4 Ways to Turn Your Cruise Into a Cultural Experience

Turn your next sail into a journey filled with enrichment with these pro tips.

U.S. News & World Report

4 Ways to Turn Your Cruise Into a Cultural Experience

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Choosing the right itinerary and shore excursions is key.(Getty Images)

Once a popular vacation option for partying beachgoers and families seeking a bargain-friendly getaway, cruising has long garnered a reputation for bland buffets and generic itineraries. And while today's ships boast unique onboard entertainment offerings, enrichment opportunities and whiz-bang features, with a variety of myths floating across the internet, it's easy to be fooled into associating cruising with the outdated misconceptions of the past.

But the reality is today's cruise lines appeal to versatile preferences, budgets and age groups and offer everything from stimulating educational programs to immersive forays ashore. If your top priority is culturally driven experiences onboard and onshore, the key is planning ahead and finding a cruise that fits your travel style. If you dream of cruising without being part of the partying masses, here are four steps to turn your cruise experience into a cultural learning opportunity.

Choose a Cruise Line That Caters to Your Preferences

The first step when picking a cruise is pinpointing the lines offering inventive itineraries and onboard activities tailored to your interests. For example, if you love hitting the spa or you're a traveling foodie, consider MSC Cruises, a Mediterranean-based line that offers a European flair paired with unique amenities and services, from Balinese-inspired massages to upscale specialty dining experiences. MSC dishes out cuisine from around the world, including gourmet delights from world-class chefs such as Carlo Cracco, Jean-Philippe Maury, Roy Yamaguchi and Jereme Leung. In addition to Caribbean cruises, you can also sail around the world with MSC, from the Mediterranean to Northern Europe and beyond.

Pick Your Itinerary Wisely

If you're angling for a culture-packed cruise, choose an itinerary with destinations that offer more than swaying palms and sandy beaches. Choose a cruise that visits diverse destinations showcasing their rich history and heritage. For example, if you choose a cruise that stops in Curaçao, which lies outside the hurricane belt, you'll dock right in the heart of downtown Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island itself offers plenty of noteworthy landmarks and cultural treasures, including its iconic pastel-colored colonial architecture, its storied Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue and its popular Dutch restaurants serving up traditional specialties like bitterballen and stroopwafels (Dutch cookies held together with a thin layer of syrup).

Opt for Educational Excursions

While your cruise line and itinerary are important, the excursions you select can make or break your cruise. If you opt to skip immersive experiences ashore, you'll miss out on authentic experiences and the chance to connect with locals. Look for educational opportunities such as walking tours or access to top museums and landmarks. Use reputable outfitters like Viator.com to find excursions that take you away from the cruise port and fellow tourists to experience must-see attractions and lesser-known gems. Also, look for interactive and engaging excursions ashore. For example, instead of departing your ship for a ride into Rome for some pizza, sign up for a pizza-making class.

Look for Cruise Lines with Innovative Culinary Offerings

One common gripe about cruises is their bland buffets. Look for ships offering alternative specialty dining experiences for elevated at-sea meals. Also look for a cruise line that dishes up regional specialties from around the world at its restaurants and make sure you try the cuisine every time your ship stops in port, such as saganaki in Athens, Greece, or paella in Barcelona, Spain. By sampling the local food, you'll gain a better understanding of each destination's people and culture.


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Holly Johnson, Contributor

Holly Johnson is an award-winning writer who focuses on credit cards and credit, personal ...  Read more

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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