Cruise control: 9 answers to cruise boating questions
When I was growing up on Cape Town, we loved seeing the big cruise ships come into the harbour. Looking at them, I was filled with a sense of adventure: Where had they come from? Where were they going to next? I could only imagine the sights, experiences and adventures one might have on board. Sadly those cruise ships diminished in popularity - but cruises have been rejuvenated! Now you can cruise anywhere in the world: Antarctica; the Baltic Sea; Scandinavia, Canada, the Mediterranean - and closer to home - Papua New Guinea, Fiji and beyond.
To find out what modern-day cruises are like, I chatted to my friend Bridget. She's enjoyed a couple of cruises lately - and this is what she has to say:
You`ve been on a few cruises. What for you is the attraction?
Cruising for me is a means to an end. It either gets me somewhere I wouldn’t be able to get to otherwise – like Papua New Guinea, or it gets me around easily – such as our Mediterranean cruise or our Mekong river cruise. I’m not the sort of person who just wants to be on a cruise for the sake of it – although we did do a South Pacific cruise just to have a relaxing holiday. I love the ease of just unpacking once and travelling to many destinations.
One thing I’ve noticed about cruises is that people mix very well. You often sit with people in bars or restaurants and we’ve met some really interesting people that way. People seem to be more prepared to sit and chat.
What do you look for when you decide to cruise?
Destination, style of cruise and size of cruise ship. As I said above, cruising for me is about the destination/s. Cruising the Mediterranean is a very easy way to visit a lot of different places in a short period of time. I prefer smaller cruise ships as it really makes a difference to where a ship can go and how easy it is to get on and off. The larger ships have more entertainment and activities. We sailed the Mediterranean on a ship with 250 cabins – in to Mykonos at 6 am and left at midnight. The larger ships were arriving mid morning and leaving mid afternoon – with long queues for tenders.
Always check how long a ship is in port for and whether it will be docked (walk on and walk off) or tendering (using smaller boats). Be aware that if the weather is unfavourable then tenders may not operate for safety reasons.
How do you prepare for a cruise?
I research the cruise ship and the actual cruise route via online forums/social media and try to get a sense of the style of ship and how it works. You can pick up some really good tips that way.
What sort of facilities do cruise ships have? Which of those do you like best? And why?
It varies according to the cruise line and the individual ship. We’ve always gone for a balcony, although I probably wouldn’t bother if we were sailing in colder climes. A balcony gives you a lovely retreat from the main public areas on the ship. I like good food so I look for a cruise line with a good food reputation or a choice of specialty restaurants. Sometimes I gym and sometimes I just take the stairs everywhere!
I'm guessing you don't have to travel light on a cruise. What do you take with you?
Again, it depends on the cruise and the destinations. You pretty much need a good selection of smart casual for dining – I tend to go for ¾ pants and a range of tops – silk tunics are great as they wash and dry in no time and pack down small. Outfits that can be dressed up or down are good. I leave all the figure hugging clothes at home as you just about always put on weight on a cruise! If there are formal nights or theme nights you need to pack for those but there are usually opt out venues if you don’t want to. It varies greatly according to the cruise line – some are very formal, some aren’t. Clothes suitable for the shore tours, a wrap in case the air con is too efficient, a small cross body bag for everyday, a backpack for shore tours, hat etc. Some things that are very useful are a power board for charging (some cruise lines won’t allow these) a small hanging rack to dry undies on, a lanyard for your cruise card, toiletries ….
We've been shopping together for your cruise dress (or dresses). When do you wear these and why?
Formal nights or to the speciality restaurants. I love dressing up!
Tell me about the food and entertainment on board: what's good and what's the best?
Food can vary greatly. If you are in the South Pacific for two weeks don’t expect lots of fresh food. One cruise we only ate in the speciality restaurants after the first few days. Cruises are well-known for their buffets and desserts but I’m not really into either. A lot of cruise lines are US in origin so expect American takes on food and service – and bad coffee!
I’ve travelled five star luxury which was fabulous and I’ve travelled 3 star – and the food wasn’t great, but the destination more than made up for it.
Entertainment has always been a bit of a disappointment. I’m not really into Broadway style entertainment and that’s mostly what you get. Having said that, on our two week South Pacific cruise we had an evening performance from the most amazing classical guitarist – so good that they put him on again the next night. There are usually activities like bingo, trivia, guess that tune, music in bars – you can always find something to do if your book is boring.
On our PNG cruise we had a wonderful program of lectures given by historians and experts on the area. It made for a very interesting and educational cruise. Many of the passengers had a connection with PNG and that certainly made for a very interesting trip. One chap had been a telecommunications officer in WWII and spoke about his experiences laying communications lines on the Kokoda track – absolutely fascinating.
Have you experienced bad weather on a cruise? What's been your worst weather? And how did that make you feel?
The worst weather I ever experienced was on my trip out to Australia as an 11 year old. I remember the boat pitching and rolling so badly. The corridors were full of well-dressed people (it was the night of the Captain’s cocktail party) who were staggering back to their cabins with very green faces. Luckily I don’t get seasick.
What other advice do you have for travellers who are interested in cruising?
Do your research. Think about what you like about travelling and what is important to you. Make sure you and the cruise line are a good fit – if you don’t want to be surrounded by children don’t pick a family friendly cruise in school holiday time! If you want Las Vegas style entertainment go for a big ship.