Thursday, October 10, 2013

Brits and Cruising

Cruising 101 with Selena
It's time for another installment of 

But I might need to change that badge,
because today's post is written by my husband Matthew. 

He is becoming quite a frequent "flyer" around here and we are working on ways to make him a regular contributor. 

I don't know how you feel about that,
but I think he is a wonderful addition to the blog.

He is, after all, one half of the 
"We" in Oh, the places we will go! 

Today he's going to give you a
British perspective on cruising.  

Selena blogged recently about Why You Should Choose to Cruise!.  She referred to a guy we’d met who felt that cruising was not travelling.  I’m with most of you in that I think he’s an idiot, but having been born and raised in the UK, I can understand some of the preconceptions he may have relied on in forming his opinion.

Preconception #1 - Cruising is for Old People

The British cruise industry during the 70s and 80s was all about transatlantic crossings on luxurious (and expensive) super liners.  The cost limited the clientele to those with pots of cash and who tended to be quite old.  As the North Atlantic can be inhospitable during deep winter (see the Titanic reference below), these ships spent the winter loaded with super-rich grave dodgers who could afford to spend £100,000 on a four month round-the-world cruise.

There still are a handful of noble ships which spend their year in this way, but these days the vast majority of cruise ships ply more fun, port-oriented routes.  You’ll find grey hair on most cruises, but overall there’s a much younger clientele cruising at a much more affordable price.

Cruising out of Miami
Spot the grey hair. 

Preconception # 2 - Cruising is Stuffy and the Opposite of Fun

The next perception was that cruising is an ordeal.  Having to dress like Carson from Downton Abbey for every meal.  The only dancing was ballroom (but don’t worry, if your husband or wife wasn’t a dancer there would be a staff member happy to accompany you around the dance floor).  Activities were limited to hare coursing, badger baiting or fox hunting.  Or if that was too energetic, you could just relax in the bar comparing jewellery with your neighbours.

I'd like a cheese omelette, please.  Via.
Obviously, this is nonsense.  You can take ballroom dancing lessons if you want, and there’s nothing wrong with dressing up a little for the occasional dinner.  But the range of activities available on even modest sized cruise ships should be enough to keep the most introverted people entertained.  And if you’re an extrovert, go wild!
Cruising 101
Not a badger in sight.

Preconception #3 - Most Cruise Ships Sink

Obviously most ships don’t sink.  To be fair though, the few that do tend to stick in the memory.  Everyone will be familiar with the Titanic, although not so many people realise that a third of its passengers survived the sinking.  Brits will also remember the sinking of the Lusitania, from which 1,198 people died.  However, there were some particular circumstances to that sinking which are unlikely to be repeated today:  the ship was hit by a torpedo from a German U-Boat.

More recently, we’ve seen the sinking of the Costa Concordia, through which 32 people died.  But I’m threatening to depress myself – perhaps I’ll leave cruise ship safety to another post.  Let’s just say that the risk of drowning on a cruise ship is similar to the risk of dying from a lightning strike – not something you should spend a great deal of time worrying about.

Carnival Glory
Still Afloat.
 So if we can summarily dispel these myths, cruising is great fun.  However British cruisers do suffer a couple of handicaps that are real, although they can be easily overcome.

No man is an Island, but Britain is

Cruises originating in the UK do have a handicap, which is that Britain is an island in Northern Europe.  So get to anywhere exotic (sorry Jersey), you have to cruise for several days, which does rather eat into your holiday.  In my opinion, sea days are a bit of a waste of time if you are a traveller, but Selena doesn’t necessarily agree on this point.

Cruising 101
Sea day or shore day.  Which do you prefer?

 You can either head North across the North Sea, which is big, prone to bad weather and so can be quite vomity.  (Is that a word?) And you’ll end up even further North than Britain, which reduces your chances of encountering good weather.  Or you can head South across the Bay of Biscay, which is also big, is also prone to bad weather and so can also be quite vomity.  (I've decided it is.)  But at least after 3 days sailing, you’ll be in Lisbon, which should be warmer.  Try not to think about the 3 days you’ll spend sailing back.

Obviously the solution to this is to fly to join your cruise there.  Book early enough and the additional cost of the flight will be very reasonable, and (in my opinion) you’ll have a better holiday as more of it will be spent exploring exotic ports, rather than wishing you’d bought that sea sickness wristband from that infomercial.

