travel

'I never thought I'd go on a cruise. Here's my honest verdict after 10 days at sea.'

When I told my friends that my new husband and I were going on a cruise for our honeymoon, I fully expected their responses.

But aren't cruises for old people?

Do you even get to leave the boat?

Are cruises safe right now with COVID on the rise again?

All very good questions, and ones I wanted to answer myself when Royal Caribbean offered us the chance to take their all-inclusive nine night voyage to the Greek Islands on the Odyssey of the Seas in May.

Boarding the Odyssey of the Seas, shown here for scale (it's huge). Images: Supplied. 

Firstly, yes - for some there is an undeniable stigma around cruising, and that stems from a few things. After the Ruby Princess incident in 2020 and in the wake of the pandemic, people are understandably hesitant to travel in confinement with thousands of other people on a boat. And to that I would say: fair. 

Then there's the perception that cruises only cater to specific people, namely not young ones. I was also in this camp, as someone who's travelled widely and always been pretty intrepid. 

My partner and I have driven a campervan through the California desert, traversed the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast via public transport (not advised), and had any number of adventures off the beaten track. All a world away from the casinos, discos and kids' clubs that cruises might conjure up in your head. (You're not wrong, by the way, but stay with me.)

Here's everything I learnt about cruising on my honeymoon, and, to my surprise, why I would definitely do it again.

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The hard work is done for you.

After our wedding, we were tired. Tired of planning, tired of logistics, tired of dishing out eye-watering amounts of money to different suppliers. The beauty of a cruise, as I discovered, is that once you've booked your trip, the itinerary is taken care of and you just have to... show up. And I know - to some, that may sound a little lazy. But not if you've spent the last two years dreaming about a holiday where you barely have to lift a finger.

Our Royal Caribbean cruise ticked off some of the best of the Med, starting and ending in Rome and stopping along the way in Naples (the gateway to Amalfi), Santorini, Mykonos, Turkey's scenic port city of Kusadasi, Rhodes and Crete.

We started in Rome and ventured through several iconic Italian locations, like Positano, before we got to Greece. Images: Supplied. 

On a packed trip like this one, the itinerary will generally allow for one day of sightseeing at each stop - you depart the boat at the port and return when you're done exploring, before sunset. Unfortunately, this means you miss out on the local nightlife, which is a downside that is balanced by all the on-board entertainment that happens after nightfall.

On board the ship you can easily book in to a number of pre-arranged tours, for an additional fee. These are especially handy in places like Turkey where there is some road travel involved in reaching key destinations like Ephesus (a minibus takes you there safely and a guide can help fill in the historical blanks), but whether you book a tour or simply wander freely and take it all in is up to you.

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We opted for a mix - we jumped onto a guided tour of the ancient Acropolis of Lindos in Rhodes, as well as Pompeii because #history, but decided to do Santorini ourselves so we could spend the day shopping at the endless markets on the cliff-side, eating grilled octopus, and drinking cocktails. (FYI, on this very laidback holiday, the closest we came to a newlywed fight was when he forced us to walk down the mountain to get back to the tender boats instead of lining up for the cable car, and I'm still mad about it).

A day well-spent in Santorini. Images: Supplied. 

But the real freedom comes in leaving your luggage stowed away in your cabin, taking just a small bag and a swimsuit with you, and knowing when you get back to the boat, tired and probably hungry again (especially if you just scaled a mountain in sandals), you can head to the buffet or straight to a spa and relax for the evening. 

It cuts out wasted travel time.

On a self-guided Euro trip, if you wanted to get to several cities or countries you'd have to include travel days in your tally which eat up precious holiday time. In Greece, this would not only mean air travel but also buses, taxis, ferries and charter boats. The beauty of doing this via a cruise is that the travel happens at night while you're sleeping. We literally went to bed in Santorini and woke up in Mykonos.

Our stateroom: not a bad place to do your travelling! Image: Supplied. 

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We showed our passports once, when boarding the ship in Rome, and didn't have to get them out again. Not waiting in lines at airports with other tired, angry travellers to get to your next location = bliss.

You can choose your own adventure.

On a holiday like this one, how much you get out of it is up to you. There is zero judgement from fellow travellers on what you do with your days - I saw families making the most of the facilities on-board and sojourning for short shore expeditions with their young kids, and I saw seasoned cruisers heading out for all-day hikes with bucket hats and maps in hand. 

My husband and I took it at our own pace - some of the highlights for me were the free time during our tour of Amalfi, browsing the upscale boutiques and incredible vistas of Positano (I had the best cannoli of my life there) and lunch in Sorrento taking in the seaside opulence and the sweeping Italian coastline - we ate at one of the oldest family-run hotels in Europe perched on the cliffside; I was told you come for the lunch and the free views. They didn't disappoint.

The hotel and restaurant had some of the most epic views in Sorrento. Images: Supplied. 

We also loved exploring the less touristy spots, like Chania (Crete) where we took a $6 return shuttle to the Old Market - a bustling shopping and dining precinct on the water that gets compared to Venice. I'm not sure we would have ever made it to Chania if it wasn't on the cruise agenda, and now we'll definitely be going back.

We fell in love with Chania's alleyways and local markets. Image: Supplied.  

Health and safety are a priority.

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There are obvious and very valid concerns around the safety of this type of travel when COVID is still hanging around. When we boarded our cruise, we had to show a negative Rat test - these needed to be overseen by a licensed testing facility and cost around 30 euro, or 50 dollars. 

Safe in the knowledge that everyone on the cruise was in the same boat (sorry), it was up to us whether we chose to wear a mask on board. Most didn't, but some people wore them at the buffet and during performances at the various theatres. All staff wore masks at all times, and there were sanitising dispensers absolutely everywhere. Tables at the restaurants were sanitised constantly. Additionally, all passengers had to wash their hands at washing stations before meals. Yes, it felt a little like kindergarten, but it added some extra peace of mind re: germs.

Like a high class hotel with an endless buffet, only at sea. Images: Supplied. 

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There were also COVID testing facilities on the boat, should anyone want to rule out a diagnosis.

There's (actually) something for everyone.

When I think of a cruise, the first thing that comes to mind is activities. Loads of activities. And the Odyssey of the Seas has... all of them. From a surf simulator to an indoor skydiving facility, bumper cars to laser tag, a walking track, climbing wall, games arcade, day spa, adults-only pool retreat and a decked-out gym with plenty of free classes from yoga to cycling. Not to mention the North Star viewing deck, which is the highest observation deck at sea in the world and offers 360 views of the boat and the surrounding ocean. 


We tried our hand at indoor skydiving and the surf simulator. Images: Supplied.

 

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And got a bird's-eye view from the North Star. Image: Supplied. 

On the entertainment front, it's everything you could imagine: there's a fully fledged casino and several theatres (all entertainment is included and you can go to the shows as many times as you like; we went to two musicals and a magic show) and an old-fashioned music hall offering pool, karaoke nights and themed trivia around the clock. On the retail front you'll find jewellery stores, merch shops, and a man playing showtunes on a piano while you browse. Very boujie.

By the way, if you're looking to book a cruise closer to home in 2022, the above features are indicative of what's to come on board the two Quantum Class ships that Royal Caribbean will bring to Australia this year. Ovation of the Seas will sail from Sydney in October, and Quantum of the Seas will depart from Brisbane in November, offering cruises around Australia, the South Pacific and New Zealand.

The food is *chef's kiss*.

We ate like we'd never eaten before, dividing our time between the stacked buffet and the 20 restaurants on board, 13 of which were included with our stay. Seven speciality restaurants offer different cuisines depending on what you fancy, like gourmet Italian, an American steakhouse, and an Alice in Wonderland themed dining experience that specialises in culinary trickery, Heston Blumenthal style.

There was a lot of this. Images: Supplied. 

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There were also countless bars including one completely manned by robots (yes, really) and another offering live music and sunset cocktails.

Have you ever had a robot arm deliver you a freshly made mojito? Oh, you haven't? Weird.

Bionic Bar was a highlight. Images: Supplied. 

It's really bloody fun.

So yeah, there's a lot to do, but you can also do very little. Between all this I still found loads of time to chill by the pool reading my book and drinking margaritas while my partner did... whatever it is men do to relax. But I can safely say there was not one dull moment. 

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When I look back on my favourite vacations, the best ones had a mix of soul-nourishing travel experiences and relaxing downtime, and this trip provided that balance. I surprised myself with just how much I enjoyed and made use of the conveniences of the boat, once I leaned in to the big, OTT energy of it all. 

Yes, at times it's a bit like Vegas on the water (with lots of American tourists), and if you embrace it with an open mind, then it's literally impossible not to have a good time. Because they all are, and it's infectious.

Sunset cocktails every day? That's the honeymoon goal. Images: Supplied. 

If you're after travel that's simplified, stress free, and a little bit surreal, this might be the holiday for you. 

Mamamia travelled as a guest of Royal Caribbean. All opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.

Tamara is Mamamia's Head of Lifestyle. For more, follow her on Instagram.

Royal Caribbean 9 Night Greek Isles Cruise sailing on Sep 28 2022 on board Odyssey of the Seas from Rome starting at $2,083. Ports of call include Naples/Capri, Santorini, Mykonos, Athens, Ephesus and Chania.

Feature image: Supplied.

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