I haven’t always been a cruiser. In fact, for most of my life, I was terrified of the idea of going on a cruise. I wasn’t scared of travel, just cruising. I’ve been traveling internationally since 1981. (Oh boy, that makes me feel old.)
Like many people, I assumed that all the myths you hear about cruise ships were true. Going on a cruise was the very last thing I wanted to do. To be honest, cruising was right up there with walking on hot coals and trying acupuncture. I’m still too nervous to try either of those, but I tried one cruise and I’ve been hooked ever since.
My travel background
I’m from the United States, so traveling internationally isn’t as easy (or as inexpensive) as it is for those of you in many other parts of the world. Although I have lots of jet-setter friends, I still know plenty of people my age who’ve never left the country.
But I was lucky. My parents, both public school teachers when I was born, soon decided to leave teaching and become entrepreneurs. Travel was a big part of expanding their growing business, and of course, I tagged along wherever they had to go!
I spent my childhood traveling with my parents on their business trips all over the country. But that wasn’t enough for me—I wanted to see the world.
My first international trip was a month-long B&B tour of Ireland with my mom and my great-aunt when I was seven. I remember that trip fondly (even after all these years) because that was when the travel bug bit me. And it bit me hard.
When I was 13, I made a British friend when my parents were at an industry convention in Florida. Over the next five years, we traveled back and forth across the pond to visit each other.
I fell in love with England, and decided to attend university in the UK. While on break from studying, I was able to take advantage of my proximity to the rest of Europe.
A cheap student trip to Greece with my friends was one of the highlights, where we spent nine glorious days eating in tavernas (I learned that I loved red wine and hated Ouzo), visiting museums and historical sites, shopping in the markets, and dipping our toes in the Aegean (it was October…too cold to swim).
After I came back home from living abroad, I found a nice office job that paid the bills, but all I could think about was traveling. I saved every penny and every vacation day that I could and went back to Europe the moment I could (just barely) afford it.
Fast forward two years, and a good friend who had moved out to Arizona called me one day. “You have to move out here”, he said. “I’ve been working in customer service for an airline, and they’re hiring flight attendants. This is the perfect job for you.”
He was right. I gave my notice at work, packed up the car, and drove solo across the country, from Boston to Tempe, Arizona. I worked for three years as a flight attendant, during which time I also got married and gave birth to my daughter.
Before my daughter was born, and even when I was pregnant with her, I spent all of my free time traveling.
When my daughter was little, she would complain to me that I had been all over the world, and she hadn’t been anywhere. I would list off the countries that she had visited “when she was in my tummy”. For some reason, that never counted—in her opinion.
So even with my (sometimes insane) drive to travel and see the world, I never went on a cruise. In fact, I was dead-set against the idea. Why?
I was a total scaredy-cat.
I was terrified that I would fall overboard. Or be pushed overboard. I was terrified that I would be kidnapped and sold into the slave trade. I was terrified that a crew member, or even a passenger, would drug me and assault me.
I’m serious. The girl who would jet off to any foreign locale with literally spare change in her pocket and zero plans was scared of cruising? Have I mentioned that I grew up boating with my parents on a 23 foot Boston Whaler on the open ocean? That I went to a Senior Prom on the Spirit of Boston?
Yup. I also thought cruises were only for old people, or that terrible cruise directors would cajole me into forced “fun and games” all day with the other passengers. I’d be trapped on a boat with annoying people. I’d be forced to sit with a random grouping of those same annoying people every night at dinner, and I’d have to make small talk. I hate small talk.
If I ever did go on a cruise, I’d never take my kid because she’d slip through the railings and be lost forever. The list of reasons why I would HATE cruising went on and on.
So, I continued to travel the way I usually did, although as I grew older (and the internet was born), I was able to make better plans with my travel, and I needed to because I had a family. I would hear of friends and other family members going on all of these “amazing” cruises, and what did I say? Nope, no way, not for me. I value my freedom. I do my research, and I know how to travel.
It started with a mother-daughter vacation.
So one day my daughter informed me that she wanted to backpack across Europe. “That’s a great idea, honey!” I said. “You should do that on one of your summer breaks when you’re in college!”
“No, mom, I mean like now,” she replied.
“Oh hon, I don’t want you and your friends traipsing all around Europe without any adults,” I said. Goodness, I sounded like my own mother…is “traipsing” even a word?
“No,” she said, “I want to go to Europe with you. We can go and see all of the cities, and have mother-daughter bonding time!” (Insert the sweetest smile here.)
My heart melted a bit, given that she wanted to travel with her uncool-to-a-teenager mom. I did see right through her ploy, because traveling with Mom means Mom is paying. Anyway.
I started researching potential travel itineraries. Flights, hotels, train schedules, the usual. Then it hit me. Do I really want to take a long flight, a taxi to a hotel, unpack. Take buses all around a city, hope we hit the right places, go back to the hotel, pack, take a long train ride to the next city, taxi, unpack again, rinse and repeat for a week and a half?
