Top ten cruise myths debunked

by Ned Levi on July 15, 2013

Regent Cruises, Voyager, photo by NSL Photography

I was speaking with a new friend who has resisted cruising for years, in part because he thought most cruises had regular, serious outbreaks of the norovirus. Like many hearing sensationalistic stories on the news, he didn’t know it wasn’t so.

I’ve been taking cruises for many years. While planning an upcoming cruise, I thought about my early misconceptions about cruising, that of other travelers, and my new friend. I thought about the changes in the cruise industry during the last decade, and decided to examine some of the myths about cruising which persist to this day.

Here are my top ten cruise myths, debunked.

Many get sick with Norovirus — Noroviruses are a group of viruses which cause gastroenteritis, which attack people almost anywhere large groups of individuals are in close proximity to each other, not just on cruise ships. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are more than 20 million cases of acute gastroenteritis caused by noroviruses each year, or about 1 in every 15 Americans (6.7 percent), but on cruise ships the odds are improved, as just 1 in 3,600 cruise passengers (0.028 percent) get sick from noroviruses. You’re far more likely to get sick from norovirus in a long term care facility, or at your local restaurant.

Cruisers get fat — It’s true there’s generally an array of food available 24/7 on cruise ships, but there are plenty of healthy food choices for passengers. Most ships have gyms for passengers to work off their overindulgences, a jogging track, and many have classes offering aerobic exercising, and other healthy choices.

The best cruise deals are found at the last minute — Cheap last-minute cruise deals for some itineraries are offered daily, as cruise lines attempt to fill unsold space. Typically, however, the best cabins sell out first. Also, if a cruise is starting and/or ending in a popular port, hotel space may be severely limited for a pre/post cruise stay. Personally, I look to the “early bird” fares, from a year to 6 months in advance. I’ve gotten “two for one” specials then, plus extras thrown in too. Pre/Post cruise opportunities are normally available when you take advantage of “Early bird” deals.

Tuxes and evening dresses are a must — Typically there are some dress requirements in the main dining room, but in recent years, dress has become casual. On my last cruise, on a luxury line, a nice shirt and slacks, plus shoes, were all that was needed for any dinner in any of the ship’s restaurants. On many ships, there are venues at which even more casual clothing is fine.

Ships’ cabins are alike — They’re not. There are a myriad of cabin choices on ships: inside cabins, with no view; outside cabins with fixed windows or a porthole; cabins with an outside veranda, and suites. Within each category there are many variations, including size, layout, amenities and included services. The deck a cabin is on, and where on the deck it’s located, can be very important. From ship to ship, even within the same cruise line, cabins can be considerably different.

You’ll get seasick — If you suffer from motion sickness in cars, planes or elsewhere, you should be prepared to deal with seasickness. That said, for most people, various sized cruise ships can satisfactorily handle many rough water conditions with their stabilizer systems.

Cruises are boring since the ships are confining — It’s true you can’t just walk off the ship when it’s at sea, and sometimes not even when in port, according to the country you’re visiting. That said, even on smaller ships there is much to do. Most ships offer all kinds of activities and entertainment, and you can do a lot to control your cruise time. For many, the ship is their destination. I want to visit locations and places as often as possible, off the ship. Your cruise itinerary is your key to making your cruise as busy as you want. I chose cruises with itineraries that have few days at sea and many off- ship excursions. If you’re bored on a cruise, you only have yourself to blame.

Cruises are all-inclusive — While some are, most cruises are not all-inclusive. To keep their base price low, many cruise lines charge extra for alcoholic beverages, other beverages not at meals, dining in alternative restaurants, small-group classes, spa and exercise sessions, Internet, gratuities, off-ship excursions etc.

Even all-inclusive cruises have some extra charges for special beverages, dry cleaning, Internet, special excursions, etc.

Tip: When choosing a cruise, don’t dismiss what appears to be the high cost of an all-inclusive cruise, compared to a similar non-inclusive cruise. Add up your expected total cost of each before you compare their bottom lines to help make your decision.

Dinner has assigned times and tables with people I might not like — It’s been five years since I was on a cruise where dinner had assigned seatings and tables. More and more cruise lines are eschewing traditional dinner seatings. Most ships now have alternate restaurants. You can eat there with passengers of your choosing to vary your dinner routine if your ship uses traditional seatings.

Cruise ships are packed with old people — Many cruisers are senior citizens. I’m one. Most of us are very active and even interesting. When I was younger I met amazing seniors while cruising, and had a marvelous time traveling with them. Generally, longer and more expensive cruises have the most older passengers. Ships with lots of athletic activities generally attract younger passengers.

