We often strive for premium airline cabins and posh hotels to make our experiences as comfortable and luxurious as possible.
Meanwhile, cruises offer a different type of travel experience that fuses transportation, accommodation, dining, and entertainment.
Cruises are often overlooked by the traditional Miles & Points enthusiast, so let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons to cruises.
Why Consider Cruising?
Like many of you, I’ve often chased the travel experience more so than the destination. If you’ve been around Miles & Points for a while, you’re likely to have chosen a destination because of the airline and/or aircraft that flies there.
Cruising allows you to return your focus back to the destination, without having to sacrifice the luxurious travel we are all often in pursuit of.
Cruises are similar to an all-inclusive hotel experience, in that you’re always well-fed and watered. At the end of the day, you don’t need to venture very far to find a place to lay your head.
The key difference with cruising is that every day offers you a new destination to explore, depending on the itinerary of your cruise. Those seeking to check off a lot of countries in one trip should look to a cruise, as it often gives you the chance to explore multiple locations in one trip.
And while it’s true that you may not get the full breadth and depth of the location due to the short time of each stop, it certainly provides you with enough of a flavour and feel so that you can decide if you’d like to come back in the future.
The Pros of Cruising
Over the course of about 10 years, I’ve taken five Disney Cruises. I quickly fell in love with the idea of cruising, and while some of these benefits may not resonate with everyone, they certainly do for me.
In my experience, the food on cruise ships has always been a highlight. While it’s true that I’ve had some subpar meals, for the most part, the food has been excellent in the restaurants and buffets that I’ve enjoyed over the years.
Most cruise lines have long since figured out that the primary driver of many cruisers is the food. Cruise lines have made significant investments in the recent past to ensure that the food quality is consistently high.
Each cruise line will have a different focus on food, but most will have elevated cuisine to keep cruisers coming back for more.
Meals are always a part of the basic cruise package, but most cruise lines will have restaurants on board that offer an elevated culinary experience for a nominal price.
For example, on Disney Cruise Lines, depending on the ship, you can make reservations at Palo (Italian cuisine), Remy (steakhouse), or Enchanté (French cuisine). It’s not uncommon for these premium restaurants to be led by Michelin-starred chefs.
Many cruise lines know that after food, entertainment is what attracts cruisers. Royal Caribbean has high-flying water acts from Cirque du Soleil, while Disney features Broadway-quality musicals and fireworks at sea.
As ships are essentially floating cities, it has become commonplace to find go karts, rock climbing walls, ziplines, skating rinks, waterslides, and even indoor skydiving on some ships.
Cruise lines have made it a priority to give you numerous entertainment options as you sail to your next destination.
In a world where families are so busy with their day-to-day activities, having a chance to reconnect is a very nice change of pace. When I look back at all the places I’ve been and the things that I have experienced, the happiest times have always been with my family.
So, being “forced” to be together isn’t a bad thing at all. Imagine going out to eat with your family, hanging out by the pool, watching a movie together, playing cards, shopping, and sometimes just relaxing in the same space with your loved ones.
Cruising gives you that, and in the event that you need a break, you can always escape and take in some of the entertainment offered by the cruise.
An Opportunity to Disconnect
One of the things that I thought that I’d hate about cruising was the fact that I’d be disconnected from the world.
Back when I started cruising, internet access on board a ship was definitely possible, but usually cost-prohibitive. That has since changed quite a bit, with access to internet being significantly cheaper, but I’ve discovered that I absolutely love being disconnected from the world.
I find that being disconnected forces me to relax and to refocus on my family. I have a teenage daughter, so it’s not uncommon for all of us to be head-down into a phone or laptop during our day-to-day interactions.
Once we’re on a cruise, our screen time diminishes to almost zero, which is refreshing for us all.
Cruising can open up the world for many travellers, and I am no exception. Through cruising, I’ve been to many of the Caribbean nations, and have plans to someday take a European cruise to explore the Nordic countries and the Mediterranean.
I’ve always liked the idea of falling asleep in one country and waking up in another. I’ve done it with planes, trains, buses, and cruise ships, and I can tell you that cruise ships offer one of the most comfortable and efficient way to see multiple destinations in one trip.
The Cons of Cruising
Depending on your personality type, many of the things I’ve listed as pros may actually be cons for you. For example, disconnecting may be a terrifying idea for some people, but I changed my mind once I experienced it for myself.
Of course, cruising isn’t perfect, so here are some of the possible negative elements about cruising.
