Over the past several years, cruising has become a more popular option for vacationing. Have you been on a cruise? If not, you may not know what to expect.
My husband and I had gone on a couple cruises and enjoyed them, so when the opportunity came up for me to cruise again, I decided to go for it. I’m cruising with a single woman from my church, her brother, sister-in-law, and several of their friends. Although it’s still several weeks away, I’m getting excited!
The first cruise my husband and I tried was a four day cruise off California. We bought the cheapest room we could find – although we were upgraded to a better room – and only purchased one excursion. We were convinced that cruises were a great option and a few years later went on another one.
Our second cruise was to the Western Caribbean. We stopped in Key West, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica (This itinerary is no longer available). We added a couple days and a few more excursions to the trip. Again, we had a great time. I wouldn’t want to plan all my vacations around cruising, but I do enjoy taking a cruise now and then.
Where to Cruise
Cruises are available almost anywhere in the world that water is available for travel. Within the full United States, cruises around Alaska and Hawaii are popular. Smaller cruises through the Mississippi and other rivers attract fans of Mark Twain and early American history or literature.
Off the southern coast of North America – throughout the Caribbean – cruise ships dominate the water. Every popular cruise line offers their own version of trips to Mexico, Central America, Eastern and Western Caribbean, and more. Many of the cruise lines have established their own private beach areas for swimming, snorkeling, and other shore excursions.
Cruise ships in Europe travel throughout the Mediterranean or around the edges of the continent via the Atlantic Ocean. Smaller ships wind their way through the European rivers of the Danube, the Rhine, the Rhone, the Mosel, and more.
Wikipedia lists over 50 ocean cruise lines and more than 25 that travel through rivers, although some are owned by the same parent company. The two largest cruise lines are Royal Caribbean International and Carnival, with each company having over 20 ships. Other popular cruise lines are Norwegian, Princess, Holland America and Celebrity. Disney offers cruises that reflect its brand – excellent for families with children.
Viking River Cruises, Grand Circle Cruise Line, and Avalon Waterways are the most well-known lines for river cruising in Europe and around the world. American Cruise Lines offers paddle steamer cruises on American rivers.
There are several advantages to booking a cruise – the biggest of which is simplicity. When you book a cruise, you book travel (except flights), lodging, meals, and activities. Want to do more? The cruise line offers excursions that help you explore each location in greater depth. Everything is planned and coordinated for you. Just book the cruise, fly to the starting point, and enjoy. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Another advantage is that cruising is very economical. If you would add up the cost of comparable lodging, food, and shows, the cost could easy be more than double of what the cruise line charges. Although the prices vary from very inexpensive (aka, cheap!) to mid-range to luxury (outside of my budget), in my opinion, you get more than you pay for at any level.
Prices for mid-range cruises without additional excursions usually range between $100 and $150 per person per day – sometimes even less. For the same price, you could book a hotel room in a popular location or eat three substantial meals. With the cruise, you get both.
In addition, on board entertainment options are available for no extra charge. Each evening a musical or comedy show is offered. During the day, other entertainment options – ship operation demonstrations, contests, and sports activities – abound. Or, if you’d rather, just relax in one of several pools or hot tubs, or find a lounge chair to soak up the tropical sun.
There are a few disadvantages to cruising. Most importantly are the additional charges you may incur if you are not careful. Many ships offer meals in gourmet restaurants that add an extra charge to your bill. You can easily avoid these by sticking to the delicious included meals. If you decide to treat yourself to an special meal, know that there will be an extra charge. Spa treatments and massages are also available for an additional charge.
Some cruise lines include juice, soft drinks, and even alcoholic beverages in their cruise packages, while others charge extra. If you plan to drink on the cruise, determine the cost of the packages as opposed to ordering drinks on your own. Drinks on board can be expensive, but if you plan to just have a glass or two of wine with special meals, it might be more economical to skip the package.
A different type of disadvantage involves the good food available on the ship. Cruises offer sit-down meals, buffets, or a combination of both. If you do not watch what you eat, you may end up several pounds heavier by the time you return home. I won’t tell you what to eat – only you can decide that. Just be warned – the food is amazing!
The most expensive add-ons, though, are the excursions available at each port. Would you like to tour the country? See the famous waterfall? Visit the popular shopping venue – with a possible discount? Many of the excursions are well worth the cost – others are not. Do your research ahead of time and make sure you are only participating in activities that you are truly interested in.
Instead of paying for a shore excursion sponsored by the ship, you might want to plan you own excursions. Vendors often line the port area pushing their own excursions. Again research is important. At times, the cost is the same either way. Other times, the local town or city is so close to the port that you can walked to it in a few minutes. Shop, see the sites, have lunch, and then return to the ship.
If you would like to visit an attraction that is a long bus ride from the port, it is best to purchase the cruise-sponsored excursion. When I visited Jamaica, I wanted to see Dunn’s River Falls – a two hour ride from the port our ship used. I chose the cruise excursion – which turned out to be essential. The bus driver ran into some terrible traffic on the way back to the ship and we arrived nearly an hour late. Since the excursion was organized by the cruise, however, the ship waited for us to return.
On excursions that are planned outside the cruise line, participants are responsible for making sure they get back to the ship before it sails. If they do not, the ship can sail without them, leaving the participants to find their own transportation to the next port or back home.
Careful planning can result in an amazing cruise vacation – everyone should try it at least once. I recommend starting with a 4-7 day cruise in the Caribbean. See if you like it. If you do, you can expand to something longer or farther away.
Have you tried cruising? What do you like most about it? Share your comments below.