Traveler's Confession - I Love Cruises

Not too long ago I decided it was time to clean a few skeletons out of my overcrowded closet. I started by professing my love for the Hard Rock Cafe and that I'm a proud timeshare owner, but I knew that was only the beginning of my Traveler's Confession. Today brings a bigger, darker which might be difficult to accept, so I hope you're sitting down...

I love cruises.

Carnival Destiny
Our last ship...the Carnival Destiny

That's right... Not only do I love cruises, but depending on when you read this there's a good chance I'm aboard one right now. MJ and I are set to sail on the high seas once again - the 10th cruise of my travel career - and while this year has been filled with some amazing adventures, Pebble Beach is the only one which I've looked forward to more than this cruise. And yet, until now, my love of cruises has been a closely guarded secret.
Yeah...I did it.

Just like the Hard Rock Cafe and timeshares, cruises can be a lightning rod within the travel blogger community. They inspire posts such as "I Hate Cruises" and others like it which berate this facade the cruise lines like to call "travel." Every so often a blogger is pleasantly surprised with a first experience on a cruise, but these are certainly the exception and not the norm. Even casual travelers - those who don't chronicle every time they're more than 20 miles from home - have strong opinions when it comes to cruises. Some swear by them and never travel any other way, while others wouldn't take a cruise if they were paid in guaranteed winning lotto tickets. In both cases, the opinions of the Anti-Cruisers are usually the same...

Sailing on a floating mall packed with thousands of people from one tourist trap island to another is not real travel. 

They're right...It's not. By all appearances I should be a card carrying member of the "I Hate Cruises" society. I'm not a fan of crowds, I detest buffets, and the last place I want to be caught dead when traveling is a tourist trap.  So if it's not real travel and I dislike many of the things cruises are known for, how on earth can I love them?
Boy...this is fun.

It's All In How You Cruise...

I'm here to tell you that cruising doesn't have to be about limbo contests and conga lines. Yes, cruises are packed with cheesy activities and people that will take part in them all - read: MJ - but I am most definitely not one of them. Some will say this makes me a stick in the mud, and while that may be true the reality is I've simply come to understand what type of cruising works for me. If hairy chest contests aren't your cup of tea, here's how I manage to cruise without ever setting foot on the Lido Deck.

The Balcony

If it weren't for the advent of the stateroom balcony my cruising days would have ended about a decade ago. While there are plenty of holiday deals on interior or oceanview staterooms, booking one of these claustrophobic dungeons more or less means you'll be spending most of your time in the public areas of the ship. Great if you enjoy shopping seminars and bingo, not so great if you prefer the company of a good book to people.
Come back 4 days later, I'll still be here.

Sailing in a balcony stateroom is like having your own personal yacht. Granted, this yacht is 3 feet wide by 6 feet long, but for me it is an oceanfront sanctuary where close to 70% of my time is spent onboard. Room service and mimosas in the morning, a good book in the afternoon, and a glass of wine as the sun sets in the evening...all in the quiet, mostly private confines of the balcony. It doesn't get much better.
Cruise Ship Sunset
Our own private sunset.

Stay Onboard When Everyone Else Goes Ashore

Although I could easily spend an entire cruise on the balcony - I even slept out there once - eventually you'll want to enjoy the rest of the ship. The only problem...contending with the other 3000 passengers. On the other hand, if you stay onboard when everyone else goes ashore you'll likely have the entire ship to yourself. Sure, it'll mean you miss out on a port, but how many Caribbean straw markets do you really need to visit? Especially when it means the difference between this....
Empty Cruiseship Deck

And this...

Crowded Cruiseship Deck

Pay For The Specialty Restaurants

Most people on vacation don't enjoy being forced to have dinner at the same time each evening, however on cruises that is exactly what happens. Many cruise lines have responded by offering "Anytime Dining" which allows guests to dine whenever they please. Although this is a convenient option, you're still stuck eating glorified banquet food with complete strangers. My solution: the specialty restaurants.
Cruiseship Lobster
Not too bad for glorified banquet food, huh?

These restaurants run between $10-$30 more per person and offer far superior food, service, and atmosphere. Not to mention you won't be forced to make up random conversation with people you'll never see again. In my lifetime I've consumed more than my body weight in Filet Mignon, yet I still maintain the best one ever was at Chops Grille aboard Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas. Of course, earlier that day I put a ring on MJ's finger, so perhaps that had something to do with it.

Take It Slow...Unplug

Each night when you return to your stateroom there will be two things on your pillow: a piece of chocolate and a newsletter full of the next day's activities. The newsletter is three pages of four point font, single spaced, and chocked full of stuff designed to separate you from your money. Throw it in the garbage.
Cruiseship Bed
Sorry, I forgot. Chocolate, newsletter, towel animal.

If you spend the entire trip running from one event to the next, by the time the cruise is over you'll need another vacation. I am the king of an itinerary, but when it comes to cruising - with the exception of shore excursions - there should be no schedule involved. Real life is one giant don't need or want one on a cruise.
MJ keeps close tabs on the bingo schedule.

So there you have it...I love cruises. There's no shame in it really. There are plenty of good reasons not to take a cruise, and for the most part, I agree with them all. At their core, cruises are floating overcrowded malls which visit unauthentic ports under the guise of "travel." Why anyone would want to take a vacation with that description is beyond me.

On the other hand, cruises are still an excellent value for the money, and can be a lot of fun even for us jaded sticks in the mud so long as they're approached with the right strategy.  The key is to treat a cruise as you would a secluded resort vacation. If you book a balcony, pay for the specialty restaurants, and skip the tourist trap ports and cheesy activities, you just might discover that cruising is one of your favorite ways to travel. It's definitely one of mine.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to my balcony to enjoy the sunset.

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