Monday, December 29, 2008

To Cruise or Not To Cruise

We spent our Christmas/Hannukah week on a Caribbean cruise with our extended family, courtesy of the Curmudgeon's mom (aka "Library Lady"). Since this was the Curmudgeon family's first luxury cruise, we thought we'd spend the next couple of days summarizing some thoughts for anyone contemplating a similar excursion.

Today's focus: to cruise or not to cruise.

We've long resisted going on a cruise and doubtless would have avoided one this season had it not been for mom. Having now gone on one, we can see why cruises have their fans; we can also see why some folks don't like them.

We don't think a week-long cruise necessarily costs much more than a week of similar activities at a decent resort or hotel, so cost, while an issue, shouldn't be a big one. (To be sure, a cruise costs more than an economy vacation--you could certainly spend a week at Myrtle Beach in a budget motel for less.)

The main advantage of a cruise is that virtually everything is already done for you. All the meals are taken care of, and in a fashion that should please even the pickiest child eater. A large range of activities is provided for, both onboard and in shore excursions; and your itinerary is set, but for you filling in a few hours here and there from a Chinese menu of excursions.

In the sense of having everything planned out, a cruise is similar to a luxury tour, but probably with more options in terms of activities you can do along the way. (On many tours, you spend an inordinate amount of time travelling around on a bus, during which time there's little to do; while you're traveling on a cruise, you get to take your hotel with you.)

On the other hand, a cruise is like being confined to a hotel--albeit a nice one--for a week, with a few hours of parole for shore excursions. On our Carnival cruise, we made four shore stops in seven days, allowing us off the ship for roughly 5-8 hours on each of those days. The rest of time was aboard the ship.

A cruise ship is like a good hotel that's been shrunk. It has everything you could find in the hotel--maybe even more--but it's all in smaller spaces. And if you go when we did--over the holidays--then the hotel is full. Not only is it full, but imagine being in a hotel that's at capacity, but where no one has left the hotel. In other words, you're going to have trouble getting away from the rest of the crowd.

So, if we take the hotel analogy a little further, here's some contrasts. A hotel does not travel. That means you can't unpack all your stuff and leave it in the same room for a week, and then wake up in a different locale every morning. Thus, if you go to a hotel (or resort) for a week, you need to be sure there's enough activities/sites nearby to keep you and your family occupied.

On the other hand the lack of movement of a hotel can be a good thing. It doesn't sway back and forth, or pitch and roll in the sea. A cruise ship does. For most people, most of the time, the movement of a cruise ship is not too bothersome. But you will definitely feel it rocking most of the time, and at times the movement can be disturbing. Out of the 15 members of our cruise group, none got "seasick" on the cruise, but a few of us got nauseous or had trouble sleeping at least twice as we went through particularly rough stretches of ocean (last a couple hours each time).

Cruise life is also fairly structured. Everyone goes to dinner at the same time. Everyone starts their shore excursions at roughly the same time, and must be back aboard the ship at the same time. Nighttime shows tend to be at the same time. If you like being on your own schedule, or shopping and exploring at your own pace, you may find cruising a bit frustrating.

Also, while all your meals are provided for (with the exception of lunch during excursions, which was sometimes a problem), there is a certain monotony to eating at the same table, in the same restaurant, with the same waiters, each night. After all, who would do that at a hotel? (If you say "I would," then by all means, go on a cruise.) The menu changes each night, but the basic style of food and service is the same.

Finally, cruising does limit one's physical activities. Sure, there's a decent gym aboard (although try doing the elliptical in rough seas!), but you can't just go off for a run or a bike ride or even a decent walk. (There's a "jogging track" but it's a joke--a very short, very windy circle on the upper deck.) Some shore excursions involve some physical activity, but they're generally planned for a lowest common denominator of exertion, so don't expect too much even if you are on a kayaking, hiking or bicycling tour for a day.

At bottom, if you and your family are adventurous, independent travelers, a cruise may not be for you. If, however, your family likes structure and you want to avoid the stress of vacation decisionmaking ("where should we go for dinner tonight?" "what should we do now?"), then a cruise to the right destinations may very well be a fun trip.

Tomorrow, we'll focus on life on a cruise.


Bluedog said...

I love cruises but must admit that my one experience on Carnival was not a good one. After that it has been Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Disney and Celebrity (out of Norfolk). The best yet was a week long Alaskan cruise. Drinks and the shore excursions are way too expensive but you've got no other option.

Anonymous said...

why would anyone eat a child?

X Curmudgeon said...

Hey, this was in the Caribbean--named for the cannibalistic caribs, who thought children were delicious little morsels.