One of the most relaxing ways to travel is by cruise ship. A cruise ship is like a floating hotel with several restaurants, sports courts, swimming pools, exercise rooms, theaters and many other modern conveniences.
There are some people who choose to live on a cruise ship because the cost of some four-week cruises can be comparable to the monthly rent for an apartment and food, but a cruise makes it possible to visit many exotic destinations.
Cruise vs. Car Travel
When you travel by car to several cities, you need to plan your route, stop on the road several times to eat, fill up with gas, and take bathroom breaks. You also need to call ahead to make reservations at the hotels where you want to stay overnight or take the chance that along the road you will find a motel or inn that has rooms available. Once you get to your destination, you need to worry about how to drive to the attractions that you want to visit and then consult maps and cope with traffic in an unknown city. By contrast, when you go on a cruise, all you need to do is be on time with your luggage at the pier. Instead of spending hours behind the wheel on the highway, you are free to walk around the ship at your leisure and do something that is more fun than worrying about the traffic. You don't need to be concerned about where you are going to eat or spend the night. When you get to your destination, you can explore on your own or go on city tours. A cruise is certainly a more relaxing way to travel.
There is only one problem. You need to get to the ship. You may need to take an airplane from the city where you live to the port of departure, and then you will need to use ground transportation to get from the airport to the pier from which the ship sails. Even though the ship does not place weight restrictions on your baggage, you still will need to abide by the weight limits imposed by the airlines.
The screening for getting on a cruise ship is similar to that of the airports. You need to have a valid passport or travel documents. Before your trip, you should have visited your doctor to get the appropriate vaccinations when traveling to destinations where endemic diseases are common. Some countries in Africa and South America may require proof of yellow fever vaccination. In the departure terminal, you are required to put tags on your bags with your cabin number so that the staff can deliver them later to your cabin door. Your luggage and hand baggage is X-rayed and checked for dangerous items. All passengers are screened through metal detectors. Passengers only need to carry their personal items. The passengers are called for boarding by groups assigned during check-in. Passengers with special needs are helped by the ship's crew, and other passengers use the ramps to board the ship.
Cabins, Electricity and Internet
The size of the cabins varies by price. Cabins along the interior do not have a sea view. Cabins that have a sea view may have portholes or, as an upgrade, larger windows. Still at a higher price, some rooms have balconies where you can sit on a lounge chair and enjoy fresh air and an intimate ocean view. Large cabins are available for families. The restrooms are compact but well designed. The toilets use a vacuum system that requires putting the lid down for flushing. The shower stalls are small, but you can extend your elbows with room to spare.
Luxury cruise ships feature staterooms ranging in size from 750 to over 1000 square feet. These rooms are lavishly decorated and comparable to a nice furnished apartment on land. Of course, all these perks cost much more. The passengers on the cheaper cruise lines are usually retirees or people taking vacation from work. The passengers on the luxury cruise ships are wealthy and usually they don't need to work at all.
Cruise ships provide European 220 volt electrical sockets, and American 110 volt sockets. There are not too many sockets, so you may need an extension cord that lets you plug more than one appliance, like a laptop and a battery charger for your camera.
Internet rates may be expensive and slow. The cost of unlimited Internet access at $29.99 per day costs over $330 dollars for an 11-day cruise, which is about the cost of a brand-new laptop computer. You can choose a 100-minute plan for $75 or a 250-minute plan for $125, but what they don't tell you is that the Internet speed is only 56 K/s, which is the speed of a dial-up modem from the 1990s. The very slow connection from the satellite communication network makes it difficult to do any real work. Some cruise lines have modernized their Internet access and have cheaper rates and faster speeds. Experienced sea travelers wait until the ship lands at a port and use WiFi at a restaurant or Internet cafe with modern facilities.
Approximately one fourth to one third of the people on a cruise ship are members of the crew. A ship with a capacity of 2000 passengers may have from 700 to 1000 crew members. The crew includes the navigation team that takes the ship from port to port, and other members in charge of security, entertainment, meal preparation, waiting tables, laundry services, cabin cleanup and everything else that is necessary to run a hotel.
On the first day of a cruise, there is always a mandatory safety drill. Everyone must go down to the main deck to receive instructions on what to do in case the ship runs into trouble. Maritime safety is taken very seriously since the Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground on a shoal off the coast of Italy in 2012 and foundered. Of the 3,229 passengers and 1,023 crew, 32 died because an order to abandon ship was not issued until over an hour after the initial impact. There is some consolation in knowing that a shipwreck is more survivable than an airplane crash.
Room service and wake-up calls are available like in any good hotel. The person in charge of cleaning your room usually gets to know you by name by the end of the cruise. Your room is usually cleaned after breakfast, and the beds are turned down in the evening. Sometimes, the attendants call attention to their service by making towel sculptures in the shapes of animals.