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  • James Milne

    The photo accompanying the article of that floating abomination was enough to deter me from ever booking a cruise. I’d go on a freighter, or a small, 200-300 foot ship, but the smaller ships are understandably more expensive and I’m too old to be considered for freighter travel. So I guess I’ll stay ashore. The largest ship I ever served on was an Essex class aircraft carrier and the smallest a 310 foot auxiliary seaplane tender. Guess which one I liked best.

  • Graham

    I’ve only been on 2 cruises; both in the last 4 years. So why, in my mid 60s have I taken them? The first was transportation as much as anything. I tried hard to find a way from Seward down to Seattle or Prince Rupert using the Alaska Marine Highway but, as far as I could see there were several places I would have liked to visit that I would have had to arrive at around 0200 or I’d have been stuck there for more days than I wanted. In retrospect I should have combined the ferries with one or two plane charters or services like Wings of Alaska offer. Be that as it may I ended up on a Royal Caribbean Cruise. Did it go everywhere I wanted to? No. But having accepted the need to compromise I quite enjoyed it.

    Then this year we went from Santiago to Buenos Aires. It’s a part of the world I’ve wanted to go to for some years. One of the attractions of this particular cruise was that it stopped in Stanley (Falkland Islands) which is otherwise difficult to get to (2 flights a week from the UK and that’s it!).

    Will I cruise again? Not just for the pleasure of being onboard. Watching other people on the cruise was what kept me sane on both occasions. The Alaska cruise had a lot of Americans on board; the South American experience was much, much more cosmopolitain but they were both interesting as you watched how they did (or didn’t) dress up in the evenings. But just being on board for the sake of wtching the sea is not my idea of fun. Will I cruise to see somewhere special? Possibly but I think most of the places left on my Bucket List are inland so it’s unlikely.

  • NedLevi

    I fully understand your point of view. It’s actually similar to mine. I try to minimize days at sea, as much as possible. I’ve found that for me, 1 day at sea for each week is about right, when possible. On a Middle East cruise a couple of years ago, we had only 1 day at sea during the 2 week cruise, and that was when we went through the Suez Canal. We also had overnight stays in 2 ports, and a 2 nighter in another port. For the 2 nighter, some went well inland and stayed in a hotel those 2 nights, to use their time well.

    I went to Antarctica last year. We had 4 days at sea over a week and a half. Two days up and two back. It was worth it. It was the only way we were ever going to get down there.

    We mix travel inland with cruising. Our next trip is a cruise, but after that we have two coming up which are no where near the oceans. Cruising isn’t for everyone. I wrote the column not to try to entice those who wouldn’t like cruising to travel by sea anyway, but to remove the misconceptions which are stopping many who might enjoy the experience and use cruising to go to places they might not otherwise get to. It’s also an easier way to travel for many, as you’re not constantly unpacking and packing and going from airport to airport, station to station, hotel to hotel.

    Wherever you travel in the years to come, have a great and safe journey. Thanks for your readership.

  • NedLevi

    That “floating abomination” is actually a much smaller ship than most people think. It’s the Regent Voyager. It’s an all suite ship for 700 passengers max. To me, it’s about the right size as it is very stable even in some pretty bad seas, yet on board has an intimate feel. I’ve been on smaller ships and in fact, my next cruise is on a ship with only 132 passengers. I’ve been on it before and it’s great, and you get to meet everyone, but in even moderate seas, for many, it can be rocking far too much.

    I understand not wanting to be on a ship with 3,000 or 5,000 passengers. It’s not for me either, but I know many who love the experience, and all the on-board options these ships have. I prefer not to knock anyone’s preferences. If it works for them, great. Environmentally, these new ships are wonderful. They use far less fuel per person, have great waste recovery units for sewage and dirty water, do a wonderful job recycling, etc.

    Wherever you travel, I wish you the best. Thanks for your readership.

  • MeanMeosh

    I’m 35 and have been on 5 cruises so far, so I’ll personally testify that they’re not just for old people! I was very skeptical when my dad convinced the rest of the family to try a cruise when I was 19, but I ended up loving it and have gone back for more. I actually prefer the big ship experience; people watching is a favorite activity of mine, and the big ships provide a lot of different people from many different parts of the world to choose from. I would echo your comment about the number of at-sea days in the itinerary, though. We did a trans-canal cruise from FLL to Santiago last December, which includes 8 at-sea days out of a total 15 night itinerary. I enjoyed it very much, as I had been working way too hard and needed the extra at-sea days to just vegetate, but my mom, not so much. She felt cooped up with so many days out in the ocean. I always advise people who are thinking about cruising to look closely at the itinerary, and make sure the number of days at-sea vs. in port match their goals for their vacation.

