I just finished a Costa cruise, which is where I took these photos. I love to travel, and so naturally I get a chance to talk to others like me who enjoy seeing the world. Among those, there is a certain type that will tell you with snobbish disdain that they would never consider a cruise, as if ships (and, it goes without saying, the low-brows and deplorables like me who are passengers on them) are somehow beneath them. Well, I usually prefer land travel myself, but I’ve been on plenty of cruises, and I can say that I’ve enjoyed every one. In fact, I’d say that there are times when cruising is not only the preferred way to travel, it’s virtually the only way unless you’re prepared to mount your own personal expedition.
With that in mind, here are the 7 best reasons you should take a cruise:
No Visa woes-If you’ve ever been to Buenos Aires or Moscow, you know that buying an entry visa can take a big bite out of your wallet, and can mean months of added wait and worry to your travel plans. In the case of Russia, it can mean paying the appropriate bribes and sliding your passport and $300 through a slot in a steel door to an underworld figure, as I once did in Kiev. Cruising eliminates that worry and expense, because ports like St. Petersburg and B.A., eager to bring in as many tourist dollars as they can, have waived the visa requirement if you’re arriving by cruise ship.
Difficult terrain becomes accessible-It would be hard for me to imagine trekking into Ford’s Terror in Alaska from the landward side. The mountains surrounding that channel are steep and densely forested, and it’s a long way from the nearest road, let alone civilization. So far as I know, there is not even a trail into it. In any event, I saw no other human beings during the 24 hours I spent at anchor there one summer.
Sure, you could hire a guide, I suppose (if you could get a permit), who could blaze a trail down to the fjord, and after a week or so you’d arrive, exhausted and bug-bitten. At that point you could cook up some grub while keeping an eye out for grizzlies. From your campsite, you could enviously watch me as I launched my kayak from the bow of my little cruise ship and paddle around the areas that were still inaccessible to you as a landlubber. Then you could watch from your tent as the lights came on in the ship’s dining hall as we toasted the day’s adventures and enjoyed a freshly prepared meal. And as you crawled into your sleeping bag you could think about the nice soft bed I was lying on that night. Or you could just take a cruise.
The point is, some places are just made for cruising because they’re so darned hard to get to. Alaska fits the bill. So does Antarctica and, to a lesser extent perhaps, Norway and the Galapagos. Sure, you could do those locations some other way, but why?
Island hopping-If you’re looking for fun in the sun in the Caribbean, cruising is the way to go. Yes, you could go to an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic and hang out on a small stretch of beach they have cordoned off against the encroaching hordes of hucksters, beggars, and thieves that seek to separate you from your money. Just make sure you stay inside the compound, because the natives are almost always restless. Or you can island hop your way across the shallow seas sampling the best that island life has to offer without the limitations and hassles that staying at an all-inclusive resort implies.
It’s true that staying in one place for a week can give you a better feel for the culture of a place, but the reality is that, with the notable exception of Cuba (and a couple of others), all of these islands have basically the same history: the savage natives were subjugated and enslaved by greedy European explorers in the 1700-1800’s, and when the resource extraction process was complete, all that was left was the sand and the beach and a few beautiful examples of colonial architecture. Island “culture” today, such as it is, largely reflects that dismal heritage.
You’re better off just enjoying the Caribbean for what it is now: a hedonistic playground for some, a family-friendly beach destination for others…eye candy best seen from the comfort and safety of a floating city.
The planning is easy-I have planned and executed multi-month trips staying in dozens of different cities and countries. The logistics of where to go, what to see, where to stay, and how to get there can be a nightmare. Cruising takes that burden almost entirely off your shoulders. The itinerary is fixed, and you don’t have to worry about where to have dinner that night. All you need to decide on is which shore excursion you want and when it’s time for happy hour.
It fits a lot of different budgets-Generally, cruising is a cheap vacation option, especially on the larger ships. True, the small ships can easily run as much or more than land travel, but you can get most of the small ship experience, even on the big ships, by choosing your tour options wisely.
You only have to unpack and pack once-If you’ve ever done a somewhat frenetic tour of Europe, moving every 3-4 days for 2 months can be hectic. If you’re on a guided tour like Tauck (I use this as an example because the “nose-up” crowd likes to tout Tauck) you will be expected to have your luggage waiting outside the room for the bellman to handle at 8AM sharp so you can make it to the next city. Meanwhile, a cruiser is serenely making his way to the same city without ever leaving his room.
“Engrish” is spoken-If you have ever painfully made your way through a conversation using your high school-level French or Spanish, you know how much easier life is when the natives speak some form of English. On the cruise ship, if you need medical assistance, want to exchange some currency, or set up an excursion, most of the crew can speak passable English.
Once again, it’s true that there’s a lot to be said for learning a foreign language and immersing yourself in the culture….but there’s also a lot to be said for just relaxing and not worrying about how to translate “Where is the bathroom” into Swahili, especially when you’re hopping around on one leg after making the mistake of drinking the local water.
Sure, if you have the time and money, you’ll get a better “feel” for an area if you slow down a bit and travel on your own itinerary on your own time. The point is, most people don’t have that luxury, but even for those that do, cruising can still be a better way to travel. It just depends on the destination and the individual’s inclinations. All you need to do to enjoy a good cruise is to leave the “attitude baggage” at home.