There's a stereotype that cruises are for the "newly wed and nearly dead." Perhaps that was true of the voyages of yore, but with modern ships ushering in a new wave of at-sea innovations, that statement is anything but true these days. We've all heard the myths and rumors about cruising, and let's face it: with so much negativity and misinformation in the mainstream media, the cruise industry gets a bad rap. The key is that not all ships are created equal, and much of your experience will depend on a variety of factors like cruise line, ship size, cabin type and itinerary. Below, we dispel 15 of the most common cruise myths, which keep many people from setting foot on the gangway and having a wonderful vacation at sea.
Myth 1: Cruises are crowded.
This is an issue most often found on older ships with poor layouts, particularly in areas -- like buffets and theaters -- where passengers are likely to congregate. However, newer ships have done a much better job of designing more dynamic areas in terms of traffic flow. You might also be tempted to think that larger cruise ships (behemoths like those in Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class, for example, which each carry more than 5,000 passengers) are congested with so many people onboard. It's simply not true. As ships grow to carry more cruisers, they also grow to include more deck space, bars, restaurants and entertainment venues to accommodate the larger number of passengers.
Myth 2: Cruises are for old, stuffy people.
It's true that retirees often have the time and money required to travel for extended periods, but while some lines admittedly move at a slower pace and cater to people of a certain age, there's so much more to life on the high seas than bingo, afternoon tea and shuffleboard. In fact, many lines now offer special programming for the 18- to 20-year-old set, and there are more people in their 20s, 30s and 40s cruising now than ever before. Cruise lines are catering to both younger and more adventurous crowds with offerings that include trendy, celebrity chef-inspired restaurants; phenomenal children's programming for younger couples with kids; swanky adults-only areas; innovative spa treatments; and enough adult comedy to make your grandparents blush -- as well as shore excursions that range from flyboarding in the Caribbean to glacier hiking in Alaska. (For more on what, exactly, you can do on your cruise, see myth 7 below.)
Myth 3: I'll be stuck onboard.
Whether you're worried you'll feel claustrophobic on a ship in the middle of the ocean or that you won't have the freedom to come and go as you please, don't worry. It's true that you'll be confined to the ship while it sails from port to port, but it's usually at night while you're busying yourself with things like eating dinner, attending shows and sleeping. If you choose an itinerary with few to no sea days, you'll be in a brand-new place when you wake up in the morning, which will limit the feeling of being stuck inside. Rest assured that, should you need to leave the ship in an emergency, the crew is able to make necessary arrangements. Plus, with so many creature comforts onboard, you might find yourself completely forgetting you're even on a ship in the first place, and with plenty of open deck space, it's easy to avoid that closed-in feeling.
Myth 4: I'll get norovirus.
Fact: According to the CDC's website, more than half of all reported norovirus cases in developed countries come from nursing homes, hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Health officials track all cases of illness on cruise ships, but that's not always the case on land. So, although the virus occurs less frequently onboard than it does ashore, you're more likely to hear about outbreaks on cruise ships than outbreaks elsewhere. While cruising, most ships offer a ready supply of hand sanitizer at every turn, and you'll hear constant reminders about handwashing -- particularly after using the bathroom and before eating -- which is the strongest defense against getting sick. Some ships also attempt to limit the spread of germs by banning buffet self-service for the first 48 hours of the trip (the amount of time it takes norovirus to incubate). In cases where the virus does spread onboard (which it tends to do in places where a large number of people reside in close quarters), infected passengers are quarantined, and affected ships go through a thorough cleaning and sanitation process per industrywide protocols before the next group of cruisers is allowed to board.
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Myth 5: Cruises are dangerous.
