Adventure · Cruises · Culture · Europe · Food · Health · Travel Philosophy · Travel Tips & Skills

Cruising? Why?

Having a great time on the Emerald Princess.
Having a great time on the Emerald Princess.

In doing research for his newest guidebook, Northern European Cruise Ports, Rick Steves’ primary task is to double-check and update logistical and sightseeing information in port:  how to you get from the ship terminal to the city center, what are the operating hours for TIs/museums/churches, what’s new, what’s no longer around, and how do you visit the places you want to visit efficiently and cost-effectively.  My job:  to take photos for both of our blogs and to enjoy the ports to their fullest.   While we could have easily flown from point to point, it just makes sense to have the cruise ship experience, so that we can get in the mindset of the travelers who will be using the book.  For this trip, we set sail with Princess Cruise Lines’ the Emerald Princess.

To be frank, cruising is not my preferred method of travel.  Given the option, I’d much rather stay put in a city for a while so I can get to know the people and the culture better.  But going on a cruise can be such an efficient way to get a taste of several places in a relatively short amount of time–so important these days with Americans having the shortest vacation time in the developed world–and entices you to explore them better on your own the next time you travel there.

Our stateroom provided comfortable and ample space for respite, work, and slumber.
Our stateroom provided comfortable and ample space for respite, work, and slumber.

Additionally, the burden of getting from one place to the next or searching for a hotel every few nights becomes a non-issue.  Time that would have been spent on a plane, in a train, in a bus, or in a car can be utilized to read about the next port of call in your guidebook, to exercise, to relax, to have quality-time with your partner, or to eat a bountiful meal.  And after a restful, ocean-cradling night of slumber in your humble (or, if you choose, not-so-humble) stateroom, you get to wake up in the next city, ready and energized for a full day of traveling adventure.

When we upgraded from the cruise ship's "traditional dining" to one their fine dining restaurants, we definitely noticed a difference in quality, presentation, and service.
When we upgraded from the cruise ship’s “traditional dining” to one their fine dining restaurants, we definitely noticed a difference in quality, presentation, and service.

There certainly are drawbacks (as there are in all types of travel), but you can choose to be resourceful and work around them.  Sometimes you don’t get as much time in port as you would like.  For example, on our itinerary, we only had about 5 hours in Stockholm–not much time to do much of anything, unless you’re incredibly organized and determined…which we were.  If you select “traditional dining” at a fixed time and table, you might get lucky and meet some intriguing fellow passengers.  Then again, you might not.  Or in our case, you end up at a two-top table, which completely defeats the purpose of meeting fellow passengers.  Solution:  we dined at other locations on the ship (which actually offered much better menus despite not being local-to-the-port cuisine) and sometimes joined fellow passengers we had met on shore.

For many people, cruising is the only way to go.
For many people, cruising is the only way to go.

While for me and many others, the main rationale for travel is to learn about and from other cultures to better appreciate and improve one’s own, good travel can also be about getting away from the norm, to partake in deserved pampering, and to indulge in things that you don’t necessarily have access to back home.  In the end, travel is what you make of it.  Cruising has developed its own unique culture that appeals to a great number of people.  And while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a valid form of travel and worth learning about.

Check out this smattering of entertaining and delicious ways that Rick and I spent our time on the Emerald Princess.

