The discerning guide to cruising: Part 1

Cruise ships come in all sizes and flavors! You may not believe it, but there is something for everyone
Cruise ships come in all sizes and flavors! You may not believe it, but there is something for everyone

Despite the Costa Concordia disaster, hurricanes and the annual Titanic remembrance, a cruise still holds an allure for many travelers.  People who shun cruising usually have one the following reasons:

  • They believe that a cruise will be confining and claustrophobic.
  • They believe it will be crowded.
  • They believe that they will be bored.
  • They believe that they can’t experience other places and cultures.

You may have your own excuse that doesn’t appear on this list, but these are the ones most often reported and we’re here to tell you – every single one of them is a misconception.

Our documents for our upcoming Caribbean getaway just arrived from our travel agent, Angela, this week, and we don’t know about you, but the anticipation of an upcoming sojourn somewhere south is all a part of the vacation excitement.  It’s still two weeks out, but we can already picture checking into our Seabourn cruise aboard the Spirit at the Barbados cruise terminal (we’ve been there before on more than one occasion!) and sipping that champagne that will be in our hands shortly thereafter.  Of course, that will be after we’ve acclimatized ourselves to the southern climes with six days in Barbados at “The House.” And we’ll tell you all about it and the six days in St. Maarten after the yacht harbor cruise when we get back…but back to the why and how of cruises…

If you’ve never been on a cruise but have wondered what it might be like – and whether you would like it or feel safe, or how you could ever decide which cruise to pick – stay with us for a few posts and we’ll take you aboard some of our own cruises to show you what you’ve been missing.  If you’ve cruised before, come along with us and add your own comments to help all those novice cruisers who can benefit from experience.  This week we’ll dispel misconceptions – then we’ll look at finding the right one for you, how to get ready, and how to get the most from every minute on board – and in port. Then we’ll tell you about our latest one when we get back.

A quiet drink on our verandah.
A quiet drink on our verandah.

Let’s begin with the ‘confining’ and ‘claustrophobic’ part.  We have traveled on cruise ships that range from 280 to 2400 passengers (this year’s will be the smallest at 204 passengers), and we can assure you that never once did we feel either confined or claustrophobic.  If you’re interested in the 6000-passenger mega-ships, we can’t really help you since we have not the slightest interest in them.  The only time in selecting a cruise where we believe bigger is better is when it comes to choosing a stateroom – but we’ll get to that in a later post.

Every cruise ship, regardless of its number of passengers, is designed with public spaces that are more than sufficient for every one on board to find a quiet place.  In fact, we’ve spent a lot of time strolling through cruise ships wondering where everyone is!  And that’s on sea days where everyone is on board.  The one thing that would be claustrophobic to us at this point in our cruising career would be to stay in a small stateroom.  That would be confining for us since we do like to spend time away from all others on our own verandah enjoying a cocktail and the peaceful sound of the ocean rushing by.

There are, however, places on cruise ships that are crowded.  Think buffet and you’ll get the picture.  Discerning travelers, however, avoid the buffet at all coasts.  Avoid a buffet, you say?  Yes, avoid the buffet.  Even on the smallest cruise ships, there are various places to eat.  Lunch in the main dining room is a relaxing, quiet time, where people wait on you impeccably.  And the larger ships will have other, more casual spots to be served your lunch.  (Cunard has an English pub, for example).  If you want to stay in your bathing suit all day on a southern voyage, you won’t be able to do this, though, so you’ll have to chow down at a buffet of one sort or another.

Another place where it might be crowded is during a Caribbean cruise, on the pool deck, on a sea day.  Discerning travelers will want to have their own verandah.  But if you don’t need to have the pool in view, there is always a deck with a chair away from the madding crowd.

So you think you’ll be bored.  Or as one of our acquaintances who has never been on a cruise ship once said, “Oh, I like to be active.”  The snickers started from over in our direction.

Active folks will find a lot to occupy them on a cruise.  Consider first the possibilities on dry land in port.  This is one reason why your selection of itinerary is so important.  In fact, after you research the cruise lines (we recommend Frommer’s Cruises and Ports of Call which even provides a snap-shot of your potential fellow cruisers based on past-guest statistics), choose by itinerary.  For your first cruise, you might be a bit broader and less discriminating.  For example, if you want to go to the Caribbean, that’s where you start.

We can still remember our first cruise aboard the Carnival Triumph on during its maiden year (you can tell how long ago that is when you note that it is about to be refitted!).  Our travel agent said this to us: “I would never put you two on Carnival except that you’re taking a child.  It’s great for children.”  And he was right – our then eight-year-old son loved it, spending all of his days in the company of other children in the well-designed and supervised program while we enjoyed a bit of couple time.  However, he was also right in that we would never cruise on Carnival without a child – too many partiers, loud-mouths and eaters for our liking.  But then, it just might be others’ cup of tea.

Looking forward to returning to St. Maarten this year by cruise ship.  And we'll stay there for six days!
Looking forward to returning to St. Maarten this year by cruise ship. And we’ll stay there for six days!

So there is a lot for a child to do on a cruise, but there is also a lot for adults.  And being active can be accomplished in any number of ways: aerobics or yoga classes, personal training sessions, basketball on some ships, working out in the gym, walking on land and on board, and the list goes on.

The boredom factor is one that anyone who has cruised simply laughs at.  If you want to spend all day in a deck chair reading a book and sipping on a drink, then you can do that.  If that isn’t for you, select ships whose entertainment fits within your personality (dram/acting workshops, wine-tasting, music, cooking classes, computer classes, art auctions etc.).  There’s a lot more to cruise activities than bingo and shuffle-board, two activities that we avoid like the plague.

And as for those travel snobs who think that they can’t experience other places and cultures on a cruise, you’ve clearly been looking at the wrong brochures.  Our first cruise to the Mediterranean was one of the most incredible ways to be introduced to a vast array of places.  It introduced us to places to which we have returned for longer, more in-depth visits, and for those who cannot afford many long trips in their lives, a cruise will, indeed, let you visit places that you might not have otherwise gotten to before you die.

On a Mediterranean cruise for example, we began in Barcelona (our favorite city in all the world now as a result), then went onto Marseille where we took a day-trip to Aix-en-Provence, then visited Monte Carlo and Nice to which we have returned again and again, then onto Italy to Pisa and Florence and Rome to which we have returned, then to Corsica (when would we ever have had an opportunity to visit Napoleon’s birthplace Ajaccio?).  A more recent Mediterranean cruise introduced us to Sicily, Olympia, Pompeii, Monte Negro, Albania and Croatia.  So, there’s no need to be snobbish about what you can or cannot learn about the world on a cruise.  They are not all the same.

The bottom line for us is that although cruising is probably not for everyone, it is for lots of people with varying interests and styles.  Our discerning style has led us up the cruise food-chain as it were – from a mainstream line like Carnival, through the so-called premium lines such as Celebrity and Cunard, to the luxury lines Regent, Silversea and now Seabourn.

Next time join us as we get ready to leave for a southern cruise!

See “Choosing a Cruise”