My husband and I consider ourselves to be veteran travelers who've been around the global block. We've taken a safari in Botswana, where a playful lion challenged our open-air vehicle by chasing it. We've taken a road trip across the Big Island of Hawaii, moving from the Kona-Kohala Coast to Volcanoes National Park, capped off by flying in a doors-off helicopter. And this past year, we flew, while I was four months pregnant, to do a culinary tour of Tokyo and Kyoto, with the single purpose of GAINING weight.
And we've cruised. Six times together, to be exact, with my parents accompanying us on several of these trips. (More on the genius of cruising and multi-generational travel, later.) My friends often ask me why we choose to cruise, as if somehow staying on land made for a better, richer experience. Not so. Our voyages, which have ranged from Alaska to the Caribbean to the Baltic, have been some of the best vacations we've ever taken. The simple mechanics of cruising—seeing multiple places, meeting a variety of cultures, both on-and-off-board—allows for deeply immersive, authentic experiences. So, if you're a cruise loyalist, who just wants to hear me preach to the choir, read on. Or if you’re a cruise skeptic, with an open heart to being converted, then let me spell out why sailing equals true relaxation. Or, if you’re simply someone who needs to get away in 2016 (and isn't that everyone?), here are the five reasons you should make this your year to set sail.
No matter what sailing you pick, you will experience that all important notion of “sense of place.”
Here are just a few of the incredible experiences we’ve had on a cruise. We visited St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum after hours, and heard a private concert surrounded by the palace’s stunning masterpieces. We went beach-hopping on the island of Antigua by private yacht, with a local guide and his young nephew (who happened to make one wicked rum punch) who told stories about the Caribbean along the way. And we were able to catch forty-pound halibut off the coast of Ketchikan, Alaska; keep only what we could eat; then go to a small island and cook up our haul, which became a bouillabaisse so heavenly I can still imagine it ten years later. I can also still remember our charming guide, Madison, who was working in Alaska for the summer, and thinking how we weren't too far apart in age—but had totally different passions and paths in life. All of these experiences were enriching, well-planned shore excursions. Better still, we were able to go back to the comfort and confines of our ship, and talk about them over glasses of wine.
If you’re looking to take your kids, parents, and grandparents on a vacation, cruising is the way to go.
Multi-generational travel is on the rise. By prioritizing experiences over things, large family groups can all share a memory together—rather than an object. As someone who’s sailed with her parents for two weeks—and as someone who finds that her limit with said parents on land generally hovers at about five days—I can attest to the fact that cruising makes the multi-generational concept a cinch. Ships are beautifully designed to have spaces for every person, and frankly, every mood. There are spaces adults gravitate toward, like the formal restaurants, spas, and lounge-y libraries and bars (I usually find the latter tend to be at the front of every ship, no matter what cruise line, and that's also where early risers go to get their morning coffee.) If you've got little ones in tow, choosing to cruise with a line like Disney, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian guarantees parents access to things like a kids club and plenty of pools and games. As a new mom whose mental state on any given day hovers between fatigue and exhaustion, when I found out recently that the Norwegian Escape provides services to watch kids, starting at six months, my heart nearly wept with joy.
You also don't need to worry about keeping your loved ones occupied on a cruise ship, because there's plenty to do. Since you’re close together, you can connect and spend as much (or as little) time together as needed. Whenever we've cruised, my father has gone off to make new friends at the bar at his leisure. My mother has had her nightcap grappa and then gone to bed, content with the motion of the waves. And then my husband and I have stayed up later than both of them and talked, slept in, and gone to breakfast by ourselves the next day. Everybody wins.
You'll travel to places that might otherwise be hard to get to.
In recent years, the industry has seen an explosion of interest in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, as travelers seek to visit new frontiers and destinations that are off the tried-and-true tourist path. In response, many cruise lines, including Seabourn, Crystal, and the line that perhaps pioneered adventure travel, Lindblad, are expanding their voyages to these regions. Silversea, which now has small expedition ships in its fleet, is making voyages to Australia's wild Kimberly Coast and remote islands in Southeast Asia, including Kakaban, a coral atoll 40 miles off the coast of Borneo. In an industry first, Fathom, Carnival Corporation's new experiential-based line, will be visiting Cuba on week-long cultural exchange cruises. Cruising is making all of these destinations accessible in ways that we would have never thought possible.
Years ago, I visited St. Petersburg, Russia, on a Silversea cruise to the Baltic. Most people visit St. Petersburg via cruise ship, so that in and out of itself it not novel. I would argue that the arrival itself—the method of travel—was novel, a singular experience worth the journey alone. The ship, the Silver Cloud, was small enough to pull right up the Neva River into the city center, where you could see the old palaces, with their faded pastel facades. Sleeping there, docked in the water, having just read every biography of the tsars in preparation of our adventure, brought Russian history to life in a new way.
You might just become a people person.
My husband would agree with me: I'm the social person in our relationship. In fact, he usually hates small talk, and finds it irritating when I engage other random people in conversation. But not so on a cruise ship. And maybe that's because the people we've met while sailing over the years are really interesting. Or maybe it's because of the fact that once you truly comprehend you're surrounded by all these people—and no one's going anywhere on at-sea day—you just don't worry about the small stuff, and open yourself to others. On cruises, we've managed to meet the following folks, whom we became buddies with for a week or so: a New York couple who were photographers, and like us, were cruise virgins; the son of a famous Danish playwright; a couple traveling with their older daughter, who had special needs, and so very much wanted to make friends; a family with their eight-year-old child, who couldn't tear herself away from the pool; a wealthy widow who couldn’t live without her Bloody Mary for breakfast every day. These people, as well as the staff, who, on every line and every ship work tireless to literally keep the whole enterprise afloat, became a part of the trip. And that, to me, is equally as memorable as the itinerary itself.
You will truly disconnect—and here's why.
On a recent Wednesday night, I counted how many times my husband and I checked our phones, starting from 8 pm on. By 9:20, the count was up to 20, and I gave up. I marvel at how we can stay in touch in this digital age: sharing photos, messaging, chronicling our travels in real time. And the cruise industry has made aggressive strides in recent years to keep their passengers connected by improving satellite connections so that Wi-Fi can be more reliable, or, in some cases, as with Regent Seven Seas Cruises, even offering Wi-Fi for free. But one of the magical experiences of being at sea, I find, is that you actually put your phone down. You talk to one another. The cruise ship becomes its own, self-contained world—and finding out what events are happening on board ship quickly becomes more important than sending a text message to someone who really doesn’t need to know what you ate for breakfast.
And for the type A-planners out there, here's why a cruise is also brilliant. It forces you to cede control. The ports are set long in advance, as are the arrival and departure times and at sea days. Someone else has done the work for you. As a new mom, with limited time, I find that aspect of cruising especially appealing. I already know the itinerary of my next big cruise, on the Regent Seven Seas Explorer, the most expensive ship ever built. On Monday, July 11, by 8:00 a.m., I’ll be docked in St. Tropez, France—a destination that I’ve always wanted to visit, but in all honesty, a destination that I’m happy to dip in and out of, because being immersed in all that fabulousness for more than one day is just too much. I’m perfectly happy to let the Explorer lead me there, and move me on.