If you like an element of surprise and prefer not to over plan holiday -- or maybe can't make up your mind where to go on a cruise due to the wealth of itineraries on offer -- then a mystery cruise could be for you. A small number of cruise lines offer secretive sailings on a regular or occasional basis. Welcome to the unique world of voyages that are guaranteed to keep you guessing.
There's a big clue in the name. Itineraries show departure and arrival ports (nearly all of them are round-trip ex-U.K. sailings), with a big question mark instead of a detailed schedule showing destinations visited. Once you board the ship you have no idea where you're going to sail and ports of call remain a secret until the very last minute. With cruises starting from the British Isles you could stay on home waters or visit a variety of different countries and regions. That's all part of the enjoyment and intrigue.
Typical itineraries are around a week to nine nights, with longer sailings giving more scope for a seagoing magical mystery tour. Only the captain and senior officers know where the ship is heading -- and are sworn to secrecy -- so it's no use trying to wheedle details from your cabin steward, waiter or other crew members in the hope of getting some clues. Some officers even indulge in a bit of mischief by changing direction in the middle of the night to throw savvy passengers off the scent.
If this all sounds too mysterious for your liking, there is a halfway house for cruisers who want to know roughly where they're going. Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has run sailings where passengers vote for the next port of call, with choices such as Lisbon or Porto in Portugal and Cadiz or Malaga in Spain. The port that gets the highest number of votes is where the ship docks.
You will enjoy all the aspects of a regular cruise in terms of food, entertainment and onboard activities, aside from knowing where you are going. Monitors showing the ship's route will be switched off, and while you could cheat and look up the position on tracking websites such as CruiseMapper, that's not really in the spirit of a mystery cruise.
Many passengers enjoy gathering each day to pore over maps and charts and try to work out where they are. There's always a palpable sense of excitement when the next port comes into view. Others just like to leave the whole thing as a surprise and sit back and enjoy a relaxing sailing. You could end up in a favourite destination or somewhere you've always wanted to visit. Who knows?
The main thing is to be open-minded and be prepared to go with the flow, quite literally. If you want to visit specific ports and have a hunch they might be included then don't book a mystery cruise as you are more than likely to be disappointed. (There are tales of passengers grumbling about where they end up). Remember that in the space of a week you could visit the sunny Mediterranean or cooler climes of the Baltics and Norway so pack strategically for all eventualities and take sunscreen, layers, a hat and rain jacket. Above all, be prepared to have a lot of fun!