I’ve decided that there are two types of people in this world: those who love cruises and those who don’t. After taking our Scandinavian cruise this summer, I’ve decided that I am most likely NOT a cruise person.
That’s not to say I disliked every part of the cruise, but it definitely won’t be my preferred method of travel in the future. In case you’re on the fence about going on a cruise yourself, here are the pros and cons of cruising, based on my experience cruising Scandinavia with Norwegian.
pro: waking up in a new place every day & returning to the same place at the end of the day
My co-worker and her husband love cruises; I think they’ve gone on three in the last year alone. When I asked her what her favorite part of cruising is, she said she loves waking up in a new place every day. And that part was nice, but the thing we liked even more was returning to the same room at the end of every day. We could unpack our things instead of living out of our suitcases, we didn’t have to lug our luggage around from train to train or airport to airport…our little room with no window even began to feel a little bit like home.
con: we spent a lot of time on the boat & not enough time in each destination
One of my favorite things about traveling is staying in the city, wandering the streets at night, eating the local food…and we had so little time in each stop. Traversing this particular part of the world by cruise ship was convenient, but it was a less immersive experience than I would have liked. It felt like we spent more time on the ship than in each of our destinations, and I really wasn’t all that interested in all of the cruise ship activities (game shows, dance parties, and karaoke are totally not my jam).
I will say, however, that the weather impacted my feelings toward the whole cruise-shipping experience…
For the first half of our cruise, the weather was less than stellar (i.e. cold and rainy), so we were cooped up inside with 3,000+ people with little to do (but I guess if you’re into the aforementioned cruise ship activities this wouldn’t matter as much to you; I, on the other hand, escaped to the library for several hours on our first day at sea, just to find some peace and quiet). For the second half of our cruise, we had better weather, so we were able to sit outside in the sunshine and fresh air and do the mini-golf course and ropes course and shuffleboard.
(For this reason, I realize it’s entirely possible I would enjoy the “cruise” part of the cruise more if we’d had better weather and could enjoy the outdoor amenities more; being cooped inside was a little claustrophobic. Perhaps a Caribbean or South American cruise would be more my speed? The weather would be warmer so I could be outside more, and the places we’d visit wouldn’t have as much to see so I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out on as much?)
con: being on somebody else’s timetable
Leading up to our trip, I had a lot of anxiety, and I think a lot of it stemmed from my lack of control.
For some, going on a cruise is a great option because there’s so little you have to plan. You just book the cruise of your choice, select the excursions you want to do based on what the cruise line offers, and voila! your trip is all taken care of.
For me, the months leading up to the trip are almost as fun as the trip itself, because I love planning it from start to finish. (Also, in case it wasn’t clear, I’m a little bit of a control freak, and planning the trip gives me that control that I so desperately crave.) And while it might be relaxing for some people to be on someone else’s schedule, it frustrated me. Some of the logistics of the ports were baffling. Who makes Berlin a cruise destination? It’s 3 hours from the port—each way! Originally, we were supposed to dock in Stockholm, but apparently Norwegian didn’t know their ship was too big to dock there? So instead, we had to dock in Nynashamn instead, which was 40 minutes away from Stockholm. To save money, I’d planned on doing free walking tours in most of the ports, but being so far away from the city threw a wrench in my plans. I had nightmares of us trying to find our own way to Stockholm and not making it back to the ship on time and then having to find our way to the next destination, so we ended up spending additional money on an excursion through the cruise line just to abate my anxiety about the whole thing (see: I’m a crazy person, and really not a cruise person).
Bottom line: If you’re a control freak like me, you may not enjoy cruising.
pro: complimentary meals (cost savings)
Although I haven’t yet done a cost-savings analysis on this trip as a whole (in other words, I’m not wholly convinced it was an “affordable” trip), I did feel like having complimentary breakfast and dinner took a load off of the financial burden of this trip, especially because Scandinavian countries, in general, are hella expensive. We really only had to pay for lunch when we were out on the town; all other meals were had on the boat.
The food on the ship, for the most part, was decent. Of course, it depended on where you ate. There were a handful of complimentary restaurants that we could eat at (and two more handfuls of places that were a la carte or had covers; but I was so annoyed by the unexpected extra costs we incurred prior to even leaving the US [see con below] that I refused to pay any extra for food on board); the buffet was pretty much what you would expect; three of the restaurants had the exact same menu, though it did change daily; and the other was a noodle bar with excellent potstickers but sub-par everything else.
We spoke to some frequent cruisers aboard our ship, and they said the food on other cruise lines is better, for what that’s worth. I had a couple of really fantastic meals—Cuban mojo pork with plantains and the short rib ragu really stand out as being phenomenal—whereas my husband had “the worst burger he’s ever eaten.” Where the quality in food was lacking, though, they really made up for with their impeccable service.
con: unexpected extra costs
Truth be told, I was annoyed before we even left, primarily because of unforeseen extra costs. When we booked the cruise, Norwegian gave us three options: A Wi-Fi package, a drink package, or $50 credits for shore excursions. We were advised to choose the shore excursion credit, but when I saw how much the excursions through Norwegian cost, I said Oh hell no. So my husband called Norwegian a few weeks before we left to see if we could choose a different package, and they said, Sure, you can do the drink package instead, but you have to pay gratuities up front. To the tune of $250. Which ends up being $13.88 per person per day. Which is actually very easy to meet on a cruise ship, so…kind of a good deal. Just, well, unexpected.
The other unexpected cost was the “mandatory gratuities.” Just the term grates on me; it’s an oxymoron. Gratuities, by definition, are extra. If we paid these “mandatory gratuities” up front, it was $13.99 per person per day, but if we paid at the end of the cruise, it was $15 per person per day. We paid up front of course, but it was another $250 we hadn’t anticipated spending. (To be clear: the people who work on cruise ships bust their asses–-they are some of the hardest workers I’ve ever encountered—so this wasn’t about tipping people who deserved it. It was that they were mandatory and yet it was extra; if a cruise line is going to require specific gratuities, it should be included in the cost of the ticket.)
As you can see, the cons of our experience cruising with Norwegian outweighed the pros.
I do think part of the problem was that it was a European cruise; there just wasn’t enough time in each place, and there’s so much to see and do and eat and experience that I often felt like I was missing out. You might argue, Well, you got a taste of each place; now you know where you want to revisit, which is entirely fair. But I would have traded several hours aboard the cruise ship for more time in Stockholm or St. Petersberg in a heartbeat. As I said above, perhaps I would enjoy another type of cruise more, a beachier cruise full of snorkeling and warm weather, so I’m not going to discount cruises entirely after only one experience.
I think another part of the problem is that I’m very much an introvert and am not necessarily looking to make friends when I’m on vacation. Or, at least, I’m not looking to be friendly and outgoing all the time, and when you’re aboard a cruise ship, there are people everywhere, all the time. (Plus, germs.)
Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting people from other places and making friends when we’re on excursions, but I also love the quiet evening moments when it’s just me and my husband and I can just turn off. I didn’t feel like I could turn off all that often.
If you’re a little more extroverted, then you might enjoy the cruise part of cruising more than I did, too. (Of course, having a balcony room instead of a tiny windowless one might have made a difference there, too; I didn’t want to be in our room all the time because I couldn’t see outside, but I also didn’t love being around all the aforementioned people, so… Also, full disclosure: My husband and I were sick pretty much the entire time we were in Europe—just a nasty cold, sore throat, stuffy nose, just enough to be a bummer—so that may have colored our experience a little bit; though we made the best of it, it definitely made me a little crankier than usual.)
I realize a lot of the things I didn’t like about the cruise are definitely subjective, but I hope this pro/con breakdown will help you decide whether a cruise is for you if you’re on the fence. In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing the highlights from our Scandinavian adventure—because truly, we did see some really amazing places, and I can’t wait to share them with you!
Have you been on a cruise before? Do you love? Hate it? Tell me what you like or don’t like about cruises in the comments!
Pin for later: