Part of the Beyond Date Night — An Annual Marriage Getaway Series
"Cruising? I'd never go on a cruise," I said more than 20 years ago — with more than a touch of arrogance. "That's for old people. I want adventure, fun and excitement!"
Here I am 20-some years later and cruising has become my travel mode of choice. Not just because I'm older now, but because it offers the very things I'm looking for in a vacation — adventure, fun, excitement and so much more.
Freedom from everyday cares
My husband and I went on our first cruise several years ago — to Alaska. The following year we chose a cruise to the North Atlantic, and last year we cruised the Rhine River from Basel, Switzerland, to Antwerp, Belgium. I enjoyed every one of our excursions. In fact, I remember running up the gangway to each ship, with arms outstretched, shouting, "I'm free!" I couldn't wait to nestle inside the protective armor of this massive hotel-on-water, away from daily chores and cares. I looked forward to the pleasure of being at sea where I'd be served exquisite meals, participate in shore excursions to interesting destinations, learn about the history of various ports, meet fascinating people and relax with my husband.
Cruise lines are eager for business and often offer some excellent fares. Decide when and where you want to go, and then take your time looking at brochures and online descriptions. If you're new to this mode of travel, talk to your "cruising" friends and find out what to expect and what to prepare for. You can also consult with a knowledgeable travel agent. To save money, I'd recommend you choose an inside cabin — you won't spend many waking hours in your room anyway. Keep your choices as simple as possible so you'll be free to enjoy all that a cruise has to offer.
Tips for cruisers
Following are some tips based on our experience and the experiences of other travelers:
Fill out, online or hard copy, the guest information forms ahead of time. By the time you arrive at your port, you'll be ready and eager to get onboard as quickly as possible.
Book your shore excursions before the trip (online) or during the first day aboard the ship. We booked ahead to ensure we reserved our seats on the tour bus and settled the payment in advance. By doing so, we also avoided standing in line at the customer service desk.
Bring a small carry-on bag with you for the first day. Include necessary documents (passport, ship ID card, etc.), prescription medications, toothbrush and cosmetics, a change of clothes and a bathing suit. This way you can start having fun instead of waiting until your cabin is ready.
Consider heading for the restaurant or buffet line as soon as you arrive. You can enjoy a light lunch while waiting for the cruise director to make his or her announcements.
Use your Cruise Card, Sea Pass or other identification card to charge all purchases onboard. Gratuities are often included in your initial cruise package price, so you never have to deal with tips while on board the ship.
Explore the ship. My husband and I enjoyed the library, complete with comfortable chairs, Internet access, cards, board games, books, magazines, DVDs, CDs and a variety of American and international newspapers. It's also a great place to put up your feet and simply stare at the sky and sea.
While checking out the amenities, locate the exit doors and follow all drills and directions pertaining to safety in case of emergency. Such information will give you confidence and peace of mind during your time at sea.
Stay in shape
Keep your body in shape with a daily walk around the deck. On one of the ships we chose for a cruise, three laps around the deck equaled a mile, so I did 12 laps in order to reach my four-mile quota each day. Ocean liners generally have a full weight room, as well. You can pedal on a stationary bike or run on a treadmill while looking at the beautiful scenery. And if you like to swim, most ocean liners provide the option to choose between an indoor and an outdoor pool.
Manage your food intake. For years I believed I'd be wasting my money on a cruise because of all the tales I'd heard about extravagant meals, midnight buffets and decadent dessert displays. How could I possibly eat so much? And if I couldn't eat all that was available, why pay for it? I soon realized that I could pick and choose as I wished. Food was never a problem as my husband and I learned to eat appropriately at each meal and we skipped snacks. As for the midnight buffet — we were tuckered out and tucked in bed well before that hour of the night. There was so much more to our cruise experiences than just good food.
Get fit socially as you enjoy new people. One of the highlights of a cruise is meeting so many delightful people from all around the world. We visited with them during afternoon tea, on the tour buses, at the dinner table and in line for the buffet breakfast. One couple became so dear to us that we continued our friendship and met again on another cruise the following year.
Pack and spend carefully
Choose basic skirts or slacks that you can dress up or down for casual nights, formal nights and the Captain's dinner. Gentlemen usually need a coat and tie — a dark suit can replace a tuxedo. Bring good walking shoes for shore excursions, and be sure to pack an umbrella, poncho or rain jacket, and loose clothing for afternoons onboard when you want to kick back. Avoid clothing that requires ironing. Some ships don't even allow irons in order to avoid the risk of fires. And anyway, who wants to iron on vacation?
Focus on the experience rather than the overpriced souvenirs. We saw many things we thought we wanted, but as soon as we walked away from the items and talked it over, we forgot about them. When we checked out at the end of one of our cruises, we owed a simple balance of two Euros — for two stamps! People in front of and behind us were charging several hundred more Euros to their credit cards for additional items they had purchased. We were happy to have stayed within our budget while still having a fabulous trip.
So few people today take time to rest. Once we were on our way, my husband and I often realized just how tired we really were. Vacationing aboard a ship meant there was nowhere to drive, no meetings to attend, no emails to answer, no duties to attend to. We were free to crash in our beds or in a comfy lounge chair and snooze — or just stare into space. We both returned home fully rested and refreshed.
So if you're looking for a vacation that offers adventure, fun and excitement with plenty of rest stops, good fellowship, delicious food and interesting places to visit, consider cruising together.
Karen O'Connor is a speaker, writing consultant and author.
If you need a creative new idea for adventure, consider booking your stateroom aboard the Disney Dream and sail away with Focus on the Family as we celebrate 40 years of helping families thrive.