I have to admit that the first time I considered taking a cruise, I was apprehensive. I am not a person that is a big fan of being in a crowd. I imagined a cruise ship as a place where several thousand people are crowded together for seven days, with no potential for escape. I am glad to say that I tried it anyway and found that a lot of my preconceived notions were wrong. The idea for this post came from discussions I had with friends, describing my experience with cruising.
One of my favorite parts of cruising is the ability to see several destinations on a single vacation, without the added stress of getting from one to another. Obviously, this limits your destinations to places with some variety of access to water but aren’t those the best anyway? I like the ability to try several places on one single trip, and then if I like the place, I can add it to a short list of places I want to go back to later. You board the ship, eat, drink, listen to music, sleep, and when you wake, you are someplace new. All the while with a well-trained designated driver.
Civitavecchia – Rome, Italy
San Francisco, California USA
This is one place where opinions can vary greatly, and the choice of cruise line can quickly influence your experience. Carnival is known as the “Fun Ships” and they put a focus on a party atmosphere. MSC Cruises, on the other hand, are slightly more “refined” and (on my cruise with them) didn’t even have sail away parties, and DEFINITELY didn’t have belly flop contests or hairy chest contests. I personally prefer a laid-back vacation where I decide on-the-fly what I choose to do. I am not a person that wants to plan out every minute of every day. Often I plan NOTHING, short of port visits. Then if I feel like joining an activity or watching a show, I do… if not, I don’t. With the variety of entertainment and other activities on most modern cruise ships, there SHOULD be something for everyone. Want to watch drunk dudes compete in a belly-flop contest? Cool. Want to read on your balcony while eating a room service snack, and enjoying the passing seas? Read on, little fella. Want to listen to live music and have a few drinks (maybe to prepare for participation in the belly flop contest… I’m not one to judge)… Go for it. There are many options, and each evening, cruise lines provide a daily schedule for the next day’s events in your room.
Looking at this page, it’s obvious that I am obsessed with food (looking at my waist, it’s even more clear). And Travel. And did I mention food? Cruise ships have a wide variety of food available, typically all day and all night. There are options that are included with your cruise fare, as well as options that have an upcharge. There really is something for everyone on most ships.
The attitude toward the main dining room experience varies by cruise line, and even with ship, but there are two main approaches to MOST. Most lines and ships have either fixed-time dining, anytime dining or both. With fixed-time dining, you are often assigned a table with other cruisers. As you can imagine, this approach can either make you life-long friends or sometimes cause you to swear off being assigned a seat ever again. Either way, there is a good chance that you will walk away with stories to tell. Some good, some bad.. that’s the luck of the draw. Choosing fixed-time dining will keep you with the same servers for the length of the cruise, and they can learn your likes and dislikes, and cater to them, making the experience more personal. On the other hand, if you are like me and don’t want to be tied down to eating at exactly the same time every day, with the same tablemates… it may be better for you to find a cruise that offers anytime dining.
One thing that many people appreciate about cruise ship dining is the ability to try new things, without the fear that you are stuck with something terrible that you still have to pay for. A perfect example of this is escargot. I can only imagine how many people have tried escargot on a cruise ship for the very first (and maybe last) time. The main dining room usually has a different menu each night of the cruise, but also has a section on the menu that is the same every night, including standard fare like steak, fish, burgers, and chicken. Most, if not all, ships allow you to order multiples of things you like… if you want 3 lobster tails on formal night, order them… you won’t be alone. If you want lobster tail AND filet, go for it. It’s your party, binge if you want to.
Most ships have bar menus that are comparable to a land-based bar in regard to prices. Mixed drinks are often in the $7 – $10 range. It adds up quickly, but it does on land, as well. Just like when you are at some sort of event, you may feel like a captive audience, but the prices are MUCH better than any sporting event I have been to. A recent hockey game I attended had $11 beers. I have yet to see a price quite like that on a cruise, so I haven’t much to complain about. Additionally, if you really enjoy having a few drinks, many cruise lines offer one or more drink packages that may suit you better, including many “All you can drink” packages. Most of these packages come with restrictions, so research them carefully to ensure you will get your money’s worth. Many lines allow you to bring one bottle of wine per person on embarkation day, and Disney cruise lines has a very liberal policy that allows guest 21 and over to bring their own alcohol on board Official Policy Here.
On a cruise, you will see all types of people. Depending on the line, the ship, the port, etc… you will encounter people with many cultures and ideas of what is “proper”. You may encounter children that are running around with no supervision, and people that are not familiar with the American custom of standing in line for things. As with any travel, these things are par for the course, regardless of the method of travel or destination. You will also have the opportunity to meet many crew members from around the world. I find this to be one of the more enjoyable parts of cruising, and enjoy interacting with the crew and making new friends.
Cruising may not be right for everyone. But, for the price, it’s hard to beat when you can find a great deal. For transportation, meals, and lodging, it’s easy to find something that will fit your budget. If you aren’t sure if it’s the right choice for you, take a short cruise and see how it feels. Sometimes in the off-season, 3 or 4-day cruises to Mexico from the Los Angeles area can be had for around $100 per person… not PER DAY, but PER PERSON. Where else can you get hotel, destinations, and all you can eat food for that price? Nowhere. In 2014, I found a 7-day cruise deal online for $199 per person during a President’s Day sale. Needless to say, I jumped on it, and I had a great time.