Fires. Power outages. Rogue waves. Rough seas. Hurricanes. Passengers "falling" overboard. You've heard about it all on the news, but before you work yourself into a panic, know this: Statistically, cruises are one of the safest forms of travel. The U.S. Coast Guard inspects all ships sailing from U.S. ports on a quarterly basis to make sure machinery and emergency procedures are up to snuff. Additionally, each ship sails with its own dedicated team of mechanics and engineers, who are specially trained to deal with any malfunctions that might arise. Crew members undergo rigorous training via safety drills to prepare them for emergency situations. All mainstream ships have onboard teams of doctors and/or nurses to deal with medical issues, and the control rooms on all vessels employ equipment dedicated to avoiding hurricanes and minimizing exposure to excessively rough waters. As for "falling" overboard, it's just not possible unless you're somewhere you shouldn't be. All balconies and outer decks have high railings or partitions to keep anyone from toppling over the side.
You might also like 9 Tips for Staying Safe on a Cruise Ship.
Myth 6: Everybody's drunk.
This isn't the case on most cruise ships -- even the ones known for having more of a "party" vibe. Will some passengers drink to excess? Of course. That's a given in any place where bars and buckets of beer abound. However, bartenders generally refuse service to anyone who appears intoxicated, much the same as on land. If you're concerned about avoiding an atmosphere that encourages lots of imbibing, consider a longer cruise, and avoid short, weekend cruises or warm-weather sailings during spring break.
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Myth 7: I'll be bored.
Perhaps you're under the impression that there won't be enough for you to do onboard while the ship is sailing. On any number of ships, you can surf, skydive, rock climb, zipline, ice skate, learn to make cupcakes, splash in pools and water slides, attend Broadway productions, watch acrobats and magicians, enjoy outdoor movies on the pool deck, drive a simulated Formula 1 race car, buy drinks from a robotic bartender, go bowling, play video games, dance the night away in the disco, enjoy pirate parties (in costume, of course), learn a new language, do a wine tasting, play trivia, gamble in the casino, attend enrichment lectures, sing karaoke-- the list goes on and on.
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Myth 8: I'll be too busy.
A cruise is exactly what you make it. Any ship will have a daily list of planned activities, but whether or not you attend them -- and the pace at which you participate if you do attend -- is completely up to you. If your goal is to escape and avoid the often frenetic bustle of onboard life, you'll find plenty of quiet lounges, libraries and other hidden nooks and crannies where you can escape for a quiet cup of coffee while watching the sun rise, curl up with a book or play a board game with a travel companion. All mainstream vessels also have onboard spas; head there for a bit of for-fee pampering, which can include everything from massages and facials to manicures and teeth whitening. At the very least, you can always hide out in your cabin; book a room with a balcony or a suite if you plan to spend days relaxing in seclusion.
You might also like Tips for Finding Peace and Quiet on a Cruise.
Myth 9: A cruise isn't a cultural experience.
We beg to differ. You might not have more than a few hours to explore each port on your itinerary, but there are still plenty of ways to have authentic, off-the-beaten path experiences in the places you visit without following the crowds on bus tours or to tacky souvenir shops. For example, several lines offer shore excursions that allow you to follow the ships' chefs to local markets, to shop for local ingredients and even cook with them back onboard. Others allow passengers to book home visits, where local families host cruisers in their own houses, usually for a meal and/or culturally immersive activities like dancing or arts and crafts. If what you'd really like is more time in each destination to take in the local culture or nightlife, look for itineraries that offer longer or overnight port calls. Or, consider different types of cruising (like river cruising, for example). Plus, several lines -- such as Carnival Corp.'s new Fathom line, which focuses on voluntourism, and Canada-based Cuba Cruise, which sails Cuba itineraries via a people-to-people-type program -- offer volunteer opportunities that allow passengers to work side by side with locals for causes that make a difference.
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Myth 10: There will be too many kids.
