Working at HolidayPirates, it's easy to assume that I'm an avid traveller, and you wouldn't be wrong. Travelling has been a passion of mine since I was young. However, I'll let you in on a little secret: I've never been on a cruise, nor have I ever really thought about booking one. So you can imagine my panic when I was asked to write an article about cruising.
I started thinking about the reasons why I hadn't been on a cruise, and of course I came up with a few. I decided to take all my preconceived notions and talk to some people who knew a bit more about cruising to see if they could change my mind.
The first person I reached out to was Ben Staff, a recent first-time cruiser and Editor at TUI. Earlier this year, he went on a week-long solo cruise around the Caribbean aboard Marella Explorer 2 for his birthday. We spoke all about preconceived ideas and how they were proved wrong. The second person I spoke to was our resident cruise expert and Editor-in-Chief, Raph Giacardi.
Looking at the initial price tag, cruises can seem more expensive than, say, a DIY holiday. The key to best-value cruises, I'm told, is to look for all-inclusive cruises that include things like gratuities, meals, drinks and any flights or transfers you may need. Ben recommends a cruise with Marella Cruises as every ship in the fleet is all-inclusive as standard, stating “knowing that meals, drinks and snacks are included in the base price of the cruise really put my mind at ease both when I booked it and when I was onboard.”
Raph tells me that one of the big draws of a cruise is that it's not a "static holiday," as he calls it. It's true, I hadn't factored in the fact that on a cruise you're visiting several countries or cities during your holiday. Raph continues, "Your fare also includes things like port fees that you obviously wouldn’t have to cover on a land holiday. But that’s a small price to pay to be able to see many places in one trip.”
When I asked Raph how to find the best deal on a cruise, he said, “A good way to book the cruise you want and get a good deal is to hunt down promotional codes. These codes will apply to most, if not all, sailings – so you can choose whichever cruise you want and get some money off the price.”
Currently, Marella has an offer to save an extra £300 per booking on sailings departing between 1st November 2023 and 31st December 2024.*
I think it is a very common misconception that cruising is for older people. My parents recently returned from a river cruise for their 40th wedding anniversary and they said it was a mix of ages. I just assumed that all cruises were for an elderly demographic, but I learned that I couldn't be more wrong!
Raph tells me, “Cruise companies have made a massive effort to create onboard experiences that will appeal to all ages. If you’re in doubt, just look at the list of facilities on modern cruise ships: there are spas, cinemas, casinos, swimming pools, mini golf courses, theatres, gyms, climbing walls, a variety of restaurants and bars, and a lot more.
Marella has family-friendly facilities onboard the majority of their ships, but also offer adults-only itineraries and cruise ship (Marella Explorer 2). Think less kids' club and more spa and fine dining. For family-friendly cruising, try Marella Discovery, Marella Discovery 2, Marella Explorer and Marella Voyager.
🏴☠️ Pirate tip: Make sure to research before booking your cruise. Most ships have a preferred demographic in mind – and the facilities will reflect that. So if you have young children, make sure to look for a family-friendly ship.
“Boredom is a recurrent fear for people who have never been on a cruise,” Raph confirms. “What’s important to understand is that cruise companies spend huge amounts of money designing these ships so that you have the best experience possible.
“I’ve mentioned the growing list of facilities on modern ships – honestly, you’ll find it hard to get bored. There is more to do on a cruise ship than at most resort hotels. And that’s before you even talk about all the entertainment organised onboard."
Working for TUI, Ben was already well aware that Marella Cruises have won awards for their entertainment. So he actually thought that the cruise was going to be the opposite of boring, confessing, “I was expecting it to be difficult to find somewhere quiet to relax whenever I felt like it.”
Luckily, he was proved wrong. “I had no problems finding a quiet corner of the ship to relax in. There are a lot of entertainment options available, but it’s not everywhere all at once. The events and activities are dotted around the ship at different times.”
🏴☠️ Pirate tip: When onboard, be sure to download Marella’s onboard app, Navigate, which will tell you what’s going on each day. Plus, if you prefer to make plans in advance, you can log into Cruise Control before you sail to reserve things like restaurant slots and shore excursions.
I like to think of myself as someone with a pretty strong stomach. I can safely say that I eat pretty much anything when I travel and street food is my favourite, but I do get a bit queasy when I'm reading in the car or sitting backwards on a train. And although I've never been seasick on a ferry, the last thing I want to do is feel unwell on a week's cruise.
Raph tells me, “If you were fine on a ferry, you’re likely to be fine on a cruise ship. Passenger comfort and minimising the risk of seasickness is a big consideration when they are designed."
As for Ben he said that he only noticed the swaying of the ship if he chose to focus on it. He didn’t experience any strong swells either and adds, “I actually really enjoy the swaying and bobbing motion you sometimes feel on a cruise holiday, especially when it’s bundled together with a sunbed pointing out to sea, a cool breeze and lots of sunshine. I had all of this during my cruise, so I really felt in my element.” When he puts it that way, it sounds rather nice, doesn't it?
🏴☠️ Pirate tip: If you’re worried, a bit of planning can go a long way: book a low deck, mid-ship cabin where there’s the least motion. And don't forget the seasickness tablets just in case!
If you haven't already guessed, I'm a huge foodie and a big part of travelling for me is eating in new places and trying new foods. I'm not a big fan of buffets or all-you-can-eat, because I find that the quality of the food is never that great. I know that the larger cruise ships boast about their many restaurants and cafes, but can it really all be that good?
I told Raph that this was possibly my biggest fear, and he reassured me that I was not alone, assuring me that the cruise companies place huge focus on foodie cruisers. He continues, “These days, you’ll find a large variety of cuisines served onboard. The cruise companies know that if they drop the ball on food, they’re likely to lose market share, so they make sure you’re getting delicious and varied food.”
A great example of this is Marella's latest cruise ship, Marella Voyager, which set sail on its maiden voyage this summer. Onboard, you’ll find 10 bars and a whopping 17 restaurant options - all high quality and foodie approved. Marella Explorer 2 has also racked up some glowing reviews on TripAdvisor for the quality of food and breadth of food options.
Pirate tip 🏴☠️: Don't forget to try out the local food when you're off the ship. If you find yourself in the Caribbean, we recommend trying the popular street foods Johnny Cakes and Jerk Chicken
We've already debunked the myth that cruising is boring, so we know there's always something to do on board. And while you may spend a few days at sea, you don't have to spend all your time on the ship.
If you prefer to spend most of your time in different ports, for example in the Caribbean, look for cruises that offer a new port each day. This will allow you to get off the ship and explore more of what the destination has to offer.
Ben found the time away from the ship to be a particular highlight for him, stating “I’m really active, and like to experience new things, so I really went for it when it came to booking shore excursions. I did six in total throughout my week, one in each port of call.”
He filled his time in port with a helicopter flight over Antigua, an e-bike adventure around Barbados, a cultural and historical tour of Bequia in the Grenadines and a catamaran ride in St. Maarten.
🏴☠️ Pirate tip: Want to spend more time exploring and enjoying everything the ship has to offer? We recommend looking at repositional cruises, which tend to be good value for money.
After speaking to Ben and Raph, I can now confidently say that I would add a cruise into my holiday line-up.