6 reasons hardcore cruisers can’t stop cruising

Aug 22, 2020

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If you’ve so much as imagined yourself on a cruise, you probably have a strong opinion on the matter. After all, it’s a pretty polarizing topic. Some people say they couldn’t be paid to step on board a cruise ship — but many wouldn’t dream of travelling any other way.

My parents’ love affair with cruising started with a Disney Cruise Line sailing in the late 1980s. They’ve dabbled with cruise lines, including Carnival and Celebrity, for decades. When I was around 12, they brought me along on a family cruise to the Caribbean, sailing aboard the Grand Princess. I spent the entire voyage in the dark, arcade-style teen club with other moody tweens, or hiding from my parents on the Lido deck listening to Linkin Park on my Walkman.

Now, my folks have taken nearly 20 cruises, and have achieved Diamond status with Royal Caribbean. They’re drawn to the unfussiness of it all (pack once, and you’re done) and the social aspect of cruising. My parents have met friends on cruise ships with whom they’ve cruised again.

But there’s one thing you can’t argue with, whether you’re an avid cruiser or have strongly disavowed the whole thing: Once you cruise, you’re likely to keep coming back.

Cruisers are 85% more likely to book a cruise as their next holiday, according to a 2018 report by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). That number jumps to 97% if they used a travel agent to help book their last sailing.

“There’s something about cruising that just sucks people in”, said TPG’s senior cruise and travel reporter, Gene Sloan. “The repeat customer numbers for cruising are through the roof. Once people try it once, they often go back again and again”.

I wouldn’t consider myself a hardcore cruiser, though I’ve come to appreciate the occasional short sailing. And I especially see the appeal for expedition-style voyages to Alaska, the Galápagos, Antarctica — hard-to-reach destinations that are simply better seen by ship.

But to really understand what makes cruising so addictive, we spoke with cruise industry experts and diehard cruisers who simply can’t get enough. They’re the people who cruise so often, they wouldn’t dream of travelling any other way. Some of them have spent the equivalent of entire years at sea. Others have buoyed their passion for cruising by turning to careers in the industry.

So, before you write off the concept of cruising altogether, consider these six reasons cruisers keep coming back for more.

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Cruising takes the stress out of travel

Ilene Weiner, a retiree from Highland Beach, Florida, is Princess Cruises’ most-travelled passenger. She’s spent more than seven years at sea. Weiner and her husband, Carl Cutting, were on a world cruise aboard the Pacific Princess when the pandemic hit.

“That was my 310th cruise with Princess”, she told TPG via email. Even though her cruise was cut short when the industry came to an abrupt halt, Weiner has already booked two ambitious voyages — a holiday voyage for the end of 2020 and the 2021 World Cruise, both aboard Island Princess.

The Pacific Princess of Princess Cruises. (Photo by NIELS WENSTEDT/AFP/Getty Images)
The Pacific Princess of Princess Cruises. (Photo by NIELS WENSTEDT/AFP/Getty Images)

“It truly takes the stress out of travel”, Weiner explains. “We like to enjoy the amenities of the ships and watch the world go by as we sail the beautiful oceans. It’s just relaxing,” she said, explaining that you can visit an array of destinations “without having to plan our own itinerary and get from place to place”.

If Weiner and Cutting want to explore a new port of call or return to a favourite restaurant, they’ll disembark. But Weiner says they’re just as happy enjoying their balcony and “playing cards, walking around the ship, [having] a cocktail before dinner”.

Put more simply, cruising is easy. “Where else”, said Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners, “can you unpack once, yet visit several islands or countries even in one vacation?” 

You won’t be lonely

“Cruising is, if nothing else, convivial and convenient”, says Calgary, Canada-based maritime journalist and author Aaron Saunders. “People are just friendlier to one another on cruise ships for some reason”.

Saunders, who has been on more than 150 sailings — “It’s a bit embarrassing”, he says, “but I’ve lost count” — sets the scene. Other passengers will pass you in the hallway and wish you good morning or good evening; crew members greet you by name.

“It’s a bit like having a home away from home”, Saunders said. “You don’t really get that same camaraderie in a hotel or a resort … You get the chance to know your staff on board, and people do really form lasting friendships with other passengers and crew”.

(Photo by @byseven/Twenty20)
There’s always plenty for everyone to do aboard your ship. (Photo by @byseven/Twenty20)

For Weiner, returning to see the same captains and crew members keeps her coming back. “They are like our second family”, she says.

My parents, it turns out, aren’t the only folks who form fast friendships on cruise ships.

“There is a sense of community on a cruise you cannot find in everyday life”, Garcia explained. “You are travelling with people from all over the world.  Getting to know fellow shipmates – where they are from, where they have travelled… is very interesting”.

Liam Cusack, managing editor of Cruise and Travel Report, says he’s been on over 120 cruises — at last count. And he agrees that people do make lifelong friends on cruises.

Cusack says this is at least, in part, because, “You’re on vacation, you’re letting your guard down [and are] more receptive to socialising”.

Plus, you’re spending your time doing what you enjoy most. So, you have a lot in common with the other passengers, whether the shared interests start and end with seafaring exploration or you find yourself at the same martini bar, comedy show or waterslide every day with the same people.

“I have one very good friend of mine who lives here in New York City”, Cusack said. “I met her on a Christmas [cruise] on Queen Elizabeth II back in 1988, and we’re still friends to this day”.

But, Cusack adds, it’s very easy to find privacy. “Be as social as you want to be”, he said. “Or you can be a hermit”.

It’s like a sampler platter — with destinations

Tracey Flynn, who has been on approximately 50 cruises, says cruising can be a great way to get an “introduction” to a new destination. “It’s a great way to see a place and decide if you actually want to travel there”, she told TPG.

Cusack, a New Jersey native who has loved cruise ships since childhood, says he loves picking “interesting itineraries” with destinations he hasn’t been before.

“I use the cruise almost like a beer flight at a bar”, he said, admitting that he’s had plenty of beer flights with Sloan. “It gives me the opportunity to see, in a short period of time, if [it’s] a destination I’d like to go back and spend time in. I’ll end up going back to those ports of call I’ve really enjoyed ….”

“In my early cruising career, I did a lot of Caribbean cruises. There are some ports of call that, I’ll be honest with you, I’m glad I visited — I’m glad I spent the day there. [But] I’m also very glad that I didn’t do a seven-day vacation there. Cruising has made me a more educated traveller”.

There’s something for everyone

As a kid, I loved that my parents could set me loose on the ship for the day to hang out with kids my own age — my leash felt longer there than at home. My parents knew I was safe, and we were still able to spend time at port and eat meals together while still pursuing our own interests. (The pool bar for my parents, the soft-serve machine for me.)

Flynn also discovered that cruising was a great way for her family to holiday together. She’d cruised before, but after a spring break cruise with Holland America when her kids were in first or second grade, she realized cruising could keep the whole family happy. “They really liked it and had a great time, [staying] all day in the kids club and hanging out with friends at night” — despite the fact, Flynn said, that the ship had an older demographic with “only 20 kids”.

(Image courtesy of Disney)
(Image courtesy of Disney)

Her family could do activities separately and together, on and off the ship, and she and her husband also had time together.

“[Cruising is] a great way for families of all sizes and age ranges to travel together because there is something for everyone on board”, said Garcia, “whether it’s waterslides or ziplines for the kids, Broadway shows, art auctions, various excursions or martini bars.” But even if you spend the entire day apart, she said, “you can still meet up for dinner and talk about your day”.

You can’t beat the value

One reason cruise enthusiasts keep coming back, Garcia says, is because of the value. “With so many aspects included in your vacation price – cruising really is one of the best vacation values out there”.

Flynn says it’s simply easier to stick to a budget on a cruise because you can “make it a fixed-cost item” — if you don’t want to go, well, overboard, you can stick to eating at the complimentary venues, order inclusive drinks and enjoy the free activities and amenities on the ship without thinking twice. “You can spend as much or as little as you like … and have a great time”, Flynn said.

Related: 15 ways cruising newbies waste money on their first cruise

Cruise ships can also, for a reasonable price, take you to remote or difficult-to-reach destinations that would otherwise “be prohibitively expensive”, said Sloan.

“Organizing a trip to southeast Alaska that got you beyond a single town or two would be complex, as there are no roads between [certain towns] and the only connections are by pricey floatplanes or time-consuming ferries”, Sloan explained. “A cruise ship makes it easy to see multiple places [here] on a single week-long trip at a reasonable price”.

The same, Sloan says, is true of destinations such as the Greek isles, the Turkish coast and Baltic nations.

“Imagine what it would cost you to arrange flights, transfers and hotels to visit Copenhagen; Stockholm; Helsinki; and St. Petersburg, Russia, all in one land-based trip. You can see all those places in a single voyage with a cruise line without any added flight or transfer costs beyond booking your voyage. And, since you travel between the cities while you sleep, you don’t waste valuable vacation days in transit between them as you would on a land trip”.

They’ve found the right line for them

Everyone we spoke to said the same thing: If you cruised once and hated it, you probably booked the wrong cruise.

“You and I both know you can choose a destination and stay at the wrong hotel and never want to go back to that destination again just because of that bad experience”, Cusack said.

And both he and Saunders said choosing the right cruise line will be “the most important” decision you make.

“Much like hotels, cars or pretty much any other consumer product, your choices might not be my choices and vice versa”, Saunders explained. “So, it’s important to research what kind of cruise ship you want to sail on. They’re all great, but they are not all created equal”.

Many experts agree that first-time cruisers do themselves a disservice if they don’t use a travel advisor. A CLIA-certified travel advisor, especially, will be able to point you toward a cruise line that best suits your personality. And it’s in their best interest for you to enjoy the voyage, otherwise, you won’t come back.

A passenger on Carnival Cruise Line
Finding the right cruise line for your travel needs is crucial to ensuring you have a great experience overall. (Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line)

Garcia said that every cruise line will cater to different tastes and preferences. Some lines will be better for large families, others for high-end luxury, foodies or more adventurous travellers. “Each cruise line has its own persona and a travel advisor can help find the perfect match for you and your travel style”.

Even if you wouldn’t think twice before booking your next flight you should seriously consider consulting a professional before buying a cruise.

“Picking an airline is different than picking a cruise”, she explained, “because an aeroplane is a mode of transportation, whereas a cruise is the accommodations, entertainment and services that are just as important as the destinations you’re visiting”.

Cusack, who covers cruising for a living, says he still works with a travel advisor for cruises. After all, they’ve been trained exhaustively, and won’t just help you find the right cruise line: They’ll help you find the right ship on the right itinerary with the right features for you — and put you in the best cabin, to boot.

Related: Which cruise brand is best for you? A guide to the most popular lines

Bottom line

Of course, there’s a certain romance to cruising that can be hard to distil.

Many cruisers are drawn first to the glamour and elegance of iconic cruise ships. Saunders said his fascination with cruising began, at least in part, with his interest in the Titanic. (His favourite ship to sail on, he says, is Cunard’s “legendary” Queen Mary 2.)

I’ve cruised a few times as an adult, and I’ll admit there’s some special quality to being on the open water — even those “boring” sea days cruise naysayers seem to unanimously dread. That, for me, may actually be one of my favourite parts of cruising.

When I travel, I have a habit of overextending myself. I want to do week-long backpacking trips with only five days on the ground. I’ll spend every day in a new city when I land in a country for the first time. But when you’re out at sea, it’s one of the few places on Earth where you can still reasonably unplug. With nowhere in particular to go, it’s easy to forgive yourself for retiring to your cabin early and sitting out on the balcony with a glass of wine to watch the sun set over the vast expanse of the ocean.

“The anticipation [of] setting sail … nothing is more exciting”, Cusack said, describing the energy of boarding these massive manmade vessels and watching them pull away from the pier. “Maybe,” he tells me, “I watched one too many episodes of ‘The Love Boat‘”.

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Featured photo by @hellomikee/Twenty20.

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