Cruising is becoming more and more popular. And it’s especially popular with baby boomers, for many reasons involving its convenience and low-impact travel style. But there are other things to love about cruising, ones that are more about the experience of going places on a cruise ship.
At the same time, there are a few flies at every picnic, and cruising is no exception. Most of us can find a few things we could live without, even if they’re not big enough to make us regret coming on board.
Having cruised on a few of the major cruise lines, here’s my list of things I love about cruising — and things I don’t.
Five things I love
Being at sea
To me, the coolest thing about cruising is that you’re on a ship, making your way across the seven seas. If you want to leave it all behind, this is the way to do it: leaning on the rail to watch the waves roll by, seeing distant coastlines or other ships on the horizon. I even like seeing the crew in their uniforms, and little details like the lifesavers with the ship’s name on them. A day at sea? No problem.
It’s great to spend a week in one place, relaxing or exploring it in detail. But on a cruise, every day brings something new. I like waking up to find we’re in a new port, looking out from my cabin or the Lido deck to get my first glimpse of the town. A week spent cruising can be a virtual kaleidoscope of new sights and experiences.
I’m a budget traveller, so staying in a pint-sized cabin doesn’t bother me. In fact, once you get past the size, cruise ship cabins are pretty comfortable, with big, soft beds, a handy TV and a clean, if tiny, bathroom. As well, there’s something kind of classy about freshening up in your cabin before descending the stairs for dinner in the dining room. And who doesn’t like having their own room steward?
I know, the stage shows on cruise ships can still be a bit corny. But that’s changing fast: I’ve seen some very good shows on ships in the past few years, with Cirque du Soleil-style acrobats, great singers and even a great Beatles tribute show. And that trend is only accelerating, with big-name acts coming aboard. I also like the fact that there’s entertainment all over the ship, night and day. With music, movies, games, demonstrations, lectures and pool parties at all hours, it’s hard to be bored.
With a couple of thousand people on a cruise ship, you’d expect to get lost in the crowd. But on most cruises, I meet and spend time with people I’ve met in the dining room, on excursions, in the bar, at parties and get-togethers. If you have a regular table for dinner, you’re probably going to make some friends. And if you dine free-style, offer to share a table: you probably will too.
Now for the things that make me a bit seasick when I’m cruising — though only in a mental-health kind of way. See if they’re high on your list.
Five things I don’t love
The internet service
Slow, expensive internet service is probably the number one complaint of cruisers everywhere. Because cruise ships have to get their connections via satellite when they’re at sea, the service is never great, and it’s always pricier than on land. The most frustrating part is waiting for an eon just to get into your e-mail, then wading through your junk mail while the expensive minutes tick away. My advice: check your mail in port, observe radio silence at sea. (Late note: a cure for slow internet service is on the way — read about it here.)
Sell, sell, sell
This varies from one cruise line to the next, but if you spend a week at sea, you get more than a little tired of the constant come-ons to buy bad art, coral jewellery, spa treatments, excursions and so on. The worst: packs of photographers snapping you at every opportunity so the ship can sell you pictures of yourself, which they (even worse) post in a public photo gallery.
The breakfast crowd
We’re in port, the day’s a-waiting — I just want to grab a quick breakfast and go. But on almost every ship I’ve sailed with, the buffet restaurant is a madhouse at breakfast time. I like the food, but searching the dining area for an empty table with my rapidly cooling breakfast in one hand and coffee spilling down my sleeve in the other is no fun. They should make these buffet restaurants bigger, or at least serve the coffee at your table.
The itinerary says you’ll spend a day in some exotic port you’ve always wanted to visit. But in reality, you don’t get into port till mid-morning, and you’re sailing out by dinner time. Sometimes distances and other logistics make this hard to avoid, but cruise lines should make this clearer when they publish their itineraries. Better yet, rethink some of their routes so they spend a day and a half in the port, instead of half a day.
I generally skip the excursions offered by the cruise line and buy from private tour companies. It’s not that I hate the cruise line excursions: they’re good, but they’re just so expensive. I realize this is a profit centre for them, but they’d probably take in even more money — and have happier cruisers — if they brought their excursions down closer to market prices.
So, there’s my list of loves and not-loves about cruising. I’m sure you have your own, and there are lots of things I didn’t mention, like the food, on the good side — and on the bad, the corkage fees for carrying on your own wine.
On balance, the pluses are a lot bigger than the minuses. And maybe if some cruise line executives read this, there’ll be more to like, and fewer things not to.