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One day in to our week-long Royal Caribbean Mediterranean cruise this summer, and we found ourselves in the midst of an identity crisis. We loved cruising…and this went against everything we thought we were!
We’re nomads, world travelers…we live out of backpacks! We can’t love cruising. Normally we are slow travelers who prefer to delve deeply in to each travel destination and absorb as much of local life and customs as we can. But we had decided to jump on a seven-day Med cruise with my parents as a part of a spring European family vacation. And so, there we were, back in port from our first day, loving every minute of our dinner, enjoying the sunset from the safety and comfort of our home for the week.
Except for the day trips in port, the entire experience hinges on the ship, so it’s a good thing we loved being on board so much – but it is also no big surprise. These massive cruise ships are designed to cater to everyone’s wishlist. Our main goal while on board was to catch up on some much needed rest and relaxation, so we spent some quality time in the fully-equipped gym, which also had a sauna, steam room and a jacuzzi. Had we wanted to learn to cook, perfect our jumpshot or spend our time shopping, we could have done any of that, too. Our ship – the Adventure of the Seas – had a full basketball court, mini-golf course, a rollerblading area, a pool, a kiddie pool, three more jacuzzis, countless bars, a casino, an outdoor climbing wall (pictured below), a library full of interesting books, even an ice skating rink (where we not only watched a great dancing on ice show, but ice skated ourselves the next day), plus a games room, a cafe, a movie theater and a 500-seat theater and hang-out rooms for various other activities. This was all spread out over 14 floors, and it was not only the variety of activities but the massive scale of this floating city that fascinated us so much.
Each time we hit a port, enough supplies were brought on board to serve up food in the main dining room, a massive buffet, a Johnny Rockets restaurant, plus smaller eateries throughout the ship for when 3,000 people feel peckish outside of meal times. We only ate in the dining room once, as it was the buffet we enjoyed, not because we could stuff ourselves silly, but more because the formality of the dining room seemed silly, at least to us. Why should we sit down to be served almost exactly the same food as is available in the buffet, but have our dining times dictated to us (9:30pm) when we could take as much of the fresh fruit, salads, soups, fresh orange juice and bottomless coffee as we wanted in the buffet? However, as cruises cater to everyone’s tastes, you could clearly see by the fancy dresses, suits and ties that plenty of our fellow cruisers loved to get fancy for their food.
Having slept in over 100 beds in our first year on the road, sleeping in one bed for seven nights is some serious stability – even if we wake up in a different destination each morning! We hung our clothes in the closet, knew where we would be eating dinner and breakfast each day and made plans for theater and other activities for the whole week in advance. Although rooms on board are small, the size was comfortable, and bigger than plenty of rooms we stayed in while traveling. Plus, rooms are only used to sleep, shower and wind down, while everything else is done outside in this massive floating city. The key was that we had hot water and our bed was definitely comfortable enough to sink into each night.
The cruising industry has exploded in recent years, both in the number of ships and the number of passengers on each ship (new mega-ships hold up to 6,000 passengers). This increased supply means lower rates, opening cruising up to travelers of almost all budget ranges. In fact we found booking a cruise to be a smart, economical travel option with the various cruise deals available year round. For $500 per person (always based on two sharing an inside cabin), vacationers can easily find a seven-day cruise in the Mediterranean or Caribbean which includes all of the recreation and amenities listed above, food and non-alcoholic drinks, and of course accommodation is also included. What is not included is airfare to and from the departure port, so finding great flight deals is essential to keep costs down.
Aside from possibly being a great vacation deal, what we really loved is that a cruise is essentially a travel buffet. We don’t say this because we love buffets (although, it must be clear by now that we do!). You can sample several new locations, dipping in and out in a day. For example, we sampled Italy, Spain and Corsica, France, and though we had been to two of the three already, the quick trip to Corsica had us thinking about returning for a longer period of time. Had we taken a cruise in a completely unfamiliar part of the world, this would have been a great to way to sample many places, with no long-term commitment necessary unless we decided to return on our own time.
