Many people think cruising is for pensioners or worse – kids let loose on a spring break. While most definitely these two groups of people do cruise, this type of vacation has become more and more popular amongst young adults, couples, singles, families and especially big companies who would like to treat their employees to a nice vacation.
I will be honest, working on a cruise ship for 20 years does make me a bit biased, but up until I started cruising myself, I couldn’t quite comprehend what the big hype was all about and failed to see the charm of it all. Well, these days are gone, now I can not wait to throw away my uniform and switch roles- board a cruise ship as his Highness- THE GUEST. Yes, the guest is a king, no matter what sex, age, religion or walk of life. Cruising – from a luxurious, extravagant adventure – has become one of the most popular vacations, whether you are on a budget or you have some $$$ to spend- you will be treated like a royalty, every need met and then some while onboard a cruiseship
Well, for once, cruising is quite inexpensive. Traditionally the food and entertainment will be included in the price, so you can have a bed, full board, amenities (like pools, Jacuzzis, flow riders, ice-skating, rock climbing, inline skating, bumper cards, water slides, observatories, zip line, flying, diving, cooking, ballroom dance lessons, etc) and activities (games, trivia, quests, etc) for as little as $30.00 a day…. If you want to book tours, have alcoholic beverages, shop or indulge in the spa, get pictures or pieces of Art, rent tuxedo or do your laundry, this will cost you extra, but you can certainly cruise without much effort of financing.
Secondly, you get to see at least 3 to 15 (or even more) different places in various countries all over the world, depending on the length of your voyage. Nothing can beat the feeling when you wake up every morning in the same bed for the whole cruise, but in a different country or even a continent, without the need to pack and re-pack, go through tedious airport nuisence or long lines to see customs and immigration officials. You get a nice taster of some of the most exotic and hot spots in the world and of course if you like the vibe of the place, you can come here again on your own or yet on another cruise. The opposite is also true- if you are not too impressed with a port, you won’t need to spend a whole week of your valuable vacation stuck in there, but sail away to the next exciting destination. Many of us believe the glossy brochures and promising web site when planning our vacation, but more often than not once at the property our expectations are not met, let alone exceeded. At least on a cruise, you have a choice of several holiday destinations where you are bound to like at least one and if you are like me (finding some unique and interesting in every place) you will love it all.
While cruising you will discover foreign lands and cultures, you will try the local cuisine, sign up for extreme sports and activities you never thought you would experience in a life time. You will bring great souvenirs, fun stories and pictures you can post on Facebook, Flicker or Pinterest as soon as you take them… You will feel like a professional photographer working for National Geographic on a remote and exclusive location…
There is also something for everyone. You can be as private as you want to be, or you can be in the midst of the action- there are activities for every age group and I have never seen anyone who would claim they were bored. Lots of people cruise by themselves and they are equally entertained and happy to meet new acquaintances and friends, as the families who have a reunion or those celebrating a special occasion.
Contrary to the believe that ships are small and crowded, I can assure you that every ship has places where you can find solitude or on the contrary- you are a party animal, then without a doubt you are in the right place.
While cruising everyone meets similar minded people and makes friends amongst the guests and crew. I can not tell you how many times I have been approached by people who want to share how wonderful the crew was and how they would like to “adopt” their waiter, room attendant, etc. Myself, I have made hundreds of friends that I keep in touch with and I am grateful for my job to gee me the opportunity to meet such great people.
The service onboard may be of the highest quality and some times where amenities are deficient, crew more than make up for it. Guests return to the same ship or cruiseline over and over again, because they love the crew and feel part of the onboard family. I have been in numerous 4 and 5 star hotels in over 200 cities in 58 different countries and I can honestly say that the service on cruise ships is better than any hotel, resort or airline- the collective goal of hundreds of crew to satisfy their guests every need certainly leaves you impressed and I am sure those who have cruised at least once will agree fully.
There are even elderly guests, who rather be on a cruise ship amongst young, energetic and friendly employees, they consider family, than in a special home, where they can not afford the fees.
In short, you get the best value for what you pay and we see more and more people return and choose cruising over standard resort vacations, especially when the cruise line offers a membership and great perks for their returning customers.
You still don’t believe me? Check out the social media and how many stunning pictures are taken from people while cruising or how many sites exist for “frequent floaters” sharing ideas, feedback and suggestions.
So, who comes to cruise?
