There are folks out there who frown on cruising as a form of travel. They say it’s not authentic, that it’s the equivalent to staying in an all-inclusive resort and never venturing off the property. They point out the luxuries that cruises afford you – from spas and buffets to shows and casinos – and they quickly draw a line between vacationing and “really traveling”. Well I frown on those people! For the budget-minded traveler who may happen to prefer their exotic locales to have a beach, cruising is not just a practical way to travel; it’s pretty much the only way some of us will ever get to places like St. Croix or the Dominican Republic.
Last fall my foodie partner showed me an ad in Food & Wine for a festival in Barbados. Food Network’s Anne Burrell was going to be there and well, it was in Barbados, so I casually looked at flights. They were $600+ apiece – OUCH!! Add to that the cost of our lodging, ground transportation, and food and this little weekend island getaway would easily have set us back a cool two grand. We said “No thanks!” and went on a 7-night cruise to Central America instead – for half the price!
Cruising, just like any other form of travel, is what you make of it. You can live the high life in a room with a balcony and an ocean view. You can indulge in fruity drinks until you can’t see straight. You can post all your cruise photos to Instagram by purchasing in-room internet access. You can buy every chintzy ship-shaped souvenir in the gift shop. And if you have any money left, you can shove it into slot machines all night long. Or if you’re like us, you can turn cruising into your own authentic indie travel experience.
Cruise ships have hostels. They’re called interior staterooms and they are always the cheapest way to go. Yes, you’re going to be on the first floor and one of you will get a sleeper sofa while the other gets a twin bed; but if you’re lucky you’ll also have a porthole view!
Drink off ship. We don’t buy beverages of any kind on ship. Instead, we enjoy the free coffee, tea and lemonade and keep a water bottle with us at all times. If you prefer a different kind of beverage, buy it off ship and away from the port where the locals drink.
For fun, try something different. When it comes to paying for shore excursions, I have mixed feelings. With proper planning, you can almost always do the same or better on your own. However if you do spring for an excursion, do something that you can’t do at home – like taking a culinary, historical, or local wildlife tour.
Dine on board but snack locally. Cruises offer unlimited access to food so why not take advantage of that? Having a good breakfast and grabbing a piece of fruit or even a whole sandwich to take along will keep you from being sucked into a high priced restaurant at the port. It will also give you more room in your wallet to try some of the local flavors. Small bites don’t cost as much as whole meals and there’s simply nothing more tasty than a street taco or a scoop of hand-dipped coconut ice cream.
Ditch the gadgets. No matter where you go or how you get there, the most important part of any travel experience is well…the experience. Cruises give you the perfect opportunity to unplug from technology and enjoy some real “face time” with your travel companions.
If you’ve never been on a cruise, I encourage you to give it a try. I promise you won’t lose your street cred in the travel world. But be forewarned, cruising can be addictive. In 19 days we leave for a 5-night cruise to the Bahamas and Grand Turk. This is our third cruise in 18 months and it’s unbelievable just how forward I’m looking to spending a week in a 185 square-foot room with a bathroom smaller than an aircraft lavatory. Perhaps cruising plays to my extreme minimalist fantasy of living in a tiny house with only a handful of possessions or maybe I just like island-hopping and having breakfast delivered to my door. Either way, I’m definitely a cruise addict.