There are lots of myths and misconceptions about cruising and most of them are based on half truths or hearsay. Here is the Skyscanner Australia reality check, so that any misunderstandings are cleared up before you sail into the sunset.
1.The crowds are unbearable.
The biggest cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, can house 5,494 guests and 2,394 crew. That’s a lot of people on a single vessel.
Passenger numbers are smaller on ships based in Australia, but you are still talking of thousands of people on each one. Three thousand people in one swimming pool? You’ve got to be kidding!
But things aren’t as bad as they might seem. The first couple of days are the worst on any cruise. Everyone wants to explore the ship and use as many of the facilities as they can. The buffet is crowded, because everyone wants lunch at the same time, the deck chairs are all taken, and there are people everywhere. But, bit-by-bit, people settle into their own routines and start to spend more time relaxing in their cabins and readjusting their mealtimes and playtime. Some people barely ever make it out on deck, some hardly leave the casino.
I find that a civilised breakfast in the restaurant is much nicer than a buffet free-for-all, and I try and leave the ship a little later than most of my fellow passengers on port days. Very experienced cruisers say the best time is when everyone is doing port tours and they have the ship almost to themselves. A private balcony is the best option if you want some time away from other people, while you can pay more to access exclusive deck areas and other facilities on some ships too.
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2. Everyone gets seasick.
I’ve only been seasick once, on a P&O cruise from Sydney to the South Pacific. As soon as we steamed through Sydney Heads we knew there would be trouble. There were huge black clouds and the sea was churning. For the next two days we sailed towards Noumea through nine-metre waves. The ship was rolling and pitching badly and so was my stomach. Our young kids were faring even worse. We thought about getting something for them from the on-board doctor, but the queues were too long. We later found out he would have administered an injection, and charged us an arm and a leg.
Later we found out that the ship’s stabilisers were broken, and that’s why the journey was so rough. Stabilisers are two wings beneath the ship that prevent the vessel from rolling excessively in the water. If the stabiliser system had worked the voyage would have been much more comfortable. As it was, I’d been on five other cruises in the region and the seas had been calm and the ship barely rocked at all.
We learnt a few things from that trip though. Some people were much better off because they had the sense to bring anti-seasickness pills with them. Ask your pharmacist. Others swore by a magnetic wristband, or sucked on ginger sweets. People who cruised a lot and were worried about seasickness also booked cabins in the more stable central area of the ship, and either hung out there during bad weather, or in public spaces in the middle of the vessel.
It’s a bit of a lottery when it comes to cruising in the South Pacific, the most favoured destination for Aussies, but you are more likely to experience rough seas during cyclone season, which lasts from November to the end of April – unfortunately, the most popular time to cruise!
3. Cruising is boring.
What, with on-board rock walls to climb, miniature golf, Broadway-style productions, shore tours, bingo and crocheting classes, sports tournaments and movies, bridge lessons and sexy man contests? What more do you want?
4. Everyone catches the lurgy.
We’ve all heard about entire ship-loads of people catching some horrible illness while out at sea, but thankfully that’s far from normal. Usually it’s the highly contagious norovirus, which causes 'gastro', that's the problem. The illness typically comes on between 24 and 48 hours after ingesting the virus, and victims suffer from stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea.
The virus is almost as common as the common cold and outbreaks occur in all sorts of places, including hotels, hospitals, nursing homes, schools and cruise ships. While they might make the news when they happen onboard cruise ships, outbreaks are not very common, because cruise companies do their utmost to prevent them. Ships are disinfected thoroughly between cruises and things like door handles, handrails and lift buttons are frequently disinfected out at sea. There are plenty of hand sanitizer containers in obvious places too. The best way to protect yourself is to wash your hands with soap frequently, and also to use hand-sanitizer gell as much as you can.
5. Cruises are only for seniors.
Well, it’s true that some ships attract the older crowd, but others have a mixed cohort of people, including families, groups of young people, singles, and younger couples. Ships based in Australia have a very mixed clientele. Do you research if you are choosing to travel elsewhere.
6. Ships are full of screaming kids.
Some cruises have more children on them than others. Some are just too expensive for most families to afford, but others cater for lots of kids, especially during school holidays. So choose your ship and choose your time if you want fewer sprogs around. You could also look out for ships with child-free deck areas, and child-free pools.
Saying that, cruising with young kids is about the best holiday you can have because of the kid’s clubs onboard. I travelled with my kids on five cruises out of Australia and it was always easy to palm them off to someone else to look after, while we lazed around on a sun bed. The kids loved the video games, the movie nights, the shipboard games and everything else that was organised by someone else rather than us.
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7. Cruising is really daggy.
No. It’s really cool. That’s why cruising is huge at the moment, and why we are seeing more and more ships being based in Australia. Sure some things are a bit daggy, like when some people are stuffing their faces from their plate while still lining up at a section of the buffet, but if you turn a blind eye here and there you can almost imagine yourself in the glory days of ocean liners, when on-board games were quoits or shuffleboard, rather than belly-flop competitions in the pool. You might even dress up in your best clothes from time to time, or as a cowboy or cowgirl on a theme night … umm, ok, it can be a little daggy occasionally.
8. You put on lots of weight.
You can stack on the kilos if you stuff your face with everything on offer, which is easy because it sometimes seems like it’s a non-stop food fest. Even between meals some ships provide free ice cream and other snacks, and you can still be eating for free at midnight too. But it doesn’t have to be like this.
You don’t have to have that third serving of lasagne and chips in the buffet, followed by all six desserts. There are plenty of opportunities to exercise too. When everyone is eating or asleep you can jog around the top deck, or you can spend an hour or so in the gym – often one of the less crowded places on a ship. Putting on weight isn’t inevitable if you are sensible.
9. You end of spending a fortune on extras.
You can certainly spend quite a lot more money once onboard your cruise ship, especially if you are unlucky on the slot machines and poker tables, or you buy a painting or two during an on-board auction, or you insist on getting a hugely expensive massage or your teeth whitened.
You can always eat in the free restaurants and avoid the increasingly popular extra restaurants where you are expected to dip into your bank account. You can do some pre-planning and save heaps on shore tours as well. Just look things up on the internet beforehand and arrange a tour yourself. You might find yourself doing exactly the same tour as your shipmates for a fraction of the price charged by the cruise line. A local taxi, or a stroll ashore, could be an option too.
When it comes to tipping, ships based in Australia generally include tips for state room attendants and dining room staff in the cruise price – even Royal Caribbean now includes gratuities in its cruise price for ships based in Australia, after finally recognising that Australia doesn’t have the same tipping culture as America does. You can always tip extra to your hard working, poorly paid cabin attendant if you really appreciate those origami bunnies and ducks he’s made with your towels.