I embarked on my first cruise at 17 years old with my family. Honestly, I was pretty underwhelmed by the trip. Our ship hopped from one Caribbean country to another, beautiful beach after beautiful beach. Theoretically, it should have been an experience of a lifetime, but I was too immature at the time to appreciate it. Plus, it was my first time out of the country– I still can’t believe my apathy towards that vacation at that time! Now, I contend that cruising is the best way to relax, and I hope to convince you of that as well.
Ambitious Europe Trip
Shortly after I got married, I had the opportunity to backpack through Europe with my wife. We had a very ambitious schedule which resulted in visiting eight cities in seven different countries over 16 days. It was a wonderful and unforgettable trip, to say the least. We started in London and then made our way through Oslo, Stockholm, Prague, Vienna, Barcelona, Madrid, and Dublin. Phew, I’m exhausted just listing all those cities out!
Midway through the trip, my wife and I hit a wall and needed a break. We missed out on truly exploring Barcelona because it was there when we decided we couldn’t continue on with our trip until we took a pause. Hindsight being 20/20, we definitely would have scheduled in some down days, but we had never done a trip like this before to know how exhausting it would be.
Even though we dialed back some of our activities midway through our trip, we still came home completely exhausted. My wife admitted that as fun as it was, she couldn’t imagine backpacking through Europe like that again. So we figured out another, better option for us for future trips…
Unforgettable Alaskan Cruise
A few years back, one of my close friends was getting married in Seattle. I live on the East Coast and wanted to make the most of being in the Seattle area. While researching, I stumbled upon an Alaskan Cruise departing from Seattle. I brought this up to my wife, who was not thrilled about it. Her idea of vacation was going somewhere warm and sunny, which was code for laying by the beach and doing nothing. This Alaskan cruise was too great of an opportunity to pass up though; it was scheduled to leave the day after the wedding. To me, it was a no-brainer. She eventually agreed to going, and before we knew it, we were boarding our cruise for Alaska!
I felt a little unsure during the first two days on the cruise. The water was rough, and I woke up multiple times at night feeling uneasy and nauseated. I normally don’t get sea sick, so I had not brought any dramamine but was regretting that decision. The next day when we had arrived at our first port, I quickly forgot about the sea sickness as I soaked in the beauty of Alaska.
If you haven’t ever been to Alaska, it is somewhere that I highly recommend. It was too much beauty and purity to put into words, and at a perfect 70 degrees in July, it felt ethereal. I hadn’t ever breathed air as clean and crisp. Our tour guide confirmed to us that our lungs weren’t deceiving us– Alaska is known for it’s pure, clean air as many of its trees are left untouched and able to regulate air quality.
While in Alaska, we had the opportunity to go on many exciting tours like whale watching, hiking glaciers, and soaking in scenic views while floating down a river. One of the things that we were determined to do while on vacation was relax each evening in order to maximize our time during the day. It was so nice not having to find restaurants for dinner each night, especially when I remember that being such a task while in Europe.
Sure, food can be part of traveling experience, but there is something to be said for not having to think about it so that you can enjoy other aspects of travel. In my opinion, when traveling with 2+ people, issues like stomach sensitivities or pickiness can really pose difficulties in finding the “right” restaurant for each meal. Of course, I have heard horror stories about cruise food, but honestly, we were well-fed and satisfied each day and even had delicious lobster and steak dinners multiple nights.
Another aspect that was nice not to have to worry about was transportation from city to city. In comparison to our Europe trip when we had to board a plane or train and move out and into new hotel rooms almost daily, it was nice to fall asleep in one city and wake up in other on the cruise. To us, this eliminated a lot of stress and allowed us to enjoy the vacation tremendously.
Breathtaking Mediterranean Cruise
After we went on our Alaska cruise, we were determined to go on another cruise, but we were unsure of where we wanted to go next. We talked about a bunch of different locations, but since I had never been to Rome, I thought a Mediterranean cruise would be fun. The Greek Isles are amazing if you ever have a chance to go. Seeing the beautiful blue domes in Santorini and walking around the cobbled streets of Crete were sights to see that we will never forget. On top of that, before Turkey started to have heightened security issues, walking through the Biblical town of Ephesus where the Ephesians lived was truly amazing.
Something I don’t quite understand is why people prefer to book cruise trips through the cruise line instead of doing ten minutes of research on the internet. I think starting with the cruise line is wise. That way, you can get a price baseline. Sometimes, however, going through a travel agency can save you quite a bit of money. For example, we recently booked a cruise through an agency, Cruise Brothers, and it ended up saving us around $300. And, it involved nothing extra from us other than taking a few minutes to call around different agencies until we found the lowest price.
I have found that under the “Things to Do” section on TripAdvisor of the city you’re visiting, you can quickly look through the best-rated tours and activities and read through countless reviews by fellow travelers. Plus, you can even find tours that the cruise ships normally don’t advertise, which are almost always cheaper. I found that on average, certain cruise ships markup tours by 50%. The cruise line also tries to promote these activities as the best of the best, and that if the tour guide is late returning to the ship, you won’t get left behind. One look on TripAdvisor will provide ample feedback of tour guides and activities. And, if you think about it, a late return by a tour guide would result in essentially ruining their business with all of the corresponding negative reviews, so there is a huge incentive for them to abide by the cruise ship’s strict departure policy.
In my opinion, cruises are one of the most affordable ways to see multiple cities and countries in a relatively short span of time. My wife and I scour websites like cruise.com, cruisesheet.com and cruisecritic.com to find the best deals before calling around to travel agencies. The past two cruises we were able to book for less than $100 a day. I’ve even seen last minutes deals on cruisesheet.com for cruises costing less than $50 a day to great locations. It’s hard to say no to that price! With food and lodging costing so little each day, there is no way that we would have been able to afford these accommodations if we tried to book separate transportation, hotels and restaurants.
With all that said, my wife and I recently had a baby. I don’t know if we’re crazy or not, but we booked a cruise this fall to New England & Canada. Since we have had such great experiences to date with cruises, we thought we would test our luck by taking our child. On a quick side note, most cruise charge full price for a child of any age, so make sure you are aware of this before booking. I’ll be happy to share my experience with a baby on a cruise and whether or not it met our expectations.
How do you keep your vacations affordable and stress levels low? Finally, have you ever splurged on a vacation, and was it worth it? I look forward to your comments below.