Cruising: Not (Totally) Uncool

cruise ship on Baltic Sea near StockholmTo cruise or not to cruise? If you’re anything like me, you’ve turned your nose up at the thought of cruising. I once dismissed cruises as package holidays on water designed for seniors and the track suit & fanny pack set. The idea of restricted dining times, cheesy entertainment, formal dress for dinner and limited time in each destination just seemed lame. Until I started planning a trip to Scandinavia.

Cost & packing control

Aside from airfare, food and accommodations are usually your biggest expenses when traveling. Even more so when you’re visiting an expensive region like Scandinavia. When you’re cruising, your budget for these items is mostly settled upfront. You’ll still have some expenses for sightseeing, lunches ashore and possibly alcoholic drinks, depending on your package. The rest is included in your cruise fare. Compared to the cost of buying everything separately, cruises can be excellent value, especially if you find a deal or sale.

If you want to move around a bit and see a few different places on a trip, you normally have to contend with unpacking and packing again at every stop along the way. On a cruise, you unpack once and forget it.

Stress-free, efficient transportation

No worrying about trains, planes and automobiles when you’re on a cruise – you magically wake up in a brand new destination almost every morning. You don’t “waste” precious sightseeing time traveling between destinations, since much of the sailing happens at night. And if you really want to keep it stress free, you can book guided tours or excursions to show you around at each port of call.

Not (always) as stodgy as they once were

A few cruise lines are still catering to the old-school crowd, but many have done away with stuffy formal nights and fixed dining times, making the whole experience feel a lot more relaxed. Plenty of ships now have top notch chefs supervising leading edge dining concepts. You’ll also find diverse activity and entertainment options ranging from climbing walls and zip lines to cooking classes, open air cinemas and even shipboard pub crawls.

As for the age of the typical cruiser, there really is no typical. Different cruise lines, and even different ships operated by the same line, tend to attract different crowds. For example, this article suggests the best cruise lines for young and single travelers. With a bit of research, you’ll likely find a ship that suits you.

When cruising makes sense

Even considering all of these points, cruising is still a packaged holiday. Taking a cruise limits your flexibility and your time in each destination. Since you have to be back onboard at night, you miss out on dining and nightlife opportunities in port. There will always be an element of cattle herding going on, especially on the larger ships carrying thousands of passengers. You will see some of the stereotypes, and some of the entertainment will be mediocre.

dock in Helsinki near the city centre

dock in Helsinki near the city centre

But, if you can put up with a bit of that, a cruise can be a convenient and good value way to see some amazing destinations. You can do what you like with your days on shore, and there’s something romantic about traveling by sea. While cruising won’t be my “go-to” vacation choice in most cases, I’ll consider it if some of following points apply:

  • Expensive regions
  • Areas where land travel is difficult, expensive or impractical
  • First-time travel to regions with high culture shock ratings or unstable conditions
  • When seeking a low-stress holiday
  • Traveling with a group of people who have varying interests and levels of travel experience
  • When I want to pack a lot of sightseeing into a short trip

Choosing a cruise

If you decide to give cruising a try, look for a ship or line that not only has an appealing itinerary, but that attracts your kind of people. Cruise Critic has comprehensive reviews of cruise lines and ships, including commentary on the cabins, food, entertainment, itineraries and demographic profiles.

My preference is a smaller ship a with “port-intensive” itinerary and minimal sea days (which I view cynically as an attempt to make passengers spend money at onboard bars, spas and casinos). My cruise around the Baltic Sea was a good example, with only two days at sea during a 10-day voyage.

Once you decide on a cruise, or at least narrow it down, check sites like CruCon Cruise Outlet and for deals and promotions. Cruise Critic also has a Deals section.

a guided tour in port, something to think about when deciding whether to cruise or not to cruise

Meeting our local guide in port

Keeping it cool(ish)

Here are a few ways to make your trip feel a bit less like a packaged holiday, at least on port days:

  • Instead of signing up for excursions organized by the ship, search online for smaller tours offered by local operators. Every port of call has them, and they’re usually cheaper, smaller groups, and better than the cruise line excursions.
  • Skip the organized excursions altogether and explore on your own. This is especially easy for places where the port is close to the city centre. Even if it’s not, there are often a number of transportation options on standby for cruise travellers right at the port.
  • The aforementioned Cruise Critic site is a good resource for researching your options. Browse their port reviews for your destinations.

Wishing you fair winds and following seas,

Mona signature


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