I Had No Idea I'd Love Going On A Cruise... Until I Did It
I love transforming a basic vacation into an adventure -- the more extreme, the better. A 30-mile off-trail hike through the most remote national park in the United States? Sign me up. Backcountry camping in the Central American jungle? Let’s do it. Canoeing down the Mississippi River to complete the North American Great Loop of eastern waterways? I’m in.
But a cruise? For years, I couldn’t think of a more boring way to spend my vacation. Sure, you get to eat and drink all you want, but in my mind, there was nothing to do on a cruise ship -- unless you count ’80s karaoke, nickel slots, and movie night, that is. I always equated cruises with Golden Girls in hot-pink visors and Hawaiian shirts, Middle American families who tacked on an extra three days at sea to their Disney World week, and penny-pinching coupon clippers.
Then, to celebrate her retirement, my mom twisted my arm and convinced me to bite the bullet: four days and three nights from Central Florida to the Bahamas and back. She promised me we’d have a blast, but I was skeptical right up until the moment we pushed off from Cape Canaveral. Then, with the Atlantic Ocean lapping at our ship’s hull, I finally relaxed and let the joys of cruising wash over me. And you know what happened? Instant bliss. Here’s why:
1) That all you can eat and drink deal? It’s legit and awesome.
This is the foundational perk of all cruises: pay for the full package and you literally can eat and drink anything you want at any time. Craving two lobster tails at 2:00 AM? Order it. Dying to try that fancy drink you once had 10 years ago? Your bartender probably knows how to mix it. Want to order an app, an entrée, and a dessert? It’s practically a requirement. On my first cruise, every time I thought, “I want that, but what a ridiculous desire!” I picked up the phone, raised my hand, or strolled over to the counter to order it. Most chefs on most cruises take great pride in providing thousands of people with a memorable culinary experience. And after a few days eating at the same table, chances are you can cozy up to a friendly cook or server and request the customization you want.
2) The service is top-notch
The golden rule applies on a cruise even more than it does on land: treat the people waiting on you well and they’re likely to reciprocate with the best service you’ve ever experienced. Cruise-ship staffers tend to be a glass-half-full lot -- they know the easiest way to make it through their stint at sea is to smile and kill with kindness. If you approach the entire cruise experience with the same mindset, you’ll find that energy returned tenfold. When I cruised for the first time, I was coming off a decade of waiting tables and tending bar, which allowed for an immediate connection with the people taking care of me. Even if you don’t have that experience, there’s one way to ensure amazing service and it’s very simple: an extra cash tip goes a long way.
3) Even on basic ships, your opportunities for exploration are endless
Look at it this way: you don’t have a historic city or a boundless wilderness at your disposal. But you do have a floating mega-hotel with all the in-ship amenities you could imagine -- movies, dancing, live bands, educational workshops, lectures, gyms, bingo tournaments, trivia contests, cooking classes, spas, rock climbing, you name it -- at your fingertips. Want to make a plan? Spend your first day heading out to sea plotting out the days and times of all your preferred activities. Check the cruise ship’s daily bulletin, or get hip to one of the cruise lines’ new phone-friendly apps to be more spontaneous. If you want the classic on-ship entertainment experience, check out stand-up comedy, cabaret acts, show-tunes, or even Vegas-style acrobatics shows. The bottom line is, cruising is all about providing a memorable experience for every type of passenger. And there are thousands of activities ready to accommodate your desires.
4) You’ve got no responsibilities
You don’t have to cook, clean, commute, take calls, or perform chores, and without all these normal everyday duties to deal with, your mind can truly wander. You’re constantly traveling without dealing with all of the stresses of constant traveling: get on board, unpack your suitcase -- ONCE -- and never worry about changing rooms. Your toothbrush stays in the same place on the same sink, your clothes stay in a nice pile, and you get to stuff your empty suitcase in the closet without worrying about repacking it for days (or even weeks). Last summer, a year after taking my first cruise, I went on a six-week road trip up and down the East Coast. It was an amazing experience, but packing and repacking every few days became the bane of my existence, eating up at least five hours every week. On a cruise, those five hours are yours to spend exactly how you want. Sit on deck and watch the birds, or the dolphins, or passing islands and shorelines. Take a nap in the sun. Swim in the pool, then the hot tub, then the pool again. Read that book you’ve been meaning to for the last six months. Catch up on last year’s TV series that all your friends swore was so good. And if you want to be social, there are a few thousand people around you happy to strike up a conversation.
5) Excursions and unexpected adventures abound
If the off-ship excursions aren’t exciting enough for you, ask around for other options. Tour guides, concierges, and other employees tasked with assisting passengers go through the same motions far more often than you do. If you want to get off the beaten path a little, ask a particularly adventurous and fun-loving guide if they know of any other options. It isn’t difficult to turn a sailboat cruise into a diving trip. Want to know more about the local history or culture of a destination? Do your research and ask an informed question -- I did it once outside a historic site in Nassau and ended up getting more than an hour’s worth of “secret” knowledge from my tour guide (including the cheapest place to buy a 12-pack of Kalik).
6) Even doing nothing is enthralling
On the final day at sea of my cruise, after spending a full day roaming around our private Bahamian cay sailing, swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing, I decided to do something I quite literally never do: I sat on deck and zoned out for an entire afternoon. No inbox, no to-do list, and no social media -- in today’s world, that kind of mental relaxation is all too rare. But even on the deck of a packed-to-capacity cruise ship, the gentle crashing of the waves remains constant. The wind never stops blowing. Even if you get stuck with a rainy day, sit under an overhang and watch water fall into water as the ocean roils and the boat sways. The demands of a cruise ship are few, and the chance to be immersed in the ocean from start to finish is unusual. By the time you dock back at home port, you’ll probably feel like the experience was worth every penny.