We wouldn’t be able to pack much, because we’d have to lug it all over the continent, I’ll be exhausted, wearing dirty clothes (do I want to waste precious time in a beautiful city doing laundry? Would I even have a place to DO laundry??). I can’t buy any souvenirs because I’ll have to keep packing them and carrying them, I’ll have no time to sleep.
This is a bad, bad idea. I’m too old for this type of travel.
I considered other options…
I had a better idea. “So, what if you just pick ONE city, and we can go there for a week? We can really dig in, find the best local restaurants, really immerse ourselves in the culture.” I thought this would be a good compromise.
“Noooooo!” she wailed. “That’s just a bad idea. I’m going to college soon, and I’ll be so busy with school that I won’t have time to travel. I can’t even go in the summers because I’ll have to do internships!” She had a point. She probably wouldn’t have any time to travel once she went off to school, not for many years.
I had to figure something out. The idea of a river cruise did cross my mind, I think because Viking River Cruises were advertising heavily on Downton Abbey.
A river cruise sounded safer. We’re both good swimmers. If some villain pushed either of us overboard, we could definitely swim to shore. We could see lots of cities, and I wouldn’t have to lug all of my possessions around when we traveled. This is a definite idea.
I showed her some sample itineraries that I thought she would like, and a few YouTube videos of ads for river cruise companies.
“Mom. This is for retired people. There won’t be anyone my age on these trips, and I don’t think there will even be anyone your age.” She gave me the most exasperated face.
I went back to researching. Although I think I’d enjoy a river cruise (and we might try one now that we’re empty-nesters), I agreed that a river cruise might not be the best idea for an energetic teenager.
An ocean cruise starts to make sense.
Back to the drawing board. Now that I had the cruise idea in my head, I started to tentatively look into ocean cruises.
I was still against the idea in general, but I was no longer terrified that my now almost-adult daughter would be toddling around the decks and could slip between the railings, into the water. However, at this point, my idea of a cruise ship was still a giant boat with only tubular metal railings around the edges to stop you from falling into the sea. Feel free to laugh at me right now.
When I saw the European itineraries for the major cruise lines, I started to come around to the idea of booking an ocean cruise. I watched hundreds of YouTube videos over the span of months, found the Cruise Critic boards, and caused my Pinterest feed to show me nothing but cruise tips. I sought out the best travel blogs focusing on cruising, and I read and I read.
What did I find out from my research? Ocean cruising is for all ages. College kids on school break. Young couples. Groups of friends. Newlyweds. Families with babies and toddlers. Families with older kids and teenagers. Extended families. Solo travelers of all ages. Retirees. The list goes on and on.
With an average passenger count in the thousands, we most likely wouldn’t be forced to interact with everyone. I decided that an ocean cruise might work for us.
But what about the safety risks?
Crime happens. Accidents happen. Life is a safety risk. Yes, crimes do sometimes occur on cruise ships. But these things happen in our regular lives as well. I decided that avoiding cruises because something could happen is like avoiding driving a car because someone could crash into me.
So how was our first cruise?
We both absolutely loved our mother-daughter cruise. We visited four countries and five ports in seven days aboard ship. These are the top reasons why we loved our very first cruise:
- The age range of our fellow passengers was varied, so we were both able to make new friends. We met people from all over the world, and we still keep in touch with some of them.
- The crew was so friendly. We never came across a crew member with a bad attitude. Some of the waiters and bar staff were recognizing us and calling us by name right away. I don’t know how they can remember names with so many passengers!
- Our fellow passengers were also friendly. I think this was the thing that surprised me the most. People are in “cruise mode”, so they’re far more likely to smile at you or strike up a conversation.
- We were able to do things together on board when we wanted to, but we could hang out solo when we wanted.
- We felt completely safe! First off, there are cameras everywhere. Well, not in places where it would be creepy like restrooms and staterooms. There is security staff, and there’s always a member of the crew around wherever you go.
- The food was fantastic in both the buffet and the main dining rooms. We could always find something that we liked, which was great because my daughter is a picky eater.
- We never had to eat with strangers and make small talk. But we could have if we wanted to!
- If we wanted to sleep in, or stay up late, or take a nap in the middle of the day, we could.
- We were able to do some amazing shore excursions at each port, but we also had plenty of free time to explore the cities and towns we visited. We found local restaurants and cafes, took a public bus to the beach, and strolled through markets to do some shopping.
- There were so many non-cheesy activities, from movies playing on the Lido deck big screen, to the most amazing magic show I’ve ever seen, to trivia contests and game shows.
- We got to relax or do fun things while we traveled from port to port. This is my idea of a great vacation!
I obviously have made a complete turnaround. (I mean, I’m writing a blog on cruising!) We’ve continued to cruise as much as we can, and have gone to some amazing destinations that we might not have visited otherwise. We even got to go through the Panama Canal!
Follow along with me on our cruise journeys around the world. Happy cruising!
P.S. I bet you’ll love my favorite cruise travel quotes, illustrated with photography from my cruise adventures.