Please sign in to post.

How cruising helped us...

I initially titled this post as "How Cruising Helped us be Better Travelers", but along with the word cruising it’s another term that creates dissension on this forum.

Our first European adventure was a cruise from Rome and back followed by a week in Rome. We were young-early 50’s, we were fit, and wanted to be adventurous, in the past with kids in tow, and budgets, and time commitments we’d always stuck to North America plus Hawaii. But with the kids grown and our 25th anniversary coming up we decided on Europe and started the planning.
It’s one thing to be brave while driving in North America with a language, signs and habits that you’re used to such as a North American tipping culture, and having an expectation of a hotel with big rooms and roomy showers, as well as everything else you’re comfortable with, but that all changes when you cross the Atlantic; it’s different, and while some think they are ready to dive right in, others need to dip their toe first. We needed to dip our toes. The cruise allowed us to experience and learn at our own pace while being able to retreat to the creature comforts that we were more used to. The one thing we did not have prior to this trip was enough travel confidence; we gained that on the cruise, everyday we were immersed in a new place, needing to learn the lay of the land on the fly. Sometimes a new day meant a new country with a new language and new customs. That’s no different than doing it ourselves, except at the end of the day we could recharge, learn from mistakes and be ready to tackle the next Port.

The only time we took a ship excursion was for a bus from Livorno to Florence, other than that we figured things out ourselves. We have always been planners and so the notion by some that cruisers are not planners is mystifying. Just like any form of travel there is going to be sheep that follow along, but we had read about the crowds and prepared accordingly. Honestly, we experienced larger crowds during our week in Rome than in any Port while on the cruise. In any event, one of they key things that we took away from our cruise is the value of planning ahead. I suspect if we would have jumped off a plane and rented a car, or hopped on a train and tried to tour the Mediterranean ourselves, it would have been a disaster because we didn’t have enough of the travel skills that you only get through experience. The cruise helped us by allowing us to take baby steps.

We’ve now been to Europe 4 times in the past 5 years with a trip to Scotland coming up in June (on our own). We’ve cruised, we’ve done an RS tour and we been on our own via train and rental cars. Each trip we’ve learned a little bit more about traveling. No method is off the table for future trips, it comes down to what suits us at the time, and that’s something we learned by trying all methods.

Posted by
3350 posts

Thank you, Allen, for sharing this post! I haven’t taken a cruise and don’t think it would suit my personality, but it’s refreshing to hear from someone who has tried several methods and can give us a balanced review.

Posted by
859 posts

Good post. I like cruising, especially with kids, but I also love land based vacays. I think judging people for their mode of travel is a waste of time. ;)

Posted by
6734 posts

Nice post, Allan. Let me add that being an experienced land traveler helped me be a happy cruiser. I love being on a ship, love watching the port appear as the sun is rising, love the water, love hearing the sound of the anchor and machinery, I even love the movement when the ship hits rough seas.

But we didn’t take our first cruise until four years ago, after forty some years of land travel experience.
Our first cruise was a transatlantic. The moment we signed on, I joined Cruise Critic and our roll call to learn the ropes. Consequently, we’ve always joined with others to book tours offered by locals and have had some wonderful cultural experiences. It can be compact but we’ve sure seen a lot in every port whether Malaga, Madeira, Antigua, St. Lucia and more. In fact, I think we saw more in some of these ports than we did other places just on our own. Truthfully, we end up wasting a lot of time on our own: getting lost, deciding where to eat, walking out of our way to book tickets, standing in line, pooping out and going back to the hotel for “only a few minutes” which stretches into hours. We did three land trips this past year and one cruise— advantages to all styles.

Posted by
1959 posts

Thanks for posting Allan. My husband and I took two Caribbean cruises before we ever set foot in Europe. So far, I have enjoyed planning our European trips, primarily relying on trains to get us from place to place. But I have figured out that our travel style isn't going to work as well in Greece and Croatia - so that adventure will be via cruise ship.

I would like to hear from anybody who's taken an Azamara or Oceana cruise recently. I should post my own question and count the seconds before somebody tells me to check out Cruise Critic!

Posted by
1514 posts

I think it really doesn’t matter how you travel. Just DO IT! We love all modes......RS tours, cruising, independent! We have done them all and enjoyed them all. Next year seems to be our cruising year......we are doing 2!

Posted by
609 posts

Thank Allan for sharing your perspective. While I have never taken a cruise (and wouldn’t as my husband gets seasick just looking at water), I have friends who would have never visited Europe without taking a cruise. There is so much of the world to see and so many avenues for exploring and your post does a great job of showcasing the options.

