certainly take advantage of the relaxing nature of cruising to do whatever they want, and that doesn't include things like mowing the lawns or fixing the guttering - one of the biggest advantages of their lifestyle! However, a bit of structure to their days means that they don't melt away into a puddle of laziness.
Rob's daily habits include getting up at 6, eating a quick breakfast and walking laps of the promenade for an hour. He tends to write 2-3 hours a day in his cabin, and often gets inspiration from his surroundings - the Lucinda Legacy, which was a prize-winner in the Australia-wide Bicentennial Novel Competition, is about a lugger in Broome and the parcel of diamonds which the captain removed from an aircraft shot down by the Japanese during the first air raid in Broome during World War II. His second novel, Thursday's Orchid, is about smuggling drugs from Australia to Singapore on a 10,000 tonne ship. Five of his novels have been written on board in this fashion, mixing work and routine with that holiday feeling.
Be friendly and reap the benefits
Of course, it's a good idea to be friendly no matter what you get in return. Rob has found throughout his years at sea that making friends with the crew makes cruising more enjoyable and much smoother.
In fact, when asked what his biggest lesson learnt has been, he replied,
"Be friendly with the crew, talk to them. Learn their names and try to remember them. It's not so much something we have to concentrate on, as I guess May and I always try to be friendly with the people we deal with, but so many passengers seem to treat the crew as non-entities."
He also commented,
"We are treated better than average passenger because we treat the staff in a friendly manner. Other passengers go to a coffee bar and say, ˜Latte!' End of story. But we go in and say, ˜Long black, Marvin. How are things?' We talk with them and joke with them."
Of course, this concept extends beyond the crew. Fellow passengers can also enrich a cruise experience.
"Yes, we have made friends. My wife, May, has made more friends than I have. I tend to be a loner, sticking to the people I know and not going out of my way to meet more people. But we have many friends who we meet frequently on cruises. There are some who we have not seen for years, but from whom we still get the occasional email."
It's good to know where you like to cruise to - the right destination adds excitement and enjoyment. It might be easier to head to the South Pacific islands every time, but mix it up a little and you might just hit the jackpot. Japan is at the top of the list for Rob and May.
"I think that Japan would be our favourite. We flew to Tokyo (lucked it into first class out of Taipei) and then boarded Diamond Princess for three nine-day back-to-backs around the Japanese islands and then stayed on board back to Brisbane (it may have been Sydney). We booked a number of Japanese speaking tours from the ship, mainly because they were $20.00 cheaper, and thoroughly enjoyed them. I find that I can probably remember ten percent of what a guide tells us for a day or so after the tour. In a week's time, nothing. So the fact that the guide spoke in Japanese was neither here nor there. The bonus was that the few meals which were provided were Japanese rather than Western, which we enjoy."
As well as enjoying daily walks on the promenade, Rob and May ensure that the call of the buffet and endless a-la-carte options don't get the better of them. One trick is to avoid the monster-sized plates which are an invitation to overindulge!
"We make certain that we collect a regular-sized plate and not one of the large oval ones. We then walk up and down the display of food on offer and decide what we would most like, and then collect only those items. At the end of the meal we may look at the sweets and cakes, eat them up with our eyes, and walk on by. We stay healthy by never using the lifts (the elevators), and by regular exercise on sea days."
If you're considering cruising as a retirement lifestyle, or just upping the number of times you get on board, we hope that Rob's experience is helpful to you! Stay tuned for the next instalment which will delve into the weird and wonderful things he has seen during so many months at sea.