If you’re new to cruising, you might not know that it’s possible to customize a cruise. Some people think it will be a “one size fits all” type of experience, where everything needs to be done as a group. Not true! Today’s cruise ships let you pick and choose from activities, dining experiences and off-shore trips. These cruise tips will show you how to personalize a cruise so you and your family can have a do-it-yourself customized experience.

customizing-a-cruise-leadCruising onboard the Konigsdam

My husband and I were fortunate to have the time to take a 24-day Mediterranean cruise from Amsterdam to Rome on Holland America’s newest ship, the Konigsdam. Here are practical ways we found to create a cruise that appealed to what we wanted on a vacation.

While the examples I use relate to the Konigsdam, you’ll see the basic principles apply to any cruise ship. (Although I would recommend checking out a Holland America ship!)

Customize Your MealsCruise tip: choose your dining experience.

It seems whenever someone considers cruising, the first think they want to talk about is the food. Quality, portion size, presentation, desserts…all are topics of intense discussion.

As with the majority of cruise ships, dining options abound onboard Holland America’s Konigsdam. They range from a quick pizza by the pool to a lobster dinner in a small intimate dining room served by attentive wait staff.


Here’s my confession. I would rather clean all the ship’s toilets than eat in a formal restaurant. Yes, I’m one of those non-foodies who is happy with a baked potato and some broccoli for dinner. Heck! Add a bowl of ice cream and I call it a feast!

Allan and I were more than happy to eat the majority of our meals buffet style on the Lido deck. This meant choices ranging from made-to-order omelets for breakfast to gourmet salads or soups for lunch to surf and turf at dinner. A New York style pizza and deli offered additional options. We sat at the light-filled pool area, enjoying delicious meals that we selected. Best of all service was fast! Who could complain with bowls of fresh, cut-up fruit at every meal?

Up the Dining Experience

On the other hand, while customizing a cruise, we met people who enjoyed going to the dining room for breakfast and lunch where they selected meals from a menu. Their cruise tip: pay a little more for dinner in a specialty restaurant such as the Italian-themed Canaletto restaurant, or the Asian-inspired Tamarind restaurant.

The Culinary Arts Show onboard the Konigsdam is a unique restaurant where large screens display how the chefs and staff prepare food. You watch and learn about each course of your meal. Now we know how the chef got our squash soup so creamy…simply add a pound of butter!  Yes, the cost increased, but for people who value getting dressed up and enjoying a leisurely, gourmet meal, the option is available.

Did you think that cruises are a one-size-fits-all family vacation? Far from it! These cruise tips will tell you how to customize everything from your dining experience to having fun on those long days at sea.

Customize Your Drinks

Cruise ships offer a variety of “drink” packages. This is another chance to customize your on-board experience. Do you enjoy espresso coffee in the morning or an afternoon glass of wine along with specialty drinks at dinner? Cruise tip: Consider buying a drink package to save money.

Cruising onboard the Konigsdam, the Signature Beverage Card would be the right choice for you. This card allows you to have up to 15 drinks per day, which includes sparkling water and specialty coffees along with alcoholic beverages. As we listened to people chatting in the elevator about their Pomegranate Ginger Drop or other specialty cocktail, it seemed this was a popular option.

Pay as You Go

On the other hand, I seldom drink more than water and Allan likes a beer or two, so we were perfectly happy with the free drink options available. At breakfast, there were a variety of fruit juices, along with coffee, and ice tea available at all meals.

For people who enjoy an occasional specialty coffee, Explorations Café and the Dutch Café offer, (for a fee) a variety of coffee drinks beyond the “ordinary” coffee served on the Lido deck. Just hand the wait staff your room card and you get charged an individual price.

Non-alcoholic beverage cards are available also for children and non-drinkers. Maybe I sound like a grumpy old parent, but on previous cruises with our daughter, I never saw the need to buy her a beverage card. We seldom drank soft drinks at home, so it didn’t make sense to give her access to 15 soft drinks a day. Again, customize the food and drink options to fit your lifestyle.

Customize Your Activities

Each evening, the Daily Navigator was placed on our bed, (along with a cute towel-shaped animal) that listed upcoming activities. This provides the perfect opportunity to customize your activity program.

Interested in learning belly dancing? Want to mix your own wine? Play Sports Trivia or have your footprints analyzed? Just check the daily schedule and pick what you want to do.

I enjoyed an origami class while Allan went to the well-equipped computer room and learned how to make movies. (Now he aspires to rival Steven Spielberg.) Other options included attending afternoon tea, silent auctions, going to daily mass, viewing outdoor movies and let’s not forget lectures on how to flatten your stomach!

Or Do Nothing at All

With all these available activities, it always amazed me to hear people say, “there’s just nothing to do on the days when the ship is at sea.”  I spoke with several people who told me they liked to simply relax in a poolside chair and let the world drift by.

See how easy it is when customizing a cruising experience? Go from activity to activity or find a cozy place to read. We especially appreciated the “Day of the Week” carpets in the elevators. Otherwise we wouldn’t have known what day it was, since we were involved in so many activities.

Customize Your Child’s Experience

customizing-a-cruise-hal-roomsLike most cruise ships, the Konigsdam has a separate children’s area. Club HAL offers programs for pre-schoolers through teens. Three colorful, well-appointed areas provide activities for different age groups. Crafts, games, videos, karaoke, and scavenger hunts are led by enthusiastic staff.

If your child enjoys group activities, the Club HAL program lets kids run off steam and gives you a little adult time. On a cruise when our daughter was nine, she didn’t want to go to the HAL program. Instead, she hung out with us, knowing she had the option to join in kids’ activities if she got bored being with her parents.

The HAL program must be great because on our recent cruise the entire dining room heard a 6-year-old wail, “I want to go to the kid’s program now!” Cruising offers children choices as well.

Customize Your Entertainment

After a busy day visiting a port city or being active on the ship, watching the evening entertainment is a nice way to end the day. The Konigsdam offered numerous options for people to pick and choose.

The World Stage was the largest venue that offered everything from comedians to magicians to mentalists to a combination comedian/classical pianist. On several nights the Konigsdam singers and dancers provided high quality shows. You could pick from three show times, depending on your choice of dining options.

If you like smaller venues, just choose from the Lincoln Center Stage where classical musicians played everything from Bernstein to Buble. Move down the hall and check out B.B. King’s Blues Club for a traditional Blues experience. Still want more choices? Billboard Onboard offered a variety of vocals ranging from the Beatles to pop favorites.  The last show started at 11:45, for all you night owls!

As you can see, cruises provide the opportunity to customize your experience to create a vacation that fits your desires and lifestyle. Happy Cruising!