I’m a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to cruising. I only took my first cruise, to Alaska, in August last year. I have now just done another cruise from Australia to New Zealand. So many people ask me what I think about cruising, especially those who haven’t done one before. It isn’t clear cut though. There are some things I like about cruising, and some things I don’t. Here I’ve put together a list of pros and cons as I see it, to help answer the question – is cruising for you?
The Pros of Cruising
There are some people that just take cruise after cruise. We were only discussing this with friends at dinner last night. Cruises seem to suck you in. “I’m not doing another cruise for a while”, I say, “but I couldn’t help notice these great deals…”. Our friends agreed. They’ve done twelve cruises, and after each one have said they’re not doing another one and a couple of months later find they’ve found a great cruise to book! So with all these return customers, there must be some pros to cruising.
It’s an Easy Holiday
You walk into travel agent or bring up a website, book one thing, and your holiday is mostly organised! Oh, I know there might be some flights to meet the cruise, and some shore excursions to organise, but that one booking covers all of your accommodation and most of your meals. Your itinerary is already sorted as is much of your entertainment. If you are lucky enough to live at a cruise port, and you decide not to book any shore excursions, this one booking covers the lot. A very easy holiday to organise.
It’s Often Great Value for Money
If you time it right you can get a great deal on your cruise. You can also find deals that include things like you service charge, drinks packages and even some onboard credit. Our last cruise to New Zealand cost us less than $100AUD($61USD/€55) per person per day before extras such as alcohol and internet. There are not many other holidays where you can stay in a similar style of accommodation, eat similar meals and have your transport and all sorts of entertainment included for that price. Of course you will need to shop around a little and keep an eye out for bargains, but they are out there.
This could possibly be my favourite thing – you can unpack, and you only have to unpack once! When we’re moving from place to place every couple of days I don’t usually even bother to unpack, I just live out of my backpack or suitcase. But then it has to be lying somewhere convenient which takes up half of the floor space, and no matter how careful I am it invariably ends up a mess. On your cruise, you board, go to your room, unpack your suitcase then store it under the bed. You don’t have to look at that suitcase again until it’s time to pack and disembark.
Your Cruise Can be All-Inclusive
Cruising can kind of be like staying in an all-inclusive resort, just waking up in a different location each morning! This does depend on some of the additional items you can buy before you start the cruise. Prepay your tips (or service charge) and a drinks package (or choose to only drink the non-alcoholic free drinks on board) and you are good to go. You can do the rest of the cruise without spending a cent. Of course there are all sorts of extra things you can spent money on, from shore excursions to special restaurants, internet to the casino, you don’t have to purchase them if you don’t want to.
Visit Places you may not have Considered Before
When planning your own itinerary you of course choose where to go, and generally you choose places you have heard about and you know at least some of the things you want to see. The cruise itinerary will invariably contain at least one port you have never seriously considered going to before, and likely would never go there again. For me on our New Zealand cruise, Akaroa was an example of this. This port is near Christchurch, which I definitely would visit, but I would likely not make the trip to the small seaside town where the cruise ship docked. We could have gone into Christchurch for the day, but since we’ve been there before and will be going there again next year, we instead explored Akaroa, and had a great day doing so.
You Can Get to Places that are Difficult on Land
Both of the cruises I have been on have included “scenic cruising days” and both were in locations that are difficult to access on land. The first was Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska and it was just awe-inspiring to be cruising past glaciers. At one point we got to sit and watch for a while. Watching the glaciers calf is both a sad and incredible experience all at once. More recently we got to cruise through three of the southern sounds in New Zealand – Milford, Doubtful and Dusky Sounds. Again it was just breathtaking seeing these parts of the world that very few people have the opportunity to see, especially from the perspective on the water.
It’s Easy to meet other people
The whole environment on a cruise ship means you will meet other people. I can’t imagine being able to go the whole cruise without meeting people. You will often find yourself sharing a table when dining, or you attend trivia and end up in a team with others, you join the book club, or perhaps you attend a special event (in my husband’s case beer tasting) and make a dozen like-minded friends. There are just so many opportunities.
