I have never been on a cruise, nor felt the hankering to go on one. I have dear friends who just live for their cruises, and have been all over the world, so it appeals to some.
Years ago, I had always thought of them as a luxury reserved for old people, spending their retirement money before the kids could get hold of it. (Forgive me for saying it, but it could be true!)
In early cruising days, it was a much more gentrified affair, and was much more luxurious - posh frocks in the evening, getting the diamonds out, with the men in classy dress suits, all vying for dinner at the Captains’ Table – a privilege that wasn’t available for everyone, often reserved for loyal customers of the cruise line and those who were in the more expensive suites.
But these days it’s all changed, with cruises popular now with all age groups, and are cheaper and more relaxed with a dress code of smart casual, even on Captain’s Dinner nights. Cruises aren’t confined to the high seas either – you can take a trip on a luxurious vessel that looks like a long barge that cruises down rivers, or cruises with themes, or you can pick a small ship with a suite that has its own personal butler just for you, or a large one that caters for everybody’s whim.
One of the significant benefits of a cruise is that much of the work is done for you, including the itinerary, dining and entertainment. That convenience can come with a big price tag, so it’s normal to wonder, are cruises worth it? On the plus side, at least you only pack and unpack once, and you wake up each day to a new place to explore! Cruises aren’t for everybody, especially those who value flexibility during their vacations, but they can present good value for those that hate the planning bit of a vacation.
What’s included on a cruise
One of the best parts about a cruise is that it's all-inclusive, at least to a certain degree. This will depend on your cruise line and any packages that you have, but in general, all meals are included - including fast food, sit-down restaurants and some room service. High-standard shows are usually included if you want them, together with access to pools and towels. Add in water, coffee, tea, housekeeping, and port taxes.
What’s not included on a cruise
If you’re interested in more, these items typically incur additional costs: alcohol is probably an extra, with your favourite cocktail probably costing a bit more than you are used to, and if there are specialty restaurants, eating there will be extra, as will spa treatments - same as any luxury hotel – and obviously gift shop purchases. Laundry of personal items will be an extra too.
Excursions may or may not be included, and should be checked, and some onboard events - such as wine tastings and cookery classes - may not be included.
Tips or No Tips?
Paying gratuities and tipping the staff is not compulsory anymore, and could be a personal gesture of goodwill to reflect your gratitude and a ‘thank you’ to any special crew members who have looked after you - serving your drinks, cleaning your room and keeping everything shipshape.
Many of the Ultra Luxury and Luxury brands have a no-tipping policy because your cruise cost will include all tips. However, there may be some extras required for things like the spa, and you also may want to tip specific crew members who have provided you with exceptional service throughout your cruise. Generally, gratuities these days are included and most cruise operators will make a range of on-board credit available to you.
So, are cruise ships worth it? They can be, but it’s a personal decision. Before you book a cruise, compare the price of your vacation against similar options — including accommodations, transportation and meals — to decide whether it's really worth it for you.
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.