Since the summer of 2012, we have taken three cruise holidays. Each time we have done so, I have spent many hours during the first day or two asking myself:
“What was I thinking?”
On paper, cruise holidays seem like a brilliant idea. With little effort on your part, you are taken from port to port, country to country, on an enormous sea vessel with beautiful, comfortable rooms. You unpack once and settle in. There are multiple amenities depending on the cruise ship, including pools, hot tubs, and fitness facilities. If the cruise ship is child focused, there can be attractions like water slides, water parks, and climbing walls, to name a few. All meals are provided and food is available 24 hours a day. Once in port, you are free to leave the boat and explore the area at your leisure.
So, how can this be bad? It isn’t! In my earlier blog, Cruise Ship Holidays: 7 Reasons to Cruise, I write about the advantages of taking a cruise. Why cruise holidays can be a good option for a family vacation. For each of our three cruises that we have taken, I can easily list what was amazing and fun.
However, that is not the whole story. There are many reasons to avoid a cruise. Maybe they won’t bother you. Maybe they do not outweigh the benefits of a cruise for your family. It didn’t for us. Our two cruises in Europe were the best choices for our family at the time. It allowed us to effortlessly transport our four children from city to city, keeping our children comfortable and settled.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t perfect. There are fundamental things about cruise holidays that I do not like. In this blog, I will discuss what those reasons are. In the end, before you decide to take a cruise, you should consider the positives and the negatives surrounding taking a cruise. Ultimately, you need to decide what is best for your family.
Six Reasons Why You Should Avoid Cruise Holidays
There are several reasons why taking a cruise is not always the best choice.
You are trapped on a boat with thousands of strangers.
Do not underestimate the impact of spending a number of days in a confined space with thousands of people you do not know. Imagine Disneyland on one of the busiest days of the year. Then, imagine you are on a cruise ship with the same crush of people and excitement almost everywhere you go. You get the idea! It is an assault on your senses.
The good news is that after the first day or two, it gets better. You either get used to it, or people distribute themselves better on the boat, I am not sure which. Eventually, you do find a rhythm of living on a cruise ship packed with people. However, if you require space, peace and calm, then you will likely struggle throughout a cruise.
Your day to day activities are limited to what is offered on board.
A cruise offers many amenities and activities. Every cruise ship is different, but there is usually a fitness room, multiple pools and hot tubs, a library and games’ room. More elaborate and child focus cruises may offer water slides, putting greens, a climbing wall, an ice rink, a sports court, or a movie theatre. There are often Broadway type and comedy shows offered in the evening and multiple musical acts offered throughout the boat all day long.
Notwithstanding all that, it is still limited. If you love to hike, play tennis, or connect with nature, you can not do that on board. It might not seem like a big deal when so much is already offered, but if any one type of activity or sport is not available and is fundamental to your day to day life, it could impact you.
You can only get off the boat on certain days and at certain times.
Cruise holidays remove most spontaneity. You can’t wake up one morning and decide you want to snorkel or visit a museum, unless you are in port with those activities. You are limited by the preassigned schedule of the cruise. If it is a sailing day, then your day would be constrained by what is offered on the boat. If you are in port, you will have some time to do what you want, but again, this would be restricted by the time you have in port and what is available within that timeframe.
Your days in port feel rushed and contrived.
Cruise ships have a strict schedule. If you are not back on the boat at the preassigned time, then it leaves without you. This was always on my mind whenever we left the boat. It prevents you from completely relaxing while you are in port. The only exception is if you take an excursion offered by the cruise ship itself. If something causes that excursion to be delayed, the cruise ship waits for its passengers.
The ports that we visited in the Caribbean seemed more an extension of the cruise ship than an introduction to the country that we were visiting. Upon disembarkation, we were often confronted with multiple western type shops selling local handicrafts for inflated prices. The restaurants and bars were similar in that they were designed to appeal to westerners, offering food and beverages that were aligned with what we could get onboard.
If you ventured far enough outside the port, you were able to experience something more authentic. However, there wasn’t a lot of time spent at each port so there was a limit to what you could experience. For example, in Costa Maya, we had a few hours to explore the area. We took a 15 minutes taxi. Then, we had a two hour private snorkelling and fishing tour (all booked before we left home) which we thoroughly enjoyed. However, after that, it was back to the port/boat.
Our two European cruises were different. We had much longer at most ports. When we disembarked, the port was often a working port not designed for tourists. Once outside the port, we were almost immediately integrated into the culture and history of the country that we were visiting. After a day exploring a city or town, we felt like we had genuinely experienced that city or town. We were usually able to see significant sites and have a meal or two by the time we returned to the cruise ship.
There is a lot of excess.
A cruise ship holiday isn’t usually the healthiest vacation choice.
Most cruise holidays are all inclusive. You pay for your cruise, and all of your food and non alcoholic beverages at meals are included in the price. There are some exceptions. A lot of cruise ships offer specialty foods and restaurants that are a supplemental cost. However, you do not have to purchase them in order to eat. On the contrary, there is an enormous amount of food available to you 24 hours a day as part of your cruise payment.
Alcoholic beverages are not normally included in the original cruise payment. They are extra. However, most cruise ships offer a daily all inclusive price for unlimited alcoholic beverages.
This format encourages you to overindulge. There is no obligation to do so. However, I think it is human nature to want to make the cost worthwhile. So, you overeat, and drink too much.
It is tough to reconnect as a family.
My kids love cruises. The first cruise we took, my youngest was almost 8 years old and my oldest was 15 years old. On our last cruise, my youngest was 12 years old and my oldest (on the cruise) was 15 years old. Once they understood the layout of the cruise ship; where our cabin was located; when and where food was available, and where all the kids’/teen activities were being held, we never saw them.
Cruise holidays allow your kids to run around from activity to activity with freedom and independence. They make friends from all over the world and enjoy spending time with them. When they are hungry, they eat and when they need downtime, they go back to the cabin and watch some TV. All of this is done without the need for parental supervision.
The upside is that parents get a lot of time together. The downside is that you don’t really end up having a family vacation per se. It is more about each person having their own holiday.
The answer to whether cruise holidays are right for your family depends on your goals for your holiday. You need to make an honest appraisal of your family, your spouse’s and children’s personalities, and your families’ needs and interests. Hopefully, after reading this blog, and my earlier blog Cruise Ship Holidays: Seven Reasons to Cruise, you can make a more informed decision about whether a cruise is the right holiday for your family.
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