It wasn’t so long ago that I turned my nose up at cruises and people who liked them, haughtily declaring obnoxious things like, “I’ll take a cruise when I can’t walk anymore!” and “Cruises are for tourists; I’m not a tourist I’m a traveller.” Clearly, I’ve reformed my views, as three weeks ago I boarded an ocean liner with Allan and my parents to sail the North and Baltic Seas.
Here’s what you won’t get from a cruise: You will not come away with a deep and personal understanding of a place’s culture or history. You will not have much time to interact with locals, or figure what day-to-day life is in this foreign place. At the end of it, you will not be able to regale your wide-eyed friends with stories of how you were mugged at knife-point, scaled the continent’s highest peak or stayed in the filthiest hostel imaginable (all of which have happened, at one point or another, to Allan or me). You will not feel a great sense of accomplishment at how far you pushed yourself beyond your physical or cultural comfort zone.
But if you can resist succumbing (much) to the overpriced booze, cruise-organized tours (I’ll sign up for one of those when I can’t walk anymore) and gambling opportunities, and if you can be courteous and kind and genuinely friendly to the ship staff who – though grateful for their jobs – work long hours with low pay and wait on you hand and foot, and if you can recognize the privilege of such luxurious travel then you might just find, as we did, that a cruise can be a surprisingly cost-effective way to see seven new cities in six new countries, albeit in a whistle-stop way.
There were obvious benefits to the cruise like the ship travelling while you slept (no pesky commutes to and from city centers to airports, nor long lines to stand in, nor hours to kill before boarding), not needing to lug your bags around or pack and unpack at each new city, the calming effect of watching endless miles of ocean roll by, and eating remarkably well. But those aside, our cruise was formidable for one reason: the itinerary was phenomenal. By this I mean that I would have independently chosen to travel to every city that we visited, even if it wasn’t part of a package deal on the cruise. Most of the cities were also only a 10-30 minute walk from where the ship docked, which is not normal for ports in Europe.
Anyway, if it sounds like I’m being a bit defensive, it’s probably because I am; I still feel a little abashed telling you I went on (and thoroughly enjoyed) a cruise. Once off the boat at each new city, Allan and I quickly shed our cruise-passenger identities and set about exploring far and wide by foot, armed with pages torn out of The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, which helped us ease our traveler consciences. Some highlights: