Most of the reasons a lot of people love cruises are the very reasons why I, as a solo, introverted, budget traveler, hate them! This is not an all-inclusive, adamant, burning hatred, but more of a general aversion to the sensibility and method of travel that most standard cruises adopt. There are certainly exceptions to this prevailing cruise condemnation of mine.
I’ve had five different cruise experiences in my life – quite a few for someone who actively tries to avoid cruises! Two of those were typical-style cruises, on which I had a less than positive experience, and three were specialized in a way that appealed directly to me and now rank among some of my most memorable and exciting trips.
This post will explain the reasons most cruises don’t appeal to me and why some do. I’m specifically referring to multi-day, overnight cruises here – not day trips, 2-hour tourist sightseeing rides, or ferries. If you are a solo traveler, a budget traveler, an introvert, or any combination of the three, I hope this will help you choose the right kind of cruise for you!
Why I Hate Cruises:
Group Travel as an Introvert
As an introvert, group travel is usually anathema to me – probably why I also tend to be a solo traveler. Your standard cruise is not only group travel, it’s enormous group travel! If I feel uncomfortable lumped into a group with 10-15 strangers, imagine the compounded discomfort of traveling alongside 600 of them!
The only place you get any privacy on a cruise ship is your own cabin – assuming you have that to yourself (more on that later…). There are people around all the time on the ship. Then, when you do get a respite and call in at a port somewhere for the day, said port is then overrun with those same 600 tourists in addition to any others who may be there on a different ship or via other travel methods. It can be suffocating not being able to get away from the group and certainly colors your experience aboard ship and in whatever exotic destination may be on the itinerary.
Party Atmosphere & Inane Entertainment Options
Besides there being tons of people around all the time on a cruise, the attitude of these people only amplifies my aversion to them. I’m not begrudging people a good time, certainly, and that is what most cruise-goers are looking to do. It’s just that my idea of a good time is usually considerably less boisterous, inane, and alcohol-fueled than that of a lot of other cruisers. I’d prefer to relax and read a book on a secluded beach with a few random fellow sun-seekers than attempt to cool off alongside 30 splashing, laughing bathers in a ship pool that would really comfortably fit only 10.
I’d prefer to go hunt down some traditional live music in a little village pub if I feel like some evening entertainment, rather than try to watch a minimally skilled magician or lounge singer (or even worse, karaoke!) over the heads and conversations of 400 others. I can see where people can really enjoy this kind of atmosphere and entertainment, it’s just not my jam!
I’m big on freedom of choice, so the all-inclusive costs of a lot of cruises make me feel like I’m paying for things I don’t actually want. Having all meals included, for example, certainly has its appeal, but sometimes I just feel like a protein bar or a piece of fruit for breakfast. The cost of that included food is built into the overall cost of the cruise, but I’d much prefer to pay a lower price and bring my own snacks or bring back interesting regional cuisine from the ports of call along the way.
Same with shore excursions. If they are included, I feel like I have to do them to get my money’s worth, though I may prefer to do something else, or just wander around getting a feel for the place. The inability to pick and choose options on a cruise inhibits my style of travel and inflates my budget.
Single Supplement Charges
Speaking of inflating budgets, don’t get me started on single supplement charges!!! Cruises, and a lot of travel expenses actually, are based on double occupancy. The costs, accommodations, everything, are designed for at least two people sharing. As a solo traveler, if I want to have my own cabin, for example, I have to pay a single supplement charge to compensate for the unused second bed or place on a double bed.
Cabins designed for single travelers are extremely rare. It doesn’t make sense for the cruise company economically, which sucks for solo budget travelers! Some give you the option of sharing with another solo traveler in order to avoid the single supplement charge, but then you run into the introvert problem of lack of privacy and you never know what kind of roommate you might get! Though I must say, I have been lucky in this respect when I’ve opted to share with a stranger.
Lack of Freedom
I already touched on the lack of freedom cruises generally provide when I talked about inclusivity, but there are other ways restrictions impact travelers that are worth noting separately. The rigid schedule of cruises does not appeal to me. You cannot change plans mid-trip. What if I fell in love with one port of call and wanted to explore it further? I would not have the freedom to change my plans and stay longer without forfeiting the rest of the cruise. And when you are not on one of these minimal shore excursions, you are literally stuck on the ship.
There is nowhere else to go and you must comply with ship rules and schedules. Besides not having the freedom to eat different food from that provided, you are also bound by regulated meal times. If you feel like sleeping in one day, you run the risk of missing breakfast. Too bad if you’re not really hungry yet when dinner rolls around – you better eat anyway or go hungry later! Structure like this can be a boon to travelers who are not as familiar or comfortable making their own way, but the lack of freedom really niggles a free-spirited nomad like me.
Surface Cultural Interaction
Yes, cruises tend to take you to a nice variety of countries or ports of call, but the minimal amount of time you are allotted to explore these places inevitably creates a very surface impression and experience of them.
I will certainly admit there are places I’ve visited where I wandered around for a few hours, went to a museum or market and decided that was plenty of exploration and I’d just as soon move on. But these are rare in my experience. Most places require a little more time to really get a feel for the place and to see and do everything I want. Most cruises simply do not allow you that time.
Education Only Cruises
One of the best experiences of my life was Semester at Sea. This is ostensibly a three-month cruise around the world, but it’s also a floating university. We visited 10 ports of call on three continents, plus starting and ending in new cities on my home continent of North America. Every day we were at sea, we took classes, enough to transfer back a full semester of college credits to my university. When we were in port (2-9 days at a time), there were optional shore excursions you could purchase at additional cost, or you could do your own thing.
The atmosphere aboard ship was educational, with, of course, wacky college student and sea-lore based entertainments like a “Sea Olympics” and “Neptune Day”. We were learning about the history, culture, politics, and peoples of the places we then visited, rather than the vacation atmosphere of a standard cruise (though there was certainly some partying – it’s college…). And while some things, like meals, were included, you could pick and choose from 100 classes and hundreds of shore excursions to suit your personal interests and budget.
If you are no longer a student, you can still go on Semester at Sea as a “lifelong learner” option to travel and sit in on the classes without earning the credits. Of course, the length of this cruise means it’s quite expensive, but there are other, shorter options with an education focus that tend to be more flexible and more of a conducive environment for introverts. I would certainly consider this sort of educational cruise without my first instinct being to run and hide!
Small, Purposeful Cruises on Unique Ships
Along the same lines, cruises that have a specific purpose and/or utilize small, unique ships can be very interesting. One of my crowning life achievements was traveling to my seventh and final continent, Antarctica, aboard a small ice-breaker ship. My fellow travelers were not there for the sun and party, they were a distinctly more adventurous, well-traveled, and learning-oriented lot.
The entertainment while at sea was various lectures on different aspects of the icy continent and the polar beast who live there. We were more often than not the only people around when we went ashore and the small nature of the ship meant there were not overwhelming numbers of people around all the time.
Similarly, I took a riverboat cruise down the Amazon in Brazil. This was another small ship and unique in that it was very open and we slept in hammocks on the outer deck. This made for an unusual travel experience very different from your typical cruise, and a much more enjoyable option!
So, if you’re an introverted, solo, budget traveler like me (or any one of the three!), cruises might not be your particular cup of tea. With cost, atmosphere, and flexibility concerns, it’s easy to see why. There are exceptions, however, and if you are looking for a water-bound travel experience like no other, seek them out!
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