What to Expect if You're a Traveler Looking to Cruise
1. Cruising is a Vacation
When we’re packing up to fly across the world with our only belongings on our backs, I correct people when they wish me a “happy vacation.” Traveling is a huge blessing and privilege, but it’s not a vacation. It’s hard work! You are constantly walking, hiking and/or lugging around your backpack, and you inevitably give up comforts like soft beds, private rooms and air conditioning. You forego the cocktail for another bottle of water, and you depend entirely upon yourself to find things like sustenance, navigation and shelter. Not so with cruising; not so at all. Cruises are the definition of a vacation: you are surrounded by luxury, all-you-can-eat buffets and restaurants, and staff that is ready to wait on you at your every whim. The massages, jacuzzis and piña coladas are always at the ready. And there’s never a question like ‘are we in the right place?’ ‘will my train be delayed?’ ‘is the other airbnb guest really as shifty as he seems?’ But, if a traveler finds themselves in need of a vacation from traveling (it’s a thing!), then a cruise is the best call. Or, like in my case, if you suddenly find yourself physically unable to travel, then cruising is the perfect way to see glimpses of the world, even with limited mobility. And there's nothing wrong with getting everything you could ever want for a few days, right?
2. Most Cruisers are Not Travelers
And, of course, there is nothing wrong with this! This world has plenty of hard working men and women who don’t prioritize travel, but still need to get away from their jobs/home/families and spend time in a low-stress environment. But, if you are a traveler on a cruise, you may have to keep your mouth shut around your fellow cruisers. While in Jamaica, we were waiting for our guide to arrive and bus us to the beach where we were going to be spending the day. After fifteen minutes, our guide still had not arrived. The cruisers in the line with us did not hold back; their rage at the lost 15 minutes was unleashed on the poor employee who had no power over the bus that was stuck in traffic. As travelers, we’ve had far worse happen than a 15 minute delay on our beach trip. We’ve spent 28 hours in an airport where no one spoke English after our flight was cancelled; we had to leave a taxicab and walk to the nearest town after our cab driver was pulled over by the police; we’ve arrived at an airbnb at 2am only to find the key that was left for us didn’t fit the lock. As travelers, there are so many variables that will fly at you, you have to learn to take things as they come and adjust accordingly. And you also have to learn that, for the most part, the people who deliver the bad news are simply the messengers and have no power over the situation.
3. You Will Only See Glimpses of the Locations You are Visiting
The biggest bummer of cruising is that you only have half-days in all of the destinations on your itinerary. During our cruise, we visited Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico. Dipping our toes into Mexican culture has assured us that we will have to return, and spending our day in Grand Cayman on an excursion with stingrays made us wish that we could have seen more of the island, the turtle preserve or the starfish beach. But you literally can’t do it all! You have to pick and choose, then hope to return someday. Nevertheless, these quick peeks into other cultures can be used as a tool; just a glimpse of a new world with vegetation, fruits, people and cultures unlike yours can be enough to inspire others to want to see, explore and travel this world more.
4. There are Plenty of Multi-Cultural Experiences Available to You if You Search for Them
One of the coolest things about cruising is the staff; on the Carnival Vista (our ship), there was a staff member from nearly every single country represented on our boat! Strike up conversations with the staff around you – it’s the coolest multi-cultural experience to suddenly find yourselves surrounded from people who grew up, literally, all around the world. We hit it off with Zoran from Bolivia and Imade from Indonesia; we loved hearing them talk about the countries they grew up in and the schools they went to, the contracts they signed with the ship and what ‘a day in the life' is like for them as they work and live on a boat! On top of that, many of the staff are there to share their talents with you. Visit the Piano Bar, watch a show on stage, listen to the violinists, visit the art gallery; there is plenty of art, music and theater to consume.
5. Book Your Own Excursion—Why Not!
You’re a traveler, after all! You book your own excursions all the time! Do your research as to whether or not the island you are visiting is safe enough to explore by yourself, and then plan accordingly. In Cozumel, Mexico, we rented a jeep and drove around the island, visiting a (free!) beach and a nearby bar - both recommended to us by locals. We got to chat with a man who was knitting hats out of leaves, eat authentic Mexican food, see tropical birds, and swim in one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever seen. We saved money and we were able to immerse ourselves in the charming, colorful Mexican culture in a way we wouldn’t have if we had been parading around the island in a giant crowd. (Of course, there are some excursions that are just too good to pass up; swimming with stingrays in Grand Cayman being the prime example.)
6. Let Loose and Enjoy!
For once, you don’t have to think about itinerary or maps or dates or tickets or trains or hostels or backpacks; you can let loose. Let the cheerful service take care of your luggage for you (though they laughed as us when they saw our bags. In fact, they first asked “where is your luggage?” We don’t blame them, though: looking around, we saw people carrying luggage as large as themselves!) Eat an extra serving of dessert, you’ve already paid for it! Sleep in if you want. Decide at the last minute that you don’t want to see the movie – that’s fine! Let guides take you around these destinations. Don’t feel guilty about the luxury you’ve found yourself in, because you’ll be back to hot, cramped and achy-feet days soon enough.