What to Consider When Considering a Cruise

Embark on our family adventure aboard the Disney Dream.

Join Focus on the Family on a 4-night family-oriented cruise to the Bahamas in celebration of our 40 years helping families thrive!

Come and Cruise With Us

"Cruising? I'd never go on a cruise," I said twenty-some years ago––with more than a touch of arrogance. "That's for old people. I want adventure, fun, excitement!"

Here I am twenty-some years later and cruising has become my travel mode of choice––not just because I'm older now––but because it offers the very things I'm looking for in a vacation––adventure, fun and excitement––and so much more.

Freedom From Everyday Cares

My husband and I went on our first cruise three years ago to Alaska. The following year we chose a cruise to the North Atlantic and last year we cruised the Rhine River from Basel, Switzerland to Antwerp, Belgium. I enjoyed every one of these excursions. In fact, I remember running up the gangway to each ship, with arms outstretched, shouting, "I'm free!" I couldn't wait to nestle inside the protective armor of this massive hotel-on-water, away from daily chores and cares. I looked forward to the pleasure of being at sea, where I'd be served exquisite meals, participate in shore excursions to interesting destinations, learn about the history of various ports, meet fascinating people and relax with my husband.

Today, cruise lines are eager for business and are offering some excellent fares. Decide when and where you want to go, then take your time looking at brochures and online descriptions. If you're new to this mode of travel, talk to your 'cruising' friends, as we did and find out what to expect and what to prepare for and consult a knowledgeable travel agent. To save money choose an inside cabin. You won't spend much time there anyway. Keep your choices as simple as possible so you'll be free to enjoy all that a cruise has to offer.

Tips for Cruisers

Following are some tips based on our experience and those of other travelers. Fill out ahead of time online or with pencil the Guest Information Forms rather than waiting till departure at the port. By then you'll be ready and eager to go onboard as quickly as possible. Book shore excursions online from home or on the first day on the ship. We booked ahead to assure our places on the tour bus and to get the payment behind us. By doing so, we also avoided standing in line at the customer service desk.

Bring a small carry-on bag with you for the first day. Include necessary documents (passport, ship I.D. card, etc.) prescription medications, toothbrush and cosmetics, change of clothes, even a bathing suit. You can then start having fun right away—instead of waiting until your cabin is ready. Head for the restaurant or buffet line as soon as you arrive. Enjoy a light lunch while waiting for the cruise director to make announcements.

Use your Cruise Card, Sea Pass or other identification card to charge all purchases onboard. Gratuities are often included in your 'package price,' as well, so you never have to deal with tips while cruising. Explore the ship. My husband and I enjoyed the library, complete with comfortable chairs, Internet access available for a small fee, cards, board games, books, magazines, DVDs, CDs and a variety of American and international newspapers. It's also a great place to put your feet up and simply stare at the sky and sea. While checking out the amenities, locate the exit doors and follow all drills and directions pertaining to safety during an emergency. Such information will give you confidence and peace of mind.

Keep in Shape

Keep in shape with a daily walk (no running allowed) around the deck. On one ship, three laps equaled a mile so I did twelve laps in order to reach my four-mile quota each day. Ocean liners generally have a full weight room, as well. You can pedal on a stationery bike or run on a treadmill while looking at the beautiful scenery. And if you like to swim, on most ocean-liners you have a choice between an indoor and outdoor pool.

Manage your food intake. For years I believed I'd be wasting my money on a cruise because of all the tales I heard about the extravagant meals, midnight buffets, decadent dessert display. How could I possibly eat so much? And if I couldn't eat all that was available, why pay for it? That was a silly thought. I realized on the first cruise that I could pick and choose as I wished. Food was never a problem. We ate appropriately at each meal and skipped snacks. As for the midnight buffet—we were tuckered out and tucked in bed––well before then. There was so much more to our experience than good food.

Enjoy new people. One of the highlights of a cruise is meeting so many delightful people from all over the world. We visited with them during afternoon tea, on the tour buses, around the dinner table, and in line for the buffet breakfast. One couple became so dear to us we continued our friendship and met again on another cruise the following year.

Pack for Comfort

Pack for comfort. Choose basic skirts or slacks that you can dress up or down for the casual night, the formal night, the Captain's dinner. Gentlemen usually need a coat and tie. A dark suit can replace a tux. Bring good walking shoes for shore excursions, and be sure to pack an umbrella, poncho or rain jacket, and loose clothing for afternoons onboard when you want to kick back. Avoid clothing that requires ironing. Some ships do not allow irons in order to avoid a fires. And anyway who wants to iron on vacation?

Focus on the experience rather than over-priced souvenirs. We saw many things we thought we wanted. But as soon as we walked away and talked it over we forgot about it. When we checked out at the end of one cruise we owed a balance of two Euros for two stamps! People in front and behind were charging several hundred more Euros to their credit cards. We were happy to have stayed within our budget while still having a fabulous trip.

Relax! So few people today take time to rest. Once we were on our way, my husband and I learned just how tired we were. There was nowhere to drive, no meetings to attend, no e-mails to answer, no duties to attend to. We were free to crash in our beds or in a comfy lounge chair and snooze—or just stare into space. We both returned home fully rested and refreshed.

So if you're looking for a vacation that offers adventure, fun, and excitement—with plenty of rest stops, good fellowship and plenty of delicious food and interesting places to visit, consider cruising.

Copyright 2008 Karen O'Connor. Used with permission. All rights reserved.