Cruising: Do it Your Way
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People who have never gone a cruise often think they wouldn’t like it, and I think the reasons are because of misconceptions about cruising. Before I went on my first cruise, I probably had the same ideas: smoky casinos, fat Americans gorging themselves at the buffet, hairy chest contests, and a lack of cultural experiences.
Party on NCL Dawn
Norwegian Dawn Pool Deck
Well, these ideas aren’t completely inaccurate. In fact, they are still part of cruises; however, cruise ships, even mid-sized ones, are large enough to get away and do your own thing. For example, the hairy chest competition usually happens at the main pool deck, along with the “Cha Cha Slide,” “The Wobble,” and “The Cupid Shuffle.” There is usually a quiet zone with a smaller pool and a hot tub, and it this area, there is either no music or relaxing, ambient music. You still have sunshine in this area, as well as a place to cool off from the sunshine.
As for the casino, they usually are smoky, so I avoid them at all costs. You don’t have to walk through it. Even if the theatre is next to the casino, you can usually access it from a deck above or below. I am on the Norwegian Dawn right now, and I still haven’t seen the casino! (Update: I walked through it once. This is a great shop if you prefer to avoid the smoke!) A wonderful development seems to be trending, which is having a casino that is smoke-free and possibly a smaller, enclosed casino for smoking. This is true on Norwegian Bliss, and I am sure on other ships as well.
Wine class on NCL Bliss
Regarding dining, many people probably don’t know that there are so many options on ships now. In addition to the buffet, there is at least one main dining room, in addition to numerous specialty restaurants. The specialty restaurants usually specialize in a certain cuisine, such as Italian, Mexican, Steakhouse, Brazilian, BBQ, etc. Celebrity chefs also partner with cruise lines and create restaurants. The buffet is still there, and there are people who eat every meal at the buffet. I usually lunch at the buffet upon boarding, and then I relax by the pool for a few hours. After that, I either try the main dining room or specialty restaurants for other meals. I also go to the buffet for breakfast since I am an early riser, and it is generally the earliest option. I fix a plate and take it to my room, which is how I like to start my morning.
Dinner at Le Bistro on NCL Dawn
French dinner at Le Bistro on NCL Dawn
It is true that if you want to really have an immersive cultural experience, you need to spend more than one day in a location. That is usually not what you get on a cruise, except ships that sail to Cuba often stay overnight, cruises to Bermuda often stay several days, and I believe a cruise to St. Petersburg, Russia is likely to stay overnight.
Why should we think a Caribbean island is unworthy of our time? Even a day in Nassau, Bahamas can provide a taste of Bahamian culture. Just walk around the town, get a bit off the beaten path, and ask a local where to have lunch. On one trip, I witnessed a political event (a peaceful one) outside the government building and had a lunch at a very local cafe (Sunshine’s Deli). I have more stories where that came from.
Sunshine’s Deli in Nassau, Bahamas
Political Event in Nassau
So you think Caribbean culture isn’t worthy of your time? Well, European cruises are a great option. A 7-day Mediterranean cruise can be an amazing value. I see them as low as $500 sometimes (not including flights). You can visit areas of Italy, Spain, and France in 7 days. This can include days in Rome, Florence, Pisa, Napoli, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cannes, and Marseilles. You can cruise to Russia, Greek Isles, British Isles, Iceland, Norway, etc! If you are anything like me, this will give you a taste of places, so you can put them on a list of future destinations where you will spend more time.
Overlooking Cannes, France
I have used a cruise as an affordable mode of transportation & accommodations. Once I took a cruise from Southampton, England to Hamburg, Germany. This took me to a part of England I had never been, as well as a part of Germany I had never been. I stayed a night on the Isle of Wight before the cruise and had lots of time to explore Southampton and the Isle of Wight before the cruise. I then spent two or three days in Hamburg, which was wonderful. I got to see a concert at the Elbfilharmonie, which is their amazing new concert hall!
Inside the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg
Pre-cruise night on the Isle of Wight, UK
This is my hard sell for cruising. If you like to experience different cultures, you can do that. If you want to stay in your bubble of American culture, you can do that as well. In the best of ways, cruises are like the NYC Subway, because people from all over come together for a journey. Some people sleep in fancier cabins, but there is something egalitarian about a cruise, and it has taught me to be more open minded, and more importantly, less judgmental. I think you should try it. There’s something for everyone!
P.S.: If you are a gym addict, cruise ships usually have pretty nice gyms and offer a number of group exercise classes, in addition to personal trainer sessions.
Whether you want to consider a cruise or a land based vacation, I can help you find what is best for you. Please contact me via my website: http://www.jonathanpilkington.net/travel