Two major downsides: Endless up-sale and cultural disconnect
As independent travelers, we do not rely on tours to get us around a city, but are more likely to consider the option in a place where we do not speak the language and have limited knowledge of the culture. However, some of the tours cost half the price of the cruise itself, completely negating the great travel deal on the one hand, and on the other, we felt that these cruise tours were not justified in terms of value for money. Comparing the tour agenda with the same stops done independently, we were able to spend a tiny fraction of the cost of what Royal Caribbean offered as a package tour. Back on board, we found the prices of alcohol, and even soda, to be just plain silly. We felt that Royal Caribbean was taking advantage of our being ‘stuck’ on the ship, charging $8 a beer or $7 for Coke. California wines started at $32. Local Spanish, Italian and French wines were available in port for less than $5 a bottle, but we had to either down a bottle each day at lunch or declare the bottles when coming back on board, and the wine was returned to us at the end of the week-long cruise.
Alcohol, shopping and extra restaurant charges (not to mention tips) could really have added up for us on board. However, while so many others were settling massive bills at the end of the cruise, we realized something important…
We are not like other cruisers
We have no problem spending money when it is worth it, but we insist on value for money. We can’t speak for other cruise lines, but it seemed that Royal Caribbean is stuck in a travel industry time-warp that should no longer exist. Whether short-term or long-term, luxury or budget, in our experience we see that consumers today want honesty, up- front pricing, and value for money. While many can rationalize themselves into accepting the $8 beers, what about the astronomical wi-fi prices? In our opinion, Royal Caribbean is actually losing money for setting their on-board internet and wi-fi fees so high. On our ship, it would have cost us over $55 per hour to use the wireless internet, and a shade less had we used one of their ten computers. As location independent workers, we would have been willing to pay a high price for on-board access if that meant that pounding out some work during the at-sea days, but at $55 an hour we could have hired business consultants, drunk seven beers each or, after a few hours a day throughout the cruise, bought a plane ticket to Bangkok. Realistic pricing would mean that hundreds, if not thousands, of passengers would actually pay to sneak peeks at work emails (we’re all guilty of it). These prices are a barrier that few are willing to jump.
The other major issue we had with the cruise was the disconnect to the local culture at each port. Each evening, passengers receive a newsletter filled with information on several available excursions, arrival and de-boarding times, but this information is the abridged version of the Wikipedia cliff notes. Where were ‘hot tips’, ‘hidden gems’, some ‘local shops or sights not to miss’. While the rest of the travel industry has gone ‘social’, there was no sign of past cruisers recommendations or tips. The newsletter also had vocabulary tips, but they were all related to shopping, much less so food, and almost unrelated to the actual culture of each country. The newsletters, along with the self-produced travel programs shown throughout the cruise, are treated only as part of a sales funnel to market available products, not to actually connect cruisers to locals once in port.
Some would argue that there are plenty of specialty cruises, one to float everyone’s boat. The industry is so varied, that there are cruises tailored to the most specific of tastes – Technology cruises, Star Trek cruises and even within the LGBT cruise market, it is split between singles cruises and those for gay families. In the future, we will be checking out cruises more related to our specific interests, although we might be found on a cruise ship in a different form…as a member of staff?
Working on a cruise
We are long-term travelers, and the staff on a cruise gets to see much of the world, meet countless interesting people and work with like-minded co-workers with a love of trail. As we settled in to life on board (and for us, seven days is a long time to settle in!), we honestly started considering the option. It certainly didn’t help that we had literally just finished reading Wandering Earl’s excellent e-book on How to get a job on a cruise ship.
The book breaks down step-by-step how to get a job on a cruise ship and what life is like once you’re working on board, including detailed tips like where and to whom to send resumes, with links to full names and addresses online. If we actually decide to try out life working on a cruise, this book is the step-by-step guide to getting a job on a cruise ship!
We’ll do another cruise for sure – we loved it!
Even if we don’t go and work on a cruise just yet, we are keeping our eyes peeled for deals on cruising websites out there, and in every cruise newsletter we find another great deal and toss around the idea when and how to get back on a cruise ship in the near future. We’re headed to Asia next and might cruise there, or maybe head back west for a Caribbean cruise in the summer? Who knows!
Have you been on a cruise? What cruise lines or specialty cruises would you recommend (we’re looking for the next one!!)? We would love to hear your recommendations. Have you worked on a cruise? What were your experiences and would you recommend it to other readers who might be considering it as a way to see the world?
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What is your opinion on cruising – have you been on a cruise, and if so, did you enjoy it? Are you an avid cruiser, or is this kind of travel not for you at all? Join the discussion in the comments below!