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Often people ask if we have ever been on a cruise.  Having done lots of travel, we’ve been on most types of conveyance, including many watercraft.  We’ve done our fair share of ferries from big slow ships to state of the art high speed catamarans.  We’ve rented river cruisers on the Shannon in Ireland and even stayed on a permanently moored decommissioned cruise liner in St. Petersburg, Russia.

At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve travelled by motor canoe for hours to get to the heart of the Amazon jungle in Ecuador. We’ve even spent a couple of days on a boat plying the Mekong river from Thailand to Laos.

We have actually “cruised” a few times before – In the Galapagos we spent a week sailing the islands, but on a 16 passenger yacht.  We’ve also cruised the Yangtze River, but a Chinese cruise vessel is a lot different than what most people think of when they hear “cruise ship”.

For a long time we’ve talked about taking a trip to Alaska and realized we’d probably end up on a cruise when we went there.  For various reasons, we didn’t have a ton of time to plan our travels this year and so ended up booking passage on a Princess cruise from Vancouver to Anchorage.  We’ll spend a week in Vancouver on our own beforehand and see some of the Alaskan interior via a land package to Denali after the sailing.

Had we had more time, I suspect we might have booked our own passage on Alaska’s Marine Highway ferry system and made plans to explore various parts of the state at our own schedule.  Part of the issue with our decision for this year was that we really wanted to get to Denali and accommodations are scarce and inexpensive there, so booking with the cruise line gave us more options.  Perhaps if we really like Alaska we’ll go back at our own pace, but for this year we are in the hands of Princess Cruise lines for much of the way.

I have a natural aversion to of the general concept of a typical cruise, although I know many people that love them.  I thought it might be interesting to explore and document some of my preconceived notions/prejudices and then later look back to see how far off base, or how on target they are.

So, here goes:

  1. Lack of control.  One thing we like about traveling independently is choosing where we go, when we go, and for how long we stay.  if we like a place, we might stay longer than originally planned. On a cruise, we have to give up almost all of that control.  Once you choose a cruise with its itinerary, the cruise will arrive and depart as scheduled.  Too bad if you’d like to stay longer.  Of course you do get choices in the shore excursions, but even then you don’t have complete control over when you can get on and off the boat.
  2. Being in a floating resort.  My expectation is that the ship we will be on will be large, and impersonal, like a floating 5 star hotel. Even though the Alaskan ships aren’t the largest cruise vessels, I expect them to seem huge. Normally when we travel, a hotel is just a place for us to sleep and what we like is some place that is safe, convenient, clean, comfortable and reasonably priced.  The hotel is just a base for us to get out and see the places we want to see and do the things we want to do.  On a cruise we will be spending a lot of time on the ship and from the marketing information, they seem to go out of their way to try to out-glitz themselves. I’ve heard stories about all the creative ways towels can be folded, but bathware origami just doesn’t seem that important to me!
  3. Corpulent people stuffing themselves with food 24 hours a day.  Having good food is important to us, but unlimited quantities of fattening or unhealthful food will likely be a test of will.  There is something to be said for having to pay for a meal. 
  4. A much older traveling population that we are used to. Although I understand that Alaska cruises tend to have a younger average age and are more popular with families than many other cruises.   I suppose the “fear” is that the entertainment, etc. isn’t ideally suited to us.
  5. Ports of call flooded with businesses ready to take your money and offering quite a bit of schlock.  A friend recently told me that most of the main street shops in the Alaskan ports of call are owned by the cruise lines themselves, which makes business sense, but if true, sounds like a Disney/EPCOT ersatz experience rather than an authentic encounter.  We have travelled independently to many places that are popular cruise ports of call, such as Belize City, Helsinki, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.  Spending several days (or longer) in these places one gets a sense of the people, the food, the vibe, what’s available in local markets, etc.  Being there on days when a cruise ship arrives and discharges its passengers for a few hours is a totally different experience.  Understandably it is not possible for the cruise passengers to get beyond a certain radius of the port in a limited time, but I know that many places we have visited would seem very different if we only had the chance to see what those serving the cruise industry were offering.
  6. Regimentation and formality.  We are casual travelers.  Our goal is to travel light and we usually have one small carry on backpack and a modest sized rolling case each, even on the longest journeys.  One thing we’re not especially looking forward to is “formal nights” on the cruise, which necessitates us bringing clothing and items we otherwise would not take with us.  Helpfully the cruise lines do offer to rent cocktail dresses and tuxes.  Really, the cruise lines could have taught Henry Ford a thing or two about vertical integration.  This regimentation also applies to scheduling.  Thankfully we chose anytime dining and so have flexibility in when and with whom we eat, but I wonder with fixed times for entertainment, port calls, eating, etc. will this seem like a luxury adult summer camp at times?

Doubtless some of these will prove to be off base and I suspect that some of this will not be black and white, but shades of gray.   Who knows, perhaps we’ll come back as cruise converts and much of that which I think we might dislike, could turn out to be something we love.

We’ll see!

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