So, I’ve been there, done that, and then I’ve done it again, many times. Though I have only worked for one particular company, I have been on ships from other companies, and I have talked to people who cruised and worked there. I cruised for almost four years, for about 4-5 months each year, and I got to know a lot about the industry. In fact, there was once talk about developing a TV series project in Miami called CREW AREA, based on all of those experiences. The concept was basically “the other side of the Love Boat.”
Cruising can be a fabulous experience for certain kinds of people or on particular occasions. I had a lot of fun on many a cruise ship. It all seemed a bit unreal to me, but I made some friends for life, among both staff and passengers, and I got to experience something quite unique, the kind of thing you can’t really convey to anyone, unless they have experienced it themselves. In any case, someone asked me to try to share some of my expertise on cruising here, for the benefit of new would-be passengers. So, I came up with a list of things most people commonly expect from cruising, which they do not always get.
Myths or no myths, the secret of cruising is choosing the right company, the right ship and the right itinerary. When you really make an informed choice that fits your needs and expectations, cruising can be grand, just like on The Love Boat…
Without further ado, here are the myths:
You won’t spend any money on board, it’s all inclusive!
Even when the economy was not as bad as it is today, there were many things on cruise ships you had to pay for. The biggest deal in my book is BOTTLED WATER. While they will tell you water and fruit juices are free, all of that contains a not very tasty, not very thirst-quenching, not especially healthy element, namely, CRUISE SHIP WATER. This water will have undergone certain processes to make it safe for drinking that the taste won’t be good at all. If you look carefully, you’ll see that cruise ship staff usually drink bottled water. While drinking bad water for a week may not be a big deal to you, I would recommend not making a habit of it, and at least mixing it up.
To be clearer, in our training, they told us the ships had the technology to make the black water from toilets drinkable. While I don’t think that’s what they are doing, the water will usually simply taste bad.
Juices on the other hand, well, they are packed with sugar, and their main component is that same water, so, not surprisingly, they aren’t very good. Orange juice wasn’t that bad in my company (it had more fruit than apple juice or lemonade), but they usually only put it out during breakfast time.
Then there is the issue of sodas. If you want to drink all the coke you want, you need to get a special stamp, in most cases, and it won’t be cheap. Plus, they will give you coke from a machine and not a can or a bottle, and we all know that’s often not the same.
As for food, in many cases, there are gourmet restaurants where you have to either pay a fee or at least tip all the different waiters. The fee may not be excessive (it used to be 30 USD in our Specialty restaurants) and the tips are manageable, but then, wine won’t be cheap, and neither will cocktails.
There is also Internet service, something most travelers absolutely require nowadays. The service is generally poor and the charges are high and by the minute. Packages start at about USD 40 an hour and they can go over 50 for the same amount of time in some cases. If you need to check back every now and then, the best plan is to find a Wifi spot at port, one thing you can always rely on employees to inform you about, as that may be one of their main concerns about any given port.
Shore excursions from the ship are the best way to explore a port
The main pro os shore excursions booked on the ship is that, whatever happens, if there is a delay, etc, you won’t miss the ship, it will wait for you, or the company will cover expenses of you meeting the ship in the next port. Especially when we are talking long distances, your shorex counter on board is the way to go.
On the other hand, short trips not including meals or long rides will be cheaper on land. It can be really disappointing to see a sign for “SWIM WITH DOLPHINS for 30 USD” at the pier, when you booked exactly the same tour for double the amount on the ship, and trust me, it will happen to you. A little online research prior to your trip as to what excursions are available from local tour operators will do you no harm. Plus, you can use tripadvisor and such to check out the tours’ reputations with customers.
You will get to know lots of different places over a short period of time
The key is to choose the cruise wisely. Cruise ship companies wanna minimize your time on land, because when you’re there, you’re not spending on the ship. Therefore, looking at port times must be one of your main concern when booking a cruise. In the case of tender ports, your time on land will be significantly reduced by the time it takes to wate for boats and the boat rides to reach the shore themselves. It is always a good idea to book a cruise with an overnight in a really cool port, because this will give you more time, plus, the chance to see the place during the night, which is always a completely different, and very enjoyable experience. Istanbul, with its vibrant nightlife is a great place for that, but so is sleeping under the stars in Maui. An overnight in the happening South American resort of PUNTA DEL ESTE can be awesome, but you must bear in mind that this is one of the most expensive beach resorts in the continent, so, you have to be prepared to spend a lot, if you wanna experience the real Punta.
