“I’d love to do a cruise, but how do I know which one is best for me?” This is a big question, one I hear often, and one worth talking about a little bit. In travel, there is no such thing as “one size fits all”. Let’s face it, there are a LOT of options out there, and it can be overwhelming to sift through them all, trying to determine which cruises would best fit you. It is worthwhile to work with your travel advisor (that would be me!) to pare down the choices and determine what it is you are really looking for… What are your goals? There are goals with any trip, whether it be relaxation, health/wellness, adventure, education, golf, the list goes on…Your travel advisor knows the products and can help “navigate the waters”. Taking a trip is an investment, and as with any investment, it calls for research.
Although, I could go on for pages on the similarities and differences of products out there, “for blog’s sake”, I have attempted to provide a brief summary of each type:
Small Ship Cruise – Small ships distinguish themselves from larger options in more ways than just physical size and passenger count. Luxury, personalized service and uncommon experiences are the overarching themes among the small-ship cruise lines. No matter how small the ship, you can expect more inclusive fares, interesting and unusual ports of call, high-end amenities, excellent cuisine and wine, and polished, personal service. Fewer people means easier embarkation and an absence of queues. Friendships form quickly on a small ship, and the onboard camaraderie enhances the vacation. Smaller size means these ships can visit small harbors and sail shallow channels that traditional cruise ships can’t fit into. This allows travelers to visit less frequented destinations. They are also more likely to dock in the center of town, making independent exploration a breeze. There are several luxury brands out there. I will share my most recent experience on Windstar with you. Windstar has tall sail ships and yachts. I was on one of their yachts sailing from Barcelona to Rome via the French Riviera and other smaller ports along the way. The staff aboard Windstar were friendly, professional and energetic. They knew my name as soon as I got onboard and made me feel at home from the beginning. Now those of you who know me, know that I am a casual dresser. Windstar is “California Casual!” No jackets required for dinner, etc. It is destination focused rather than shipboard focused. There were no days at sea on this particular cruise and that is de rigeur for Windstar. No days at sea means more time to spend in the destination on shore excursions or doing your own thing. It is a fantastic value while maintaining its luxury standing. Kind of like a river cruise, but on the sea. This brand fills a much-needed niche in ocean cruising.
Large Ship Cruise – Large cruise ships have the real estate to offer lots of cool amenities – everything from water slides to ziplines and Broadway-style showstoppers in onboard theatres. The luxury is onboard. There are days at sea and, due to the sizes of the ships, docking is in more frequented ports. Large ships can also mean long queues for embarkation and disembarkation. Large ocean cruise brands encompass a wide range of interests. From foodie-focused, to white glove formal, to family-oriented just to name a few. And it’s not all about amusement park type experiences. There are enrichment programs such as TED Talks at sea, celebrity guest speakers, famous chefs and more. This is a great option for those who love being on the ship. It is also an excellent option for multi-generational travel – there are kid’s programs, teen programs, tween programs and basically something for everyone in between and beyond! The experience IS the ship in many cases. With all of the activities, entertainment and dining options available on large ships, there is never a dull moment. Who is a large ship cruiser?
Ocean Liner – The 3 Queens. Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth & Queen Victoria are in a category of their own. The goal is to provide the “golden age of cruising” experience, with several formal events and their famed white glove service. The ship is the experience. Highlights include Ballroom Dancing, Canyon Ranch Spa experiences, the largest library at sea, planetariums, the only kennel at sea. The difference here is that it is an Ocean Liner, not Cruise Ship, so it does not fall into the “city at sea” category of other large ocean cruise ships with amusement park type activities onboard. They offer both crossings and cruises. Crossings do not stop at ports along the way. These voyages appeal to those searching for the elegance of yesteryear, those who are simply looking for an alternative to air transportation between North America and Europe. Perhaps some harbor a fear of flying, while others are looking for a way to cross the pond at a leisurely pace, avoiding the dreaded jet lag (clocks move approximately 1 hr. per day). My most recent Ocean Liner experience was aboard the newly refurbished Queen Mary 2 (QM2). I loved the elegant atmosphere and especially loved the formal themed “Roaring 20’s” night. The 20’s are my favorite era and The Charleston is my favorite dance. Dancing is a huge focus on all of the Queens, and I relished it. Cunard Insights™ enrichment programme offers talks, seminars and discussions by well-known historians, explorers, top diplomats, politicians, scientists and other notable experts. Definitely one of the many highlights on the voyage.
Expedition Cruise – Get ready to move on these! A personal favorite of mine, they are all about being active. Getting out there and experiencing it is what expeditions are all about. My most recent experience was with Lindblad Expeditions in the Galapagos. Hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling, long swims, interacting with nature and having a blast! The naturalists aboard are passionate, and it is infectious. I learned so much (another of my favorite things to do) each day going onto the islands with the naturalists and listening to their daily lectures on everything from oceanography to sea mountains to photography. Dress is very casual on expedition cruises. The luxury here is what’s out THERE…For more in-depth information on my Lindblad expedition cruise in Galapagos, please read my blog, published July, 2017.
River Cruise – This is a whole different animal. First of all, it’s a river, not an ocean or sea. Who is a river cruiser? Well…folks who have ocean cruised, those who are interested in literature, art & history, first timers to Europe, get the idea? More and more, the age of river cruisers is getting younger as brands are creating itineraries more geared towards the X-Genners. Family friendly cruises are also a great option for multi-generational travelers. My most recent river cruise was aboard Scenic Cruises, a 5-star all-inclusive voyage from Budapest, Hungary to Passau, Germany along the Blue Danube. Excellent cuisine, onboard entertainment, & staterooms with sun porches, which are Scenic’s signature stamp. The staff was attentive, fun and personable, even learning my beverage of choice from day one. Upon entering the lounge, my beverage would magically appear at my table. River cruises tend to be all-inclusive with few exceptions. Not having to worry about carrying around cash is a great perk, allowing you to fully relax and engage in your experience. There are no days at sea, each day inviting you to step off the boat and experience your surroundings. And how fun to sit on the deck & watch the towns and villages pass by while sipping a chilled glass of champagne from the hot tub. When you disembark, you’re right there.
Barge Cruise – Last, but definitely not least are barge cruises. These charming cruises appeal to those who are looking for a very intimate cruising experience. The barges usually have a capacity of 24 passengers and wend their way quietly through canals and small rivers. They are quaint and charming. It offers a wonderful option for a multigenerational family who wishes to enjoy an exceptional private experience by booking the entire barge. Although barge cruises are offered in Belgium, Germany and Holland, France is the most popular destination. While you may think of a river ship as a floating hotel, a barge is more reminiscent of a country manor house. One of the big differences between a river cruise and a barge cruise is the amount of territory you’re able to cover. Barge cruises usually span six days and travel fewer than 50 miles of river in a week, while river cruises may travel a few hundred miles. Activities such as hot-air ballooning, horseback riding, guided tours, tennis, and golf are offered by most barges, usually for additional costs. A barge normally cruises within one region of one country (again, usually France) while a river cruise can travel through several countries and on several rivers during the span of one sailing. Barges typically have only one deck, smaller staterooms, and a combination dining room and lounge. Barge staterooms almost always have private facilities. Barges are usually all-inclusive. Some barges even have a whirlpool tub, pool and exercise equipment.
Zegrahm Expeditions’ upcoming voyage to Australia’s Kimberley
Some of the incredible sites you’ll see are unique geology, spectacular waterfalls, and diverse wildlife.