I am happy to meet others, but if that is in fact something you don’t want to do, then I guess this is a con not a pro.
Cons of Cruising
Everything has a bad side as well as the good. For me, I don’t LOVE cruising. I like it enough, but there are some things that annoy me about it too. Here are some of the negatives of cruising
Not Enough Time in Each Port
This was a big one for me. In general our cruise ship would dock and we could disembark at 8am, and had to be back on board by 4pm. Some days were even shorter than this. The list of things I wanted to do in town was always long, and we either rushed around like crazy people all day to fit in as much as we could, or we missed out on things we really wanted to see, or both! I like to take things a bit slower when I travel. I also like to be able to just explore a bit and change my plans as we go. I also have this curiosity about everything, so there are usually lots of things I want to see. This kind of travel doesn’t go well with cruising.
Don’t see Sunrise or Sunset
Okay, that is not entirely correct, you can see sunrise or sunset but it will often be out to sea or while the ship is docked at an industrial port outside of town. I really like the change in colours and light at the beginning and end of the day. I particularly like sunrise and the early morning before crowds appear and the light gets harsh. It’s the perfect time to get out and photograph a location or explore with no one else around. I missed not being able to get moving at the time I wanted to each day.
Over-Tourism Issues Caused by Cruise Ships
I’m sure you have heard about some of the issues of over-tourism. Often these are directly linked to cruise ships. I’ve seen it first hand myself when I have been travelling. Places like Venice, Dubrovnik and Santorini are literally overrun during the day as multiple cruise ships dock and spit out their passengers into a small, delicate area. These thousands of people trample through the city, barely spend a cent and then leave. Many also book their tours through the cruise line rather than local tours which takes even more money from the community. It doesn’t make for a pleasant experience in the towns for the locals or other travellers (or even the cruisers themselves likely) and there is little benefit to the city. I don’t have a solution to this issue, but it is something I am conscious of and do try to spent my money with locals when I can.
Can’t do Night Tours
Sometimes there are tours that just have to be done at night. One example from my recent cruise, was that I would have loved to do a night walk on Stewart Island in New Zealand where they still have an abundance on kiwis in the wild. This is one of the few chances to see this nocturnal bird in the wild. Instead we were only there during the day. Other tours like ghost tours or turtle watching or even just evening tours of certain attractions to avoid the crowds are just not available to people on cruises.
Talking about crowds – you’ve probably noticed I’ve mentioned avoiding crowds a couple of times above. Well, on a cruise ship, the only space you are not surrounded by other people is when you are in your own stateroom. You will be dealing with crowds many times a day from lining up at the buffet to searching for a seat in the packed theatre to accessing the tenders and simply embarking & disembarking the ship. I like a bit of alone time occasionally and I have found this very difficult on a cruise ship. While I admit it’s not always shoulder-to-shoulder crowded either, there are certainly times when there are a lot of people around.
Rough Weather & Seasickness
This one is not an issue for me – unless I’m trying to walk in heels and the ship is rocking all over the place – but for those who suffer motion sickness, the cruise can easily turn into a bit of a nightmare. Our cruise in Alaska was like cruising in a pond, there was barely a ripple. Our cruise from Australia to New Zealand was very different. We spent a couple of days going around the end of a storm that was a down-graded cyclone – it was pretty rough! By the third morning even the staff were feeling it, with one member mentioning they were really short staffed because people were unwell. There were a lot of passengers that weren’t so good either.
Putting on Weight
Okay, I guess this doesn’t have to be a problem, but gosh, with all that tempting food available all the time it could be really hard. I’ve not been too bad, only putting on a kilo or two after two weeks, but that was by going to the gym, regularly walking laps of the deck, not drinking alcohol and being conscious of what I was eating for about half the time at least. I have heard so many stories from others who have put on weight too.
So Is Cruising For You?
With all these pros and cons laid out, hopefully you now have a better idea of the cruising life, and can now work out if cruising is for you.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.