If you love travel, but hate dealing with the details, ocean cruising is for you
(The next installment in the series,, “The ABCs of Future Travel”, designed to inspire you to start planning your next trip.)
It was easy for me to fall in love with ocean cruising. My first solo travel adventure was a two-week Mediterranean cruise in 1975. Despite the many amazing travel experiences I’ve had the privilege of enjoying since, that first sojourn into the wonderful world of travel still holds a special place in my heart.
The ship was the Delphi, a Greek vessel that by todays standards would be considered a tent in the woods. There were no elevators, and I clearly remember nearly killing myself on a metal spiral staircase wearing platform shoes. No room service meant you had to get out of your cabin or starve. And all the cabins had bunkbeds. Still, I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything in the world. It was on that cruise that I fell in love with Italy and Spain, Rode my first and last camel, and caught a glimpse of the treasures to be found in travel.
Less than a year later, I met Simon, whose idea of ocean cruising was getting soaking wet on a small sailboat. It wasn’t until 2017 that I was able to persuade him to book a cruise on the Holland America Westerdam, and his addiction was almost immediate.
Since then, we have enjoyed two more Holland America cruises. And had it not been for Covid, there would have been at least one more. When and how cruising to and from the U.S. will resume is still up in the air. The only certainty is that many, including Simon and I, are itching to get back on the ocean to relax, recharge our batteries, explore new ports, and meet new fellow cruisers.
Ocean cruises aren’t the only way to spend time on the water. European, South American, and Asian river cruises are becoming more popular by the year. If you prefer a slower pace where you never lose sight of land, these smaller ships are ideal.
Although ocean cruising has been shut down for the past year here in the U.S., You can cruise the Mississippi on a paddle steamer, or explore the Great Lakes by boat.
Since ocean cruising is my only experience to date, I’ll stick with what I know best. Meanwhile, I would encourage you to check out the above options, as well as others. You can take a trip on a freighter, a large sailboat, charter a small sailboat with a captain and cook, or do your own sailing and cooking. The possibilities are endless. And unless you get hopelessly seasick, there’s a cruise to match your needs, interests, and budget.
Why Take a Cruise?
Although we enjoy traveling by land, and have no plans to give it up, cruising has its advantages. Besides, who says you have to choose between one or the other? We’ve spent several weeks in Europe then taken a trans-Atlantic cruise back to the USA.
Ocean cruising allows you to explore fascinating destinations, then return to the same room to sleep. This type of travel also takes the hassle out of finding good, affordable places for meals. On far too many many occasions, Simon and I have found ourselves wandering around a new city looking for a place to eat, and getting hungrier by the second. It’s hard to get a bad meal on a cruise ship, and – with the exception of a few specialty options – everything you consume is included in the cruise price.
Cruise ships offer a wide assortment of activities geared to a variety of ages and interests. Lectures, games, sports, special events, and shore excursions make it impossible to get bored. Take yoga and/or fitness classes, or work out in the gym. Then unwind with a relaxing sauna or sit in the hot tub. And if weights and machines aren’t your thing, take a few turns around the Promenade Deck with an ocean view all the way.
If the ship isn’t in dock – and even if it is – there’s plenty of entertainment to fill your evenings. Watch a movie on the TV in your stateroom, listen to live music and dance., wind down with gentle piano music in one of the ship’s bars, take in a live show, or try your luck in the casino.
Cruises also offer families the opportunity to alternate between spending time together and letting everyone pursue their own interests in a safe environment. Most cruise ships offer supervised activities for children, so parents can feel comfortable leaving the “little darlings” for a while to take in some or all of the above.
An important feature of most large cruise ships that was missing in 1975 is their accessibility for people with disabilities. All three of the Holland America ships on which we sailed had ramps that lead from the interior of the ship to the decks, and elevators made it possible for all passengers to travel from level to level. Wheelchair accessible staterooms were also available.
Contrasting colors on the top and bottom step of each flight of stairs and changes in floor texture provided important cues for people with vision impairments or who are blind. Large raised numbers on the stateroom doors kept me from trying to enter the wrong one. And if I got turned around, they served as a point of reference to help me get back on track.
Also on all of our cruises, a service dog relief area was made available by prior arrangement, complete with grass. Although my dogs can go anywhere when prompted, they always prefer grass.
Traveling to unfamiliar countries can be a major challenge for people with disabilities. Ocean cruising offers a safe environment where everyone gets to play.
The three ocean voyages we took were all trans-Atlantic repositioning cruises. Each time we boarded in Civitavecchia in Italy and disembarked in Fort Lauderdale, stopping at several ports before heading out across the Atlantic. These cruises took about two weeks.
So what is a repositioning cruise? Cruise companies want their ships to sail where most passengers want to travel year-round. This means they have to move their ships around the globe to take advantage of the best weather in ports of call and at sea.
Also known as discovery voyages, relocation cruises, trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific crossings, and a host of other euphemisms, repositioning cruises always involve the movement of ships from one operational region to another. For example, ships cruising Alaska or the Mediterranean during the summer will migrate to the Caribbean or the South Pacific for the winter season. The most popular times for moving ships around are Spring and Fall.
Unlike standard round-trip voyages, repositioning cruises travel in one direction. Our strategy is to travel to Europe in early Fall and head home on a repositioning cruise in November or early December. This gives us time to wind down from all that walking, exploring, and juggling our luggage on busses and trains.
There are many advantages to booking a repositioning cruise. For one thing, they tend to be more affordable, because cruise lines prefer to drop their rates rather than sail empty ships. Also, the ships tend to be less crowded, because families with school-age children usually have to wait for school holidays to travel.
Don’t worry, repositioning cruises offer the same level of service, fabulous food, and entertainment options you would find on a regular cruise. Another important plus is that you traverse time zones gradually – an hour every day or two – making disembarkation seamless for your system.
Simon and I always enjoyed exploring the ports we visited: Barcelona, Cartegena, Malaga, Cadiz, Casablanca, Tenerife, and Madeira. Then we spent our sea days working, playing team trivia, hanging out at the pool with friends, napping, attending lectures, and finding a host of other ways to relax and recharge.
A Few Cruise Tips
I’ll end with a few things you might want to keep in mind when we can cruise once more.
- Always carry travel insurance. Even a minor injury while cruising can set you back a pretty penny.
- Check with your doctor, and if recommended, get a flu shot before sailing. It’s likely you will also need proof of Covid vaccination and/or a negative Covid test.
- Carry a list of your prescriptions, along with their directions, as well as your most recent ECG. Keep this information in your purse or pocket at all times.
- Hand sanitizer dispensers will be mounted on walls throughout the ship. Use them in addition to frequent hand-washing to inhibit the spread of Covid and other viruses.
- Help protect the environment by making sure the lights in your cabin are off, your chargers are unplugged and water taps are completely turned off. Also, refrain from throwing anything – including your spouse – overboard.
- If you are pregnant, and have passed your 24th week, be aware that you may not be permitted to board.
- Always check with your physician and the cruise line before booking.
- Public health concerns such as stomach and respiratory illnesses may also be cause for denial to board.
- Although cruise ships carry oxygen, wheelchairs and walkers, these are for developing medical situations.
- Hoping to purchase a chef’s knife, hunting knife, diving knife, or any sharp instrument as a gift or souvenir? Be aware that it will be confiscated and bonded until after you leave the ship at your final destination, at which time it will be returned to you. This also applies to drones, so forget about taking those aerial shots when in port.
- Cruise ships have no shortage of opportunities to imbibe, whether you fancy alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, or both. If you enjoy a drink or three, plus wine with dinner, or you drink soda all day, you may want to consider purchasing a beverage package.