Is Cruising The Right Vacation For You? Ask Yourself These Five Questions
By Bruce Parkinson
The world of cruising is full of choices. From intimate river ships carrying a few dozen passengers to massive modern marvels of ocean-going engineering that can house up to 7,000 guests and thousands more crew members, there’s a ship for a wide range of tastes.
There are family-focused play-ships with entire decks covered in swimming pools, waterslides, go-kart tracks and rock climbing walls. There are adults-only offerings with amenities like tattoo parlors and drag shows.
There are attractive options for travellers on a budget -- and entry-level cruising is competitively well-priced against the cost of a land vacation. And there are luxury selections where the sky's the limit – think champagne, caviar and a butler to unpack your clothes.
There are ships that spend as much time as possible in ports, giving cruisers the opportunity to go deeper into the places they visit. And there are cruise liners that are a destination in themselves, with dozens of bars, lounges, restaurants, retail stores and entertainment venues.
Even with this cornucopia of choices, cruising isn’t for everyone. Some people just aren’t comfortable aboard a floating resort. Some suffer motion sickness that can be triggered even by the usually gentle movement of a cruise ship. Others feel like they would feel confined in the average cruise stateroom, no matter how efficiently designed.
That said, there are millions who would thoroughly enjoy the pleasures of a modern cruise vacation, but haven’t yet done so, for many reasons. They may have been scared off by media coverage of cruising, especially during the pandemic. They may have misconceptions that because thousands of people can travel on one ship, there must be long lineups for meals and entertainment.
If you’re open to the concept of cruising but haven’t yet walked the gangway, here are a few questions you can ask yourself,
What are your vacation goals?
Vacations are precious and they don’t come cheap. But for many of us, they’re an essential investment in personal happiness. Ask yourself what you want from your vacation, because it’s one of the most important decisions you’ll make all year.
On a cruise ship you unpack once and your ‘hotel’ travels with you to new destinations. That’s a huge hassle-remover. Whether you’re in the Caribbean, travelling between idyllic islands, or in the Western Mediterranean, where each new day introduces you to ancient monuments and gloried cities, you have your own space and belongings to return to.
Cruising is also an easy and comfortable way to travel if your goal is to spend quality time with children, grandparents or other family members. Most cruise lines are family-friendly, and some are family-obsessed, and ships are increasingly filled with joyful multigenerational groups.
If you’re an independent traveler who likes the flexibility of making decisions on the fly, cruising might not be the right choice. By the nature of its itineraries and port schedules, cruising is a somewhat structured environment. You know where you’ll be each day, and while you’ll have options for excursions or independent exploration, there are strict times when you have to be back aboard.
Are you good with crowds?
As mentioned, cruise ships come in many sizes, but the bottom line is that you’ll be travelling with a group of hundreds, and often thousands, of fellow travelers. Cruise lines are expert in managing crowds, with enough diversions and eating and drinking options to spread people out across the ship. Still, there will usually be other people around, wherever you go.
For those who love cruising, this is all part of the fun, and many new friendships are formed as relaxed, happy travelers get to know each other.
The same goes for cruise line shore excursions. Most of them operate in groups of 20-40 people. They are efficiently managed and usually feature insightful commentary from a local guide. In most ports, there are also options to go ashore on your own and explore, or purchase excursions from local vendors. It’s your responsibility to allow enough time to get back to the ship before it heads off to its next stop.
Do you like your food foreign or familiar?
More and more, food is a key factor in travel decision-making. People love to eat, and many wish to explore new cultures through their cuisine. But there are also those with less adventurous palates who crave familiar favourites.
Aside from the odd lunch ashore, on most cruises you’ll have all your meals onboard. Cruise lines put a major focus on filling bellies and satisfying palates, and work hard to please as many people and allow for as many dietary restrictions/food sensitivities as possible.
Some offer a breathless amount of choice. At the extreme end is Royal Caribbean International’s next ship Icon of the Seas. The mammoth ship will offer over 20 places to dine, from casual to upscale, offering everything from fine dining restaurants to walkup windows, eateries with live music to chefs who put on a show.
The larger contemporary cruise lines fill large buffets with an array of choices, including examples of many different types of cuisine. Familiar favorites, however, are always available. Main dining rooms deliver three-course meals nightly, with an ample range of choice. Then there are specialty restaurants, often for a surcharge above the cruise fare. These range from steakhouses and a wide range of venues specializing in national cuisines, to multi-course chef tasting menus.
In short, if you’re set on going fully local with your vacation dining choices, a cruise may not be the right choice, although river cruise lines are very successful in creating menus based on the bounty of the regions they travel through. But for many cruisers, the diversity and quality of the food options onboard is one of the primary attractions to this form of travel.
Would you rather leave your wallet at home?
One of the major attractions of all-inclusive resorts on land is the peace of mind knowing that most of the major elements – food, drink, accommodations, activities – have already been paid for. It’s a good feeling to not have to pull out your wallet for each new desire.
Is pampering on your wish list?
Cruise ship crew members are an essential part of the onboard experience. Selected for their hospitality and friendliness, they offer a level of service that’s hard to beat. Your steward will ensure your cabin is clean and tidy each day, and often leave you a whimsical towel animal to give you a smile on your return.
If you return to the same bar more than once, don’t be surprised if the bartender remembers your name and favourite drink – they are simply amazing that way. The same goes for main dining room staff, who like nothing more than getting to know the guests who sit at their tables each evening.
Most ocean-going cruise ships and even some river ships feature places of pampering like spas, hydro circuits and salons. While these services usually come at extra cost, they are well-used because a little pampering is a common vacation goal. On a cruise, someone else does the cooking, cleaning and dishes, while all you have to do is show up to be fed, watered and entertained.
As mentioned at the outset, cruising isn’t for everyone. But for a growing number of travellers around the world, it’s a great way to see new places with most of the logistics and details taken care of. For many families, it’s a value-priced way to get everyone together in a place where there’s something to make each of them happy. And for those just seeking a relaxing escape from winter, cruising in warm waters offers all the pleasures of a resort vacation on land, with the added bonus of adventures in multiple destinations.
Expert Author: Bruce Parkinson
Bruce has written about the travel industry for over three decades, focusing on ocean and river cruising in recent years. Currently Senior Editor for TravelPulse Canada, Bruce is also a travel communications consultant and contributor to the popular CruiseRadio.net.