You know how dogs tilt their head when you say something to them that they must not understand? That’s the reaction I invariably get when I tell people I enjoy cruising. “But, isn’t it boring?” they ask. The next question is “How do you cope being cooped up on the ship?” or “That’s for old people, isn’t it?”.
I didn’t decide to cruise. I decided I wanted to see the Inside Passage, and the best way to do that was on an Alaskan cruise. I had no idea what to expect, but after that 7 days, I was hooked. It is difficult to understand the attraction…obsession…addiction of cruising until you give yourself over to the experience.
I’ve now been on three cruises, and am planning our fourth, so yes, I do cruise and I love it. My cruising site, where I keep trip journals and photos, is one sign of my addiction. Another sign is that I want to give advice on how to cruise, and here are my top five tips for planning a cruise experience.
1. Accept how old you are, and decide what sort of people you want to mingle with on the cruise. I didn’t want to cruise with people in their 70s and 80s, but I didn’t want to cruise with 20 year olds either – sadly, I can’t party any more as my brain complains too much for me to deal with now. Do your research online on the cruise lines, and find one that looks as though it will match your needs – contrary to popular opinion, cruises aren’t only for newly weds and the almost dead! I have only cruised on Celebrity Cruises, but there are many lines, each of which is slightly different in focus, so there’s one designed for you.
2. Connect with experienced cruisers, though do this selectively. The biggest online forum is Cruise Critic, where you can lurk to your heart’s content and find out every piece of information you want from cruisers, or you can contribute, make connections and meet up in real life to share excursions and travel arrangements.
Online research gets you more accurate and timely information, but there is so much of it, you will need to learn good information filtering techniques to stay sane, and you will need to quickly learn who of your online buddies is making sense, and who are just a little odd! CruiseMates is another online forum worth checking out, with good reviews and articles. Don’t bother buying speciality books about cruising, as they seem to be out of date once they are published – save your book buying for guide books about destinations.
3. If you can possibly afford it without mortgaging the house again, get a veranda stateroom/cabin. The image that drew me to cruising was of me sitting on the veranda, reading a book, watching the sea ripple by, feeling a gentle breeze and just being there in the moment. That moment has happened on every cruise so far.
4. Choose a large table with 8 or 10 people if you have fixed seating dinner. For me, part of travel is meeting new people, and your tablemates will usually provide great conversation. It’s easy to change tables if you decide to, or to eat somewhere else – food on ships is available 24/7 and you will never go hungry. You will probably put on weight as a result, so a regular exercise routine (walking or the gym) on the ship is definitely required.
5. Surrender yourself to the experience as soon as you walk up the gangway to the ship. For me, that’s the point where I leave my reality behind and I move to travel mode (except for the phonecalls from children of course!). You can do nothing except sleep and eat and do tours, or you can be completely occupied until you are exhausted. You can be alone on a ship of 2000 people (yes, really), or you can be with people all the time – that choice is up to you.
I knew nothing about cruising until I decided I wanted to go to the Inside Passage, and I’ve since discovered that there is a whole cruising world out there waiting to be tapped but hidden unless you consciously decide to go there. And, my last piece of advice, go there when you are planning your next trip and I think you will be pleasantly surprised!
Two travel publicationsfor this sort of article (three more to come) are: