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Cruise FAQs, Myths, and Tips to Make Cruising More ‘Intrepid’

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Updated: 16th May 2018

I’m fresh off the boat, or ship to be exact (boat is a tut-tut word to a pro cruiser), from my first ever proper cruise around the Baltic Sea, taking in Scandinavia and Russia with Princess Cruises. ‘You’re more of a roughing it, stressing it, making it as difficult as possible kinda person, aren’t you?’ my Dad said after the cruise, expecting me to say I hated it.

And while I half expected that I would hate it, I didn’t. I think a big part of that was the itinerary. Ten days, seven countries, only two days at sea and some impressive stops on the way. Those two days at sea were enough for me, and, to be honest, I relished the forced chance to stop and slow down. I’d also been to a couple of those cities before, so I didn’t feel like I missed out. Had it been a first-time visit to each one, maybe it would have been different.

Would I have booked a cruise if I hadn’t been invited as a guest by Princess? Probably not. Would I take another cruise? Also, probably not. But not because I didn’t really enjoy the experience – but because of the environmental impacts that I’m now much more aware of. Still, credit where credit is due: cruising as an overall experience was vastly different from my expectations and the myths I’d assumed. Here’s how.

Princess Cruises Sky Walk
Sea, I can do suits and poses, too!

1. Is cruising for old people?

I think it’s fair to say cruising has historically, and still is mostly, targeted at an older traveller. Whether that’s a generational thing or because of the ease, it’s fair to say there was a majority percentage for older clientele on my sailing. The good thing is, though, I’m not an ageist, and I’ve come back with a ton of friends who are as cool as my Nan. There was a mix of families, couples and a few groups of mates my age who were on board and loving it. Your cruise experience is very much what you make it, so let’s go with the cliche line: age is just a number.

On a more serious note, I met plenty of people who were cruising as it was the only way they could travel. Whether for health or insurance reasons, mobility issues or other personal reasons I have no intention of discussing here, these were remarkable people who wanted to explore the world and cruising allowed them to do just that. I think that was perhaps the most eye-opening take away from me, especially when the environmental impact and ‘bad tourism’ points come in. For some people, this is a way to explore the world that they might miss otherwise.

Princess Cruises Ultimate Ship Tour
Taking a tour of the captain’s deck

2. Are cruise ships prisons you never escape from?

To be honest, this was my biggest issue with cruising before this trip. I’m super hyperactive, sleep for about five hours a day, and if you put me on a beach with a towel, I’ll be bugging you to go and explore after 20 minutes. But cruise ships, at least the Regal Princess, are huge. Almost worryingly so.

There were more than ten unique dining and drinking venues, various shops, a theatre, a TV studio, a gym, many pools, a spa and a whole host of other stuff that you can read about here. Also, we were only on the ship for two full days and with longer port days on this route, most of my time was spent exploring new destinations. If I were ever to do a cruise again, I would absolutely prefer one with multiple stops over multiple sea days.

When it comes to choosing the itinerary, look at not only how long you have between each destination (sea days) but also how long you have in Port. The Regal Princess, which I travelled on, is a fast ship, so our port time was maximised. For example, in Olso, it was 12 hours and in St Petersburg, two days, though we did have a couple of shorter port days.

3. Is cruise wifi terrible and expensive?

Historically cruise wifi has been a bit shit and very expensive, but the Regal Princess has some pretty decent wifi called Medallion Net. It’s still a bit pricey at $10 a day, but I was paying the same when I travelled to the USA, and I get that it’s not the most natural place to keep you connected. But honestly, disconnect – it’s a blessing of life and the sea.

Regal Princess
A pool on Regal Princess

4. Will you spend the whole trip stuck on a bus?

Okay, I don’t know where I got this one from, but after a whole host of Googling, it seems I’m not the only one confused here. I genuinely thought when the ship docked, we would all line up, get on a bus, be shuttled on some city overview tour, dumped off in a tourist hot spot and then have to get back on a couple of hours later to return.

You don’t need to book an excursion and, for the most part, even look at a bus. Apart from St Petersburg, Russia, where we did have to schedule a tour as that is the requirement to bypass the visa law on a cruise (yep, you read that right, no visa needed for Russia), we could either walk, cycle, run, jog, public transport or cart-wheel into the city. However, you want to spend the time on your call.

5. Do cruises mean group sickness?

I’d read this on nearly every negative ’10 things you should know before cruising’ article, and while I’m sure there are some examples, I’ve returned alive and healthy, which is a lot more than can be said for my parasite-infected Asia trip last year.

Walking around Tallinn, a short stroll from the cruise port and no bus

6. Is everything a buffet?

Firstly, I love a good buffet. Secondly, these buffets were not good; they were great, although the buffet dining room was pretty crowded at times (though not when I was sneaking cookies at 2 am).

There were so many different dining options on the ship, from sit-down to formal to casual grab-and-go burgers and ice cream (two ice cream shops, it was heaven). Many are included, and some have a surcharge, but a $40 extra for the wine-pairing table with four courses and matching wines seems alright to ex-London resident me. You can read more about the Regal Princess food options covered here.

What I will say, though, is this: take every opportunity you can to dine off the ship. And yes, I get that means missing some of the included meals that you’ve paid for.

But I don’t say this because the ship’s food is bad. Not at all. But one of the joys of travelling is eating local dishes, chatting with waiters, and just getting a feel of a place in a side street cafe or bar.

Cruising doesn’t always have the best impact on a destination as thousands of people can disembark and not spend a penny, so find a local restaurant for lunch (and maybe even breakfast and dinner, too). You’ll be putting cash in a local business, interacting more and getting to enjoy my favourite hobby in the world, people-watching over coffee.

7. You won’t meet people?

There are ample opportunities to meet people on cruise ships. From formal nights when everyone is in high spirits and looking smart to specific clubs and get-togethers for certain interests. While you might want to spend time enjoying the balcony views from your state room, it really pays off to attend events where you can connect with your fellow cruisers.

Not one for organised get-togethers? Simply hang out in a bar or the hot tub, and I guarantee you’ll be making friends in no time at all, friends from different parts of the world and all with a story to tell.

Library Helsinki
Finding hidden library gems in Helsinki

8. Everything is expensive?

A glass of house wine was $7/£5 which I don’t think is bad at all compared to say a classy hotel, it’s quite cheap when you consider how much drinks are in some of the destination cities such as Oslo or Stockholm. I guess it comes down to how much you have paid to be on board, which I’ll cover in just a few points, you eager-beaver.

If you drink too much, gamble too much, buy too much or throw bank notes off the balcony, then yes – you’re going to burn a hole. Likewise, if you opt for big-ticket excursions over smaller tours or self-discovering, that is something you need to factor in.

But there are also plenty of free inclusions to keep you entertained. We had a gym, tennis, basketball and mini-golf course on board the Regal Princess. Plus, there were quizzes, workshops and plenty of daily activities. You can avoid costs quite easily if you don’t drink too much.

Getting around as the locals do and avoiding excursions is also a great way to save money and make connections.

Princess Cruises
Sunsets and movies under the stars? No complaints…

9. Are cruises all-inclusive?

Some cruise lines are now all-inclusive, but with Princess Cruises, they are not. You can pay as you go or buy packages for drinks, soft or alcohol, in advance. Loads of things are included, though, like coffee, tea, food, lemonade of the weird American kind (where is the gas?!?), and entertainment. Each cruise liner is different, so check before you book.

10. Can I go on a cheap cruise with my mates?

Yes, and it can actually be pretty cheap if you treat a four-bed inside dorm a little like a hostel. Travelling with a big group of mates, as we had, makes the journey really fun, and there’s enough space to avoid them if you want some downtime completely.

There were plenty of twenty-to-thirty-something large groups having a laugh at Club 6 in the evening, and I think it’s a pretty sweet way to travel as a group as the cruise organises everything, so you don’t end up with a leader of the group so to speak.

Regal Princess
This photo can’t do the ship size justice

11. Is there any culture on a cruise?

At the face of it, it would seem not. But now I’m back, I realised there are 5000 friends you haven’t met yet on a cruise ship, and you can easily delve into other cultures just through conversations onboard – let alone when you get off at port. Chat with the staff, too; some of my best convos were checking in every day with the awesome team who work so hard.

By opting for any-time dining, you’ll be presented with the chance to either wait for your own table or join a larger table of other guests. You could spend each evening of your trip sharing wine and memories with a new set of friends to be, think back to your early backpacking days and hostel chats and then upgrade it by about 10000%; all of the great conversations without a shared kitchen or pot-noodle in sight.

12. Will miss out on half the stuff in the place I want to visit?

Speed and stamina are essentials on a city-break cruise like this. You can look at it in two ways:

1. An introduction to places that you may return to, or 2. Maximise the time. Either way, on a long day trip, you’ll never see or experience all of a city, so you just need to pick some highlights and accept that.

The only place I didn’t feel I had quite enough time to see the ‘top attractions’ was Copenhagen. But if I had hired my bike for the full day rather than a half-day, I think I would have. Most of the port days were long, some over 12 hours, and this allowed a pretty good amount of time to explore a fair bit, depending on your speed.

Cruise Balcony View
Balcony views sailing away from Stockholm

13. Will some Frank Sinatra wannabe be crooning in the theatre every night?

Being a drama school grad (yeah, I really put that to use), I’m down with all things entertainment, and the cast on The Regal Princess was great. They had three main shows and then plenty of smaller ones, which ranged from full-blown productions to current chart hits to throw-back Motown nights and more classical music. There was even a ‘TV studio’ that did live versions of popular game shows, and the stateroom TVs were loaded with modern movies, so don’t stress; it’s not all bad karaoke.

14. Cruises are bad for the environment – Fact!

Let’s be honest: cruising isn’t great for the environment, but then, neither is flying. And while I was impressed with some eco-conscious decisions on board, cruising – both its environmental impacts and also the strain it puts on ports – causes plenty of damage. There’s no two ways, or greenwashing, that can address that.

Cruise Details

This 11-day Baltic Sea cruise with Princess Cruises starts from £999pp for an interior stateroom based on twin-share*. Taking in Warnemunde Germany, Oslo Norway, Copenhagen Denmark, Stockholm Sweden, Helsinki Finland, St. Petersburg, Russia and Tallinn, Estonia, it offers a great chance to explore many cities in a short vacation.

*load factor, dates, availability and other factors will affect the final quoted price

5 replies
  1. Anonymous says:

    I heard Viking Ocean and River Cruises are quite a different experience than Princess, Carnival, or the likes. Maybe you can look into that as a comparison experience.

  2. Lesley says:

    I’ve traveled to more than 100 countries, yet I still haven’t gone on a cruise. I think I should add it to my bucket list for this summer.

    I’ve been at sea for a month on a tall ship, but that’s the closest I’ve come and it was one of the greatest adventures of my life.


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