If you've got a reason why you couldn't possibly like cruising, we can guarantee we've heard it before. And while not every cruise ship or type of cruise will suit every vacationer out there, the explanations people give for why they'd dislike a vacation at sea are generally unfounded.
In fact, we'd bet that for every excuse, a cruise line exists that proves the stereotype wrong.
That's because cruise ships and vacation experiences come in all shapes and sizes. Vessels like Royal Caribbean's mammoth Oasis and Allure of the Seas are like floating cities with every possible activity onboard, while Star Clippers' fleet offers an authentic sailing experience -- the closest you're likely to come to being a pirate of the Caribbean. Some cruise lines focus on enrichment, nature and culture, while others strive to create fun atmospheres that entertain kids, couples and seniors. Itineraries can be port-intensive, visiting a different destination each day, or utterly relaxing, offering strings of consecutive days at sea.
Here are some of the common fears about cruising -- and our expert reasons why these concerns are unfounded.
"I'll be bored."
Onboard Royal Caribbean's Oasis and Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise ships ever built, passengers can rock climb, play miniature golf, try surfing, ride a carousel, enjoy a spa treatment, work out in a full-size gym, lie by a "beach" pool or in a hot tub, go for a ride on a zipline, ice skate, watch a variety of live entertainment (including comedy shows, Broadway musicals, parades and acrobatic shows), learn to scuba dive, shop, watch the big game in a bar and sing karaoke. Bored yet?
Mind you, Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class ships aren't the only ones to offer options that keep boredom at bay; its Quantum-, Voyager- and Freedom-class ships are also dedicated to active travelers. In addition to the ship's amenities and the onboard programming, you can always bring a book, deck of cards or portable video game to entertain yourself on your own.
Another cruise line where you'll never be bored is Norwegian Cruise Line. The line's ships -- especially Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway -- have amazing entertainment options, such as ice bars, water slides, beach clubs, circus-style dinner theaters, Broadway shows, ropes courses, rock climbing walls, a large selection of funky bars and themed restaurants, evening parties and lots of karaoke. And don't forget that you'll typically be in port for half the days on your cruise, if not more, and you'll have plenty of options to keep yourself entertained.
For more on things to do onboard, read our first timer's guide to onboard activities.
"I'll get seasick."
Just because you're prone to seasickness doesn't mean you can't cruise. Consider a river cruise instead. Riverboats cruise the world, including Europe (think the Danube, Rhine, Mosel, Seine, etc.), Egypt's Nile River and China's Yangtze. Itineraries include visits to wine countries, historic city centers, Christmas markets, pyramids, ancient tombs and beautiful countryside. Plus, river cruises are so destination-focused that you'll spend much of your time onshore -- exploring by foot, bus or even bicycle. When you're onboard, you don't have to worry about waves or high seas that could make you sick.
Even better, river cruise lines are catching up to oceangoing vessels in terms of luxury and onboard amenities. You'll now find balconies, larger cabins, alternative restaurants, spas and even pools onboard. Try lines like Avalon Waterways, Tauck, Uniworld, Viking River Cruises and AmaWaterways.
Another note to the seasick prone: Just because you go green around the gills on a tiny motorboat in choppy waters does not mean you'll suffer from mal de mer on a cruise ship. The bigger the ship, the less you feel the motion of the ocean. (Think about the difference in turbulence between a tiny prop plane and a 747.) Plus, modern ships are built with stabilizers to minimize rocking. Choose your itinerary well. The Mediterranean is a lot rougher after October than it is in the summer; Alaska's Inside Passage is quite calm, though the open sea up north gets rougher in September; and the Caribbean can get choppy during hurricane season (June 1 through November 30, officially) if a storm is present. Medications and natural remedies can help for some; they include ginger candies, medicated patches and pressure bands. You might find that after a few hours onboard, you forget that you're on a ship at all.
Here are more tips for avoiding seasickness.
"I'll get claustrophobic onboard."
Sure you will -- if you charter a catamaran where your cabin fits a rough bunk and nothing else or if you squeeze a family of four in the smallest inside cabin. But most cruise ships are like floating hotels, with plenty of space, even if your cabin is smaller than the typical hotel room.
Luxury line Regent Seven Seas, for example, has three all-suite ships in its fleet (two of those are all-balcony), with a fourth debuting in summer 2016. The smallest cabin on its 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner, for example, is a 252-square-foot suite with separate sitting and sleeping areas, a 49-square-foot teak balcony, walk-in closet and an ensuite marble bathroom. If you're truly worried about feeling confined, wait for Seven Seas Explorer to debut, and book its largest suite, the 2,917-square-foot Regent Suite, with a 958-square-foot wraparound balcony, two bedrooms, a large living and dining area, and an in-cabin spa with private sauna and steam room. That's larger than most people's homes, and we bet your house doesn't come with butler service, as this suite does.
Can't afford all that space? Royal Caribbean's aforementioned large ships are so big that first time visitors to Oasis of the Seas have claimed they forgot they were on a ship. In fact, the designers of that ship put an emphasis on outdoor space, essentially carving out the middle of the ship to create an open-air midsection. So not only can you get fresh air on the top-of-ship pool decks, but the Boardwalk and Central Park neighborhoods are open to the sky. If the walls feel like they are closing in, simply walk to the nearest elevator, push the button with the highest number and -- voila! -- all is well.
Princess' newest ships (Regal and Royal Princess) are also quite spacious. Expansive sun decks include a pool with a movie screen that shows first-run flicks and concerts day and night, as well as a quieter, adults-only spa sun deck called the Sanctuary. The three-deck Piazza is an airy gathering place offering entertainment and snacks. If you need room to stretch in your living quarters, book a mini-suite or suite for separate living and sleeping areas, as well as an exterior balcony for easy access to fresh air.
Looking for spacious digs onboard? We list our favorite suites at sea.
"Cruising only gives you a superficial experience of a destination."
It's a misconception among some self-appointed worldly travelers that cruises are a way to have fun in the sun, but not a good way to get an in-depth experience of a destination.
These folks haven't heard of lines like Hurtigruten, Lindblad Expeditions, Quark Expeditions and Un-Cruise Adventures. This diverse group of cruise lines has one major thing in common -- they all are extremely focused on giving passengers an in-depth look at the destinations on the itinerary.
For example, Hurtigruten's "Norwegian Coastal Voyages" sail daily up and down Norway's coasts, stopping at isolated towns and villages to drop off freight and to let passengers have a look-see. Not only will you see more of Norway -- below and above the Arctic Circle -- than you probably ever imagined, but onboard you will dine on Norwegian specialties (moose, reindeer and lots of fish) and hobnob with a mix of Europeans, including Norwegians treating the ship as a ferry between destinations. You'll find only a handful of Americans onboard.
Lindblad Expeditions focuses on adventure and enrichment. It takes passengers to remote destinations like Antarctica, the Arctic, the Galapagos and off-the-beaten-path destinations around the world. The line partners with National Geographic, so each voyage features scientists, naturalists, oceanographers and photographers onboard to teach passengers about the places they're visiting and help them capture great memories to take back home. Plus, with small ships carrying a mere 28 to 148 people, the line brings new meaning to "up close and personal," using Zodiacs and kayaks to bring passengers closer to wildlife and wild places.
Learn more about expedition cruises.
"Cruises are for old people."
Disney Cruise Line is built on the premise that cruises can be fun for the whole family. Its ships feature expansive play areas with separate hangouts for young kids, tweens and teens (and a nursery for the littlest cruisers); a kiddie pool and water slide; Disney-themed musical productions; and meet 'n' greets with the Disney characters onboard.
Royal Caribbean also caters to young people with its many active onboard pursuits, such as rock climbing, surfing, ice skating, learning to DJ and watching parades. Plus, active shore excursions like kayaking, hiking, cycling, snorkeling and diving call to the younger set, perhaps more than old-school, sedentary bus tours.
Carnival, too, gets a wide variety of ages onboard with its top-notch kids program -- featuring separate teen and tween hangouts with soda bars, video games and a dance floor -- and a festive onboard atmosphere. Its standard cabins tend to run large and are affordably priced, which attracts families and younger travelers without huge vacation budgets. Plus, Carnival offers a wide selection of shorter three- and four-night cruises that are ideal for busy professionals with limited vacation time or groups of friends looking for a long weekend of relaxation and fun.
Read more about the best cruise ships for families.
"Cruise ships aren't real ships."
