At the beginning of this year, my husband and I decided to take our very first cruise. A cruise was never something I had any particular interest in doing. In fact, I had a bit of a negative perception about cruises. Too touristy. Too crowded. Not an authentic, cultural experience.
Well, I decided it wasn’t fair for me to make such assumptions if I never tried it for myself. And after months of my husband wrapping up his doctoral degree, me finishing my master’s, and us both preparing for a long-distance move to Connecticut, the thought of being on a ship for a week where everything was pre-planned sounded pretty fantastic. So we booked it.
And it was pretty fantastic.
At the same time, I would never want to only travel via cruise ship. I found myself creating a mental list of the pros and cons of cruising, when we would be faced with moments of “wow, that’s amazing” vs. “wow, that’s kind of annoying.”
If you’ve never gone on a cruise before, I’d say it’s worth trying at least once. But hopefully this list of pros and cons will help set your expectations.
PRO #1: You get to see a lot in a short period of time.
We took a six-night Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Conquest, with ports in Nassau and Half Moon Cay, Bahamas; Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos; and Amber Cove, Dominican Republic. Even now, it seems crazy that we went to all of those places in less than a week. And despite what some may say, we were able to make great memories in that short time frame, with unique experiences in each place.
We took a city tour in Nassau with stops at the famous Atlantis resort, Graycliffs chocolate and wine company, Fort Charlotte, and a fish fry with beach access.
At Half Moon Cay, we enjoyed the pristine beach with the softest sand I’ve ever touched.
Grand Turk had the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen. The ground was rocky, but that also meant there were more reefs and rock formations the deeper you went, so that’s where we enjoyed the best snorkeling of the trip.
The Dominican Republic was our last stop and by far our most adventurous. We booked the excursion for Damajagua Falls, where experienced guides take you through seven of the 27 waterfalls. And by through, I mean, you’re literally jumping off cliffs, sliding down natural waterslides, and swimming through caverns. It was adrenaline-pumping, but so fun.
CON #1: You only get a teaser of each place.
It’s impossible to really get to know the history and culture of your ports of call when you spend less than 12 hours there. While we made the most of each stop, I wouldn’t say we came away feeling culturally enriched.
If you’re looking to get a taste of several places in a short period of time, a cruise might work well for you. But if you’re hoping to really experience the local environment, you might prefer booking a separate trip to that place when you can stay longer.
PRO #2: It’s a very relaxing way to travel.
I am not known for slow travel. Since I work a 9-5 job with limited vacation days, I tend to pack in as much as I can into each trip to “maximize the time.” I’m only just now starting to realize that’s a stressful way to travel, and I’m beginning to take steps to change that habit.
Going on a cruise is a great step toward slower travel. You’re on the same ship for the duration of your trip, so you don’t have to worry about packing and unpacking at each destination. The itinerary is mapped out for you, so all you really need to decide is what you want to eat for dinner and which show you want to see afterward. Almost the entire ship is free to roam, so it’s easy to just put your watch away and let time pass by slowly.
CON #2: Hidden costs can add up.
This could have been naivety on our part, but we got several meaningless things on the ship (lanyards for our key cards, souvenir cups that came with our punch, etc.), not realizing until afterward that there was a surcharge. The staff will often ask you for your room number so they can book things to your ship account. Some of these things are free (such as blankets to rent during the outdoor movie), but others are not.
It’s good to find out up front what’s included in your original cruise package and what’s not. We ended up with an extra bill at the end of our cruise that was a little higher than we had anticipated.
PRO #3: You meet a lot of interesting people from around the world.
Almost every staff member on the ship was from a different country, and they were all so kind and hospitable. We loved getting to know our waiter from the Philippines, Joel, who was assigned to our table every night for dinner. He shared so many stories with us about his life back home and on the cruise ship. Our housekeeper, Yoga, was from Indonesia, and he greeted us by name every day.
The passengers themselves were also friendly. We struck up random conversations with so many people, whether in the food line, in the elevator, or at one of the many entertainment venues.
As corny as it might sound, it felt like we were part of one giant family for the week. When we had to disembark from the ship on our last morning, it reminded me of when I was a kid leaving summer camp. I was always so sad about having to say goodbye to all the friends I made, not knowing if I’d ever see them again. Vacation was over, and it was time to return to reality.
CON #3: It can get crowded.
Despite thinking that cruises are relaxing, I wouldn’t say they are peaceful and quiet. There were over 4,000 people on my ship, and it seemed the majority of them were part of a group.
The pools and hot tubs were almost always loaded with people, so we only were able to swim on the ship once. This wasn’t a major disappointment for us, since we were more interested in swimming at port, but I only mention this to say that there are a lot of people around most of the time. If you prefer a more tranquil and solitary vacation, a cruise might not be for you.
PRO #4: The food is amazing.
I saved this one for last. Everyone I’d talked to before our cruise was telling me how wonderful the food is. They were right. Food is literally at your fingertips at all times. And it’s not low-quality, processed food, either. Everything was fresh and delicious. Made-to-order burritos, burgers, roasted chicken, lasagna, pizza, salad, fruit, ice cream, cake, you name it. We could grab most of these things from the main buffet area anytime we chose.
We also had an assigned dining room for dinner every evening, where we were served an all-inclusive three-course meal, which we could choose from a variety of options.
Suffice it to say, we were eating constantly. I can still practically taste that Carnival Melting Chocolate Cake. Yum.
Honestly, I can’t think of a fourth con at this point. (Mention food, and anything else becomes insignificant.)
Overall, our first cruising experience was wonderful. We came away feeling refreshed and ready to begin our new lives in Connecticut. While I love being able to fully immerse myself in a culture and learn more about the places I visit, sometimes it’s okay to just relax and take in the beauty of the scenery around you. And I did just that.
By Amanda G from @myvintagemap