How I overcame my fears as a fat traveler and fell in love with cruises

"As I counted down the days to the cruise, I started getting nervous. Would the ship be accessible for me?"

Published January 8, 2023 4:30PM (EST)

A cruise highlight, Rhino boats in Sint Maarten. (Jodyann Morgan)
A cruise highlight, Rhino boats in Sint Maarten. (Jodyann Morgan)

"A Fatty's Guide to Traveling and Eating the World" is a monthly travel and food column here at Salon that’s dedicated to helping travelers of all sizes find adventure

Growing up, my dad was one of those "travel hackers." He knew his way around miles and points like the very best of them. So, despite being impoverished and one of many, many siblings, we traveled a bit — nowhere far, just going to New York for school or Seattle to visit my grandmother. Because of the "travel hacking," our flights were always a hot mess. 

We'd fly halfway across the country in the wrong direction or take flights with three stopovers. And when we finally got to our destination, we would take buses, trains and walk to get to wherever we laid our heads. Travel would take all damn day and late into the night. Despite all this, I fell in love with traveling. But the hassle of getting to the destination? That still irks me to this day.  As a fat person, traveling gets complicated

And the logistics are still a nightmare, just a little bit of a different nightmare. 

So when I had the opportunity to take a cruise, I was (understandably) skeptical about the whole thing, but decided to give it a go anyway. Life is all about trying new things, isn't it? After spending a lot of time on the Princess Cruises website, I selected an eastern Caribbean cruise on the Regal Princess. Eight days, four ports and it all started in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

As I counted down the days to the cruise, I started getting nervous. Would the ship be accessible for me? Would the excursions work out? Would I feel trapped in the middle of the ocean?

But, as it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. Cruising was one of the least stressful ways I've ever traveled and I fell in love.

We stayed at the Hilton in the Fort Lauderdale Marina on the night before we boarded, which was perfectly situated just minutes from the ship. It was only at dinner that night that I finally started getting excited. Dinner, by the way, was at the Boatyard, right in the marina. While the food wasn't the best I've ever had, the vibe was immaculate. We sat outside and listened to the music and the sound of the waves and laughter. A perfect way to relax and destress before our cruise began.

After a great night's sleep, we were off to the races. Getting to the ship was easy. Local hotels offer a shuttle service that will take you directly to the terminal. Once we got there, I was met by porters that took our luggage. If you're taking a shuttle or would like your baggage handled for you, be sure to bring small bills to tip the porters. Not only is this simply the right thing to do, but they are pretty forward about being provided a "donation" (their words, not mine).

The boarding process was seamless and very quick. 

We scanned my QR code, showed our passports and got our medallions. We were then herded into a waiting room where we waited for the Coast Guard to finish a drill with the staff on the ship. The medallion is your key card, wallet and way back onto the ship at each port. It comes on a lanyard, but there are wristbands and clips available for purchase if a lanyard isn't your style. 

The room, service and internet 

After sailing on Sail Croatia this summer, I was expecting a very tiny room, but the balcony room we were staying in was small but had more than enough room. The small bathroom, while cramped, did allow for comfortable use of the toilet and shower, as long as you shower alone. The bed was somehow both soft and firm, allowing for a very comfortable sleep during the cruise. 

Expert tip: If you travel with a spouse or share a room with a friend, bring a very long charger since outlets are on one side of the bed.

The star of the show was our balcony. It was completely private, with balconies on either side blocked off, so there was no visibility. Only once during the entirety of the cruise did we even hear someone else, but they were right next door to us. The balcony definitely made the room very special, and we spent a lot of time sitting there, gazing out into the ocean, watching the sunset and taking in the views as we pulled into our four ports. 

Squish Factor: The balcony chairs were a little squishy, but if you ask your room steward, they will assist with arranging different chairs. Our room had a step-up into the bathroom, but if you need a room without it, ADA rooms are available. 

Staying connected was critical for me, as I was working, keeping in touch with home and planning to live post on social media. Initially, the internet was excellent, but as the cruise went on, the internet became progressively worse. At about day three, I stopped posting Instagram stories because it would take all day for them to upload. It was still good enough to answer the occasional email and use Whatsapp, but very slowly. 

I cannot say enough how incredible the service is on every level. No matter where you are on the ship, you can use the Princess app to order food and drinks (including the alcoholic ones) to be delivered directly to you. But, there were plenty of waiters more than happy to take your order at any time, and they usually came fast if you were in the shared spaces of the ship. 

On-board food

There is a lot of food at all hours on the Regal Princess. Our favorite casual dining on the ship was at the buffet, open from early in the morning until late at night. The menu and features are ever-changing, so you'll always find something you like to enjoy. The hashbrowns, which we topped with cream cheese and lox, were a favorite at breakfast time. For lunch, the rotisserie chicken was a highlight, always perfectly cooked, well-seasoned and served fresh. 

Risotto served at the Chef's Table, a VIP experience bookable on board (Jodyann Morgan )The carving station at the dinner buffet included everything from the leg of lamb to roasted turkey and pork belly. The pork belly was tied into a roll, allowing the skin to get marvelously crispy and the meat to remain juicy and delicious.  Be sure to stop at the crêpe station for fresh crêpe, fresh-cut fruit and house-whipped cream.

