Not long ago, I wrote about cruising in my column, “Top ten cruise myths debunked.” “Pauletteb” commented, “Sorry, Ned, but nothing on your list changes my mind. Except for a small ship in Alaska, I’d rather have a root canal than go on a cruise.” I received a number of emails responding to that column expressing the same sentiment. I fully understand those feelings about cruising.
Cruise vacations aren’t for everyone. That said, I believe many who’ve never tried cruising or decided that they don’t like cruising due to a poor experience early on may be unaware of some cruise options available to them that they might enjoy.
I’ve taken cruises for years, but don’t think I’m a typical cruiser.
For me, cruise ships are little more than transportation to get to great destinations — in some comfort, of course — as well as my hotel plus main restaurant. I’m not a gambler, nor a shopper. I don’t cruise to go to shows or ice skate. I no longer stay up to all hours of the night, so I don’t take part in the lively nightlife available on many of today’s modern cruise ships. I’m not a fan of large cruise ships, days at sea, “shopping ports,” large crowds, fast food and not-so-hot shows.
Cruise ships are clearly not my destination. So, what options are available for travelers who would rather have a root canal than take a cruise?
For some, a small ship may be an option to make a cruise viable. My wife and I prefer cruising on ships of no more than 700 passengers. That may sound large to many, but if well designed, they can feel smaller and be quite intimate. Smaller ships of 200–500 passengers may be preferable, but while they may be more intimate and offer a more personalized experience, for passengers who can suffer seasickness, the stability of the larger small ships are a better bet.
TIP: There are many seasickness preventatives which actually work. Perhaps the most effective seasickness preventative is the scopolamine patch (prescription only). The patch is highly effective (check to make sure you’re not allergic to the “Patch”), but it does have side effects. My wife uses accu-pressure bracelets, which have been highly effective for her.
Another option is to pay careful attention to the cruise itinerary. My wife and I try to choose itineraries with two main characteristics — minimal days at sea and ports with excursions to fascinating locations. For example, we were on a two-week cruise in the Middle East two years ago. The cruise had only one full day at sea; that was to sail through the very interesting Suez Canal, plus, we stopped in ports with amazing excursions to great sights, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
For some, a luxury cruise is a viable option. I’ve found that many luxury cruises lines aren’t particularly more expensive than mainstream cruise lines when you look at the total cost of cruising for each. Luxury cruise lines are generally “all-inclusive,” except for some “stratospherically” expensive wine options and special private excursion arrangements. If you compare mainstream cruise lines that charge extra for alcohol and soda, excursions, gratuities, etc., in addition to the cruise fare, the luxury cruise lines may compare more favorably to them than you’d expect and their quality of accommodations, excursions and level of service is typically significantly superior to their mainstream counterparts.
Finally, an “expedition” style cruise may be precisely what you’re looking for as a leisure traveler. Expedition cruises are considerably different than the cruises you’re likely familiar with. Last December, I went to Antarctica and this July/August I traveled through the Arctic region. Both of these cruises were on Silversea’s expedition ship, the Silver Explorer. I’ve also traveled on Celebrity’s Xpedition to the Galapagos Islands.
Expedition ships are generally small, intimate ships, with a passenger capacity no more than 150, which is critical concerning off-ship excursions to some locations such as the Galapagos, Arctic and Antarctic. There, they don’t permit more than 100 passengers at a time to land in any individual spot. That means larger ships would have to severely limit passenger time exploring land locations.
Expedition ships can go to locations where mainstream ships can’t physically visit, aircraft never fly and roads don’t exist. Only an expedition ship can visit the fjords of Svalbard, Greeenland, and the waters of the Galapagos. If you’re interested in seeing some of the most amazing sites of your life — breathtaking landscapes, glaciers, icebergs the size of city blocks, as well as seals, polar birds, penguins, walrus, reindeer, muskox, polar bears, frigates, and boobys up close, expedition cruising is very much worth considering.
On our recent Arctic cruise we were often astonished by unbelievable sights, such as the Walrus pod at Lagoya Island, in the Svalbard archipelago, and the Iceberg Graveyard in the Rodefjord of Scoresby Sund, Greenland, and much more.
I’ll have more to say about Arctic and Antarctic cruising in upcoming columns. Even if you’ve already decided that cruising is absolutely not for you, I suggest you might reconsider and think about expedition cruising.
Ned Levi, PPA, NPPA, as a professional travel photographer, journeys across the globe. You can view some of Ned’s travel and other photos at NSL Photography and get travel photography advice at the NSL Photography Blog.