Cruise travel is booming, so what's all the fuss about? Our Cruise Columnist and her travel companion, husband and fellow cruise connoisseur Dion Bromilow, put in their two cents.
Dion Bromilow: "Doing a cruise with friends enhances the whole experience."
What’s not to love about being pampered to within an inch of your enjoyment threshold on the high seas? Cruising is so convenient and represents real value for money.
My love affair with cruising started rather hesitantly on a seven-night Thomson Cruises’ jaunt from Palma De Mallorca to Morocco, Gibraltar and the Spanish coast in mid-2012.
My wife Jan and I were encouraged to do the cruise by good friends when we caught up with them on one of our annual visits to the Old Dart.
Doing a cruise with friends enhances the whole experience. It’s nice to have their companionship, particularly when dining, and to enjoy activities such as the daily trivia quizzes.
The Thomson cruise whet my appetite for more aquatic adventures and although I wasn’t keen on Tangier and Casablanca I enjoyed exploring British-controlled Gibraltar and the old Spanish port city of Cartagena.
Jan and I have taken cruises in the Mediterranean with our English friends and by ourselves, as well as several others from Australian ports.
The other Mediterranean cruises were on Norwegian Jade sailing from Venice and last year an island-hopping adventure along the Croatian coast and a seven-night cruise on the Queen Victoria from Rome.
Norwegian Jade is an excellent ship. It’s not too big and I liked its relaxed vibe.
I love the “get away from the madding crowd” option that a balcony cabin provided for us. That’s now top of our booking requests. I also liked the spacious shower facility — something we haven’t experienced on a number of our cruises.
Another of my cruising pet hates is the heavy upsell you experience, in regard to drinks and specialty restaurant dining packages. It is particularly annoying to be constantly pestered to purchase these packages every time you head for the dining room.
Having said this, the specialty restaurants package generally represents excellent value for money and a culinary alternative to dining-room fare.
From my experience, shore excursions seem to be overpriced and the “herd” factor doesn’t appeal to me. We like to be adventurous and do our own thing, catching taxis or joining the hop-on, hop-off tourist buses to take in the sights.
For instance, in Athens we booked a local taxi to visit landmarks such as the Acropolis, the changing of the guard outside the Parliament and the local markets. We had the driver for four hours and it cost €100 ($155), including a tip, for four of us. Had we booked the ship’s excursion it would have cost about €150 each.
Similarly, when Norwegian Jade visited Turkey, we chose a taxi in Kusadasi to take us to the ancient ruins of Ephesus, a drive of more than an hour. We had the use of the taxi for several hours and again it cost us €100. Much cheaper than the ship’s offering.
Of course, you don’t have the services of a qualified guide that you get on the organised tours and you’d need to take entry fees into account.
On the topic of shipboard expenses, I’m opposed to the gratuity that is added to each passenger’s bill. I prefer to tip the people who provide me with good personal service.
Along the way, I’m paying for gratuities every time I buy a drink at the bar or a bottle of wine in the dining room. And for all the talk about a “duty-free” environment, the drinks prices don’t seem to be any cheaper than what you pay on land.
If I were to nominate my favourite cruise to date, it would be the Croatian island-hopping experience aboard an intimate 38-passenger ship in August. Most of our fellow passengers were from WA and it was a very convivial atmosphere aboard the yacht-like cruiser MS Emanuel.
The 13-night cruise is organised by local industry veteran Tony Brbich through his company Travel Tree. He organises Croatian cruise-and- land packages each year.
Croatia and its beautiful islands are off-limits to bigger cruise ships, which normally include Dubrovnik and Split in their itineraries. On a boutique ship like Emanuel, you get to visit wonderful places such as Opatija, Zadar, Trogir, Brac, Hvar and Korcula.
The weather was absolutely perfect and, since you’re generally sailing in protected waters as you weave between the islands, the Adriatic Sea was as flat as a millpond.
If you’re looking for a different option to the big ships, then this might be the experience that ignites your love for cruising.
It has certainly fired my passion for boutique cruising. Perhaps a European river cruise or exploring Western Australia's North West coast might feature in our future holiday plans.
Jan Bromilow: "The Mediterranean is my favourite cruise destination."
I admit to a cruising addiction and I’m finding that the more cruises I do the more picky I get.
I much prefer small to mid-size ships because I am not the sort to be shimmying up a rock-climbing wall. On sea days I’m inclined to be relaxing with a good book sipping a glass of some exotic mix.
I like the fact that faces become familiar as the cruise progresses. On small-ship adventures I enjoy the friendly camaraderie, meeting people and spending each day with them exploring.
The greatest disadvantage of the big ships is that only the larger ports can cater for the thousands of passengers that they disgorge.
So when visiting smaller ports the only option to get ashore is by tender — my pet hate! Nothing beats just wandering off the ship when it suits and walking into the port of call at leisure.
I don’t have a great sense of direction so when faced with the endless corridors of some of the bigger vessels, finding my cabin becomes a nightmare and it can take me days to find my way using the artwork in the corridors as directors.
Only once I have I regretted not taking a ship’s planned excursion. That was in Airlie Beach where it was extremely hot and there was no time to do daytrips to the Great Barrier Reef because passengers who had booked the ship’s excursions had preference in tendering. Booking a private excursion offered no guarantees of us being back in time for the ship’s scheduled departure.
On other occasions, travelling in a group of four, bartering and securing a taxi once ashore has always been the best and cheapest option. Or, the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing buses are a great way to see any city.
It’s best when excursions are included in the cruise holiday package. This was the case on a small-ship Croatian coastal cruise we did where we were met by a guide at every port.
I have a long wish list yet to be fulfilled. The Mediterranean is my favourite cruise destination — a different day, a different country, different language, different food and sometimes even different currency.
I love the opportunity of going ashore each day to explore places I have only read about. If only it didn’t require that ghastly, long flight to get there!
Food is a big part of cruising because there is always so much of it.
I tend to avoid the buffet which seems to be always a heaving mass of overweight diners tucking into indecent amounts. My preference is for a leisurely breakfast in the dining room. I don’t go to the buffet until the desire for a late-lunch sandwich takes hold — well before the afternoon tea cream cakes appear.
I am not a fan of set dining, especially if you are put with people with whom you have absolutely nothing in common. On the other hand, fellow dining companions can be a delight and new friendships can be formed. Some cruise lines offer deals for the specialty restaurants. These can be great value with excellent menus and an escape from the dining-room masses.
On-board wines can be expensive so it’s worth checking if there are packages available for the duration of the cruise. Although, buying a beverage package before boarding can be a mistake because some deals are limited to “house” brands.
The daily entertainment program, delivered to everyone’s cabin, has details on the evening shows, quizzes and lectures and a whole range of activities around the ship.
The jury is still out on spa retreats. Being pampered? I just don’t love it or hate it. All those white robes, hushed voices, staff that float around like ghosts and monotonous background flute music mixed with the air of barely concealed embarrassment unavoidably brings memories of a hospital waiting room!
The hot tub on the pool deck — a collection of near-naked strangers squashed into a spa — is just not my cup of tea.
I always make use of the gym because a trainer once told me the average cruise passenger would put on half a kilo a day while cruising.
I have never found the gym to be overly busy and usually it is well supplied with walking machines, exercise bikes and weights so there is hardly ever any waiting around. For those who prefer to join a class, there is usually a comprehensive program on offer each day.
All in all, cruising is great fun. Just unpack once, see lots of different destinations and enjoy plenty of really good food and drink — what more can anyone want from a holiday?
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