After last week’s tragic Costa cruise accident, cruising probably isn’t the first vacation option on your mind. Regardless, I’m heading to the southern Caribbean in February, and am looking forward to it. I’ve been on three cruises before and each cruise has been enjoyable, despite the myths circling around cruise vacations.
Strangely, a lot of travelers who criticize cruising have never tried it! Many of them just haven’t had the chance. Others raise claims on why cruising isn’t a good vacation for them. All of these concerns stem off of stereotypes — and admittedly, sometimes cruises do fall into those stereotypes (though usually the concern has been exaggerated).
Today I’ll offer some of my suggestions for specific cruises that offer solutions to some of the most common complaints about cruising…just in case a cruise is on your radar for the upcoming year.
Cruise Myth #1: I’ll Get Bored!
Let’s face it: you’re stuck on a ship for a week (or more!) so boredom sounds like a real possibility. Luckily, having nothing to do isn’t the reality for cruises. Every cruiseline publishes a daily activity schedule with special activities including language classes, cooking demonstrations, group trivia, wine tastings, comedian performances, and more.
On top of that, just about every mainstream ship has pools for sunbathing, theatres for live entertainment and first-run movies, spas, fitness centers, bars, discos, casinos, and art galleries. Oh, yeah – that’s on top of spending some of your days in port where you can explore on your own or with a tour. You can have a sightDOING vacation if you want it!
Try: A cruise through the Western Mediterranean on the Norwegian Epic. Six out of seven days are in port exploring destinations that will keep you busy, including Barcelona, Marseille, and the island of Capri. When you’re back onboard, you can spend your free time bowling, rock climbing, or seeing the Blue Man Group perform. Boredom will never cross your mind!
Cruise Myth #2: I’ll Get Fat!
Somehow, cruising has become synonymous with the “midnight buffet”. It’s unfortunate that cruising has gained this reputation because just like at any restaurant, it’s all about what you choose to eat. There’s food everywhere (I’ll give you that) but only to provide options and not to create a glutton out of you!
Restaurant portions are actually on the small side compared to American restaurants, as long as you don’t return to the buffet between meals or order five courses at dinner. Every cruiseline offers healthy options, ranging from fresh fruit at breakfast to fully stocked salad bars open most of the day to low-calorie/low-fat options on restaurant menus.
While eating healthy is only half the battle, you’ll be happy to know there’s plenty of options to stay active both onboard and in port to work off those calories. Fitness centers on ships are actually quite extensive, and you can participate in exercise classes or work with a personal trainer just as you would at home.
Try: A southbound Alaskan cruise on the Celebrity Millennium. The Aquaspa Cafe in particular is known for serving light fare with a focus on lean proteins, whole grains, and fresh produce. It’s easy to eat healthy when there are so many delicious options that are good for you, too! The climate in Alaska lends itself better to hot coffee than pina coladas, so you won’t fill up on calorie-ridden drinks and long days in port are perfect for trying out the state’s adventurous and outdoorsy activities.
Cruise Myth #3: There’s Not Enough Time to See Everything!
I don’t disagree with this; it’s well known that cruises usually only spend 8-10 hours in port which barely gives you time to scratch the surface of a city. This is a definite trade-off that allows you to sample a lot of different places without committing to any one city.
Embrace this trade-off: rapid travel isn’t bad, just different. Careful planning will allow you to prioritize the attractions that appeal to your personal interests and hiring a guide can add local flavor to your abridged visit (and ensure you don’t waste time accidentally getting lost). That being said, some cruises offer much longer port times than others, so be sure to pick a schedule that works for you.
Try: A cruise through the Middle East on Azamara Journey, where you’ll have at least 11 hours in every port, including two overnight stops. By the time you get up, eat breakfast, and spend 11 hours in port, you’ll be ready to call it a day with dinner onboard. You’ll have the perfect amount of time to see the highlights of your destination and sample a local lunch on shore, and remember…you can always plan on returning to your favorite places for an extended visit in the future.
Cruise Myth #4: Cruising is too Regimented!
Historically, cruises were known for their rules: set dinner times, predetermined dining companions, and dress codes galore. Times have changed, and cruising rules have too.
Today, most cruise lines have no dress code during the daytime and lenient dress codes at night. You don’t need dinner reservations and you can eat with whoever you like, whether that’s family or new friends onboard.
Formality still holds its place in certain situations, such as the specialty restaurant onboard, but frankly, you’d never consider showing up to a five-star restaurant at home without a reservation while wearing a t-shirt and jeans. It’s no different at sea.
Try: A cruise to Bermuda on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas. In general, cruises to warm-weather climates tend to be more informal, with t-shirts, sundresses, and flip flops being the norm. If you select their “My Time Dining” option, you’ll very easily be able to dine in the main restaurant at any time you desire, or if you’re really craving informality, stick to the buffet, pizza place, or even Johnny Rocket’s. The Bermuda itinerary has a few overnights in port, so you’re not even stuck to a docking schedule. Want to stay on the island until 2am? No problem. You can go with the flow.
Cruise Myth #5: The Whole Cruise is Just One Big “Nickel and Dime” Ploy
At one point, cruising was considered all-inclusive…and to an extent, that’s still true. Cruise fare covers your accommodations, most meals, some beverages, and plenty of onboard activities. Still, there are options for upcharges everywhere you look.
Can you go on a cruise and not pay a penny over your fare? Sure, just like you can fly to London and only go to the museums that are free. All the additional charges are for options, just like you have the option to ride on the London Eye, visit the hotel spa, or spend the night at a pub.
Cruising can be as cheap or as expensive as your heart desires, and luckily, prices for just about everything are available online ahead of time so you can budget appropriately for tours in port, mystery dinner theatres, and babysitting. You pay for wifi at the hotels you stay at; why should it be any different on a cruise ship?
Try: A South American cruise on Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner. Practically everything is bundled into one price with Regent, including airfare, a hotel stay before your cruise, ground transfers, all meals (including specialty restaurants), premium wines and spirits, shore excursions, gratuities, fitness classes and other onboard activities. Plus they’ll throw in a credit ($400+) for you to spend on anything not already included, such as spa treatments. You won’t have to get out your pocketbook during the duration of the cruise, but you’ll have to pay for it upfront. At $1000/day (per couple), you’ll get convenience. If budget is a concern, you can buy luxury a la carte on other cruiselines by booking suites with personal butlers, beverage packages, and more.
* * *
Have you tried cruising? What did you think?
* * *
Read More on The Girl and Globe: