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Cruise Columnist
Cruise Itineraries

Days at Sea versus Days in Port

by Douglas Terhune

When referring to the possibility of taking a cruise, the excuse that I commonly hear that drives me absolutely bonkers, is:

"I will be bored on the ship."

I can understand why though - I think. Most people's experience on large floating vessels are either ferries, fishing trawlers, gambling junkets, or Grandpa's Pontoon boat.

To see and behold a ship is like almost no other thrill that I know. From the moment one walks on a ship, you almost enter a type of trance. There is something magical/mystical about floating on top of a large body of water. There is an instant connection to the environment - which means we are either all related to the Vikings of old, or fish.

After you have decided to fulfill your insatiable curiosity and partake in a cruise vacation, one must look at the cruise line's surreal brochures and choose an itinerary. First though, you must choose, or narrow down, the length of the cruise you wish to take:

Short...............................Weekend, 3 - 5 days
Medium...........................Week, 7 days
Long................................10 - 20 days
Preposterous....................21+ days

OK, got your length pegged down? Good. Next step is to look at the regions of the world that accommodate cruise ships. Really it is anywhere that there is water, but for the sake of this pseudo journalist, let's just put down the obvious:

  • Eastern Caribbean
  • Western Caribbean
  • Southern Caribbean
  • Alaska
  • Bermuda
  • New England/Canada
  • Hawaii
  • South Pacific
  • Scandinavia
  • Western Europe
  • Mediterranean
  • Baltic
  • Asia
  • Australia/New Zealand
  • Africa/Seychelles
  • India/Southeast Asia
Yes, yes, there are more that could be added to the list, but this is a sampling that serves the purpose. So, got your region picked out? Having length and region is a good thing - especially if you are to call a Travel Agent and ask for their advice on where to go. Without these two key ingredients, it would be like walking into a grocery store and asking the manager to help you find some food - but you're not sure what type of food.

Next major issue is cash. Do you have any? Are you mortgaging the house? Are you using your kids inheritance? Do you have a conscience? Here is my classification for cruises when it comes to the almighty dollar:

  • Cheap Cruise
  • Affordable
  • In Hoc For A Few Years
  • Preposterous
Well then, let's go on to the crux of this article and begin talking about what level of activeness (new word) you desire on your cruise. The first thing I am required by maritime law to do here is to give you an idea of what a day at sea is like. This might take a while, so get comfy in your chair and set up that intravenous espresso.

Here is a sample of a morning's itinerary on a cruise. Keep in mind that while I'm making this up as I go along, the info derived comes from 20 plus years of cruising.

TIME

5:45 am
6:00 am
6:00 am
6:15 am
6:30 am
7:00 am
7:00 am
7:30 am
8:45 am
10:00 am
10:30 am
10:30 am
10:30 am
11:00 am
1:00 am
11:00am
11:00 am
11:45 am
12:00 m

ACTIVITY

Sunrise Coffee Club
Coffee/Tea Served
Morning Walkers
Sunrise Stretching
PoolsOpen
Main Seating for Breakfast
Morning Buffet Opens
Aerobic Step Class
Late Seating for Breakfast
Volleyball Tournament
Ping Pong Tournament
Early Riser Bingo
Calypso Band Begins
Lunch Buffet Opens
Bridge Club
Casino Opens
Shops Open
Main Lunch Served
Wake Up

WHERE

Sunrise Deck - Port Side
Caffeine Deck - Aft
Sport Deck
Sunrise Deck - Starboard
Pool Deck/Verandah Deck
Gorging Decks
Sport Deck
OutaBreath Deck
Gorging Decks
Volleyball Deck
Ping Pong Deck
Bingo Deck
Main Pool/Pool Deck
Sports Deck
The Bridge Deck
Losers Deck
Shoe Deck
Gorging Decks
Wherever

Now, in case you want some activities in the afternoon on a ship, here's a sampling:

TIME

1:00 PM
2:00 PM
2:00 PM
2:00 PM
2:30 PM
3:30 PM
3:30 PM
3:45 PM
4:00 PM
4:00 PM
4:00 PM
4:15 PM
5:00 PM
5:00 PM
5:15 PM
5:15 PM

ACTIVITY

Late Seating Lunch
Mid Afternoon Bingo
Ice Carving Demo
Waterslide Opens
Horse Races
Art Auction
Skeet Shooting
BlackJack Tournament
Passenger Talent Show Rehearsal
Bingo Anonymous
Tea and Crumpets Served
Cooking Demonstration
Wine Tasting
Newlywed/Nearlydead Contest
Friends of Sharon Jackson
Bingo

WHERE

Gorging Decks
Bingo Deck
Freezer
Waterslide Deck
Main Pool/Pool Deck
Sucker Deck
Duck Deck/Aft
Losers' Deck
Jokers Lounge
Can't tell
Crumpet Deck
Big Kitchen
Travolta Disco
Main Pool
Piano Lounge
Bingo Deck


A list of daily activities is printed and slipped under your door or placed on your pillow by your Room Steward each night. It typically is 2 - 4 pages and will take one about 10 minutes to read. Many folks carry these with them at all times so as to remind themselves of all the daily activities.

Now keep in mind that I have not even begun to talk about the evening activities aboard a cruise ship. But to be fair here, this article is to point out the advantages and disadvantages of days at sea versus days at port - soooo, back to the business at hand.

If this sounds like too much to do in a day - it is! But no one has to do any of this if one doesn't want. You could order room service for breakfast, lounge at the pool, grab a cheeseburger at 1:34, lounge some more, take a dip, jump in the hot tub, have a cool refreshment, and call it a day. All this with perfect weather and a terrific tropical breeze that is created with the ships movement at 20 knots.

The key here is to at least recognize the number and variety of activities that the cruise lines have to entertain you. I am always amazed that cruises cater to everyone. No age group is ever left out - that is, if you are sailing with a good line.

Days at sea can also be the most relaxing days of your trip. If the biggest decision you face all day is which bathing suit to wear, you're doing darn good! Preparing for a cruise and the anticipation leading up to a cruise can wear you down - and an itinerary that is packed with ports of call may not be what the doctor ordered, but hey, let's give Ports of Call an equal chance to defend themselves.

If the days at sea just don't sound interesting enough for you, that is why God created islands. An island can be a great place to do numerous activities and a good cruise line will have an excellent choice of tours/excursions for you to choose from.

Shore Excursion Tips

For those who partake in a Shore Excursion offered by the ship, a day at a port of call usually begins with a brief meeting in one of the public lounges. The leader will give you an overview of your tour and then you will all head out the ship for your transportation.

Some tours are short in nature and will only use 3-4 hours of your day in port. It is important to note here that the average time in a port is about 7 hours. And one must also realize that there are two types of ports:

  • Ports where you dock on the island
  • Ports where you drop anchor and tender on to the island
"Tender" is a name for a boat that will take you from the ship to the island. Many larger ships carry their own tenders, but tenders take up your time in port. Often you will have to wait to get a tender if you are trying to be first off the ship or last back aboard. Shore Excursions are an exception, as they are given priority by the ship. A good travel agent should be able to tell you which ports of call require tenders as not all brochures mention this.

Many people just walk off the ship and explore the town on their own. The majority of ports that the ships select are safe, but one must use caution as they would anywhere. Besides shopping, you can rent a Jeep or car, arrange your own tour with the locals, hire a taxi for a day to tour the island, rent bikes or scooters, or just walk around.

It is always recommended though that you speak with the Shore Excursion Desk on your ship before departing, for suggestions and tips about any island. These people have a good idea what is worth your time and money, and what isn't.

Conclusion

If you like active vacations, a cruise can give you numerous options. Days at sea can be packed with activities ranging from aerobics to Wine Tasting, while a day in port can be as varied as a day on the links, to a beach-side BBQ. But the trick is choosing the right mix best suited for you. Some itineraries stop in a port everyday, some stop every other day and some may only have 3 port days in a week's cruise.

So, please do me a small favor and don't say that days at sea sound boring, because it is only a myth. A day on Grandpa's Pontoon boat . . . now that sounds a wee bit boring!!

Line

Doug TerhuneDoug Terhune is quite the experienced solo cruiser and is a regular columnist and reviewer for the SeaLetter. His Ship Tips columns are very popular with our readers.

Doug's special interest is interviewing various officers on his cruises, including interviews with the Tropicale's head chef, the Inspiration's Chief Engineer, and the Grandeur of the Sea's Captain. To find all of Doug's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, visit our SeaLetter COLUMNISTS Index.

Doug is always interested in your comments and suggestions and may be reached at: Doug@sealetter.com.


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