Cruises seem to have a polarizing effect. It’s a way of traveling that people love or hate, or that they haven’t tried because they’re afraid they’ll hate it. Here I’ll tackle some of the common ideas about cruising, and share with you our own experiences.
Pros of Cruising
1. Cruising can be a really good deal.
If you choose your timing, destination, cruise line and ports of call wisely, cruising can be one of the cheapest ways to go. I’ve only cruised twice: a repositioning overnight from Seattle to Vancouver, and a seven-day Adriatic journey.
The seven-day cruise was in May 2013. It started in Rome and stopped in Naples, Sicily, Dubrovnik, Split, Koper, and Venice. The price for the entire thing was $549 per person, including taxes — I bought it directly from Norwegian’s website. For two people and seven nights, $1100 was a pretty damn good deal in Europe, considering that all breakfasts and most dinners were included on top of the accommodation. To put that in even more perspective, we stayed an extra night in Venice and paid about $180 for it.
2. You don’t have to worry about meals and hotels.
I don’t know about you, but the most complicated part of trip planning for me is figuring out where I’m sleeping. For this year’s trip to Europe, I spent a few weeks researching hotel websites sporadically, trying to get a price point and making up our minds about where we wanted to go. Then I finally buckled down and spent six hours (yes, SIX hours) booking all of our hotels for the two-week trip.
Going on a cruise just eliminates all that, really. Plus you get five-star service, although your room does tend to be quite a bit smaller.
Meals too are provided to you so easily, and they tend to be pretty good. Depending on which cruise line you go with, you may either have set dining times, or you may eat buffet-style. Some cruise lines have a combination of both. Either way, no need to spend time looking for somewhere to eat, particularly when it’s 3 AM and your jet lag is keeping you hungry and awake.
3. You get to check out a bunch of places pretty easily.
This will of course depend on your choice of cruise, but most of the time, the ship isn’t just gonna sit there. You’re going to sail from port to port and check out different places. You are in fact guaranteed to visit at least one foreign country due to a rather old and interesting piece of legislation that prohibits non-US-flagged ships (and most cruise ships are registered to other countries to avoid US taxes) from going directly from one US port to another. And, you get to do this traveling while you sleep in the comfort of your own cabin! No worrying about how you’re going to get from one place to another, and you may even discover a place that you didn’t think you’d like.
4. Cruise ships are like moving luxury hotels.
There are different levels of cruise lines, of course, just as there are different star ratings for hotels. But let’s get it straight: cruising is a definite luxury, not like flying or staying at hotels. There’s a different level of service that’s expected.
Your cabin is small, but it will be clean and maintained daily. Your food will be provided for you. Your ship will likely have several dining areas, a gym, a casino, an office area, a library, and a pool. You may even have a rock climbing tower or a basketball court. Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, has an ice skating rink, a movie theater and even a Starbucks.
You could conceivably go on a cruise and never leave the ship, if you like. Or if you happen to choose a cruise with a port you’re not interested in, then you can just relax and treat it like a day off from, well, everything.
Cons of Cruising
1. Your movements are restricted.
This is the biggest issue that most people seem to have about cruising. I was worried about it, too. “But what if I’m bored and I want to get off?” Well… you can’t.
There are many ways you can mitigate this potential problem though. If you’ve never cruised, you definitely want to choose an itinerary with a lot of places you’re interested in visiting. That way, you’ll want to get off and explore each port of call. This was why we chose the above-mentioned Norwegian cruise — I wanted to visit Pompeii, and when else would we ever go to Slovenia?
Minimize your at-sea days so you don’t get cabin fever. Bring a Kindle or card games or something to while your time away in case you get bored. Cruise lines will usually do a ship tour during the at-sea days, so take advantage of that too. Explore your ship, chill out by the pool, go work out. Check out your ship’s entertainment schedule and watch a show or two.
2. You might get seasick.
This is the second biggest concern that people have, and the one that could potentially cause the most issues. It’s hard to say how each person will react. However, it’s important to note that cruise ships are massive. They are, as I said, pretty much moving buildings. The bigger the vessel, the more stable it will likely feel. Unless the seas are really, truly rough, you should survive.
That said, if you are prone to motion sickness and you know it, maybe try a small cruise first and see how you do. There are cruises that only go for one or two nights. A repositioning one like the aforementioned Seattle-Vancouver is also a great way to get a taste of the cruising experience.
Pack some Dramamine, just in case.
3. Your time and activities at each port are limited.
Most of the time, the ship will only stop at a port for most of the day, then sail through the night to the next port. This means that you only get a few hours to explore each port. Sometimes, a day is enough. But more often, it isn’t. For instance, when our ship stopped at Naples, we had two options: Pompeii or the Amalfi Coast. We only had time for one, so Pompeii won (this time).
This also means that if you choose to stay around the port area, you likely won’t get a feel for what the city or country is really like. David took a Caribbean cruise once that stopped in Cozumel, a port that he absolutely hated because it was pretty much just catered to tourists and cruisers, with very little opportunity to get to know the culture.
My advice here is to treat the whole trip like a scouting mission. You get a little taste of a bunch of things, and later on you can choose which places to return to. Yes, I know, this is my philosophy for most trips… but it’s a good philosophy!
4. Miscellaneous fees can get expensive.
Want a drink at the bar because you already finished the one bottle of wine you were allowed to bring onboard? That’s extra, and pricier because you’re a captive on the ship and they can charge higher prices if they want to. Want to go further afield than the area around the port? That’s a shore excursion, fork over an extra hundred bucks per person! Plus you have to go with a tour group. But you can book a private tour if you want, for a mere grand. And the professional photo that was taken on your dinner at the ship’s nice restaurant, well, that’s another $20, please. And don’t even think about going online on a ship. That’s like offering the cruise line one of your limbs.
Fees will stack up if you’re not careful. How do you get around it? Well, never assume that anything is free — verify! It’s fine if you’ve got the cash to blow or have decided that you are going to splurge on this trip. Otherwise, maybe get your drinks while at port (who cares if it’s noon, you’re on vacation!) and just resign yourself to not posting those food pics on Instagram for a week.
As for the shore excursion, there’s not much of a way around that. Factor it into your budget for the trip or arrange your own excursions with private companies before you embark on your journey.
5. You don’t like people.
I absolutely understand. I don’t like people most of the time either.
Luckily, you don’t really have to deal much with people. You can stay in your room and veg out if you want, even take your meals in there if you so desire. You don’t have to do shore excursions where you’ll be lumped with tour groups (I absolutely hate tour groups). If you choose good destinations, you can enjoy the cruise pretty much how you’d enjoy it if you were to travel independently.
As you can tell by now, I’m saying that you should definitely give cruising a try. I found it fun and different, and despite having been on a couple of less-than-stellar cruises, David still enjoys it enough to do it again.
The two big things that will make or break your trip are the company that you choose to cruise with, and the ports that you select. Do your research on those things and be prepared to mitigate the cons above, and you should have an enjoyable time!
Next up, I’ll take you on some of the highlights of our Adriatic tour!