Well… basically EVERYONE. There are lots of singles, who want to get away from it all or looking for a short romance/earth shattering experience and subsequent lifetime relationships, honeymooners, young families with little ones, big family reunions, elderly guests and of course cruise lines can accommodate Charters and larger groups who want the ships to themselves. Throughout my career I have seen various different types of groups charting the ship, like the Heavy Metal one (attracting die hard heavy metal fans and some of the most popular metal bands), Budweiser (lots of beer and live concerts), Swingers (self-explanatory), Atlantis (gay and lesbian clientele) and many others, offering their guests a great venue for specific activities in a non-judgmental atmosphere.
If you worry that you will be under or overwhelmed, don’t be – there is always something to do onboard for every age group, different people to meet and activities to join that appeal to every taste and satisfy every interest. However if you are someone who rather have piece and quiet, avoid the time of the year when there are major holidays, school breaks or it is high season for the ports you are visiting.
So, what cruise line / ship / accommodation should I choose?
Choosing the cruise line is a major decision. There are exclusive cruise lines that will offer a 5 star experience (Silver Seas, Crystal) and great destinations for no less than $1000 a day. You can have a luxurious cruise on Celebrity and Azamara for far less or if you book a suite on Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Costa or Disney. If you are on a budget you can find great offers on Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, Pulllman and many more smaller cruise lines. The key is to do your research and read reviews or ask your friends- fellow travelers may be able to advise you best.
As for the size of the ship= there is no right answer on this one. Myself, I love the small ships- they have a more quaint and intimate atmosphere, you get to know the crew and the other guests and you do make lots of friends. Small ships also sail to the most exotic itineraries, as they are usually faster and can cover greater distances, as well as burn less fuel, which is always a major concern and biggest cost for every criesline.
Larger ships on the other hand are newer and offer bigger range of amenities, more lounges, optimized spaces, more guests (i.e. better deals), so if you are an active adult or a youngster you may want to be on a bigger vessel and go crazy with all the entertainment it has to offer.
Not to mention that everyone is different and some may not be interested in the ship or its amenities, but care for the itinerary, in which case you will simply choose whichever ship sails to your desired destination.
What about the room? What type should I book?
Well, the truth is that it only matters how much you are willing to spend. If you are on a budget, there is no point of spending all your money on a room you will hardly stay in, so choose the least expensive inside stateroom, to be able to have whatever spare cash you have left for fun things to do around the ship and in the ports of call.
If you are claustrophobic though, under no circumstances book am inside room- get one with a porthole at least.
If money is not an issue, then the minimum accommodation would be a balcony room and if you like to travel in style some gorgeous suites are available for you too. As you go up the different room categories, you will get more amenities and being able to see outside or feel what the weather is like is a definite plus. Not to mention, there is nothing more romantic than having a glass of champagne on a balcony with your significant other at sunset or full moon…:-)
The location of the room is very important. Remember the higher you go (in terms of decks), the more you will feel the motion. Also, if you are at the very front you will experience bigger movement if the weather is less than perfect and if you are at the very back- you may encounter some vibration or even noise from the propellers.
It is good to be closer to the elevators (avoid walking long hallways numerous times a day), without being on top or directly under any food outlets or entertainment halls- these tend to have a nonstop operation and this could cause noise disturbance at times.
Finally, if you are traveling in a group and you want to stay together, make sure you book rooms either adjoining or close together, as once onboard it will be hard for the staff to accommodate you if the ship is fully booked.
So, where should I go?
Whether you are a first time cruiser or a veteran, there will always be a spot in the world that you haven’t been yet but is on your bucket list. To determine where to go, I feel you should ask yourself the following questions
– What season it is and do I want to go to a particular place this time of the year (i.e. it is late September and Alaska is the place I am interested in but after research I find out that the weather deteriorates after August and there is a higher chance of miserable weather, rough seas, cancelled tours and ports);
– Do I want to visit places or just want to relax on the ship? There is no point of going to Europe if you are American and all you want is to hang by the pool onboard (unless your spouse dragged you and threattened to divorce you if you refused to join) ;
– “I always wanted to see the Caribbean, everyone says it is great”. You should do your own research and decide for yourself if you want to visit a place, not go by the popular opinion. This is how I always wanted to see the Pyramids in Egypt, but once there I realized this was not exactly what I expected and regretted putting this much effort, only to be disappointed at the end.
– “I want to go to Asia, but I am on a budget and the cruises are pricey”. If you don’t have much to spare, then you should wait for the time of year when most people are at work and the destination is off season, this is when you will get special deals and more affordable prices on this particular trip;
– “I want to go to Australia/Europe/South America, but my wife hates flying”. There is no pint of going on a cruise that will cost someone to suffer miserably. You either find another means of transportation (there are lots of transatlantic or repositioning cruises that cover great distances between continents) or look for a travel partner that will share your interests and goals for the trip.
