In light of the sinking of the Costa Concordia earlier this year, cruising hasn’t had great PR recently. If you’ve never been on a cruise or ever considered one, don’t let recent press and publicity put you off.
Cruising really doesn’t live up to its stereotyping – it’s not all stuffed shirts and formality, neither could you ever consider it boring. In fact, the only person a cruise definitely would not suit is one who suffers severe sea-sickness (that might not be quite what you’d want from a holiday!) Apart from that, cruising provides the type of holiday that everyone of all ages can enjoy and, with a vast number of cruise lines and ships available, you can find something that really suits you. You might be looking for a child-friendly ship, with plenty of activities to keep your children entertained, or an adult only ship offering a quieter and more tranquil type of setting. Alternatively, you might be a social type looking to party and meet new people and make new friends. There is a broad range of cruise lines and fleets which cater to all of these needs and more.
One of the most alluring aspects of a cruising holiday is that you can board the ship and truly forget about your life at home. Everything is pretty much taken care of for you from the word go, with nothing to worry about other than making the most of your holiday. The excitement of waking up each morning to a new landscape and new place to discover, without the hassle of boarding flights, hiring cars or embarking on difficult journeys really can’t be matched.
Ports of Call
Cruising is a fabulous option if you’re afraid of flying. During the summer months there are lots of cruise lines operating from Southampton, Dover and Harwich, regularly setting sail to the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and the Canary Islands. You just need to pick an itinerary and ship that suits you and go.
Once you reach your various ports of call, there will be excursions available organised by the cruise line itself. These can range from simple sightseeing tours to exciting experiences like white water rafting or swimming with giant turtles. It’s a good idea to research this a little before you set sail – sometimes doing things under your own steam can work out more cost effective than going on an organised excursion. At larger ports, cruise lines will often run a complimentary shuttle bus service to take you from the ship to the centre of town. This is great if you fancy exploring things for yourself.
A common misconception about cruising is that everything is pre-organised and that you get little freedom. This isn’t the case at all. While you can choose to book all excursions through your cruise line, you can opt to explore your ports of call entirely independently. You just need to keep an eye on the time to make sure you get back before the ship sets sail. This can seem a little daunting at first, and there is a tendency to clock watch, but after a couple of stops, you soon fall into a rhythm and those worries disappear.
Everyone likes to talk about the food on a cruise ship, and with good reason. Most cruise lines pride themselves on the quality and range of catering that they provide on board.
Food is generally available 24 hours a day, in a number of different outlets. In most cases you will have paid for this within the cost of your holiday, although most ships do have speciality restaurants that apply a nominal cover charge to eat there. There is always plenty of dining options available from formal afternoon teas and four course evening meals to more casual options such as pizza, pasta and grills, as well as a comprehensive room service menu should you get peckish.
Generally the food is excellent quality and there is a wide range of choice available, even for the fussiest of eaters. Most cruise lines recognise that they need to cater for a wide range of dietary needs and are well set up to do so. When you’re at your various ports of call, it’s always nice to know that you can hop back on board for a quick bite, particularly in the more touristy or expensive countries where a simple sandwich can be quite pricey!
There are usually lots of different types of cabins or ‘staterooms’ to choose from on one cruise ship. It’s a good idea to have a look at deck plans and photographs, which can usually be found online or in the cruise line’s brochure, to choose what suits you best. Staterooms can vary enormously in size and price so it’s worth doing a little research. If your budget is tight, an interior stateroom (one with no window, and no view) may be a good option, but staterooms where you can watch the ocean go by are always much nicer. Balcony staterooms are lovely, especially if you are visiting warmer destinations, as you can sit outside, watch the changing scenery and catch some rays. If you’re feeling particularly decadent, why not have dinner served on your stateroom balcony while the sun sets?
Another common misconception about cruising is that staterooms are cramped and have little storage. Certainly, space is at a premium, but the cruise lines go to great lengths to ensure that every square foot of space is optimized. These days cruise lines employ focus groups when designing their staterooms to ensure they meet the needs and requirements of their customers and get the attention to detail just right.
Cruising is not boring! From ice skating, glass blowing and surfing, to west end shows, acrobatics, comedy, variety and late night jazz, everything is covered. If you have children, there are kids clubs available as well as the fun of swimming pools and even a zip wire on one particular cruise ship.
Many cruise ships offer enrichment activities such as cookery classes, dance lessons and exercise classes as well as guest lecturers who are invited onboard to speak about their area of expertise. Most cruise ships have libraries and gyms, so every interest is catered for. If you’re looking at cruise itineraries and are worried about ‘days at sea,’ the simple response is: don’t be. There is always something going on on board your ship, and a daily newssheet which will be left in your room each night, will outline times and locations for all the activities.
If group activities and entertainment really isn’t your thing, don’t rule out the idea of cruising. There’s nothing better than finding a quiet corner, either in a café, the promenade deck or one of the lounges, curling up with a good book or just simply watching the world go by.
Cruise lines pride themselves on exceptional service and this is an area in which the American cruise lines excel. You can expect excellent waiter and bar service in the food and beverage outlets on board as well as five star housekeeping service in your stateroom. Your room will normally be serviced twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening. You may even find a chocolate on your pillow or a towel sculpture on your bed when you return to your room to retire. Generally the staff on board are highly trained and willing to assist with all your requests. This can make or break a holiday experience, so do some research beforehand and choose a cruise line with a good service reputation.
- Check to see if the cruise line you are booked with accepts advanced bookings for speciality restaurants, spa treatments and shore excursions before you board in order to avoid disappointment.
- Some cruise lines operate beverage packages and, with some American cruise lines setting quite high prices for alcoholic drinks, a beverage package may work out to be a viable option for you.
- Be sure to pack mains adaptors, especially if your cruise ship is American. Even though the ship may set sail from a British port, this does not necessarily mean they will use British power outlets.
- Booking early isn’t necessarily the best idea. While you’ll be able to pick and choose between stateroom types and position, you won’t necessarily pick up the best deal. Many internet sites offer some fabulous last minute deals on cruising – it’s just a case of hopping online and having a browse.
- A good online resource is: www.cruisecritic.co.uk which has a good mix of cruise reviews and news, so you can buff up on or find out about everything cruise related. The reviews can be particularly useful.
- Berlitz publish a ‘Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships’ every year and is a cruise industry bible, which will tell you everything you need to know in order to pick the right cruise for you.