Combining your passions for cruising and golfing is an ideal way to explore iconic courses around the world, hopping from course to course without having to worry about transportation and accommodations. You can meet and play with other golfers, both on the ship and in ports of call, and in some cases, even have access to golf pros as you cruise between courses.
Seems simple, right? It can get a little more complicated than that. Between lugging clubs on and off the ship and figuring out the logistics of where to play and how to get there, there can be a lot to consider.
We explored the options for golf cruises and playing in port. Here is a rundown and some tips for you.
Planning and Playing on Your Own
Whether your cruise takes you to a port with primo golf courses nearby or simply a quiet spot with nine holes you'd like to hit, you can always choose to go it on your own. Start by looking for courses in the vicinity of the cruise port, keeping in mind that there might be multiple places your ship can dock in any given port. The Cruise Critic Message Boards are a good resource for finding courses near cruise terminals; members who have played them on previous sailings can review the course and speak to logistics around transportation and reserving tee times.
One chief concern is how you will get from the ship to the golf course and back. Again, the message boards are a good place to find that information. Taxis are a universal option almost anywhere you cruise, but don't rule out public transportation options in larger cities like Athens, Amsterdam or Sydney.
Secondary to the question of how to get there and back is how much time you should allow for your outing. We studied a sampling of cruise ship-organized golf excursions and found that, on average, you should allow a minimum of four hours for a nine-hole outing and six hours for an 18-hole game. That means that if your ship is in port less than seven hours, you are going to be cutting things quite close to play a full round.
Obviously, once you have a course in mind, the next step is getting it booked. Distance and language barriers are more easily managed than you might think, with more courses putting booking options right on their websites. If the course you want to play doesn't have an online booking service, look for an email option to get instructions on how to proceed with a booking request. And, if hauling your own clubs onboard is not your idea of fun, this is also a good time to check with the courses you have in mind regarding rental equipment.
If you want to spend some time on the greens in a port or two during a cruise, but you'd rather not handle all the planning yourself, check your cruise line's excursion options. Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises offer golf excursions in popular golfing ports of calls like Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Cozumel, Montego Bay and Bermuda. Even luxury cruise line SeaDream Yacht Club offers golf excursions on select cruises. Utilizing a ship-sponsored excursion is an easy way to save considerable planning time compared to organizing an outing on your own.
Another option for a preplanned golf outing would be third-party excursion companies. In Mexico, the Caribbean and even in the Mediterranean, you can find golf excursion options on websites like ShoreTrips and Viator (a sister company to Cruise Critic).
Cruise Lines With Golf-Themed Cruises
Cruise lines' golf-themed sailings are for travelers who want serious golf time on serious courses -- not just to hit a few balls in scenic spots. These golf-intensive voyages can bring you to some of the best courses in the world, while you enjoy the benefit of cruising on some of the world's premier cruise lines. Though not everyone onboard will have booked the cruise for the golf, there will be a considerable number of fellow golfers to hang out with or try your luck against.
Look for golf cruises with packages that include support from a PGA professional both onboard and on the course, baggage service, coaching, green fees and transfers to and from the courses -- sometimes in private limousines. Theme cruise activities often include exclusive events for golfers onboard, ranging from cocktail parties to informal chats with the pros.
Fees for participation in the golf theme are on a per-person basis, so nongolfing travel partners pay only the standard price for the cruise. And, of course, there are plenty of nongolf excursions and activities available throughout the cruise, so "golf widows" don't have to feel bored or alone.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, Crystal Cruises, AmaWaterways, European Waterways, Avalon Waterways and Azamara (with partner PerryGolf) all offer golf-themed cruises that include rounds on courses like the Beckenbauer Course in Germany (home of the Porsche European Open), Castle Stuart Golf Links in Inverness, Scotland, and the Monte Carlo Golf Club.
Third-Party Cruise and Golf Planners
Expand your golf cruise thinking a bit more and you discover that there are travel agencies that specialize in planning golf travel -- including golf cruising. There are companies that open up the options for golfing in port by working with Norwegian, Oceania, Celebrity, Cunard and Ponant to bring you cruises that focus on your sport.
GolfAhoy offers golf packages on partial ship charters that are a happy medium for those who would find a true golf theme cruise too intensive. They take all the work out of planning the golf outings, but not much more. Don't expect onboard activities for golfers, PGA pros to help with your game or staff onboard to carry, clean and store your clubs.
Kalos Golf cruises, however, are deeply immersive. The line's full-ship charters go beyond even the golf theme cruises hosted by the cruise lines themselves by putting you onboard luxury ships filled with fellow golfers. No detail is overlooked. In many cases, you will even be using Kalos' own fleet of carts, shipped to the course ahead of you. And, while the cruise is planned around getting golfers to the world's top courses, there are activities planned for nongolfing travel partners as well.
In addition to the golf-themed cruises it does with Azamara, PerryGolf also offers hotel barge cruises for golfers from April to October in England and Scotland, with a total capacity of only eight. Other passengers onboard may or may not be fellow golfers. Guided tours are included at each stop for nongolfers.
Personalized Golf Packages
If you're serious about your vacation golfing but want more say over your play (or don't need onboard coaching or to meet fellow golfers), find a travel agent who can book your cruise and arrange golf outings for you in port.
For example, Fairway Cruises plans individual golf packages on Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises and Celebrity. Agents at Trendsetter Travel set you up for golfing at ports around the globe on the ships of Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Uniworld, Tauck and American Cruise Lines. Though their offices are in Australia, they are happy to work with golfers from around the world.
Agencies that plan golf cruising function much as any travel agent would, with the ability to arrange pre- and post-cruise transportation and accommodations as needed, as well as book tee times and schedule transportation to the courses. Many will also make arrangements for renting clubs or shipping yours directly to the cruise ship.
Packing and Shipping Clubs
One last bit of advice for all forms of cruise golfing: Don't forget to properly pack your clubs. Even if you plan to travel to your departure port in your own vehicle, upon arrival at the ship, you will be handing your bag off to the ship's baggage handlers.
The golf club shipping experts at Ship Sticks suggest you remove the heads where possible and use plenty of Bubble Wrap taped around all the remaining heads before enclosing your bag and clubs in a hard or soft outer case or a box to prevent damage. As with other luggage, have your contact information both inside and outside of the container.
The other advice from Ship Sticks is to avoid schlepping your clubs at all by shipping them directly to your cruise ship. In addition to Ship Sticks, there are multiple options for doing that, including services like Luggage Forward and Luggage to Ship, as well as shipping services offered by some cruise lines.