Venezia - Piazzale Roma

Come Sail Away

Seems Dennis DeYoung and Styx’s 1977 hit “Come Sail Away”  may have had farther reaching implications in my life than I realized; not only is it one of my favorite classic rock songs to this day, but it may very well have affected my long term travel style. Well, my ship of choice, unlike that of the song, would be the cruise variety, rather than a starship, but I’ve found cruises to be a wonderful mode of travel on many levels.

My parents introduced my brother and me to cruising when we were still in grade school. Looking back as an adult, I realize that my parents wisely selected cruise travel for some of our family vacations due to the many virtues cruise ships possess. I ended up choosing to take my son on cruise vacations for likely many of the same reasons considered by my parents many years previous.

Pride of America Liberty Dining Room
NCL Pride of America’s Liberty Dining Room with the family (Hawaii 2007)
Pride of America, Hawaii
Family together time aboard NCL’s Pride of America (Hawaii 2007)
NCL Pride of America's Cadillac Diner
Cadillac Diner aboard NCL’s Pride of America (Hawaii 2007)

My son’s first cruise was back in 2007 on a Hawaiian Islands cruise when he was 14 years old aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Pride of America.  We met my mom, her husband, my brother and his wife in Hawaii and caught a 7 day sailing from Honolulu. As an extended family group vacation, a cruise is a wonderful option. The cruise allowed us a smattering of together time as a family at meals, activities and in port, but also afforded us the option to split up and do our own things if so inclined. There were times that Devan ditched us in favor of the teen program on board the ship. Other times, my brother and his wife opted to have us drop them off at the ship once we neared the port so that they could catch a nap while the rest of us hit another attraction in the port city before returning our rental car and getting back on the ship to join them. The week long cruise provided our group of six the flexibility to meet and separate as we were inclined and proved to be a great way to minimize the possibility of duress caused by family time overload.

Norwegian Jewel Baltic Cruise
Lounging around the Norwegian Jewel (Baltic Cruise 2008)
Norwegian Jewel Baltic Cruise
Devan’s made a lot of friends during his cruise experiences (Norwegian Jewel, Baltics 2008)

For subsequent vacations with my son, I selected cruises to the Baltics with Norwegian Cruise Lines, the Mediterranean with Royal Caribbean, the Caribbean again with RCCI and Alaska with Princess Cruise Line. While each of the itineraries was of interest to me (really, with exception of the short Caribbean route), I opted for cruise travel to allow my son some time independent from me. Since he was “stuck” with me all day in each of the ports, my one rule onboard (other than a reasonable curfew) was that we ate meals together. Other than mealtime, Devan was free to spend time with his new found friends in the teen club, partaking in other shipboard teen activities or just hanging out independently with the kids he met. Of course, we didn’t only spend the mandated mealtimes together on the ship, but since Devan was spending a good chunk of his summer vacation time away from his friends back home, I didn’t want him to feel that he was obligated to be chained to his ol’ mom 24/7 against his will.

RCCI Jewel of the Seas
Mom and son time aboard Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas (Mediterranean 2009)
RCCI Jewel of the Seas
Monkeying around (RCCI’s Jewel of the Seas 2009)
RCCI's Jewel of the Seas
Devan definitely enjoyed time away from his mom, too (RCCI’s Jewel of the Seas Mediterranean Cruise 2009)

I was also able to enjoy some reading, rest and relaxation time between ports while he was happily spending time with kids his own age. Some of what Devan and his new found friends did was far less than brilliant, as demonstrated by the below poor quality video showing him pretending he was a kite (using a bed sheet) on the top deck of the Jewel of the Seas. It’s apparently all fun and games until someone flies overboard. Sigh. (Proof positive that smart kids often do less than smart things!)

