People can be so opinionated sometimes, and that’s absolutely true when it comes to travel. Everyone thinks that their unique travel style, their trips and adventures are the only way to get out there and have fun. I was recently somewhere and was told that backpacking solo is the only “real” way to see the world. Well that’s crap. It doesn’t matter how people enjoy their time traveling, as long as they get out there and do it. One of the most misunderstood forms of travel is also one of my favorites, the cruise.
As soon as you say cruise people have images swirling through their noggins about what to expect. Almost everyone considers them to be versions of the Love Boat, filled with octogenarians and the lazy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve been on a variety of cruises, from large mega-ships to small expeditions style cruises but one thing they all have in common is that they are a different but fantastic way to travel. Here’s why I PERSONALLY (Note that word please) love cruises.
1. Mobility – One of the great benefits of a cruise is perhaps the most obvious, it’s a mobile experience. You are on a boat, that boat moves, that makes it possible to do and see more at a better price than if you were to mimic the experience on your own. Case in point: A few years ago my partner and I took an 11-night cruise of the Eastern Mediterranean. The itinerary was great including stops at places like Rome, Santorini, Athens and more. We knew going into it though that we wouldn’t get a lot of time in each place, the Achilles’ heel of any cruise really. But we used the opportunity to quickly gauge the destinations to see whether or not we liked them in order to plan future trips. Before that cruise if asked I would have guessed that Athens would have been a highlight. It was not. I hated it. It’s a cesspool of humanity that no one should ever visit under any circumstance. But imagine how I would have felt had I planned a weeklong vacation there. I would have been irate. That cruise gave me the opportunity to get a quick impression of Athens with ease. In other situations mobility is necessary. In the Caribbean it’s the best way to visit several islands and in more exotic destinations like the Galapagos and Antarctica, it’s the best way to get into the nooks and crannies of a new place.
2. Convenience – My last two land-based trips have been great, but they also included staying in a new hotel every night. That means over weeks of travel I never actually had the opportunity to unpack my suitcase. This annoys me. A lot. That’s why I love cruising, the ability to settle in, relax and feel at home if only for a week or so. It’s great visiting 4-5 countries and still being able to sleep in the same bed every night. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s a great luxury on a long trip and something I get to experience very rarely. Cruise ships, no matter their size, are designed to make sure you have a good time – even in Antarctica. Meals are included of course and the options are usually plentiful. That’s not to say every meal should be enjoyed on board, but it’s nice to know the option is there should you need it. Cruise ships are divided into segments, part hotel and part restaurant. How they commingle is key and it is this unique combination that makes cruising attractive and yes, easier at times than other forms of vacation.
3. Choices – One of the great misconceptions about cruising that annoys me the most is that all there is to do is eat and sleep. And eat some more. And then nap after you eat. That may have been true thirty years ago, but times have changed and so has the cruise experience. On larger cruise ships you can be as active as you want to be. The fitness centers are massive and feature near constant classes and some of the mega-ships have amazing adventure sports right on board. Throughout the days and evenings there are classes, demonstrations, sports, movies, you name it, there are a million ways to keep yourself active and occupied. If you want to that is. It’s also very easy to go to the spa and sit around the pool all day and it is this flexibility that I love. My partner likes to relax on vacation, I don’t. I have to be in perpetual motion or I explode. On a cruise we can do both and not drive each other crazy. And this is just on board the ship; don’t forget that there are several stops at new ports and countries where you spend the day playing tourist and engaging in whatever fun activities are on offer there.
4. The People – I would not have listed this on my first or even second cruise, but now it’s an important part of the experience for me. On our third cruise we were denied our usual request for a table for two and were lumped in with several other people at a table for ten. This is where we had dinner every night for more than a week and at first I was worried. I’m gay and I’m totally open and fine with that. What does annoy me from time to time is having to constantly re-come out everywhere I go. “Oh, is your wife here?” “Is that your brother?” No, I’m gay and we’ve been married for 11 years. To avoid this and any potential hateful people, we chose to eat alone until that wasn’t possible. And you know what? It transformed the trip into something extraordinary. We formed friendships that persist four years later and the trip itself was a lot more fun experiencing it with others. I love my partner, but spending every waking second together 24/7 for eleven days is a lot to ask. Since that cruise we have been better at seeking out people, forming new relationships and every time it’s been richly rewarded. This feeling of camaraderie is even stronger on small ship or expedition style cruises, where everyone enjoys living through the unique experiences together.
5. Total experience – As with any travel experience I think, the totality of the trip is more than the individual segments of which it is made. There’s just something about a cruise, something wonderful that is difficult to explain until you actually do it. It’s not uncommon to find people who have been on ten, twenty and even thirty cruises and it’s because they’re addicted to this feeling I’m trying so poorly to describe. Sitting on the balcony of your cabin and watching the sun set over the warm waters of the Caribbean as the ship leaves port is a unique experience. Watching Italian volcanoes simmer as you round the boot of Italy is a unique experience. Smiling at pods of whales following along as your ship charters the frozen waters of Antarctica is a unique experience. The only way you can enjoy any of these memories that will last a lifetime is on a cruise. That’s just a fact.
So there you have it, a few reasons why I love to cruise and why I think everyone should try it at least once. There’s no room in this world for travel snobbery and life is too short to dismiss out of hand something you’re not even willing to try. There is a style of cruising for everyone, so do some research, figure out what that style is and try it and then, and only then, can you be judgey about the experience.
Have you been on a cruise? What did you think?