The cost of cruising, and specifically cruising with higher-end cruise lines like Disney, can be jarring for some.
It isn’t uncommon to see prices between $200–$300 (USD) per person per day for a cruise. Of course, that price can vary greatly depending on the cabin you choose, the time of year you go, and the ports you want to visit.
Similar to airline pricing, many factors are at play, so if you’ve dug in and have a good understanding of airline economics, you should have a decent understanding of cruise pricing.
There are certainly deals to be had if you know where and when to look, but some travellers may feel that it’s yet another thing to learn about, and that they’d prefer to stick with airlines and hotels.
Limited Loyalty Programs
Unlike airline and hotel programs, cruise loyalty programs aren’t nearly as lucrative. Status is often based on how many times you embark on cruises, and there’s no other way to earn status except by cruising.
Just like with airlines or hotels, the benefits of each cruise loyalty program are different.
As an example, Disney’s Castaway Club status provides you with things like early booking windows for future cruises, preferred dining and activity reservations, and merchandise discounts while on board.
Once you hit Platinum with Disney’s Castaway Club, you’re entitled to a free meal at Palo, which on my most recent cruise on the Disney Wish, amounted to $45 (USD) per person.
This isn’t a particularly great value, considering you must have sailed 10 times with Disney to become Platinum.
Remember two and a half years ago when COVID was a new word to everyone? Remember how many people got sick on cruise ships?
Well, that happened because you’re often in close quarters and indoor environments with people that may or may not make the best decisions around hygiene.
With cruise ships often housing 3,000–5,000 people at a time, it’s not hard to imagine how contagious people might infect others at a higher rate than in other circumstances.
Getting sick has been and always will be an issue with cruise ships, even though many cruise lines make it a practice to encourage good hygiene amongst their guests with disinfecting wipes and hand washing stations everywhere.
Even with these measures, not everyone partakes, so you can’t be sure that you won’t get sick on a cruise. If you do get sick, come prepared with a handful of over-the-counter medications to reduce the impact on your trip.
With the vast majority of Canadians being vaccinated against COVID-19, one can take solace in the idea that if you do indeed test positive while on board, your symptoms should hopefully be mild.
Many cruise lines are excellent at separating you from your money while on board. There are various ingenious tricks that are used to get you to spend more.
One of the more interesting ones is called the “Fresh Wallet”. Once you book your cruise, you’ll be inundated with offers to pre-pay for things like tours, drink packages, upgraded dining, activities, and even gratuities.
It has been found that people who pre-pay for these items before the cruise often forget that they’ve already spent a significant amount of money. So, when they board the ship, they have a “Fresh Wallet”, and are almost 100% more likely to spend on board than those that don’t pre-pay.
The $15 martini that’s made by a robot, or that cute dress that’s only $145, are further examples of opportunities to part ways with money on board a cruise ship.
Want to add a nice bottle of Chardonnay for $89 at dinner? Why not – you’re on vacation!
If you aren’t careful, you could end up with a bill for $1,000 more than you planned when you got on your “all-inclusive” sailing, and that’s not even taking into account your casino losses. The good news is that all of this is well within your control, so just be mindful of what you buy on board.
Depending on the size of your sailing party, you may be seated with strangers at dinner, and you may or may not get along with your dining partners.
We’ve mostly had good luck with our dinner partners, who have ranged from people that have become family friends to folks that we definitely didn’t exchange contact information with.
Depending on how social you are, this may be a significant downside to cruising. If your interaction goes sideways, though, you can always ask to be moved to another table.
Here at Prince of Travel, some of our writers have either taken cruises or are considering cruising in the future, with a range of interesting offerings from Disney, Ritz-Carlton, and Virgin, among other brands, on our radar.
You can look forward to upcoming reviews from the team to help you understand if cruising is for you and your family. I’ll be writing a review on our recent four-night cruise on Disney’s newest ship, the Disney Wish, that was just launched in July 2022.
Our team member Amy will be providing her thoughts on Disney’s second-newest ship, the Disney Dream, and other team members are exploring everything from Alaska cruises to river cruises in Europe.
Cruising has a lot to offer, and it can represent different things to different people. Some try cruising and say “never again”, while some become obsessed and Google phrases like “how much does it cost to live on a cruise ship in retirement?”
For my family, cruising has been a lot of fun, and it has given us some cherished memories that we wouldn’t trade for the world. Whether or not cruising is for you is going to be hard to decide until you’re on your first sailing.
We hope that this primer and our future cruise reviews arm you with enough knowledge that you can make an educated decision on your first cruise.