Before we start elaborating on what in our humble opinion are the pros and cons of cruising, we should start this post with some kind of disclaimer. To start with: Our analysis is based on one single six day, seven night cruise in the Persian Gulf with Costa Cruises, one of the cheaper cruise companies around.
We paid a base price of only 238 euro pp, full board, in an interior cabin on the Costa Serena. Flights and transfers were not included. We arranged those ourselves. We flew Royal Jordanian (recommended!) from Amsterdam to Dubai, changing planes in Amman.
We should also explain what kind of travelers we are. First and foremost we’re individual travelers. Normally we travel backpacker/flashpacker style on our longer trips, take occasional road trips and regular weekend city trips. For many years we traveled as hardcore budget travelers, but the last few years our travel style has shifted more towards high-end budget/midrange. We’re not about hanging around in bars and hate group travel.
Why did we go on a cruise than?
As Eugénie’s parents are regular cruisers – and love it – we decided to try it one time as well. But as we were new to, and had some preconceptions about, cruising we didn’t want to go for too long and not spend too much money on it. So we ended up on the aforementioned cruise in the Persian Gulf in March of 2015.
It was mostly the itinerary that appealed to us, never having been in the Middle East before, except for Egypt in 1996 (how time flies). The cruise started in Dubai with stops in Muscat, Khasab (both Oman) and Abu Dhabi before returning to Dubai where we could stay an extra day on board before checking out and staying a few extra days in Dubai and traveling onwards to Jordan for a road trip.
With all this explaining out of the way – and we hope you are still with us – let’s get on to the pros and cons, with this notion that what we consider a con for many people will be a pro.
1 We’re used to moving around a lot during our travels, seldom staying more than three days in one place. It was nice to have one base – though the room was small – for six consecutive nights with no need to pack and unpack our backpacks (which made us stand out between the other cruise passengers…) all the time. That our beds got made up twice a day was a bit ridiculous in our opinion.
2 Cruising is time efficient: You get from one place to another while you sleep. There’s no need to find out about bus and train time tables and getting to stations. If you don’t want to take a tour transport options are available at every port of call.
3 Cruising is easy traveling. Once you’ve booked your cruise accommodation, transport and food are mostly taken care off. You don’t have to think about where to go, which hotel to stay at or where to eat. Heck, you don’t even have to carry money with you. On board all purchases are added to your account. Maybe choosing the right tour is a challenge. We were surprised, however, by how many people hardly left the ship for sightseeing at all. Clearly for them the cruise was the destination.
1 After arriving in the middle of the night and having had only 4,5 hours of sleep we had to get up early to report on deck for the obligatory safety drill in the morning (yawn), while the ship would only be sailing at 2 PM that afternoon. We also didn’t have our backpacks delivered to our rooms yet at the time we went to bed 2 hours after arrival, so no clean, fresh shirt to bed down in. Hmmm. It was nice though to have something to eat in the restaurant.
2 The cruise dictates your travel pace and schedule. You have to be back on board on time or the ship will sail without you, so no lingering if you like a destination very much. It all feels a little bit rushed that way – sightseeing with one eye always on the clock.
3 Dinner is at appointed times and takes a long time (2 hours). So no flexibility there either. We were unlucky that the buffet restaurant used for breakfast and lunch was closed most of the days for dinner during our cruise. We also had the bad luck to be seated in the second seating at 9 PM, which we found way too late, especially since we wanted to rise early the next morning for sightseeing.
After 2 nights we were exhausted and asked to be transferred to the first seating at 6.30 PM, which luckily was possible. The dinner menu was very limited, food heated in the microwave, but mostly ok. We’re not too fussy about food. What we didn’t care about much was the need to dress up every night for dinner, even though the dress code at this Costa cruise was quite casual.
4 Because you sleep in your cabin on the ship and take most of your meals there you never get the feeling that you’ve truly visited a place. We were in the Middle East, but slept on a ship that was clearly Italian with classical Roman decorations (ultimate kitsch, but tastes differ) and food was mostly Italian inspired. We had a feeling of living in a European bubble taking day trips to some Middle East theme parks during the day.
5 Relaxing on deck was a bit like visiting the beaches of some busy seaside resort during peak tourist season, with this difference that on land you can escape the crowds in search of a more private and secluded spot. On a ship you’re lying elbow to elbow with no escape. Not really our idea of fun.
As you can see, for us the cons far outweigh the pros. But does this mean that we had a bad time? Not at all. We couldn’t have done it cheaper if we had done it another way (we checked) and we’re not people who quickly dislike something. It was a new kind of travel experience which – not completely unsurprising – did not really fit our travel profile. At least: not yet.
Big on board screens showed ‘My Costa Movie’ every day, highlighting the cruise activities of the day. It showed everything we are not looking for in our travels: guests and employees walking the polonaise in the restaurant, dressing up for theme nights, lying side by side on beach chairs, mediocre evening shows and organized group tours. But if you do like this than chances are you’ll have a great holiday. And as we managed to stay clear of most of it, we enjoyed ourselves too.
Travel tips for going on a cruise
Tipping – The most debated topic on a cruise is tipping. While tipping is a voluntary expression of showing your appreciation for services rendered, on most cruises an obligatory tip per person (in this case it was 7 euro pppd) is added to your account, which you automatically pay through your credit card at the end of the cruise. If this tip really reaches the employees or is part of the cruise company’s business model is unclear. You’re free to give extra tips if you want though (some luxury cruise companies have a no tipping policy).
Tours – Organized tours seem to be the big moneymakers for the cruise lines. As independent travelers we abhor group tours so we organized our land based activities during the cruise ourselves. That way we could sightsee at our own pace and schedule and save a bundle of money in the process – up to 50% or more!
Drinks packages – Every cruise company offers the possibility to book drinks packages, allowing you unlimited drinking on board the entire day and at dinner. If – like us – you don’t drink alcohol you’ll have a very hard time to earn that investment back. With drinks at breakfast for free, water coolers in the buffet restaurant (also free) and being out most of the days to sightsee we only spent about 30 euro each on drinks for the entire cruise (though we went a little overboard on that one). The regular drinks package at the Costa Serena costs 175 euro pp for six days…. You can do the math.