There are plenty of ways to avoid children at sea if that's your goal. First, children are more likely to be found on shorter, less expensive and less exotic sailings, particularly during the summer months and holidays, when school is not in session. They're also more likely to be found on lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Disney, which have amazing kids clubs to keep the little ones entertained. However, that doesn't mean you should rule those lines out. Because they offer such stellar programming for the wee ones, you're less likely to see them out and about or causing trouble during the sailing. If you'd rather not encounter any children at all, there are ships that flat-out ban them (P&O's Adonia, Arcadia and Oriana) or place age restrictions on passengers younger than a certain age (Voyages to Antiquity, Grand Circle, Saga Holidays).
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Myth 11: I'll gain weight.
This one is totally up to you. With a staggering array of food options available around the clock -- most for free -- it's certainly easy to overindulge. But if you stick to a dining schedule and portion sizes that are comparable to what you'd experience at home, you'll have no problem maintaining your weight, even if you do choose to have more than one dessert in the dining room. Many lines also designate healthy items on their menus for those who are concerned. Additionally, if you use the stairs instead of the elevators onboard and take an active shore excursion or two while in port, you might even find yourself a few pounds lighter at the end of your sailing. Nearly every ship on the high seas boasts an onboard fitness center of some sort (some more expansive and high-tech than others); if you have a workout routine at home, you'll have no excuse for not maintaining it during your cruise.
Myth 12: I'll get seasick.
It's true that you might be prone to seasickness, but there are many ways to prevent it before your cruise even starts. Possible remedies include acupressure bracelets, prescription patches you stick on the skin behind your ear and a plethora of tablets, both prescription and over-the-counter. Some cruisers also swear by mint, green apples and anything containing ginger (ginger candy, ginger ale, etc.). If you're using tablets, it's best to start taking them before you board the ship, but should you become seasick on a sailing, it's never too late to fight it off. If you find yourself in that situation, head to the middle of the ship and stare at the horizon (preferably from a spot outside, where there's fresh air) to help regain your equilibrium.
Myth 13: I have to get dressed up.
Sure, it can be fun to put on a tux or a ball gown and enjoy a fancy meal, but not everyone feels that way, and sometimes it's just not practical to stuff all that formalwear into your suitcase. The good news is that most ships give you the option to forgo the formality by avoiding the main dining room. You can choose to have dinner in any number of alternative venues. The most common is the buffet, but many ships offer other options (some free and some with an added charge) where the dress code won't be as stringent. There are also ships that don't offer formal nights at all; they include all Norwegian vessels, as well as Quantum and Anthem of the Seas (with the exception of one dining room).
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Myth 14: I have to eat dinner with people I don't know.
In the early days of cruising, if you weren't traveling with a large group, you'd be assigned a specific dining time at a large table with other passengers, thereby forcing you to eat and make small talk with complete strangers. Some people enjoy that aspect of sailing; for those traditionalists, set-seating dining times are still available. Those who want a set time at a table all their own can simply ask the maitre d' to accommodate them. Flexible dining, available on most ships under a variety of names, is also an option. Cruisers who opt for flexible dining can head to dinner any time within set hours to score a table by themselves (or with a group if they so choose). However, if having the same waiter (which usually means more personalized service) is important to you, you'll want to either go with a set-seating option or request the same waiter each night during flex dining.
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Myth 15: I can't cruise alone.
Of course you can cruise alone. Although single supplements -- extra costs incurred by solo cruisers who stay alone in cabins made for two -- are a drawback, several ships (including Norwegian Getaway, Anthem of the Seas, Costa Favolosa, Queen Mary 2 and Holland America's Koningsdam) have cabins for one, specially designed for people sailing by themselves. Some include access to dedicated solo lounges and activities geared toward those who are onboard without travel companions. Although the concept might be scary to some, cruising alone is empowering, and it's a great way to meet new people. Cruising is one of the most social forms of travel, so if you want to make friends, be sure to check the daily schedule on the first couple days of your sailing for any solo-focused gatherings, request set-seating dining (or large tables if you prefer flexibility) and participate in onboard activities (karaoke, trivia, game shows) that will allow you to put yourself out there or join a team.
--By Ashley Kosciolek, Editor