Do You Cruise? The Pros and Cons of Cruise Travel

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One of the many dividing lines in travel is cruise travel. I have met friends who would not be caught dead on a cruise ship and others, in their 40s who have been on 40 cruises. My stand on cruising is somewhere in between. I enjoy a cruise, even if it isn’t my first option for travel. These days I tend to do about one cruise a year, more if you count smaller ships.

I ask because my desk this afternoon is on the 10th deck of the Holland America Westerdam, up in the crow’s nest looking down on Toulon, France. I have been on board now for 9 days with 3 more to go, cruising from Barcelona, Spain to Rome, Italy.

What I Don’t Like About Cruising

There are things on the cruise ship that don’t make much of a difference to me, like art auctions, the casino, and the stage shows. I don’t dislike them so much as I don’t care about them enough to take part. But there are things that I don’t care for.

  • In general, I prefer exploring a city when a cruise ship is not in town (see cruise ship schedules), which, it has to be said, is harder to do when you are on a cruise ship. Although these days, touring the Mediterranean, in August no less, there would be a lot of tourists even if every cruise ship stayed firmly moored.
  • A cruise ship experience is not a deep dive into a city. It is a quick sampling. You hit the highlights and then you leave. It is like taking a Freshman survey course and not an upperclassman in-depth course.
  • I am not a fan of the ship’s photographer who takes a lot of pictures of people getting on and off the ship. Often these are then printed out but not purchased. I am not fond of the waste. If a cruise ship does digital photos and only prints on-demand I have no objection.

What Else You Should Know Before Your First Cruise

There are some things that don’t bother me but bother some other people that I would put into the things you should know category. Also, read Cruise Departure Day – What to Expect on Your First Cruise

  • Cruise ship cabins tend to be smaller than hotel rooms. Space is at a premium on a cruise ship. 
  • Not everything on a cruise is included. It is common to pay for alcohol, spa treatments, shore excursions, and crew tips for instance. These may be included on a more premium cruise line which would have a higher sticker price. All I suggest is that you get clear on what is included so you know the cost before your cruise so you can weigh the value.
  • Some people complain about having to do the safety drill, but that’s just childish. If there ever was an issue with your ship where they needed to get passengers off, you would need to know this information.
  • I have seen people complain that the average age of cruise passengers is older. That tends to be true but is truer for cruises not in summer or cruises that are not known for or don’t have kid’s programs. You will find more kids on a Disney cruise than you will on a luxury cruise. 
  • For most cruise lines dinner, dinner is at a set time and at a set table in the main dining room. If that bothers you then look for a cruise line that has more flexibility like NorwegianPrincess, or Viking. But don’t discount sharing a dinner with the same people every night of a cruise. On a Holland America cruise around South America, we had two weeks with the same tablemates and still liked each other enough to rent a van together when we explored Valparizo at the end of our trip. We have kept in touch with one of the couples from our table and have seen them since. 
  • The entertainment on cruise ships tends towards big show with singers and dancers which as I mentioned above are not my scene but ships like the Holland America Westerdam I was on have a variety of musical venues and entertainers, not to mention cooking demonstrations, trivia nights and other entertainment for a wider audience. But if that is still not your cup of tea, you can look for a thematic cruise. A few years back my wife and I took a Shakespeare at Sea cruise (Also a MacMania cruise) where we got to hang out with people who had interests closer to our own. 
  • Many cruise companies have private islands. The day you spend on a private island will not be a dive into a countries culture, it will be an exclusive recreation area for cruise travelers. But, if you know that, then you can just use that as a relaxing day.

What I Really Like About Cruising

  • That being said, sometimes I really do want to see a little of a dozen cities instead of all of one city. When we have tried to do that with a road trip where we went to one town a day for a week and a half we ended up with the trip from hell. By the time we drove from town to town we were exhausted. I think of a trip my family did to Spain in 2000 that they may never forgive me for. This is the trip that led to our two nights per city rule. It is fun to wake up in a different city every day… when someone else does the driving… or the sailing.

  • I could complain about the food, but my only complaint is that I am eating too much. That is more a tribute to the food quality and a complaint about my ability to say no to free dessert.
  • As long as you remember to budget for your shore excursions (our rule of thumb is half again of what we spend for the cruise) and tips, it is nice to have all the transportation, meals, and lodging covered in one upfront cost.
  • Let’s face it, cruises are easy. I can be met at the airport, taken by the hand from port to port, and taken back to the airport. That’s less of an adventure than independent travel, but it can be relaxing. I still enjoy exploring some of the ports on my own, but that’s the only navigation I need to do.
  • Cruises are amazingly well organized. Two days ago we ran into some rough weather and they had to change the ports we would visit. Within a matter of hours, shore excursions were refunded, schedules were reprinted, and new offerings were advertised. All the show excursions and onboard activities on this Holland America Cruise can be booked from a web app on my smartphone. Tickets magically show up at my cabin.

  • As an engineer, I also just find cruise ship operations to be impressive. You can complain that you are traveling in a city at sea or you can take a tour when offered of the bridge, engineering or the kitchen and marvel at the planning and operation of this ship with its own floating power plant, sewage treatment plant.
  • Amateur Traveler listeners Savio adds “I am not a big fan of cruises and agree with your list of cons. However, I belong to a big family and we have gone on some great cruises. No debates about where to go or what to eat. It has a safe environment on board & activities for all ages. We even organized our own group excursions.”

  • You can’t talk about cruising without a nod to the crew on the ship that gives me a level of service to which I would like to become accustomed. I only wish I could take some of this wonderful crew home with me to continue to look after my wants and needs… or just to make me towel animals that amuse me.

The Pros and Cons of Cruise Travel The Pros and Cons of Cruise Travel

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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

2 Responses to “Do You Cruise? The Pros and Cons of Cruise Travel”

lee laurino

Says:

I started ‘sailing’ to and from Europe to avoid the dreaded 10+hr plane ride that leaves you crippled and jet lagged.
often in off season the price is no more than business class on a plane and lower if you are not a solo traveler who is charged twice the price.

I agree it allows you to sample countries/cities that you might not want to stay for a week or more: trying to plan a sailing that will make stops in india and another for S. America.

Note: for solo travelers. There are usually many solo travelers aboard and you can request to sit at a solo table if the ‘couples’ table does not thrill you. You meet some interesting people on the seas

Philip Gentry

Says:

I personally think there are more pros then cons when it comes to cruise travel. I have been on 2 cruises in my life and I have thoroughly enjoyed both. I like the fact that you get to experience different destinations, cuisine, and people. The food on the cruise ship is very good and you can get as much as you want. There is plenty of entertainment and activities depending on which cruise line you choose. The nightlife on the ship is amazing. I would say the only con would be that the rooms aren’t very spacious, but you don’t spend much time in the room anyways.

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