Food available around the clock
Cruise ships are known for providing a seemingly limitless supply of food and drinks. Breakfast is usually served in cafeteria-style buffets that are open from the early morning until late at night. Lunch and dinner are served in more formal restaurants where waiters take your order and bring the food to your table. The meals may include a selection of seven different appetizers and seven different main dishes plus a daily special. In addition to these restaurants that provide meals included in the cost of the cruise, there may be specialty restaurants for which you need to pay separately. The specialty restaurants may feature Japanese or Italian cuisine that provides a change from the steak, lamb and salmon dishes in the regular menu.
The cruise industry has increased emphasis on sanitation after several incidents of norovirus infected many passengers on some cruise ships. The typical symptoms of norovirus infection are vomiting and diarrhea. Hand sanitizer dispensers are located by the ship elevators and eating areas; passengers are urged to use them frequently. At the cafeteria, a hostess greets you with sanitizing spray and makes sure that the hands of all guests are disinfected. The cafeteria prohibits refilling water bottles to prevent contact of a bottle that may be contaminated with the spigot that provides water for everyone.
The CDC Vessel Sanitation Program has statistics showing that norovirus infections occur in cruise ships about 10 times per year. The infections usually affect from 3 to 10 percent of the passengers. The strategies used by the cruise ships to stop the spread of infection include isolation of the sick persons or the disembarkation for active cases to limit the opportunity of illness transmission to healthy travelers.
Cruise ships usually have a doctor and a dentist on board to take care of the crew and passenger emergencies. Some over-the-counter medicines may also be available for headaches or seasickness in the shops of the ship. Modern cruise ships compensate for the rocking motion of the waves so that seasickness is not a problem. In calm seas, the ship may make one oscillation every four to six seconds. Occasionally, you may need to hold a handrail as you walk down a corridor to keep from falling. When you are lying in bed, the rocking of the boat sometimes feels like there is a person tossing and turning in the bed with you.
Keep the ship's time
It is advisable to wear a watch set to the ship's time when traveling on a cruise ship. The ship's clock is adjusted to the time zone on which it is traveling. Sometimes the clocks are adjusted forward and sometimes backward. It is easy to miss activities if you do not have a watch synchronized with the ship's clock. This is particularly important if you get off the ship at a port of call. If you are not back on the ship at the scheduled time, the ship will leave without you.
Cruise ships have an automated wake up system on the cabin phone. You can use the wake up system throughout the day to keep you on schedule for your activities.
A cruise ship has theaters, swimming pools, exercise rooms, bars, casinos and shops that provide a variety of entertainment options. The ship social director organizes concerts, dancing lessons, food preparation demonstrations, contests, bingo and other activities to give the passengers a variety of ways to spend their time. Some guests read books in the library, walk around the main deck, or just lounge around the pool on the sun deck.
There are some free activities, such as the ping pong competition which offers a cash prize to the winner. The hairy chest contest on the sun deck is also free and gives you a chance to win some dollars.
Cruise lines are businesses
While you are having a good time on the ship, it is easy to forget that cruise lines are trying to make a profit. If you start paying attention to the information provided on the ship's television and live presentations, you realize that passengers are targeted for many commercial activities. The sushi preparation demonstration is actually a promotion for the Japanese restaurant. The lecture about how to select diamonds is actually a promotion for the jewelery shop on the ship. The contest to estimate the value of an oil painting is actually a promotion for an auction where you can bid on some paintings from artists that you never heard about before. The bingo and the slot machine contest introduce you to the casino and require you to spend some money to participate.
The cruise ship organizes tours at the ports of call. The tours are conducted by independent operators who are contracted by various cruise lines. Some of the tours are good and others are bad. One of my tours provided a nice meal, views of some notable landmarks, and an excellent folkloric dance show. Another, more expensive tour, drove us for one hour and half to a small town (population 350) where the only attraction was a museum of pre-Columbian ceramics and there was only time to visit the museum or stand in line for only one bathroom for a bus full of people. The bus also stopped at a coffee plantation which was not operating at the time and a restaurant where the food was not very good. Complaining at the ship's tour office only got me a 15% refund.
Most land tours are easily accessed when you disembark from the ship. The tour buses come to the pier where the ship is anchored. In ports that do not have deep harbors, the cruise ship has to anchor away from the piers and the ship's shuttle boats, called lifeboat tenders, are used to transport the passengers to and from the piers. Passengers who do not participate in tours organized by the cruise ship usually walk to the restaurants and shops that are located close to the pier. There are also tour operators on shore that provide some of the same excursions offered by the ship, but at a lower price. The ship will not wait for you if you are delayed on a tour not organized by the cruise ship.