Once upon a time, cruising was strictly for the wealthy. Indeed, the word cruise still evokes images of elegantly dressed society types, lounging, cocktails in hand, while a palm court orchestra plays in the chandelier-hung salon. Think Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember.
It’s still a self-indulgent means of travel, but cruising has become much more affordable. Nonetheless, you are still putting down a chunk of cash for the trip. Here’s how to get the most for your money.
One arrives on the cruise ship, one unpacks, and from then on, you’re at home. You move from place to place without the inconvenience of packing and unpacking.
Safety is a another major consideration for many travelers. With attacks on tourists getting plenty of press play, the opportunity to move around safely at night is a big plus.
Parents love cruises. Children are generally safe on board and cruise lines such as Disney provide a wide range of activities to keep each age group busy and involved all day long. Parents are free to enjoy a well-earned rest.
A cruise can offer a learning experience. Whether it’s a cruise to Alaska or a trip down the Ayerawady in Myanmar, at each port one finds unique opportunities to experience different cultures and settings. Visit the ruins of a long-lost civilization; take in the sight of mountains, fjords, and other natural wonders; climb a 1,500-year-old pyramid; or hike to the top of a glacier which began carving its path thousands of years ago. And excursions ashore can lead to enough interest to make that spot the choice for your next holiday!
How to maximize your cruise experience
- When you get your itinerary, do a little research into the various places you will visit so you know what you want to see. There are often several shore trips. It’s good to know in advance which suits your interests best. The cruise lines offer shopping tips but bear in mind that they often have arrangements with the stores involved. Download your own map offline and use it to find the places you want to see.
- Take comfortable walking shoes. Shore excursions along old cobbled streets or to archaeological sites often entail walking over stones and rubble.
- Pack a small collapsible bag (I have a lightweight collapsible knapsack from Eddie Bauer). You’ll find it useful for day trips ashore to carry sunblock and odds and ends.
- Like your pillow large, small, fat, thin? Ask the cruise line to accommodate you. Often this can be done right on board, but asking in advance ensures you will be comfortable.
- While river cruises generally include all shore trips, on an ocean cruise, one must sign up for these excursions. These often have limited space and book up quickly, so sign up on the first day. These can be expensive but remember, this might be cheaper than returning. And you might discover a place to which you really WANT to return. For example, we visited Chichen Itza for the first time on a cruise, and ended up returning to see it again.
- Cruise ships might offer activities like snorkeling in some ports, often providing equipment too. If you’d like to try this captivating means of exploring a reef, take an old T-shirt along to prevent your back getting sunburned. Also, if you wear glasses, take along an old pair whose arms have been removed. These should fit nicely into your mask to enhance your underwater vision.
- Many travelers fear taking a cruise because they might be seasick. In fact, most ships these days have enormous lateral stabilizers which prevent them from rolling, even in rougher seas. And there are options like Scopolamine patches, Seaband wristlets and seasickness tablets (often free to passengers). I’ve had success with Meclazine, a motion sickness tablet taken just once per day, which doesn’t make you drowsy. I’m reliably informed it was developed for astronauts who might develop motion sickness at zero gravity!
- A massage at the spa is a special treat. These also fill up quickly so book your massage the first day for later in the week but remember not to conflict with a special shore excursion you might want to take. Here’s a tip: most onboard spas offer a discount for first day and docking day spa services.
- Many ocean cruise ships have a fine dining restaurant on board, in addition to the regular dining options. Book this at the start of the cruise or they may not have seating left. It’s often easy to get a reservation for the first evening aboard as most people haven’t got their act together yet.
- Don’t feel like getting up for breakfast? Want a quiet lunch with a book in your room? Most cruise lines offer room service for free though some charge a small fee $5 fee for delivery. If you just want to chill, it’s well worth it to avoid the crowd.