Sandy

Posted by
4108 posts

Research and advance planning results in a better trip. Also, you save $$$.
Also, I enjoy doing the research, that gives you background information on what to see, the history and mechanics of moving from place to place.

Posted by
1649 posts

We’ve cruised, we’ve done an RS tour and we been on our own via train and rental cars.

Allan, between doing a cruise and taking an RS tour, which do you feel is a better introduction to Europe for first time travelers?
Given the nature of your post, I'll guess it's still cruising.

My wife and I met on a high school People to People tour of Europe back in 1966. It was a typical "if it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium" tour over 21 days. We started in Brussels, went south down to Rome, then headed north to Paris followed by a quick hop to London and then home. There were 64 of us on the trip. That's the only organized land tour of Europe we've done. Since then we've been back several times. We've also done (together or alone) mission trips to Nicaragua, Honduras and Tanzania. One of the trips was a Viking River Cruise with another couple at their invitation.

I would encourage new travelers to do what you did. You thought through your expectations and comfort level to arrive at the approach for your first trip. Some may find a cruise is just the right thing for them. However, there may more adventurous souls like us who enjoy both the freedom and the challenge of striking out on their own.

European travel is a far cry from the trip we took in 1966. There was still plenty of damage from WWII and we had to stop at every border to have our passports checked. Nowadays, it's as easy to make travel arrangements to Europe as it is to make arrangements to another Canadian or American city.

Personally, I think an RS tour would be more helpful to first timers wanting to get their feet wet but are hesitant to travel independently, especially if they plan on returning and traveling independently. An RS tour takes more strategic planning since you are responsible for your own luggage. From what I understand, you get a better sense of accommodation possibilities. I can think of nothing more boring than to stay in an American style hotel while in Europe. There are a lot more opportunities for exploring on your own time and a lot more opportunities for varied eating experiences.

Posted by
991 posts

Allan, between doing a cruise and taking an RS tour, which do you feel is a better introduction to Europe for first time travelers?
Given the nature of your post, I'll guess it's still cruising.

DougMac, as a better introduction to Europe, I'll take the RS tour. It's a very good balance of tour activities and doing things on your own. You'll also learn so much about the culture of the place you're visiting. The only downside that prevents me from doing an RS tour every year is the cost. No regrets because we loved it, however, as a Canadian dealing with an unfriendly exchange rate I have to multiply Rick's US prices by 1.35 to get the tour price, so that $3795 US per person that we paid comes to about $5125 Canadian per person. Our cruise was considerably cheaper, but if we weren't planners, then we wouldn't have got nearly as much out of it that we would have wanted.

If you're interested, I did a Trip report on my RS tour. In hindsight, I should have made it into 1 long one. Here's the links.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/rs-loire-valley-to-the-south-of-france-part-1

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/rs-loire-valley-to-the-south-of-france-part-2

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/rs-loire-valley-to-the-south-of-france-part-3

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/rs-loire-valley-to-the-south-of-france-part-4

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/rs-loire-valley-to-the-south-of-france-part-5

Posted by
1649 posts

Thanks for the links Allan!

Money sure plays into our travels. We took an independent trip to Tuscany in December 2015 and six months later we went with our friends on the Rhine VRC. Both trips were 10 days. The VRC trip cost us 3 times as much as our Tuscany trip.

We normally travel close to the ground. In 1957, "Europe on $5.00 a Day" was published. That's roughly $50 US in today's money, or $100 a day for the two of us. Excluding airfare, we have traveled comfortably in Europe for roughly twice that.

Posted by
991 posts

We normally travel close to the ground. In 1957, "Europe on $5.00 a
Day" was published. That's roughly $50 US in today's money, or $100 a
day for the two of us. Excluding airfare, we have traveled comfortably
in Europe for roughly twice that.

I just did a quick calculation and the RS tour cost us about $735/day or $367 per person. This does not include flights but does include incidentals and food not included during the tour plus 3 extra nights beyond the tour. The cruise came in at about $430/day or 215 per person. This included an extra week in Rome post cruise. A ground trip to London/Bath/Cotswolds 16 months ago was about $330/day or $165 per person. Definite savings, but from a cultural and educational standpoint, the RS tour still wins for value for money.

Posted by
1402 posts

Dougmac - I also used to estimate my total daily expense as twice the “Europe on $xx per Day”. For those who don’t know, the figure in the book title was only for the room ( breakfast always included ) with the bath down the hall and two meals.

My wife and I have easily traveled Germany for 150 Euro total expenses per day.

As for cruising, it is a great way to visit places for one day without the hassle of both the transportation and hotel switching. We will be doing a Baltic cruise and the 1-2 days per stop is perfect for us. If we decide that we want to do a longer visit, we can plan that in the future.

Posted by
704 posts

Thanks Allan - great post. We visited the Baltics on a cruise and it was really a very affordable way to see such a variety pretty expensive of cities. And we've been back to Copenhagen a couple times a city I would not have visited had it not been for the cruise.

No method is off the table for future trips, it comes down to what suits us at the time, and that’s something we learned by trying all methods.

Best thing I've read on travel in a long time!

Posted by
211 posts

I will add that cruises can be great for group travel. I'm the designated "family travel planner" because I truly enjoy planning. However, it's one thing to plan for just DH and myself...quite another for a family group of six to twelve! European river cruises, although certainly more expensive than independent travel, have worked for us (and there ARE "deals" out there). Our first trip spanned ages eighteen to eighty-three, some with specific dietary restrictions. Each person made of the trip whatever they wanted to--from sticking with the cruise itinerary to quickly rushing off the ship to explore independently. We never had to think about meals (although many ate lunch off-ship) and always had a table large enough for all to gather at the end of the day. The ability to unpack for a full week was appreciated! It was easy to add days pre- and/or post-cruise to explore areas in greater depth. Some of the younger members have caught the "travel bug" and are now making their own plans. Do I still prefer independent travel? Yes! But, I am thankful for the opportunities I've had for these multi-generational European experiences. Who knows--perhaps when I'm ready to pass on the planner's hat I'll return to a cruise ship:).

Posted by
991 posts

But I have figured out that our travel style isn't going to work as
well in Greece and Croatia

The best piece of advice I ever got about cruising is to take it for what it is; a quick taste of many places and from there you can decide where you want to go back. Santorini and Dubrovnik are two of those places, so I'm going to have to figure out best methods to go back that's not on a ship.

Both are crowded and so will take some planning on your part to hit them on cruise ship days. At Dubrovnik, we were off the ship at 7, grabbed a cab and were in the old town within 20 minutes. We were the first to walk the walls when they opened at 8am. By the time we did a round trip, the walls and the rest of the city was a zoo. I have photos of me and my wife alone in the city and the walls, but I doubt many others do...

Santorini; we didn't arrive until 1. We went to Oia first and it was a zoo. My wife is only 5' tall and so crowded places just mean seeing a lot of armpits. We still managed to find some quiet spots, and by 5:00 the other 3 cruise ships that were in town that day had left so we had the pick of tables to watch the sunset and then a leisurely trip back to the ship. But we left both places wanting to come back for an overnight stay.

Posted by
1878 posts

A lot of people are down on cruising here, but it has worked for me on three of my nineteen Europe trips (two ocean and one river). Ocean cruises are a great way to visit places that are not that easy to get to and/or may not merit a multi-day stay. Also it can be an economical way to visit places that are otherwise expensive. River cruises are more of a novelty, but same principle. I don’t know if Passau and Regensburg would have merited planning a trip around but were fine one day stops. I found the included excursions, mostly simple walking tours, to be great. Personally I find the idea of a two week bus tour depressing, most have too much time on the bus. It’s perfectly easy to be semi-independent on a cruise, just pick itineraries where the majority of ports place you close to the place you really want to visit and free yourself from the necessity of expensive short excursions. To each his or her own!

Posted by
1649 posts

It’s perfectly easy to be semi-independent on a cruise, just pick itineraries where the majority of ports place you close to the place you really want to visit and free yourself from the necessity of expensive short excursions. To each his or her own!

For me, this gets into economics. On VRC cruises, most of the day tours are included in the not insubstantial cost. If you don't participate in the tours and skip the included meals and go your own way, is there a way you can achieve the same thing at a lower cost?

Still a big advantage would be to drag your room along with you as you move from one place to another. You just unpack once and you're set.

Our traveling has changed from moving from one location to another every day or two to planting ourselves in one spot for a while. We spent two weeks last May in Loches France and London, spending a week in each. I really enjoyed the more relaxed pace.

Posted by
991 posts

Ocean cruises are a great way to visit places that are not that easy
to get to and/or may not merit a multi-day stay.

I immediately thought of Cannes when I read this. I may not be quoting the RS gudiebook on cruise ports perfectly but Ricks says "You can buy an ice cream at one end of Cannes and by the time you've had your last lick, you've seen all there is." For us Cannes was one of our most talked about stops; perhaps because we were expecting so little. But we had a great time exploring the town, we had the myth about rude french people busted (this was our first visit into France), and also visited the island that housed the prison where the real Man in the Iron Mask was reportedly imprisoned. For me, being a huge fan of historical fiction, seeing that prison was a big deal.

Personally I find the idea of a two week bus tour depressing, most
have too much time on the bus.

We did our first RS Tour last Spring and when I looked at the itienerary, my first thought was like you stated; that there was an awful lot of bus time. As it turns out, the proper guide/tour makes or breaks the trip. We were never bored on the bus. Our guide-Virginie More was outstanding and every day were were given a French lesson on language, history and culture. She had us on the edge of our seats and before we knew it, the bus trip was over.

Posted by
9 posts

"I would like to hear from anybody who's taken an Azamara or Oceana cruise recently. I should post my own question and count the seconds before somebody tells me to check out Cruise Critic!"

I am very interested in any positive reply's to this question as well. Cruising is just another form of travel, and who doesn't love to travel?!
I haven't cruised on 14 years (due to severe seasickness). I would like to try it again, as I am better armed with information preventing seasickness and room location on the boats.

I have not found Cruise Critic to be that helpful.

Best Regards!

Posted by
4108 posts

We have taken a total of 20 ocean cruises as well as 4 river cruise in the past 10 years.

There are many cruise lines and when picking a cruise, it is best to do your own research. Everyone has a budget and that will factor into what cruise line you select.

We have never done a cruise on Azamara, Crystal, Regent or Oceania. I do know people that have taken cruises on Azamara and Oceania. They have excellent cruises. However, prices for cruises on these lines will run double or more than double what you will pay to cruise on mainstream cruise lines (and that includes what you pay for alcohol, excursions, etc.)

These are referred to as LUXURY cruise lines. It is like flying Business or First Class instead of tourist. However, I would say a better comparison would be these Luxury cruise lines would be like the Intercontinental or Four Seasons.

Main Stream cruise lines would be comparable to Sheraton, Marriott or Crowne Plaza.

Some cruise lines might even fall in the Holiday Inn level

We have cruises with Celebrity, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean. All three will provide you will very good to excellent dining, entertainment and service. Celebrity is one of the top lines for dining, while NCL and Royal Caribbean are tops for entertainment. Princess, Holland America and Carnival are other good lines, but I have not taken a cruise on them. Carnival would appeal more to young people, Holland America to Seniors.

Disney is somewhere between mainstream and luxury, but the fares are nearly in the luxury level, since if you kid wants Disney, that is the only place to go.

Crusiecritic.com website has far more information on cruising than you will find on Rick Steves. You can read reviews and compare.

We have never had a bad cruise. Pay more for a luxury line if you like, but from what I have been told, the benefits are only incremental.

Posted by
9 posts

geovagriffith,

Thank you so much for your informative and helpful rundown on the levels of cruise lines.
Comparing them to hotels was most helpful, and something I have not seen before. It makes comparing them easier.

Since I have not known anyone that has cruised the luxury lines, (other than YouTube posters), the comparison between flight classes is excellent!

I'll give Cruise Critics another try. :)

Just another example of how experienced and helpful people are on this forum.

Best Regards!

Posted by
991 posts

I am very interested in any positive reply's to this question as well.
Cruising is just another form of travel, and who doesn't love to
travel?!

I definitely agree. Everyone has different reasons, ambitions, and goals for travel and cruising may be the best method to meet those reasons.

I have not found Cruise Critic to be that helpful.

I agree with you again. I've always found Cruise Critic to be cluttered and hard to navigate.

Posted by
4108 posts

Working with cruise critic.com does sometimes take patience.

The one feature that I really like on the website is the roll call. Each cruise has a roll call created by someone that is a member. I have started some myself.

The roll call for your specific cruise allows you to get to know some of your fellow cruises that we can meet early in the cruise at a meet and greet. Also, you find people trade information on tour, hotels, air travel, restaurants and more. In some ways like we do on Rick Steves. Further, I have organized tours myself, that saves lots of money, since ship's excursions are always more expensive.

The other features on cruise critic are posts organized by the specific cruise line, were people ask questions, post reviews or information. This can be helpful, except, the problem, as brought out on this thread, is too much information. Still, using the search feature or just perusing for information can be very helpful to trip planning.

Also, there are categories where people post regarding geographical areas. Further, specific types of cruises like river cruises or for example Viking cruises.

There is a specific feature where you can post a review or read reviews posted by others of cruises that they have done.
Here are some links to some of the recent cruises that we have done.
 