Cruise ships have been likened to floating hotels or resorts, but if you're yearning for a more authentic sailing experience, check out lines like Windstar, Star Clippers or Island Windjammers. They employ masted tall ships, where the fairly no-frills accommodations and onboard amenities are offset by the thrill of sailing the open ocean and the attractions of the ports of call.
Star Clippers has a fleet of clipper ships that sail the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asia. Instead of playing bingo or pool games, passengers can climb the ship's mast, lie out in the widow's net over the open sea or stargaze at night. Water sports are fittingly a big emphasis of each cruise, with diving, snorkeling and waterskiing trips organized by the ship's staff and a variety of water sports equipment (like snorkel gear, kayaks and sunfish) available for passenger use, free of charge.
Island Windjammers operates three sailing ships: 10-passenger Diamant, 24-passenger Sagitta (technically a masted motorsailer) and 30-passenger Vela. Its casual cruises sail in the French West Indies, Leeward, Windward and British Virgin Islands and focus on the joy of sailing, water sports and lazy days on land. It's a great way to feel like you're cruising on your own private sailboat -- just with a crew to do all the hard work.
If you want intimate, here are more of our favorite small ships.
"Ships depart so early that I'll miss out on the nightlife in port."
Most cruises stay in port only during the day. But if dining ashore or checking out the local bars or entertainment scene is your thing, then Azamara Club Cruises might be the line for you. It's committed to destination immersion, offering longer hours in port, plenty of overnights and evening tours. Its "Cruise Global, Dine Local" initiative guides passengers to restaurants where locals eat, while its "Nights and Cool Places" tours take small groups out at night to experience a destination's art, architecture or scenic wonders once the sun sets. (Think after-hours tour of a museum or illuminated landmarks.) Want to head out on your own? Tourist board reps come onto each ship to offer suggestions to independent travelers.
Learn how to make the most of your overnight port call.
"It's unhealthy with all that food!"
Cruise ships typically offer round-the-clock dining, but no one is forcing you to pile the bacon on your breakfast tray, eat dessert at every meal, order both the prime rib and the lobster for dinner, or call room service for cheeseburgers at 2 a.m. In fact, most cruise lines have traded in their midnight chocolate buffets for spa cafes and sushi bars.
Celebrity Cruises is one line at the forefront of the healthy dining effort. All of its ships have spa cafes as part of an indoor pool complex, serving lighter breakfasts and lunches, including smoothies, omelets, poached salmon and grilled chicken breast. Plus, you can order "spa" options off the main dining room's menu; calorie, fat, cholesterol and sodium breakdowns are listed on the back. Solstice-class ships all feature Blu, a standalone restaurant for spa cabin passengers. The menu there is "spa-inspired" with fewer rich sauces and smaller portions than main dining room fare. Sister line Royal Caribbean's Quantum-class ships fight gluttony at Devinly Decadence, where each dish has fewer than 500 calories and recipes are dreamed up by Devin Alexander, chef for weight-loss TV show "The Biggest Loser." The no-extra-fee venue serves breakfast (like yogurt parfaits), lunch (burgers with light chips) and dinner (ahi tuna tacos), as well as healthier desserts and cocktails. Ingredients are all gluten-free, as well.
Here are more ways to stay healthy on a cruise.
"It's impossible to experience another culture."
A cruise ship can often be a floating oasis of Americana -- passengers venture into foreign lands by day but come back to the ship to eat burgers and fries at Johnny Rockets and watch American ball games on TV at night. If you prefer more of a cultural immersion, book a trip on MSC Cruises or Costa Cruises. These two cruise lines are Italian-owned and proud to display their European heritage onboard.
Costa's European itineraries attract mostly European passengers from Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal and the U.K. The onboard atmosphere reflects this passenger base, with later dining hours, lots of dancing-based nightlife and a drinking age of 18. The dining room emphasizes Italian fare, and the lines works with Michelin-starred Italian chef Ettore Bocchia to create specialty restaurant menus. Not only are announcements and activities translated into several languages, but your dining companions might not be native English-speakers. Entertainment might include a toga party, an Italian street festival (complete with a bocce tournament) and tarantella dancing.
On Mediterranean cruises, which are offered year-round, MSC's passengers are largely European, and the onboard ambiance definitely has a Continental flair, with plenty of music and dining.
--By Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor