CRUISE MYTHS Blog Post Back to Cruise Bookings
Living in the Bay Area, I consider my friends a pretty sophisticated bunch. So I set out on a fact finding mission to ask them what their attitudes and ideas were about cruising, particularly reservations or concerns that have stood in the way of taking a cruise – whatever they might be.
The feedback I got was very interesting and informative. Overall what I find is that the concerns raised are certainly valid for many cruises, but the concerns are probably not applicable to the newer specialty cruises on smaller yacht sized vessels, sail ships, expedition cruises, and newer river cruises in exotic locations. Many of the concerns are in fact based on assumptions that could now be called “myths”.
So I will plunge right into exploding these misconceptions.
“crowds, long lines”
Giant cruise ships with 5,000 passengers are the nightmare many associate with cruises. But the new breed of cruises – specialty cruises – are specifically designed to avoid this nightmare. With smaller ships – down to just 90 passengers or even fewer – these cruises offer a yacht-like experience with no crowds, no lines, no sense of be overwhelmed. See Cruise Revolution where I describe three classes of specialty cruises, yachts and sailing ships, expedition cruises and modern river cruises.
“I will be stuck with people I would not choose to hang out with”
The misconception here is that cruises all have an unwelcome demographic, and you are forced to interact with people you would not choose to. So let’s use a basis for comparison – a week stay at a hotel. The demographics at your hotel will vary dramatically based on your choice of hotel. There are hip, small hotels with urbane younger guests. There are selective boutique hotels with sophisticated cosmopolitan guests. There are grand hotels. You get the idea. Well cruises are the same. You simply cannot compare the demographics of a giant carnival cruise, with those on a sleek, small, French Ponant ship. See PONANT Adriatic Cruise trip report.
And just like at a hotel or a restaurant, nobody makes you interact with anybody, but if you spend a week at a hotel, or on a ship, you may end up making acquaintances quite by chance and if you choose. On the newer specialty cruises, you may be more likely to bump into people with interests like your own. On our Ponant cruise we met interesting French, Swiss, Italian, English, German and yes, American, travelers. We are now close friends with a couple we met on that cruise.
While most cruises have excellent cuisine you certainly are not sitting around eating all day any more than you would at your luxury hotel with fine dining rooms. Let’s consider a typical day on cruise: You wake up in the morning while the ship has probably already docked in a destination – a town, a cove, or an island for example – depending on the type of cruise. You breakfast and set out to explore. This might involve a hike to the castle on the top of the hill over the town, then walking through the streets of the town site-seeing, shopping – whatever you might do were you staying at the town in the local inn or hotel. Then after a full day, you return to the ship to freshen up, dine, and perhaps go to a lounge, dance in a club, or relax – just as you would if staying at a hotel. And the ships typically have onboard activities that go well beyond the fitness center found in some hotels.
If you have a destination you want to stay in for a week (as we often do) – a cruise is obviously not for for that trip. But a cruise has unique aspects that make it perfect for some trips - most importantly, your hotel goes with you. On a ship you unpack once, and travel happens while you sleep. You just have to enjoy each destination.
And you get to visit destinations that are utterly charming but not ones you would necessary wish to spend a week visiting. And you will discover places during your cruise to which you may wish to return for a more extended stay. Generally, you need not spend any more time on the ship than you would at your hotel – with some exceptions. There is often a day at sea. This is actually a welcome day of relaxation, and a chance to really enjoy the many on-board amenities and activities. Don’t forget that when traveling on land it is not unusual to spend a day getting from one place to another – but that day is often stressful and uncomfortable. Compare that with traveling while lounging on deck, swimming in an outdoor pool, or participating in any of a number of other activities - spas, lounges. libraries, shows, activity groups (wine tasting, bridge, poker), lectures, and more.
Well, this is generally based on a stereotypical and outdated conception of cruises. It just does not apply to the vast array of new cruise options on hip small ships attracting active younger seafaring adventurers. And then what is cool? What about a clipper ship with 40 sails full of wind rushing at 60 or 70 knots, climbing the main mast to the crow’s nest for a breathtaking view, or racing alongside on jet skis? How cool is that? Or how about a three-masted yacht nestling into a deserted cove for a day of snorkeling, skin diving, swimming. Then gliding up to a village, accessible only by sea and inaccessible to large ships, for a bite to eat and a hike to some ancient Trojan ruins? How cool is that? Or a sail to the Galapagos Islands for a trek through the uniquely disparate archipelago so important to Darwin’s investigations? Or disembarking on the Antarctic continent, or the Easter Islands, or sailing under the stunning nighttime light show in the sky of the aurora borealis while exploring the impossibly intricate and beautiful fjords of Norway, or a river cruise in Viet Nam? How about being the first in your crowd to do something amazing and different? How cool is that?
Let’s put expense into perspective. The fair comparison for a luxury cruise must be a trip on land staying in fine hotels, dining in fine restaurants and traveling in luxury between destinations. The cost is not much different. Having said that, there is no doubt that you can travel on land for less than the cost of a cruise. But not much less. At certain times of the year there are “re-positioning” cruises offered at huge discounts where the ship has to go to another cruise starting point in the high season and fills the ship by offering huge bargains. These might cost $2500 for a week – try to beat that price staying in hotels, eating in restaurants and being chauffeured from destination to destination. What you get on a cruise is really worth it - unpack your bags once and be transported effortlessly from port to port, great food and drink freely available, guided excursions readily available, on-board activities, attentive service 24/7, and most of all the exotic experience (for those who have not done it) of travel on a ship on the ocean, or a river.
It is true that unlike jumping in a car and randomly weaving around to hither and yon, a cruise has an itinerary. But let’s put this into perspective. Most travelers to a new part of the world (to them) want to start by seeing certain destinations that are, without question, the highlights of that area. The first-time visitor to France will undoubtedly want to visit Paris, and a few of the other key destinations. In other words, there are places that almost anyone putting together their own itinerary would include. Does this make them “tourist traps” or undesirable stops? Of course not. Cruises string together the most desirable stops that most people would want to experience on their own anyway. An example of this is that on our honeymoon we designed a uniquely personal itinerary, starting in Venice and then traveling along the Dalmatian Coast, visiting Montenegro, the island of Hvar, and other islands and towns on the coast of what was then Yugoslavia. 23 years later we traveled on a Ponant cruise out of Venice, re-visiting these same towns and islands that were still stunning and included other amazing spots like Kotor that we never got to back then. And there are literally thousands of cruise itineraries all over the world to choose from – including cruises to lesser known and out of the way stops. It is hard to imagine that there is no itinerary that would not intrigue any given traveler.
This concern misses the point that the ship is, among other things, a form of transportation from one destination to another. Seen in that light, it is hard to argue that travel in a car, bus, train or plane from one place to another on a land trip, is closer to nature than being on the sea, with fresh sea breezes on your balcony or on deck. And since most of the travel is at night while you are asleep, that factor seems irrelevant. During the day at your destination you are as close to nature as you choose to be – and based on your choice of itinerary. Hiking in the Galapagos islands is close to nature.
As a final note, I would like to recite some statistics that suggest that these misconceptions about cruises are in fact just myths. Among high end travelers, 30% have cruised three or more times. In fact, among those who have taken a cruise, 60% of Millennials who take a cruise take another cruise in the next two years! This is actually a higher percentage than for most other categories including “affluent” travelers.
These numbers make it clear that the misconceptions about cruising are often disproved by the actual experience of taking one. Personally my husband and I were very skeptical about cruising – for most of the same reasons discussed above. But after our first cruise we realized that this was a wonderful alternative to our more usual extended-stay vacations.
We have been on several cruises now – on the Adriatic, the Baltic, the Caribbean the Andaman (off Thailand), the Mediterranean, and South China Seas. We hung out with some really cool, yes cool, people (like a rock star photographer), and made some very good friends, while having a lot of fun, activity and adventure. And statistics show that 46% of people who take cruises consider the cruise itself as a destination. Far more than a way to get from here to there, a cruise provide a uniquely fun, satisfying experience – with a range of on-board activities, water activities, shore activities, fine accommodations, excellent cuisine, and the unique experience of being on a ship on the ocean or a river, immersed in this ancient and revered form of travel. Man and the Sea. It is classic. And cool.
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