Editor’s Note: This is part one of a new Insider series on cruising. As always, please send me any suggestions on topics or content I may have overlooked.
The world of travel used to be divided into two groups: People who cruised — and people who didn’t.
Today, it’s a little less segmented. Oh sure, there are still frequent cruisers and landlubbers, but with 73 million Americans saying they’ve taken a cruise and another 36 million claiming they’re “likely” to take a cruise vacation in the next three years, according to a recent industry survey, the floating vacation is becoming an option for almost everyone.
Should you join them?
Consider a cruise vacation if …
You like to be at sea. Obviously, you’ll love a cruise if you enjoy being near the ocean and like ships. That’s probably the best reason to cruise.
You’re in the cruise demographic. Cruising was long thought to be the preferred vacation for the newlywed, overfed and nearly-dead (no, I didn’t make that up). Although it’s changing, the stereotypes often still hold true. You’re likely to find a lot of honeymooners, folks who hit the midnight buffet and every buffet that follows it, and members of the AARP set. If you fit into any one of those general categories, you might be happy with a cruise. (Then again, you might not, so keep reading.)
You don’t like to plan. Once you’re on a ship, your biggest worry is where to have dinner, unless you want to take an optional shore excursion. And even shore excursions are meticulously planned so that even bathroom breaks are built into it. That’s right, they tell you when visit the restroom. Seriously. Now that’s what I call planning! You can board a ship with no plan and have a terrific vacation. Don’t try that with a land vacation.
You like exotic ports of call. Once you get away from the touristy Caribbean ports, you’ll find yourself making stops in places with minimal tourism infrastructure but with maximum appeal to visitors with a taste for the exotic. If you don’t believe me, look up some of the round-the-world cruise itineraries. I practically guarantee you’ve never heard of some of them. And you’ll probably never see them on a typical land vacation, either.
Don’t cruise if …
Get seasick. Look, if you don’t enjoy being at sea, and you get a little queasy in the bathtub, there’s no point torturing yourself by popping Dramamine and pretending you like being at sea. Do yourself a favor and stay on land.
You’re pregnant and close to your due date. Cruise ticket contracts restrict women past their 24th week of pregnancy from sailing. It’s a policy I completely support. The on-board medical crew is not prepared to handle an early delivery, should that occur. What’s more, it’s your responsibility to know this rule. My advice is not to cruise at all if you’re pregnant.
You have a family with very young children. Even the most family-friendly cruise ships are not ideal for very young children, by which I mean kids who are not toilet-trained. (Disclosure: I’ve cruised with infants, babies and toddlers, and I personally think it’s a bad idea.) Childcare is usually restricted to kids who don’t use diapers. Your children have to be old enough to understand that the railings are not for climbing, too. Really, the last thing you want is to have one of your little ones take a dive.
Don’t have a passport. No matter what the cruise lines tell you about a birth certificate being enough, I wouldn’t dream of boarding a ship without a valid passport. I know, they say a birth certificate is sufficient, but do you have the right one? How can you be sure. With a passport, you know you can travel internationally. Not a passport card or a birth certificate — a bona fide U.S. passport. Please get one.
Have paperwork issues. If you’re not a U.S. citizen and plan to take a cruise, you need to make sure the information about your paperwork requirements (visas, residency permits, green cards, etc.) line up with those of the U.S. State Department. I’ve seen entire families turned away at the dock because one member had a problem with a green card. My advice? Find a travel agent who knows the ins and outs of your paperwork requirements and bring all your documentation and supporting paperwork with you. If you’re not sure about your ability to leave the country, don’t risk it.
Like to be in control of your vacation. If you want to go wherever the wind takes you on vacation, a cruise will make you feel like you’re on a prison barge. So for those of you who are spontaneous free spirits, you may want to look elsewhere.
A note about risks: If you’re concerned about your cruise ship sinking like the Costa Concordia, I would look for something else to worry about. One estimate puts the chance of your ship going all Titanic at 1 in 250 million. Cruising isn’t entirely safe (I’ll cover that in more detail soon) but sinking isn’t a rational fear.
Cruising isn’t for everyone, but it might be right for you. If you know what to expect, it can be a relaxing and stress-free vacation.