Chania, Crete
An exotic port.  Chania, in Crete.
European Cruising can be, ahem, a little demanding

Ryanair is often ridiculed for flying you to airports only remotely associated with the city they claim to represent.  Oslo’s Torp airport is 69 miles from Oslo, and Frankfurt’s Hahn airport is 78 miles from Frankfurt.  But European cruises often do the same thing.  Civitavecchia is 50 miles from Rome, Le Havre is 126 miles from Paris and Warnemünde is 150 miles from Berlin.  All 3 are stops on many cruise itineraries which are advertised as giving you a day in the European capital they notionally serve.

If your cruise takes you to “Athens”, you feel an obligation to actually visit Athens, even if you’ve actually docked in Piraeus and you need two hours on Google to work out how to actually get into the city.  Which can make a European cruise a rather stressful experience, if you choose to travel independently.  Joining an official tour offered by the ship is the obvious solution (which also removes the nagging fear of getting lost and missing the boat) but shuffling around in a large, organised group is not for everyone.

So my solution here is simple.  Fly to Miami and join a Caribbean cruise.  Okay, this is adding a little more cost, but Caribbean ports tend to be very close to the city centres, and even if they’re not, there tends to be a small tourist village adjacent to the pier where you can have a rum cocktail and legitimately claim to have visited the country!

Matthew in the Virgin Islands
Enjoying a beer cocktail in the Virgin Islands.

I can't tell you how excited I am to have Matthew working on this series with me.
We're lovin' the discussions that are happening in the comment sections.
Keep it coming!
In future posts, we'll be sharing tips on how to choose the right cruise, planning shore excursions and more.  If you have any questions that you would like for us to address, just comment below or send me an email.  And if you are interested in doing a guest post in the series, I'd love to hear from you. 

Do you think Brits and Americans feel differently about cruising?
What about you Canadians... how do you feel?


  1. In answer to your question I love that you are both posting! I have found being married to a Swede we have very different ideas on what are travel destinations and how to get there, for example I know most Americans that go to Greece want to go to Santorini but when I told Fredrik I went there he was not interested at all and kept telling me about some place I had never heard of in Greece!

  2. I love reading his posts and think it's great to see him as a regular contributor! I like the idea of a cruise, but still haven't done one. Unfortunately I had a niece stuck on the ship earlier this year that's engines failed, had to be towed back to America, no a/c, slept on deck, little food, toilets overflowing and received little compensation. Too fresh on the mind for me to be thinking about a cruise at the moment, unfortunately. So for now I'll live vicariously through you!! :)

  3. Nice one, Mathew! - and I'm pretty sure that 'vomity' should be a real word, if it isn't already!

  4. I think the perception of cruising is definitely changing in the States!

  5. Great post! I absolutely loved our cruise to the Bahamas but I am looking forward to the one were taking to Central America next year because we will have more port days. We're actually leaving out of Miami. But I agree, ports in the Caribbean are very close to the city centers and the one we went on actually look us to a private island which was really nice :)

  6. Cruises look like a lot of fun and like they could be a more relaxable travel option :) thanks for sharing!

  7. Wonderful post. It will be nice to hear Matthew's view point. As I was reading I was imagining Matthew's words being spoken in an English accent and Selena's in a Texan accent. Which, in a long a bout way and irrelevant to this article, got me to realize that I have a New England accent and between the three of us we would all pronounce caramel differently.

  8. I tested your theory - Selena does indeed say caramel in a weird way!

  9. Thanks Kayli - pleased you enjoyed it. Unpack once, a different location outside your window each morning and a slap up dinner each night! Perfect!

  10. Hi Jenn. The last cruise I did before meeting Selena was Miami to Cozumel to Belize to Roatan to the Cayman Islands and back to Miami. A terrific experience. My tip would be to do a little planning before you get there - very easy to jump in a cab to a beach in Roatan but Belize takes a little planning.

  11. Hi Andi - I think that's the case - Carnival advertises the party side of its cruises very well. Still a few years behind here in the UK...

  12. Thanks Sue. My mum's been on two cruises, both on smaller ships, both from Dover, one to Norway and the other to the Med. She certainly reported that vomity is a word!

  13. Hi TIna. Thanks for commenting - happy to be contributing. Sounds like your niece had a very bad experience - I hope she was ok. I can see how that might put you off

  14. Hi Bailie - some might call marriage a compromise - others say you get the best of both worlds!

  15. That is the exact trip that we are doing! We actually have an excursion to see the Mayan Ruins in Belize because I wasn't sure what else to do there and since I majored in Anthropology in college, I really want to see them!

  16. Hi Jenn - spot on! I did the same excursion to the Mayan ruins. One of the few times you really need to go with the ship's tours but a fascinating excursion. Enjoy the trip!


Thanks for commenting. I love to hear from you!