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.
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.
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.
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.