Is a Cruise for You?

7 questions to ask yourself before you commit

Nov. 18, 2014
Nov. 18, 2014, at 9:16 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

Is a Cruise for You?

The question "Is a cruise for you?" might seem like a silly one. After all, with the open air, the exotic destinations and the all-you-can-eat buffets, what's not to love about a cruise?

But even with the affordable all-inclusive rates and the immersive experiences available onboard and ashore, a cruise might not be the right vacation for you. The next time you're contemplating a cruise, ask yourself these seven questions.

Part of a cruise vacation's appeal is its all-inclusiveness. After you've picked a destination, a ship, sail dates and shore excursions, you won't need to worry about much else. When you come aboard the ship, the hardest decision you'll have to make is choosing which prepaid dining option to enjoy at any given mealtime. For some travelers, this worry-free approach is the ideal vacation. But if you enjoy creating a detailed vacation itinerary with various accommodation, restaurant and tour reservations, an all-inclusive cruise might not be the best option for you.

Many large, mainstream cruise lines pack people on their ships, so you could be sharing a cabin wall with a rambunctious family on one side and some newlyweds on the other. You'll also be rubbing shoulders with more folks on deck and at the various dining and entertainment venues. If you're a social butterfly, chatting with strangers on a megaship is probably your idea of fun. However, if you're an introvert or just looking for some peace and quiet on the high seas, that crush of humanity on a cruise might feel a bit claustrophobic. A smaller cruise with a more intimate atmosphere, such as Silversea or Crystal Cruises for instance, might be more your speed, so you socialize when you want and slip away to a quiet corner when you need to.

Cruise ships have really upped the ante when it comes to onboard cuisine, luring noted chefs like Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa and Todd English to create their menus. But even with the improvements in quality, food options can be limited, especially if you adhere to a strict diet. Check to see that your ship offers at least a few dining options that will appeal to your taste buds since you probably won't want to nosh on burgers for five straight days — even if they are made using celebrity chef Guy Fieri's special recipe. You can maintain a special diet (for instance, gluten-free or vegetarian), but it might require some pre-planning with your cruise ship's staff. You also won't find local food (except at port), so stringent locavores might want to consider a vacation that offers more dining flexibility. 

Cruise ships stop in ports of call around the world, making it easy to see a variety of destinations in one stress-free vacation. But here's the catch: Typically, you'll only have a short amount of time at each port. Another hitch: You'll have to adhere to the cruise ship's schedule and be back on board at specific times during days in port. So, if you like to immerse yourself in a new culture at your own pace — for instance, wander a city's streets or meet locals — a cruise may not be the best way to experience the local flavor. However, cruise lines like Princess and Silversea also offer itineraries that give travelers the option to combine their cruise with multi-day land excursions, so vacationers get the best of both worlds.

In recent years, the cruising industry has endured some bad publicity. From the Costa Concordia incident in 2012 to the stomach flu outbreak on the Crown Princess in 2014, it's easy to see why some travelers may be hesitant to climb aboard. There's no doubt that these were terrible events, but even still, you should leave your worries on dry land. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, cruise ships departing from U.S. ports only saw four norovirus outbreaks in 2013. The outbreaks affected 834 passengers, which may sound like a lot, but when you look at the total number of travelers departing from U.S. ports in 2013 (10.1 million), the percentage affected is 0.008. If you're still concerned, understand how the cruise line and its passengers prevent illnesses on board. Still, if the idea of a cruise leaves you feeling trapped or anxious rather than relaxed, a vacation on the high seas might not be for you. 

The Caribbean is one of the most popular cruising regions, but this collection of islands can also endure some bad weather — particularly during hurricane season, which typically runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. Avoid bad weather (and the risk of a reroute or date change) by booking your Caribbean cruise between December and May. If you want to chance it by cruising to the Caribbean during hurricane season (there are significant savings during this time of year), you should invest in reliable travel insurance coverage in case your itinerary changes due to bad storms.  

If you're prone to severe motion sickness, you've probably already sworn off a cruise vacation. But that decision may be a bit premature. With a little extra planning, you can still enjoy a cruise, even if you're susceptible to the requisite dizziness, fatigue and nausea. First, opt for a bigger ship rather than a smaller one. With a big ship, you likely won't be able to feel the boat's movements as much as you would with a smaller vessel. You should also avoid itineraries that involve consecutive days at sea, such as Alaska's Inside Passage. Instead, choose a cruise that frequently stops in port. If you do begin to feel queasy on board, you can mitigate the sickness by packing motion sickness wristbands, medications, such as Bonine or Dramamine, or natural remedies like ginger tablets. If you forget the meds, guest services will likely provide some for free. Also, be sure to select a stateroom at the center of the ship on a lower deck — the best location for those prone to seasickness. And remember: Most people who suffer from motion sickness tend to find their sea legs after a day or two. 

Visit our Best Cruises section to read more about our 2015 rankings, including the Best Luxury Cruise Lines, the Best Cruise Lines for the Money, the Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean, the Best Cruise Lines for Families and the Best Cruise Lines for Romance. Once you’ve picked the cruise line that best suits your needs, explore the offerings available on each ship.

About the author: Emily H. Bratcher is a freelance writer living in Iowa City, Iowa. She has also written for the Washingtonian and Outside Online, among other publications.

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