What could possibly be attractive about being stuck on a hunk of metal in the middle of the ocean with thousands of other people? Many things, actually.
I consider myself somewhat of a cruise pro (relatively, of course), having been on over 12 cruises and keeping up to date with my favorite cruise lines. I have so much experience with cruising because it’s hands-down my favorite way to travel.
I can see it now: you’re thinking, “For shame! Cruises are for lazy tourists who don’t want to put any work into traveling!” And that’s partially true. Partially. That old saying that cruises are for the “newlyweds and nearly deads” has no basis in today’s cruise industry. Ships have strayed far from the traditional “buffet-and-pool” model, embracing incredible technologies that you’d rarely find on land; let alone at sea. Add in a wealth of destinations and a massive degree of onboard (and ashore) freedom, and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect vacation.
Today’s cruises certainly start with the ships. Once drab and packed to the brim with the aforementioned stereotypes, these modern marvels of maritime engineering are bigger than ever before, offering more options for every type of traveler.
1. Lounge chairs and frozen cocktails aren’t the only enticing activities.
Adventurous types will love the huge ropes course onboard Carnival’s Breeze, the heart-pounding Flowrider surf simulators on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom Class ships, or the adrenaline-inducing waterpark on Norwegian’s Epic. There are plenty of excuses to get out and do something fun. Try a bellyflop contest. Or a Zumba class. Or a tour of the ship’s inner workings (a personal favorite). Or a broadway-caliber production in a full-size theater.
Health freaks will feel at home too, with thousands of square feet of gym and spa space on practically all ships. You can also find jogging tracks, basketball courts, and even mini golf on many ships- plenty to keep any sane person occupied.
2. Boredom is practically unheard of.
You’ll find a lot more than a mile-long buffet on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas (currently the world’s largest passenger vessel): with 27 dining options, among which are a steakhouse, a family-style Italian restaurant, and doughnuts & hot dogs. Or Celebrity’s Solstice class, featuring a wealth of sophisticated specialty dining with imaginative touches like iPads for menus and an onboard wine cellar.
On Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class ships, the neighborhood concept has divided the ship into 7 distinct areas, each with its own stuff to do. Stroll past real trees and plants in the ship’s open-air Central Park. Ride a hand-made carousel at the Boardwalk. Zipline 11 decks above the latter at the Sports Deck. Bask in a glass-enclosed solarium at the ship’s bow with whirlpools cantilevered above the sea. Or get your duty-free fix at the Royal Promenade, a football field-sized shopping area.
3. Stay in the lap of luxury (or similar).
And when it’s time to go to bed, you don’t have to settle for accommodation that resembles a closet: from virtual balconies on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas to panoramic windows on Carnival’s Sunshine to two-story duplex suites on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. And there’s the 3,000+ square-foot Garden Villa, on a few of Norwegian’s ships- talk about digs.
Perhaps the best thing about a cruise is that your accommodations move with you to wherever you go. A single cruise can cover hundreds (even thousands) of miles, and you don’t have to pay extra for your food, hotels, or transportation: it’s all included. And you only have to unpack once.
4. See the world.
But the ships aren’t all that deliver the razzle-dazzle- stepping ashore in the world’s most exotic ports is just as good as staying onboard your mobile fun park (if not better). The world’s major cruise lines drop anchor at ports from Montreal to Aruba to Rio to St. Petersburg to Santorini to Cape Town to Dubai to Singapore to Darwin- to name a few. And smaller lines can go virtually anywhere that has ultimate access to the sea.
Now, most lines do offer their own shore excursions at each destination, but I find that it’s far more rewarding and enriching to just step off the gangway and walk around (or take a taxi into town, depending where you are). There’s no need to play the tourist just because you’re on a cruise.
There’s one problem that always sticks out concerning cruising: there’s never enough time. You’re only in a port for a day (although some ships do stay overnight occasionally), and that automatically discounts the destination’s nightlife, major meals, and any interesting side trips. That being said, I see cruising as more of a crash course for whatever region you’re visiting. Rarely do I think I don’t need to return to a destination I’ve visited on a cruise. Take Oslo, Norway. I visited the scandinavian capital four years ago on a cruise to the Baltic, and returned last summer on another cruise to Norway. I was struck by how familiar I was with the city the second time I set foot in its main square- I found myself having a remarkably good idea of how to get around, even though I’d only been there once. But I still have room for more, and that’s the thing I like about the whole situation: just a day in a destination gives you an excuse to come back.
5. The views are top notch.
If all else fails: the room is the size of a pinhead, the rest of the passengers are twice your dimensions, and the ports are full of pushy locals trying to sell you $500 cab rides, just look out a window or step out onto the deck. And there’s your saving grace: the ocean. There’s something about the sea that has always enthralled humans- maybe it’s evolution; maybe it’s fascination with wet things. But just staring out at the sea evokes some unexplainable kind of feeling, one of both serenity and excitement at the same time.
After you’re done with your ‘deep’ thoughts (pun intended), go to the buffet and get yourself a nice cookie. That always works for me.