 Portugal, the Douro River and a bit of Spain
http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=535267

28 days in Britain and Celebrity Eclipse home
https://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=599139

Melbourne, New Zealand and Explorer of the Seas TransPacific cruise
https://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=620702&et_cid=3065755&et_rid=17221689&et_referrer=Boards

New England and Eastern Canada
https://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=635360&et_cid=3110946&et_rid=17221689&et_referrer=Boards
Cusco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and Celebrity Eclipse home
https://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=654963&et_cid=3214772&et_rid=17221689&et_referrer=Boards

Stockholm and Norway Aritic Circle
https://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=659526&et_cid=3214772&et_rid=17221689&et_referrer=Boards

Posted by
991 posts

geovagriffith, enjoyed your review of Boston to Quebec City. We did that sailing on the Dawn in September 2017 but started in Quebec City. However I'm curious about your experiences on Celebrity Cruises. We've done 3 cruises with NCL and we feel the customer service is consistently well below average, and we keep looking at Celebrity for future trips. However, we look at the price and always decide against it. Our final decision always comes to the Ports the ship visits over and above anything else and we seem to find NCL meets more of our needs in that way, but the customer service was unacceptable on the last trip and we're moving on. However, since our priority is more on the Ports and less on the service or food on the ship, would you recommend sticking with the likes of Royal Caribbean or Princess (instead of NCL) or is Celebrity worth the added cost?

Posted by
704 posts

I have cruised 16 times ... Princess, Carnival, Celebrity, NCL and Royal Caribbean. All of them have positives and negatives. NCL has the smallest regular cabins but scores well for their mini-suites. We've had good and bad customer service but nothing to bad with NCL (except our cruise on the Pride of America but that's another story and I think those issues have been addressed by the company).

I like that NCL has shower doors not curtains.

I think Princess & Celebrity have the best use of space

My husband prefer Celebrity as he thinks they have the best food. I think the food is all about the same on the cruise lines we've cruised - sure some specialty dining are great but they are extra.

I think Royal Caribbean and Carnival were my least favorite and have the "worst" entertainment.

Princess, I think they, has the best "education" program ... whether it was in Alaska or on the Baltic cruise the historian and naturalists were top notch and that's great for your days at sea.

I'm an "aft" cabin person and I think Princess has the best aft cabins.

As far a price Princess and Celebrity are higher then NCL and RCL (usually) ... and although all main stream cruise lines have "eased" the formal night dress codes - I think you find Princess and Celebrity cruisers are more likely to dress up for formal nights. I think if you chose Princess or Celebrity you might feel a difference in clientele. I think Royal is more like Carnival with NCL in the middle

If you are a wine drinker - Princess has the best Wine Bar at sea!

Posted by
9 posts

geovagriffith,

Thank you for the helpful suggestions on getting the most from Cruise Critic.

I really like the links that you provided for your trips. How you described everything you did, where you stayed, what you ate, transportation. AWESOME. I am one of those persons, that loves detail, logistics written in a very readable way.

Regards.

Posted by
9 posts

Donna,

Interesting observations. Shower curtains, vice doors, size of the rooms, best entertainment. etc.
I'm collecting all the tips.

Allan,
Very useful post. Thanks for starting it.

Regards

Posted by
11703 posts

Personally I'll take a cruise over a guided bus tour.

I've taken, I think, five cruises including a 12 night Baltic cruise. Sometimes the combination of food, lodging and transportation provided by a cruise are a bargain. The downside is the short time in ports. You generally have time to visit one or two sights plus a quick look around before getting back on the ship.

I've never done a ship excursion, I consider the ship transportation but always plan my own days - starting with getting off the ship the moment they put the walkway down (and getting back about as late as possible).

Last cruise was typical. In Jamaica, I hired a taxi driver to take me to a sight, wait for me, then bring me back for a fixed price. In Cozumel, I hired a cab to take me to a dive shop, then joined another group of divers for two dives off a boat. The other divers had a rental van so they dropped me back at the ship.

Posted by
991 posts

Personally I'll take a cruise over a guided bus tour.

Now that I've taken an RS bus tour I'll put that at the top of my list. I've only ever done one bus tour though so I don't have a lot to compare it to. I guess while I'm still young and healthy and with a comfortable travel budget I am lucky enough to be able to be picky and choose what best suits me at the moment. There was one elderly couple on our RS tour-I'd say mid-70's and still in good condition for their age, but definitely slowing down. They had decided that the RS tours were probably no longer for them as you are required to carry your own luggage from the bus to your room. There were a couple of locations where this was no longer easy enough for them and in the future they wanted to look at cruises, or bus tours that moved your luggage for you. Perhaps that will also have to weigh into my decision making down the road.