Millions of people cruise the Caribbean each year. Returning home excited and having enjoyed the experience so much, they can't wait for their next cruise. But there are some who did not have such a good time, and probably would have been better off staying at a hotel on a single Caribbean island.
The truth is, cruising is not for everyone; so how do you know if cruising is right for you? Reviewing the pros and cons of cruising costs, food, entertainment, and other aspects of life aboard the ship can help travelers decide if they should spend their next vacation on land or at sea.
Most of the cost of the trip is set before hand.
Most cruise vacation packages include accommodations, several meals per day, ocean transportation, and the use of the pool, gym, and casino; games, parties, lectures, activities for children, movies, and nightly entertainment. There are very few items missing from this list of included items – beer, wine, liquor and canned soft drinks being the most significant exceptions.
Because of the all-inclusive nature of cruise vacations, many travelers maintain that they spend less money cruising than they would had they planned a land vacation with the same perks. But, even if the total cost ends up being similar to what you would have spent on land, you may prefer the advantages of knowing in advance almost to the penny what your vacation will cost you.
Extra fees may creep up on you.
While much of the cost of cruising is included in the original price, there are some important extras that can add up, even if your cruise is largely all-inclusive. Items that typically come at an extra cost include cruise-sponsored shore excursions, items bought in gift shops, spa and salon treatments, alcoholic beverages, canned soft drinks, some exercise classes, Internet access, gratuities, and even, on some cruises, certain shipboard activities like rock climbing walls, 'flow rider' or surfing on board ship, and ice skating.
And, for those who don't live near the departing port, the cost of traveling to and from the cruise ship is an important factor to remember when evaluating the overall cost of your vacation.
There are a variety of food options to choose from.
Cruisers today have more options than ever before. The alternatives to eating in the main dining room include casual buffets, pizzerias, sushi bars, tapas bars, even in some cases restaurant chains such as 'Johnny Rockets,' designed as a 50's style diner.
In addition, most of today's ships have from at least one optional evening alternative restaurant or snack bar on board, so you always have a choice of where to eat. On some of today's mega ships, there may be half a dozen alternative eating venues to select from.
Food is available around the clock. Most ships have at least one dining area open at all times, so you don't need to follow a particular schedule, and can even grab a bite to eat in the middle of the night, if the mood strikes you.
There is generally 24 hour room service available, albeit with a more limited menu. If the convenience of room service appeals to you, be sure to check whether any extra charges apply – policies vary in this regard.
You may not enjoy the food.
While it's true that cruises offer many dining options, that doesn't mean that every passenger will find something he or she likes. Even if a ship offers several restaurants, they may all share the same kitchen facilities or Executive Chef, so there won't be as much variety as if you were staying on land and visiting a different restaurant every night.
Every location on board will be serving food that was acquired through the same purchasing department, so you may notice the same Tea bags, sweetener and other little details in every location which can bother some people.
For some, the first few days on board are exciting dining adventures, but toward the end of the cruise they weary of the food, begin to long for their own cooking, or wish they could enjoy Sushi, or a particular Mexican entrée that simply isn't available on board ship.
In the worst case scenario, if you book an economy cruise and none of the food meets your culinary standards, or you quickly weary of the fare, you may feel trapped in a way that would never happen during a normal vacation on land where you can always venture beyond your hotel to find something different to eat.
Times of meals may not always be convenient.
Meals are available on the ship during all hours, but meals in the main dining room are some of the best, most varied ones offered, and these are usually only available during set times.
If you are a late sleeper, or arise earlier than most passengers, or you hate being tied to a rigid schedule, you may find yourself eating most of your meals at the buffet area or a snack bar on the ship, because these are the only venues having flexible enough hours to meet your preferences.
Everyone in your party can find something to amuse themselves.
Entertainment provided by the cruise line is so varied that anyone would be hard pressed not to find something they enjoy.
Ships provide everything from movies on deck and Broadway-style performances to stand up comedians, magicians, board games, art galleries, lending libraries, wine tasting, discos, piano bars, slide shows, ballroom dancing venues, lectures, and classes on everything from computer to photography. And all of these choices are just steps away from your cabin.
Some forms of shipboard activities cost extra.
Most of the entertainment on board the ship is included in the cost of your cruise, but every so often cruisers will come across activities that cost extra. As an example, depending on the ship, certain classes or shipboard activities may carry a nominal fee.
Shipboard entertainment generally lacks the “authenticity” of local offerings.
The entertainers may be top-notch, but most likely they are from the United States, and their acts are about the same as the ones offered on board cruises in New England, Alaska, or the Mediterranean. If you stay at a hotel in the Caribbean, you will have more opportunities to experience the local music and culture.
There are plenty of opportunities to meet new people.
Mealtimes, games, cruise-sponsored shore excursions, and entertainment events easily offer opportunities to meet and befriend the other passengers.
Experience many different countries and cultures during a single vacation.
Cruisers can visit several different locations without the added cost of travel. This way, one can test out different destinations via “mini vacations” and determine if the port-of-call is an area they'd like to return to in the future for a more extensive visit.
You only have to unpack once.
A traveler touring a number of different cities would have to pack and unpack several times between their stays at various hotels. On a cruise, however, travelers only need to unpack once and still get to visit different destinations.
Cruise line staff pamper their passengers.
Going on a cruise is often like staying at a fine hotel. The staff is always available to you and willing to go the extra mile to make sure your cruise is memorable.
It is hard to avoid being social.
For those passengers who are introverted or find it hard to interact with new people, a cruise can be overwhelming as there are so many situations in which passengers are thrown together.
There are many time constraints.
At each port, passengers must return to the ship at a specific time. Mealtimes, special events, entertainment, and other cruise organized activities also run on set schedules. If your priority on vacation is to relax and "get away from it all" you may feel that cruising isn't relaxing enough, and you will be happier staying on one the islands, where you can explore on your own, following your own schedule -- or no schedule at all.
Your exposure to each island will be limited.
Your stay at each port will typically be limited to 10 hours or less; this will prevent you from going too far off the beaten path, but you also won't have much chance to explore any one island in depth. While the cruise schedule may prevent you from staying and visiting a particular area for as long as you might like, you can always come back another time, to see more of the island.
Seasickness can put a damper on your trip.
Those prone to motion sickness should make sure they have medication with them. Particularly if the weather turns stormy, choppy waters can rock the ship and lead to seasickness or queasiness. While modern cruise ships use stabilizers which minimize the problem, those who are most prone to motion sickness may still find themselves battling nausea, dizziness, or headaches.
If you decide cruising is not for you, our site has a wealth of information about land-based options. Whether you stay on land or on sea, a vacation in the Caribbean can be the perfect getaway.
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