I had have my share of travel experiences from backpacking in Tuscany, Italy, fighting for my space in crowded buses in Kalinga and Sagada, Philippines, hiking to small mountain villages such as Dinungsay, Kalinga, standing room trains bound in some parts of Europe (this experience even included a really stinky passenger beside me and one guy almost falling off the door because the train went on a sudden halt), driving for eight hours from Maryland to Quebec, flying through cheap airlines to some far off small airport to save some money and most recently, cruising the Mediterranean and the Baltics. Cruising is one good way to travel especially if you have at least a week or more vacation time allowed. Some cruises even go for a month-long journey. It's also a good alternative for travelers who couldn't stand the stress of hopping from one transportation to another or sweating in some hotels that were misrepresented on some website; I know, I've been there.
Some people shun the idea of cruising because they claim to be hard core trekkers/hikers and indie travel purists, but understand that we are all different types of travelers and not all of us are into backpacking or trekking, so cruising is just another vehicle to explore the world. Not that there's something wrong about indie travel, but that some of us just don't have the stamina for such travel. After all, the worse thing you could do is travel and you end up miserable and unhappy while on the road. The world is here to explore, explore it the way you see fit and you'll be happier. In the end, what matters most is that you're experiencing places and culture around the world.
With two cruises in my pocket, I learned a few things I'd like to share with you.
- Life Is A Cruise: Cruising is a more relaxed way to travel compared to being on the road all the time. I know several cruise passengers who just lounged at the pool even if we're at port of call. Being in a cruise sort of takes away the stress of getting lost, stressing of not making your next flight, or worried that your hostel, hotel or B&B is not to your liking. In a cruise, you get your room cleaned and made up every day and your hotel floats to your next destination.
- Group Tours Or On Your Own: There are itineraries available at every port of call. For people who simply wants to see places without the headache of dealing with itineraries, cruise operators offer a variety of group tours. In my experience, group tours offer pick ups and drop offs, so all you have to do is hop on the bus armed with your camera and enjoy your itinerary for the day with an experienced guide. Group tours offer less travel stress and if you happen to have a knowledgeable guide, you'll be given a lot of local information about the city your visiting. Also, it's a valuable experience to be able to ask questions from your guide. On the downside, group tours can range from $50 to $200 per person and can be expensive. The good thing is, you have a choice to visit the country on your own and do away with the formatted group tour. We toured Tallinn, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland on our own and we had a wonderful time going our own pace exploring these cities. However, I don't recommend going on your own in certain places like St. Petersburg, Russia especially that some of the must visits sites require you to be on a tour group. Another downside to tour groups is that sometimes, tour guides have to rush travelers because they are running late or out of time. You have to understand that tour guides follow a time schedule and that they have to make sure you have to see all the designated places in your itinerary, and still make it back to your ship before time of departure.
- Floating City: Boarding a cruise ship means you have a floating room and board to every country you visit. In addition, you also have entertainment onboard, activities such as learning a new language and crafts (for a minimal fee), sports and exercise facilities to keep your body in shape, choice of restaurants (some restaurants you have to pay and some are included in your cruise package) and of course, there's always that buffet table that is open 24 hours when you get hunger pangs even at 12 am. Being in a cruise ship is comparable to being in a floating city where there's a casino, a theater, spa services, laundry services, shops, library, play rooms and more. Sometimes, facilities and amenities available depends on the size of your ship.
- Sea Meditation: If you get tired of the casino and the onboard entertainment, you can always look to the sea for inspiration. Gazing at the vastness of the sea can be very relaxing and meditative. While on cruise, take the time to smell the fresh sea breeze, grab a book and find a quiet corner and be lost in a novel, or join an early morning yoga class to start your day right. And if you're cruising with your partner, go to the highest deck to watch the sunrise or sunset huddled in a blanket, nothing can be more romantic than that.
- The Ship Is A Destination: The ship's staff comes from all over the globe. If you want to meet different types of people and personalities in one destination, the cruise ship is a good place. The ships' crew are very friendly, helpful and accommodating. Yes, they are paid to provide customer service but they're an integral part in making your trip memorable. Just think how far these people come from just to make your trip a successful one. After each cruise I took, I started missing some of the staff I met that really made an impression on me. The cruise ship itself is a country and worthy as a destination.
This was our view while eating nutella crepes and sipping Greek coffee at a shop in Santorini.