Should I Take a Cruise?
Is a cruise the way to go? A hunk of steel floating on the ocean, carrying thousands of people. We certainly hear horror stories of ships sinking and passengers getting norovirus. It seems fun in the commercials, but realistically, vacation time is limited and money is limited. A lot of you want to know, should I take a cruise?
My answer is a resounding yes! For first time vacationers, it's so easy to book and not think about anything. And economical too. My first vacation that I paid for myself was on a cruise, going to Florida's Cape Canaveral, a private island in the Bahamas, and Nassau, Bahamas. I took the same cruise again recently, not because I'm insane, but because one of my girlfriends hadn't experienced a cruise and it was the only one that fit within our busy schedules.
So what's a cruise really like? Is it all it's cracked up to be? What do you get in that price? Read the fine print, but booking a cruise usually includes a room, food, and ship entertainment. Let's start with the fun stuff and work our way down to the nitty gritty.
Lucky for you, cruiseliners now seem to reach everywhere. For me, the idea of cruising to tropical islands makes sense. There are some cruises around Europe, but I'm wary for this reason: the cruise line advertised Rome as a stop, but docks at Civitavecchia which is an hour train ride away from the city center and the fun sights like the Colosseum. Tricky right? You have to realize it's hard for gigantic cruise ships to dock near a major city if there are no ports nearby. For me, Europe is best explored on foot, in your own time. Of course there are smaller ships, but the prices on those cruises are exorbitant. At that point, I'd advise you to read my article on planning a Eurotrip. There are also cruises around Asia, but Asia is relatively cheap and some sites worth seeing are again, not near the ports.
So islands, and Alaska (I've heard great reviews). An island is only so big. You are probably there for the beach, which is great because the port is probably near a beach. Now that we have destinations in mind, we can talk about the excursions that cruiseliners offer. My first trip, I opted for surfing lessons in Florida, kayaking in Great Stirrup Cay (their private island), and simply making my own walking tour in Nassau. Surfing was fun, but pricey at $100 (2014 prices) and kayaking was decently priced at $40 (2014 prices). Most recently in 2017, we made our own little excursion to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, signed up for kayaking again in Great Stirrup Cay but alas was canceled ($55 in 2017), and I gave my friend a brief walking tour in Nassau since I'd done it before.
Shore excursions are booked with the cruiseline and they use contracted local vendors to carry out the terms of the excursion. Other excursions include historic tours, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, going to other private islands, riding ATVs and segways, and admission to parks or zoos if available. It's easy to see what excursions a cruise offers by exploring the itinerary.
Entertainment on the Ship
Entertainment on the ship depends on your specific vessel. There are ships with water slides, wave pools, hot tubs, rock climbing walls, ropes courses, robot bartenders, rising viewing capsules, and more. Activities can include wine tastings, martini tastings, group challenges, couples challenges, fruit carving demonstrations, dance lessons, etc. Shows can include Broadway favorites, comedy shows, dancing and singing performances, and more. I never felt bored on the ship and could never decide what activities to do! I definitely wanted to be in two places at once during some events. Most ships will also provide books, board games, and other library staples for those looking for a quiet time. Of course you're welcome to pack your own entertainment. Note that internet can be extremely pricey on the high seas so you can either splurge or get your fix at your port destinations.
I can talk about cruise food forever. It's endless. And all inclusive. And delicious. A lot of ships will offer specialty dining options, which can include ethnic cuisine and items that take more preparation like seafood or sushi. With the larger cruise-liners, there are multiple dining rooms. The buffets are usually great for picky eaters and indecisive eaters like myself. I do love to sit down for a meal at the (inclusive) restaurants because who doesn't love to be spoiled with eggs benedict every morning? Fair warning though, you're apt to gain a few pounds by the time you step off the ship. I've had meals with steak, duck, smoked salmon, and shrimp. The first time around, there was insanely delicious lobster. In regards to alcohol, that would be a personal preference and if you enjoy it, try to find a deal where the alcohol package is included. The first time around we bought a few drinks here and there. The second time, drinks were unlimited but we didn't take advantage as much as we should have since we're not heavy drinkers. Below is a sampling of very haphazardly taken photos because I usually devour everything before I remember to snap a photo.
Booking a Cruise
Room categories are as follows:
- Inside - the smallest size room with no windows
- Outside/Oceanview - a room with a porthole or window (usually windows don't open), equal in size to an Inside room or slightly larger
- Balcony - a room with a balcony, equal in size to large oceanview room or slightly larger
- Suite - a luxurious room, often large, with a balcony
I have stayed in the inside and balcony rooms. I didn't mind the inside room, though it was a bit jarring to wake up to utter darkness. The balcony was amazing with ocean breezes and sunshine. If it costs significantly more to get a balcony and that's an issue, skip it. You'll be walking around the ship most of the time. The entire ship is your balcony!
Some popular cruise lines include:
- Carnival (Affordable and Fun)
- Royal Caribbean (Technologically Advanced and Informal)
- Norwegian Cruise Lines (Well Organized and Informal)
- Princess (Upscale and Slightly Formal)
I would book one with good deals to the destinations you want to go to. If it still comes down to another factor, pick a ship you want to explore. The new ships are literally floating cities with so many activities available.