Another benefit I learned to appreciate about cruise travel is the fact that the cruise ship serves in essence as a floating hotel. Cruise passengers reap the benefit of going to sleep at night, typically whilst at sea, and waking up in the morning in a new city to explore, eliminating the need to pack and unpack repeatedly, coordinate intercity transportation and check in and out of hotels. Of course, cruise travel doesn’t allow one to immerse too deeply into any given port, since most cruise itineraries include just a short day stop in each port city; therefore, cruisers must pick and choose the highlights they want to take in during their brief stay in port. However, the short visit to each city allows cruise travelers enough time to conveniently sample the flavors and atmosphere of several cities in a short period of time and, from that preview, discern if they would like to visit the port area again in the future for a lengthier and more in depth visit.

Ocean Princess (Alaska 2010)
Shooting hoops on the Sports Deck aboard the Ocean Princess (Alaska 2010)
Majesty of the Seas (Caribbean 2012)
Free entertainment watching fellow cruisers do embarrassing things just to win a Royal Caribbean pen or T-shirt (Majesty of the Seas, Caribbean 2012)

Depending on your cruising style and preferences, cruise travel can be very economical. Obviously, if you prefer luxurious accommodations, high end cruise lines and ship-organized excursions, cruising can cost a pretty penny. However, if you choose a reasonable cabin and refrain from partaking in unnecessary expenses, such as upgraded shipboard restaurants beyond the standard dining options, various ship-offered services, such as spas, cruise line organized tours and the like, cruising can offer a great way to maneuver between points of interest without breaking the bank. With a wide variety of cruise lines, cruisers can certainly find a style that fits their preferred level of luxury. On cruise vacations, I’ve stayed in balcony, window and inside cabins, and in truth, my cruise experience was never affected by the lack of on exterior or more luxurious cabin since I typically utilize the cabin merely to sleep and shower. Other than that, I prefer to be out and about enjoying the shipboard atmosphere, if not always the activities and entertainment. That being said, cruise lines offer a plethora of things to do while on board and sailing to the next destination that are at no additional cost; while they may be kitschy or a bit campy at times, the shows and activities are widely varied and can be extremely entertaining, and can even be of quite high quality if you hit the right show.

I’ve found it quite unnecessary during my cruise vacations to upgrade to higher end dining venues since there are so many shipboard options for mealtime that I’ve always been able to find a dining room or buffet to suit my tastes and whims. Heck, if you don’t like what you order the first time, nothing stops you from asking for a second entrée in a dining room or even a third or fourth dessert (yes, I have often ordered multiple desserts when I couldn’t choose amongst the daily offerings). Most ships offer a variety of sit down dining options as well as self-serve offerings, some of which are accessible 24 hours a day. Of course, one has the option of eating in an upgraded location; personally, I prefer to spend my money on the local fare in the port stops, rather than on higher end shipboard dining. But that’s one of the many virtues of cruising: options.

Cruise line operated port excursions are another optional, and, to me, unnecessary expense. Ship offered excursions typically entail a bus filled with 49 other cruise passengers being herded on a stringent time line on and off the bus to a limited number of attractions. That just isn’t fun to me. I prefer to self touring utilizing local transport, or if necessary, arranging a shared semi-private tour with 8 – 10 other cruisers I’ve met on cruise site roll calls, such as CruiseCritic.com. This allows for much greater flexibility and frequently at a fraction of the cruise line’s excursion price tag.

Of course, there are limitations of travel flexibility, as mentioned, on account of having a finite amount of time in each port stop, and having to be back on board at a certain time, lest the ship sail without you, can cause a bit of stress if you encounter a traffic jam or public transportation back to the port running behind schedule. All of the limitations notwithstanding, cruise travel provides a wonderful option to allow much of the logistics and details involved in travel, particularly to unfamiliar destinations, to be handled by the cruise line, allowing the traveler to sit back, relax and enjoy the sailing. No single mode of travel can be all things to all people, which is why cruising is just one means of travel in which I choose to partake. But in that way, I’m different than many, since I’ve yet to meet a vacation that I haven’t enjoyed.

 

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