– What are your interests? Do you like history and sightseeing, or you are a beach gower? Do you like outdoors or you rather stay on the ship? Are you one for extreme sports or you like organized group trips? Do you have lots of people in your party that may want different things? Don’t go to Alaska if you rather be rejuvinating on the beach, or sign up for Panama Canal when all you want is to snorkel and dive. Do your research of the itinerary, what the different ports have to offer before you make up your mind. If you are lots of people traveling together, choose an itinerary that will allow various activities that may appeal to a larger and various group of people.
Finally, wherever you decide to go, try to not create way too high expectations to avoid being disappointed and experience an anti-climax. Just relax and take in whatever the itinerary has to offer with a positive attitude and desire to have fun.
What should I pack for a cruise?
It all depends where you go and what season and length of cruise you have chosen. Obviously if there is a particular climate that you will be going to – either hot or cold or even both, you do need appropriate gear, clothes and shoes for the area, but remember to choose clothes that allow you to dress in layers- this way you win over every weather condition. If you are planning on going to tours, you need to get comfy shoes and a small umbrella or a rain poncho and if you are one for water sports – bring your snorkeling or dive gear, unless you want to use the ones offered onboard.
There are usually one, two or more formal nights planned during the cruise and while attending any special venues or activities in formalwear is no longer enforced by most cruise lines, it would be wise to inquire ahead of time and bring a couple of nice dresses or smart casual clothes. If you don’t feel like carrying a formal gown, tuxedo or a suit, these are available for rent onboard. They do come handy if you happen to loose your luggage as well:-)
Do bring your medication and never carry it in the luggage you check in- it has to be in your carry-on, pockets or a purse- you really don’t want to risk loosing it.
Bring your book, camera, phone and headphones- cruising will give you the opportunity to relax, capture nice moments or chat online with your friends.
If you travel with a baby, bring enough diapers and baby food- these are not available onboard and if you have special needs, contact the cruise line directly ahead of time for special arrangements. While no pets are allowed onboard most cruise lines, special care dogs are permitted.
Don’t overpack. Especially if you are flying- research what the airline restrictions are. Get space bags and try to pack compactly. Don’t forget to leave some room for all the souvenirs and extra shopping you will do onboard and in the ports of call.
Don’t bring guns, weapons, drugs, alcohol or any other restricted items- they will be confiscated and you possibly arrested (check the website of the cruise line to familiarize yourself with what is considered a restricted item). If you want to bring water, many cruise lines will take it away and return to you upon departure- lots of people try to smuggle alcohol in baby-bottles, shampoo containers and what not- security will have none of it. Don’t be tempted to buy any of the above in a port-of-call and bring onboard either- it never works and you may be kicked out of the ship and/or arrested by the local authorities to be prosecuted in the respective country or detained and consequently deported back home at your own expense. You really do not want to find yourself in a jail cell in a 3rd world country…
Do not bring unnecessary items like an iron (these are strictly forbidden), a hair-dryer (available in each room), TVs and mini-fridges (also available), bikes (no room for then and can not be secured in any room on a moving ship, unless they are foldable and you can store safely in the closet or under the bed), too much cash. Some items may appear suspicious when screened by Security and as a result your luggage kept until you show up and the bag in question opened in front of a few people. So, be careful with items you may be embarrassed about or if you are not, just be prepared to show and prove they are not dangerous.
Do bring: high heels (if you want to dress to impress:-), sneakers (if you like to work out or want to be comfy onboard and ashore), your favorite pillow (if you need a special pillow- the choice onboard is limited), your hair tools- curling iron, brushes, etc, your own toiletries if you are allergic to some cosmetics, a razor and file/nail-clippers, sunscreen (even if you are going to the North Pole), and if you are sensitive to motion- seasick devices (bracelets or back of the ear stickers, note pills are available onboard), Melatonin (if you are suffering from jet lag), several means of payment- may be a couple of credit/debit cards, some cash (but not too much, there are ATMs onboard that can even dispense foreign currency, as well as ashore), may be a cashier’s or travelers’ checks.
Last but not least, do bring your biggest SMILE- after all you will be having an excellent time, you want to board the ship with the right attitude!
Finally, when leaving, please take everything with you! I have had some of the best laughs going through Lost and Found items- amongst my favorites are : a glass eye, a prosthetic leg, dentures (hundreds of them), a child and a sex toy…:-)