    I would also add one additional benefit of going on a cruise – you can use it as a “preview” to check out a part of the world that you’re either not so sure about plunking down 2 weeks of vacation to see, or if you’re just not comfortable touring alone due to language issues or whatever. I did that with South America last year, though in that case, it just confirmed that I really do need to get down there and explore in more detail! I’m also seriously considering a cruise to Japan and Korea in a couple of years; I’ve heard from some that the language barrier can be a problem when traveling by yourself, so a guided tour via the cruise line seems like a good way to have our cake and eat it too.

  • Carchar

    It was a thrill to watch the QE2 leave Auckland harbor, but I had no desire to be a passenger on it. Way too big. I was on my way to meeting my 48-passenger ship to Antarctica, which was more my style. I also waved at the Celebrity Infinity from a land platform as it went through the Panama Canal. I did a partial transit on a local day cruise and had a very educational experience. For me, smaller, with fewer frills, is better.

  • NedLevi

    I’m with you, but I know quite a few who have told me they’ve had a great time on the Oasis of the Seas (5,400 passengers). To me it’s too many people, and is restricted, due to its size to far too few ports.

    I’ve had a great Caribbean cruise on the Infinity (2,170 passengers – less than half the Oasis), but that ship is as big as I want to go on. I’m normally on ships that are around 750 passengers or less.

    I hope your Antarctica cruise was as good as mine. Thanks for your readership.

  • NedLevi

    It does work as a preview sometimes. After a Caribbean cruise which stopped at Aruba, we’ve been going back periodically ever since. It’s a great place to vacation and out of the hurricane belt.

    Thanks for your readership.

  • James Milne

    Ned, thank you for your polite reply.

    I actually liked being at sea and heavy weather never bothered me. I’ve had to spend numerous nights gripping a stanchion in my sleep to stay in my bunk. A small ship would be no problem.

    Actually I did go on a two week cruise in 2000 on a Chinese cruise ship, “Star of the East”, on the Yangtze River from Wuhan to Chonqing. Part of our cruise fare included an eight hour “hard class’ train from Shanghai to Wuhan. We paid a little extra to get ‘soft class’ for the return trip. I was the only Westerner among the “One Thousand Old People Tour The Three Gorges of the Yangtze. (That was the logo on our cruise line issued caps and the approximate number of passengers) I spoke no Chinese so I had to depend on my Chinese lady friend for translations. A lot was lost in translation. We shared a first class cabin forward on the third (top) deck.

    Her sister booked late and had to share the same size cabin and combination toilet/shower/ on the main deck with five other passengers. I say combination because there was no shower stall, only a shower head that swung out from the bulkhead and used the whole small room as a shower stall. There was never enough water pressure on the third deck to flush the toilet so we had to have to use our laundry bucket, that we filled from the shower, to flush.

    The ship seemed to have a permanent five degree list to starboard and we only had about three to four feet of freeboard. There were a half dozen life boats secured to davits on the top deck. We had life preservers in our room
    The air conditioning never worked but this was in late October and as long as we were underway it was comfortable.

    We did laundry, as did many other passengers, in a bucket and dried it in our room. Some passengers hung it on the rails or outside walkways. There was a trough with spigots on the main deck where passengers without buckets could do laundry.

    Needless to say there was no pool, rec center, gym, casino, etc. We usually bought breakfast at the rather grim dining room and brought it back to our state room. We had instant coffee and a thermos full of boilng hot water. We were in some port almost every day so we took haphazard meals ashore. The ship’s store sold beer, snacks and buckets, including an excellent jerky that I later found out was dog meat.

    We had a resident mouse. I’m not sure if every room had one or we were sharing him with other rooms.

    Cabin attendants kept a two liter container filled with boiling hot water. If one allowed a glass of water to cool and settle you could see the river sediment.

    I picked up a mild sinus infection, probably from dust and other air pollution but no gastro-intestinal distress at all.

    My share of the fare, including four day trips ashore was $300. Believing that something was “lost in translation” I volunteered $500+, which was accepted.

  • pauletteb

    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.

  • NedLevi

    You’re welcome. There is too much incivility in the world these days.

    Thanks for the above reply. That was quite a trip at any price. I have a new cruise article coming which you may be interesting in. I’m sorry to have missed your comment earlier, but I’ve been away, on a cruise, plus some time on land during the last month. (I had prewritten a month’s worth of columns.)

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