Who are these strange people who choose cruise holidays over land based breaks and why do they choose this type of holiday? This form of travel now in fact attracts people of all age groups and is the fastest growing sector in the tourism industry and this made me wonder exactly why being stuck on a boat away from land for days on end, could be so attractive. Some friends cannot speak highly enough of cruise travel as a way of getting away and seeing new places whilst others who have not tried, seem to curl their lips up at the very idea. With this in mind, I recently embarked on two different cruise trips (one around Europe and one flying from the UK to Miami for a Caribbean cruise) and I have spent some time researching this form of travel and also interviewing those who enjoy cruises. Below are my findings and thoughts.
The traditional idea of cruise at least in the 1970’s and 1980’s was of elderly tourist, dressed up in all their attire, drinking cocktails and with this form of travel being for the elite. Some cruises certainly do still cater for this market and there are always some high end cabins on most ships and which are almost the size of apartments, cabins which are beyond the cost of most of us. Cruises now though are within the price range of most of us and tend to cost no more than the combined expense of a hotel, flight and meal costs which you might pay on an average package holidays.
Many people who have never tried a cruise make the comment that being stuck on a boat and only seeing a local port for a matter of 6 – 8 hours is no way to relax and see a place and to appreciate the culture. There is truth in that Barcelona, Cadiz, Tenerife or Sardinia are locations one could easily spend a week in each so what is the point of a day excursion, rushing around the sites or walking in the main areas close to the port. I personally though see a cruise break and the chance to see 5 or 6 ports within a 10 day period as a wonderful chance to sample each city without committing to staying in a place you are seeing for the first time. If you do have favourite ports, then also have the option to book your cruise based on the ports of your choice. You do not need to get off the cruise if you do not wish and with all the food you can eat, a fully equipped gym, the sun-decks and a lot of space to yourself, you do not even need to.
Be warned though that the cruise lines make quite a big of profit from the shore excursions and they will try the hard sell on all the excursions they offer. The very best advice I have, so that you get the best possible value from your excursions, is to spend an hour one day or two before you leave for the cruise, to read a lot the reviews on the various options and best choices for each port. Cruisecritic.co.uk/ports/ is a decent starting point.
What to Expect On-board
The facilities on-board really depend on which boat and cruise line you choose but typical facilities can include:
From interviewing 50 people from the UK who have been on at least one cruise holiday in the last 3 years, there were 5 main reasons listed as the best thing about going on a cruise. The Food available on cruise ships constantly came into the discussion and the variety of food and amount that you can eat was considered one main highlight. You tend to have a choice of buffer bars (always open); large seated and waiter and waitress serviced restaurants; and on some ships, prestige restaurants you can choose to pay more for as an add-on.
The next main benefit discussed and mentioned by at least 50% of the respondents was the fact that you get to see several cities or countries within a short time frame. You can for example see Rome, Barcelona, Lisbon all on the same trip. Choose a Caribbean cruise and you will have the opportunity to visit 3 or 4 islands on one trip, something which might otherwise be too expensive and impractical to do. Be warned though when planning a Caribbean cruise, that some of the islands are owned by the cruise lines themselves and these islands can be somewhat sterile culturally in some instances. If you are not worried about local culture and just want the chance to scuba dive or try another water sport though, then these islands can be perfect.
The third reason was the overall package and its affordability. The chance to go on a holiday where you see different locations, eat very well, get to see life shows every evening at no extra cost, have a casino onboard and for the general atmosphere.
The fourth most popular reason according to the 50 interviewees was the chance to meet other people. Unlike a land-based holidays in a resort, many people felt that a cruise line offers them a better chance to meet other people. One excellent example of this which was highlighted by many people is the seating plans in the restaurants whereby you can choose a 2, 4, 6, 8 or 10 person table according to your preferences. This is a sure way of meeting new people. A lot of respondents whether couples, single or family groups showed an interest in the ease which these dining arrangements offered them.
The fifth reason given for their interested and appreciation of cruise travel and for what for me was an unexpected answer before the interviews, was mobility. By mobility it was explained that the travellers enjoyed for example being able to wake up in a new place every morning, seeing the sea as the boat glides across the ocean and seas and the general sense of movement and being on a journey. Finally, the strangest yet most interesting results of the survey were that after all 50 interviews, only 1 person said that they have no intention of ever going on a cruise again.
Above one of the excellent series of programmes from National Geographic highlighting what life is like onboard a cruise, in this case from Venice, Italy.
If you are considering going on a cruise then there are some other things worth taking into account. Below are some of the main things to think about from my experience and from the feedback f the 50 interviewees.
There are different rules for different cruise lines with tipping. NCL Cruises recently brought in automated tipping, in that the tips are now included automatically when you initially buy the cruise. It is then up to you specifically ask for the tip to be reduced or removed if you are not happy with the service. We actually found the need to lower the tip because NCL Cruises promoted the fact that they had 11 restaurants on-board but the truth was that 7 of those were paid restaurants. The cruise lines promote the food and service as being included yet on the NCL boat, all the best restaurants meant extra costs. For this reason we felt that the tips were not justified on the Norwegian Epic. On other cruise lines, an envelope is left for you at the end of your trip and you can then yourself decide on how much to give. They give you a recommendation on the amount they suggest you leave. Learn more about tipping on cruises. (Find other cruise advice also for more ideas).
Another cost and which can add up when travelling on a cruise holiday, is the costs of drinks on board. If you want a drink in the bar on-board, you will not only find that the drinks costs tend to be very high (as the cruise lines try and capitalise on this area of profit) but the bar tab (bill) will also usually already have a tip included on it as another extra (in addition to the main tips you are leaving). The cruise lines want you to tip and then tip again. This is certainly one irritating aspect of cruises.
These days we all want Internet and WiFi access and if you are self-employed, then there is even more reason to nee internet access onboard, just to keep up with emails. Internet costs on cruise lines tend to be very very high and very slow. I was told on one boat with NCL by the Internet Manager that the Internet will always be slow because the staff on the boat are using up all the bandwidth. The Internet also uses satellite and this (at the moment) keeps the bandwidth limited.
There is always something to spend on on board on a cruise and there is often for example, at art gallery and art auctions on some ships. Do not be tempted to buy art on a cruise ship as you will find yourself paying what can be 5 times more what you will get the same piece of art in a local auction for.
The latest Cruising Show is taking take again In London soon and worth considering if you are still in two minds about going on a cruise. More information from www.cruisingshow.co.uk.