Of the three specialty restaurants aboard, our favorite, by far, was Sabatini's Italian Trattoria. The Italian restaurant serves a four-course dinner for an additional $25 per person. Get the spaghetti and meatballs, cheese soup and tiramisu for dessert.

Expert tip: We had to dig a little bit to find the food that we liked. I suggest trying a little bit of a lot of things on your first and second days until you find what suits you. The sushi was a bit odd compared to what we were used to, and we had raw chicken in the main dining room on the first night, but other than that, we had a great food experience. 

Ports of Call

I might write this column every month, but I make travel mistakes, too. And, when it came to our first two ports of call, I really bungled it. None of the ship's excursions spoke to me, so I decided to hire a private guide in the Dominican Republic and a guide to take us on a hike in the Puerto Rican rainforest. In the Dominican Republic, our driver crashed the car just two hours into the day (with us inside). Luckily, we were blocks away from our guide's home, and she made us lunch, which was fantastic! In Puerto Rico, the "easy" hike — which I confirmed prior to booking — started with a vertical climb up wet, muddy rocks, something we just couldn't do. 

Luckily, things took a turn for the better when we got to St. Kitts. The Scenic Railway Ride & Circle Island Drive was an incredible excursion, relaxing and only a few hours long. Known as the "Last Railroad in the West Indies," the train used to be used to transport sugar cane from the plantations to the factory. The narrow double-decker train now slowly makes its way around the island as the tour guide tells you about its past and present and greets every person it passes. The views were unmatched, and the cane sugar cookie that was gifted to us was incredible!

Squish Factor: Getting up to the second level of the train requires going up a very narrow staircase.

At the port in St. Kitts (Chaya Milchtein )The restaurants at the port are very bland and Americanized, so after the tour, we walked from the port into the city and found a restaurant for lunch. I highly recommend El Fredo's. We had oxtail and mutton, with rice and peas, as well as boiled dumplings, green banana, yam and fried plantains. The restaurant is open-air, and the service is fantastic, making it the perfect place to recharge before walking back to the port.

I was really looking forward to the last port before heading home, Sint Maarten. I had booked an excursion through Princess to take a spin around the island on individual Rhino boats. Each Rhino had a weight limit of 400 pounds, so we booked two of them. This was wildly exhilarating! It took a while to figure out how to control the Rhinos, but once I did, we had such an amazing time. 

Squish factor: The Rhinos typically hold two people but have a weight limit of 400 pounds. You can book them individually, which is what we did. At the end of the excursion, you can buy the photos they took of you (which I suggest), but the price is per Rhino. The owner gave us a small discount for buying the photos of both of our Rhinos.

We asked the driver to drop us off in the center of Philipsburg and walked over to Uncle Bob's Place, an indoor restaurant serving traditional Caribbean food. The service was slow, but I'd happily wait for good food, which Uncle Bob's delivered in spades. Thanks to the crispy baked chicken and oxtail, with rice and peas and salad, our lunch was fantastic!

Entertainment, the Spa, and the Casino

You're going to spend a lot of time on the ship, but there's no shortage of entertainment (and food — but we covered that). I must say, it wasn't what I was expecting from the few cruise vlogs I've come across. But despite the lack of a loud boisterous dance club, rock climbing, an ice bar or a water slide, we had so much fun!

There are comedy shows, game shows, live music, dance lessons, bingo and so much more! We loved the game shows and tried to make as many as we could. Trivia was a little underwhelming, mostly because the topics were completely unknown to us. Bingo and Princess' version of "Deal or No Deal" were so much fun but they do carry an additional fee. If you'd rather enjoy the sun and the stars, there are a few different open-air pools and quite a few hot tubs designed for two to five people. 

Squish factor: The two venues that held most of the game shows, trivia, and other entertainment were theater-like venues with small seats. At the end of every row, you can find a seat without arms or can request assistance from the staff in arranging other chairs. 

For Vegas-style slot machines and table games, the onboard casino has everything you'll need, including a full bar, and is open late into the night.

In case you're really looking to sink into that relaxation, the Regal Princess has a full spa and salon, complete with almost any treatment you can think of. Book your spa treatments before the cruise for the best prices! A couples scrub and the massage was $299 total prior to the cruise, but $499 if you book on board. Also, don't book for the afternoon of the first day aboard. The spa has an open house, so it's loud, which is distracting, and the captain came on the loudspeaker for about five minutes during the treatment.

I enjoyed the chocolate treatment, which included a mask and full body massage, which left my skin so soft! My wife isn't into chocolate, so she booked a seaweed wrap, which was done on a water bed, and absolutely loved it. We both got the fire and ice pedicure, which included a leg massage. The color options were limited, but the experience was fabulous. I also got a haircut, and while I didn't have high hopes for my super curly short hair, it turned out really good! 

By Chaya Milchtein

Chaya Milchtein is an automotive educator and journalist who writes about cars, plus size fashion, queer life and love, and sometimes, food and travel. Her work has in Real Simple, Parents Magazine, Xtra Magazine, Al Jazeera, Shondaland and others.

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