An Ex-Backpacker Trying out The Luxuries of a Modern Cruise

Santorini Caldera

Santorini Caldera By ehpien on Flickr Creative Commons

So the day had finally arrived, and I have to admit I was a little apprehensive. But after hearing the way my family spoke of cruises, I soon became more curious. It was, and remains to be, out of my comfort zone, though I remained upbeat and tried to keep an open mind. Here is the story of an ex-backpacker trying out the luxuries of a modern cruise.

Firstly, I would like to tell you why this is such a big change for me and I’ll try not to be too nostalgic. I first started backpacking when I was young, free and single. It took me to all corners of the globe and gave me a freedom that I’d never felt before. Not only because I was away from everything I’d known, but also because I never really knew where I’d be in the next few days.

As I got older my life changed and it was clear that these days were coming to an end. I had a career and family to think about and couldn’t just grab my things and go. Though the urge to do so has never gone, I am a backpacker and will always be so. Which is why a cruise seems to alien to me.

I was in good company on the cruise though, my family had booked it and a large group of us were celebrating my mother’s birthday. I wasn’t the youngest, but felt the most out of place amongst experienced cruisers. They had been on a number of cruise holidays before and they promised to look after me.

A Day In The Bahamas

A Day In The Bahamas Photo By Christian Lambert Flickr Creative Commons

As we boarded, found our rooms and unpacked, I have to admit that the style of the ship couldn’t be ignored. In my backpacking days I was used to grubby hostels and shared toilets. Though here everything was in place, organised and comfortable. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but it surpassed anything that came to mind.

Being a new cruiser can be awkward at times, though my wife was also in the same position. We walked around the ship unknowing of any etiquette and soon realised that there were things we should and shouldn’t do. Though these were things that most people should do anyway.

Firstly, we would need to follow the fashion rules. We always know to dress accordingly, but at certain times you’re expected to wear smart clothing. Which isn’t usually in my personality. It’s not that I prefer grubby, I just don’t often think about what to wear specifically and never dress to impress. Here though, we were expected to, and it was my first experience that I wasn’t keen on.

There were similar etiquettes to backpacking though, which should be used in everyday life. Much like entering a dark dorm room in the middle of the light, you shouldn’t turn on lights or make a lot of noise. Which is similar to the cruise ship. Noise in the early hours of the morning is a no no and unless it’s a specific younger audience, you may not make too many friends waking up the people in neighbouring rooms.

Another etiquette that I was warned about, albeit too late, was jogging in the morning. When backpacking, I always maintained a good exercise routine. In the mornings I jogged and I liked to see the different locations at different times of the day. Exercise on a cruise ship is slightly different. You may be waking up people below deck. Because even where the jogging is permitted, the chances are that people are sleeping below. Jogging is accepted on a cruise, even promoted by Royal Caribbean, but after noon or on a treadmill.

Royal Caribbean- Grandeur of the Seas

Royal Caribbean- Grandeur of the Seas Photo by Tom Mascardo Flickr Creative Commons

Despite the differences, after a day or two I was getting used to the cruise style. We were ready to visit our first destination of Le Havre and experience the delights of France. As I had never been, it was a great experience.

Le Havre has a lot of history, though due to the Second World War, a lot of it was bombed, destroying some of the buildings. The tourists attractions, including the cathedral, were important to see. But as a backpacker I felt restricted to a limited time in the city. I couldn’t wander like I used to and it felt as though there were parts of the city I had missed.

We were only on one of the Royal Caribbean mini cruises, lasting 4 days. But in that time we had travelled to Le Havre and Zeebrugge, while enjoying the comfort of luxurious cabins and fancy meals. And it’s these parts that I enjoyed.

As I’ve got older I have begun enjoying the comfort of a good bed and a nice meal. It makes a holiday more comfortable having these niceties. You never have to worry about looking after your belongings and safety is something that is standard on a cruise ship.

But my backpacking days haven’t completely gone. On a cruise I felt trapped and unable to truly be myself. The time limits on shore excursions stopped me from seeing the true heart of a city and the dress code made me feel like I was back at school.

I came onto the cruise ship with an open mind, and felt as though the experience helped my understanding. But while I found myself enjoying aspects of the cruise, I could get the same luxuries staying in a hotel. I know now that the cruise holiday isn’t for everyone, but at least I gave it a good go.


  1. Jennifer Dombrowski on December 12, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    I discovered that I am not a cruise person either this summer on a cruise to Greece. I felt like the days at sea were wasted time I could be exploring and time in port was just too short.

    • Matt Challis on December 20, 2012 at 5:25 am

      I totally agree, the days at sea do feel like wasted time. But some people like that. When on the ship, some people feel as though they can’t be anywhere else, so there’s nothing to go and do (apart from the ship activities). Though to me/us that seems crazy, but there are those of us that love it. Maybe there should be a post on a cruiser going backpacking haha.

  2. TravelnLass on December 13, 2012 at 7:54 am

    I hesitate to start in on the silly “traveler” vs. “tourist” bickering. But – yep. In 30+ years of backpack travel (incl. 20 yrs. running small group trips to Belize and Costa Rica – back in the 80’s when few had even HEARD of Belize), I too, have only taken a SINGLE cruise. And that, only because I was “in the biz” and thought maybe there was actually something to this (no less than) BILLION DOLLAR travel niche.

    I even chose a week’s cruise to Belize – so as to see how it compared to exploring Belize’s islands and jungles overland as I did in my own trips. The cruise also made stops in Mexico and Honduras, so I thought it might have potential to possibly augment my trips as a tour operator.

    NOT. Well leastwise not for me/my style of “traveling”.

    Oh, I can see why so many favor cruising – for those so overworked they need total relaxation and want utter luxury in the short span they have free. And for older folk and/or those who simply aren’t physically able to take even a short hike, much less carry their own bag. Good for them I say, for at least getting out and taking a peek at this wondrously diverse world!

    But I must say, a half day’s. shore excursion alas, is a bit of an insult to Belize. And you can hardly say you’ve “seen” Belize on a mere 4 hr. snorkel excursion.

    In short, while “cruising” surely has its merits for many, I dare say it’s not really “traveling” in the sense of exploring a foreign land and experiencing a bit of its culture. Indeed, it almost seems a waste of fuel for these huge cruise ships (verily floating CITIES!) to be plying the Caribbean, etc. I mean, why not simply drop anchor a mile or two off Florida/San Diego/Marseille, etc. and bring in a few Bangkok dancers and snake charmers from Morocco to give the guests a foreign flavor?

  3. Jeremy Branham on December 13, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    I’ve done river cruises and evening cruises. However, cruises aren’t for me. I want to explore and see places. I actually wrote a post a while back about 3 vacations I’ll never take (I know – I might regret that one later) and cruises were one of those. I just don’t see the appeal.

    I don’t want short excursions in a port while spending most of my time on a floating city with people of my own culture doing things I could be doing at home. I know some people like cruises and it seems like a great way to just take a vacation and relax. I just don’t know if I will get to the point that I can do that.

  4. Suzzane Lobo on December 20, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Those cruise ships are amazing, their massive size and the height would be much attention drawing for the newbie cruise travelers!

  5. James Leo on January 3, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Nice informative post for all readers.

  6. Hardie Karges on January 4, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    I’ve had similar feelings, still awaiting my first cruise experience… or not!

  7. Jayme Blackmon on January 6, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    One thing that impressed me was the cleanliness of the Disney Cruises. We love the adult only areas to escape kid-mania from time to time.

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