Rick takes a break from his normal work pace to soak in some rays.
Rick takes a break from his normal work pace to soak in some rays.
While Zumba on the Plaza deck was a hit for many, I preferred the smaller stretching and abs classes in the gym.
While Zumba on the Plaza Deck was a hit for many, I preferred the smaller stretching and abs classes in the gym.
We cheaped out on taking formal pictures with the cruise ship's photographers and opted, instead, to do DIYs...with the kind help of a passer-by.
We cheaped out on taking formal pictures with the cruise ship’s photographers and opted, instead, to do DIYs…with the kind help of a passer-by.
Feed the birds, tuppence a bag...
Feed the birds, tuppence a bag…
After six weeks on the road on separate assignments, it was nice to take some time to just enjoy each other's company over a lovely meal.
After six weeks on the road on separate assignments, it was nice to take some time to just enjoy each other’s company over a lovely meal.
Sometimes a woman just needs to get her hair done.  Thankfully, the Emerald Princess has a well-equipped salon with a charming Brazilian hairdresser.
Sometimes a woman just needs to get her hair done. Thankfully, the Emerald Princess has a well-equipped salon with a charming Brazilian hairdresser.
Sharing a meal with new friends is a delightful bonus when you travel by cruise ship.
Sharing a meal with new friends is a delightful bonus when you travel by cruise ship.
Thanks to a generous invitation by the hotel manager, Peter Hollinson, we repeated partook in breakfast in the dining area reserved for those staying in suites.  Joy, one of about 800 Filipino crew members (there are about 1500 total crew members), always took splendid care of us.
Thanks to a generous invitation from the ship’s hotel general manager Peter Hollinson, we repeatedly partook in breakfast in the dining area reserved for those staying in suites. Joy, one of about 800 Filipino crew members (there are about 1500 total crew members), always took splendid care of us.
Sometimes we over-ordered so we could have fabulous prosciutto croissants for lunch while we explored the local port city.  Shhhh, this travel secret's between you and me.
Sometimes we over-ordered so we could have fabulous prosciutto croissants for lunch while we explored the local port city. (Shhhh, this travel secret’s between you and me.)
Besides using the Rick Steves' Northern European Cruise Ports to prep ourselves for our various ports of call, we all took advantage of the port lectures given by the venerable John Lawrence, who has had more than 25 years experience traveling through the Baltics.
Besides using the Rick Steves’ Northern European Cruise Ports guidebook to prep ourselves for our various ports of call, we also took advantage of the port lectures given by the venerable John Lawrence, who has more than 25 years experience traveling through the Baltics.
Sometimes, the best way to unwind after an intense day of guidebook research is to just lounge in the piano bar and sample the ship's libations.
Sometimes, the best way to unwind after an intense day of guidebook research is to just lounge in the piano bar and sample the ship’s libations.

9 thoughts on “Cruising? Why?

  1. We are 5 time Rick Steves tour travelers and we mostly travel independently and didn’t believe we would ever enjoy cruising. However we did an Alaska cruise and then tacked on a Panama canal cruise. We went to Alaska, came home to Seattle, washed some clothes and picked up our hot weather gear and got right back on the ship 7 hours later. We never would have seen some of the ports or experienced a sail through the canal without a cruise. We loved it and two years later did a 69 day cruise of Asia and the South Pacific. We saw all that territory and had to endure only 1 short flight home. No long Asia flights just boarded in Seattle and flew home from San Diego. You did a great job of hitting the advantages and disadvantages of cruising.

    1. Thanks, Paula, for the compliment and for sharing your experiences. What great itineraries! I don’t know if I’ll ever have 69 days to cruise around Asia and the South Pacific, but it sounds like a fabulous way to explore those regions.

  2. As a seasoned “Rick Steves” type traveler, I appreciate your well written posts. You are honest, concise, think a lot like me while observing the world. You express yourself so eloquently….I envy your job, and you make it look so easy. Debby, a wantabe travelphile

  3. You are so right about cruising. I have enjoyed the cruises we have taken for all those reasons. At times in life you need to let someone else do the driving!

  4. I took a cruise in the British Isles on the Caribbean Princess with a group of 10 friends and friends of friends. I have enjoyed land tours in Europe, including two terrific Rick Steves tours (Paris City Tour and Villages and Vineyards of Eastern France). I agree with your comments about not having enough time in port. It was a different way to travel and gave me a taste of places to visit again when I can spend more time “on the ground”. That being said, it was a wonderful way to travel with friends and we enjoyed our nightly dinners where we discussed our various adventures and plans for the following day.
    One other point, I was impressed with the assistance offered by the Princess crew to folks who had difficulties with mobility. They were there to assist getting on and off the ship. There were bus excursions that were a good choice for people who couldn’t walk distances. And, people could stay on the ship should they decide to rest for the day.

    1. Hi, Joyce! I can imagine how fun it must be to travel with a big group of friends like that. While you have the option of doing activities together (and hopefully off-setting some of the cost by getting group rates on things like hiring local guides, packing a taxi with five people, or even sharing a meal in town), it’s probably nice to have the freedom to bow out of an activity without hurting your friends’ feelings.

      As for the crew, we also found them to be incredibly helpful. Either they’re genuinely that nice or Princess has established a incredibly consistent level of customer service. In any case, we had great rapport with our crew.

      As you mentioned the day of rest, we took one before one before diving in to St. Petersburg. It was the perfect way to replenish our spent energy and gear up for our Russian adventures.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with me. Take care!

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