Entertainment on cruise ships rocks
It so doesn’t that I can’t begin to tell you. Jazz bands can be good sometimes, but the singers and dancers in musicals usually stink, with rare exceptions. The shows themselves are pastiches inspired by Broadway musicals, the Cirque du soleils and what not will be a franchise where acts are carried out by some obscure performer. Really, if these people were awesome, they wouldn’t be on cruise ships. You may find a great artist on occasion, but really, when you go to the theater, focus on drinking a glass of nice wine and enjoying the company of your friends or family. Personally, I could only stomach the musicals with a glass of some excellent Shiraz.
As for parties and theme nights, I am not a big fan of the latter, but if line-dancing and dressing up are your thing, then you’ll be very happy. The quality of the parties and games depends largely on who the entertainment staff are. The companies’ ideas about fun are not often very inspired, but sometimes the people delivering a silly entertainment program can really make it work.
Your kids will have someone to provide entertainment for them 24/7
There are rules about age to be admitted into the kids programs. kids must be potty-trained in most cases. Then, there’s no catering to special needs children, and there are certain hours when, if you want your kids to be supervised or entertained, you’ll have to hire a babysitter, at an extra cost. Meal times will usually have an extra cost as well. The bright side is that your kids will never want to leave those kids’ clubs, as they commonly have great facilities and staff.
You will be pampered
It is possible to be truly pampered at sea, but you’ll usually have to pay extra for that. Jacuzzis and pools will be free to use, but spa treatments and sometimes even some saunas and steam rooms will have an extra cost.
Staff are smiling at you because they are happy and friendly
That’s only company policy. Staff is instructed to do that, and there is also a certain verbal etiquette they have to adhere to. Some people can be truly nice and helpful, but those working 14 hours a day for slave wages away from their spouses and children, well, I don’t think so.
Hmm, I like it here, I should get a job on a cruise ship too…
My life on ships was sweet, because I didn’t have to work many hours, I got lots of free time at port, I made friends, and I sometimes did one week contracts, where I spent a night at a 5 star hotel in Puerto Rico or Amsterdam, then cruised and partied (and worked too) for a week, then I went back home with my pockets full of money. But this is not true of most employees on cruise ships. There are rules for everything, and it took me a couple of years to basically be able to do whatever I wanted without anyone noticing. The first months will feel like prison, and people who do most of the jobs work way too many hours and only get like a half an hour to go sightseeing at port once a week, or when they get a couple of hours off, they are so beat that all they wanna do is sleep. Entertainers have a sweeter deal, but it just depends on the company, etc. While working on cruise ships cna be a great experience for young people, it is most certainly not for everybody. I have found that most people who work on cruise ships, who come from strong economies are often running away from something or trying to escape the monotony of a little town in the middle of nowhere. Of course, many of them like to travel and meet people from all over the world, but I find that those who make a life out of it through adulthood simply don’t want to have to deal with the real world, unless they come from a country where it is really hard to find jobs.
You’ll eat great food
One interesting thing that happens to you when you live on a cruise ship for months, is that you start getting bruises. I have been told this is because you lack important nutrients. 99% of the food on cruise ships is frozen, so, when you’re there, you’re not getting much in the way of vitamins.
Some of the food will taste good, some will be average, but generally, it will be rarely good for you.
One thing I never understood is the way people cruising the Med will go back to the ship for lunch, instead of sampling some of the delicious French or Greek dishes available at port, most often at reasonable prices. Plus, you may be spending money if you lunch at port, but wine on land, for example in the Med, will consistently be better and cheaper than the wine you can get on the ships.
Staff always eat at restaurants in port, whatever chance they get, because the food is better and also because they want to eat something healthy and fresh. Plus, trying delicious local food is half of the experience, in my book.
It’s OK to drink from the water fountains
I don’t recommend it and, if you must, as I mentioned before, try to mix it up a little with some good quality bottled water.
With all of these gratuities, my cleaner must be making a fortune!
Most of the cleaners, butlers etc don’t have a salary, so, that’s why gratuities are mandatory. So, if they’re doing a great job, you should always tip them well.
There’s so much more that I could talk about, but that’s the gist. Now, if you have any great cruise lines or ships to recommend, leave us a note in the comments and HAPPY MYTH-LESS CRUISING!