Fifteen years ago, I was just like so many people I know who say they have no interest in going on a cruise. The reasons given include "I would get bored," "I get motion sick," or "Only certain types of people go on cruises and I'm not like them." Here's the thing that they don't realize: There are a multitude of companies offering a wide variety of experiences, from river barges that accommodate only a handful of passengers to mega ships that are truly like floating cities. The price point can vary significantly depending on the cruise line, the time of year, the itinerary, the type of cabin you choose, shore excursions and other extras. There are enough options that I think there is a cruise for everyone and below I offer 10 reasons why.
My first cruise, in 2002, was on Windstar's Wind Spirit, a 148-passenger motor sailing yacht. At the time, I would not entertain the idea of cruising on a large ship with thousands of other people. Island-hopping in Greece on a luxurious over-sized sailboat was a different story. The experience was wonderfully eye-opening to say the least and definitely sparked a further interest in cruising.
In December 2003, I was back on the water, celebrating the holidays aboard Uniworld's 130-passenger River Duchess. The cruise from Vienna, Austria to Nuremberg, Germany along the Danube featured stops at small towns with charming Christmas markets. It was the perfect respite from always-hectic New York City and it made me fall further in love cruising, on smaller boats anyway.
It would be almost five full years before I finally boarded a bigger ship for no reason other than the person I was dating during much of that time had no interest in going on a cruise of any kind. So I convinced my 78-year-old grandmother, who had never been on a cruise, to join me on the 2,138-passenger Celebrity Millennium for a 7-night exploration of Alaska's Inside Passage. At first, the size of the ship was daunting. Then we had some rough days on the open water that would have made even the most experienced sailor a bit queasy. But all of that was easily forgotten because of the excellent service, amazing food, fabulous entertainment, and beautiful scenery, all enhanced by our classically upscale surroundings which contributed to an overall unforgettable experience.
After that, I was hooked. I have now been on a total of 11 cruises operated by eight different companies. Eight of those cruises occurred in a span of only six years. Yes, I still love to travel over land, and just spent four months in central and eastern Europe without ever boarding a boat (with the exception of a 5-minute ferry ride in northern Germany). But, after 91 total nights traveling on a variety of sailing vessels, I can honestly say that cruising is a great alternative to a land-based vacation and these are the reasons why you should try it:
It's easy. You only have to unpack once. Most ships are on a set itinerary so you know where you'll be on specific days and can make plans accordingly. You don't have to worry about finding a place to eat or cooking your own food. In fact, you can pretty much eat what you want, when you want, where you want. On board activities are organized so all you have to decide is what to see or do and when.
You won't get bored. Larger ships have amenities that will keep all types of travelers busy during days at sea, including gyms, swimming pools, libraries, casinos, live music and other entertainment, bingo, art auctions, seminars and other learning opportunities, galley tours, cooking demonstrations, and much, much more.
You'll have access to a variety of destinations, some of which may otherwise be hard to reach. There are over 1200 cruise ports of call in the world varying from remote, white sand beaches to some of the largest cities on the planet. Alaska is the perfect cruise destination because you can only access the islands of the Inside Passage, Glacier Bay National Park and many fjords and other natural areas by chartered plane or boat. Even the capital city of Juneau is not accessible by road.
You can visit a lot of different places on one trip. Instead of staying at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean where you'll wake up to the same scenery over and over, why not take a cruise and visit a different island every day? Week-long Mediterranean cruises often stop at at least four different countries, allowing you to experience unique cultures, food and drinks, and historic sites. Another example is the Panama Canal transit I did with Holland America Line last year which went to seven ports and eight countries not including the embarkation and disembarkation cities on the U.S. east and west coasts.
You can go for a short or a long time. There are one-night cruises and there are 180-day around-the-world cruises. The average cruise length is seven days.
You can choose your departure point. Don't want to fly? If you live driving distance from a large coastal city, odds are it has a cruise port. There are round-trip cruises so you depart from and return to the same port, but there are also plenty of one-way cruises that make a great jumping off point for a pre- or post-cruise land-based adventure.
You can choose from contemporary to luxury cruising. Carnival has a reputation for being one of the least expensive cruise lines in the market but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice comfort or safety. At the other end of the spectrum you'll find Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea with some of the largest cabins, complimentary premium beverages, fine dining and highest-rated service at sea.
You can be as active or as lazy as you want. Just because your ship is calling on multiple ports doesn't mean you have to disembark. I have friends that have been on the same cruise several times just because they like the ship and treat it like a floating hotel. Most on board activities are free; it's up to you if you want to participate. And if you're truly inclined to spend the day doing nothing, many ships offer room service at no extra charge and have cabins with DVD players so you can borrow a movie for free.
You can do your own thing. If you're traveling with a group or even just with a partner, cruising gives you lots of options for spending time apart without feeling awkward. Especially on larger ships, you can spend the entire day doing what interests you and it's very likely you won't run into your traveling companions. Conversely, there are so many opportunities for fun group activities, it's also very easy to meet people and make new friends.
It can be very cost effective. When you factor in the cost of accommodations, food, transportation, and entertainment, you can easily spend much less on a cruise than you would on a comparable land-based itinerary. If you're a more experienced traveler, consider booking shore excursions independently to save money and avoid the large tour bus groups that tend to all show up at the same place at the same time.
No matter which cruise you book, I hope you'll at least give it a try sometime. If you're a first timer and this post influenced you in some way, I'd love to hear about your experience in the comments.