There are many ways of getting on a cruise ship!
If you thought you would always have to go to a travel agent and pay crazy prices for a luxury cruise, then you are mistaken. There are many ways to get on that ship!
My name is Tim Riley, I have been at sea since the age of 18 and have sailed as a captain on some of the largest Luxury Cruise liners in the world. I have worked for Holland America line, now part of Carnival corporation and also prior to that worked for P&O cruises as a First Officer.
I have cruised to almost every one of the favourite cruise destinations chosen by the travellers of the world and I have seen some pretty awesome sights too whilst accompanying them there.
My wife and children have regularly accompanied me to some fantastic destinations like Alaska, Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Africa, South America, South Pacific, Australia and most of the far East. I have completed world cruises and returned a wiser Man!
What’s in it for You?
Cruise ships are places for people to lay back and relax and let someone else do the driving, to visit multiple destinations in a short period of time and take in a snapshot of a culture or city. You don’t spend enough time there to find out the really nice places the locals go to relax, or the ghettos that are carefully driven round so You the cruise visitor doesn’t see them.
When you sail as ‘crew’ you can get the opportunity to see more of these ports and see them regularly too. If you fancy signing on as crew and being paid a reasonable wage for long hours and a Lot of fun, then sign up now, there are many lines to choose from, but I’m sure there are many amongst you who are a little past the waiting on table team and would prefer to part of the ‘being waited on’ team!
The Lowdown on Cruise Ship Vacations
Cruise ship vacations generally cost the shipping company around $100 per head for a week to keep you on board, their victualling rate is around $7 per person per day!! That includes the all day buffet, breakfast from 0600 to 1130, long lunches in the sunshine and a great sit down meal in the evening, followed by the late night buffet and/or the chocolate extravaganza! (all for $7 a head) It’s amazing what bulk buying does to the price of food.
Wages are pretty low, the average cruise ship Captain earns somewhere around $130k a year plus around 10-20% bonus if his vessel is successful through the year. The guys and gals down on the lower decks don’t fair so well and only the top 5 staff onboard get bonuses. The lower wages can be as low as $500/m!
Many of the crew have their wages boosted by tips, especially on American managed cruise lines. It has now become even worse for the crew as the tips are now pooled! So, the crew working in areas away from the passengers, galley staff, laundry etc. now get tips, but the people you see face to face, wine waiters, bus boys, cabin stewards/stewardesses all take a hit on their tips, which they are working for. The company also takes some of these tips and places it into various schemes for the crew fund, instead of giving it all to the crew. This acts like a kind of ‘smoothing’ in the accounts, so when the company is not making so much, sailing part full, the pay and tips are boosted from previous tips! Not really fair! as the personnel that were onboard when the money was given, have left and gone on leave! There were some legal arguments made against these tactics and I am not at this time sure how they were resolved!
Where in the World?
Cruise ships travel to destinations, ports in various parts of the world where it is financially viable! If the port charges are high, they will go elsewhere or ferry you in by tender (cruise companies make a lot of their profits through the tour companies!). As cruise ships get larger, they will be able to go only to the larger, more commercial ports and not to the smaller, quaint little tourist traps of old. Ports see this as a loss and are rapidly trying to respond to the demand for larger berths, the Caribbean being a prime example, where piers are extended regularly to accommodate longer and bigger vessels. The larger ships bring more passengers, more passengers bring bigger problems for the ports and less intimacy for the passengers. With some of these ships bigger than my home town and carrying in excess of 5,000 people onboard, why would you want to take a vacation on a luxury cruise with 5,000 people? It can’t possibly be luxury, you certainly won’t get personal service, apart from your cabin steward and it is very likely that you will be in queues for hours every day, getting into dinner, onto buses, onto tenders, into the shop ashore and in fact almost everywhere you go.
Take Skagway in Alaska, a little town of some 800 people living there during the winter, whose population swells to around 2,000 in the summer for the cruise ship season, and then the cruise lines DUMP around 12,000 passengers plus around another 3,000 crew a day into a village some 1000 yds long and 700 yds wide.
I have never counted the number of horses in the town, but if I were to guess, it is probably the closest thing to a one horse town most people that have visited will ever see. (I still love the place though, even if it is being ruined!) The mountains and scenery behind are a dream come true for hill walkers and adventurists, take a hike!
My Advice to You
Take a cruise, Yes, I did say take a cruise, If you like the sun, go for it, head to the sun; If you like Ice and Snow, go to Alaska, Norway or even further up to Greenland, it’s more spectacular.
Here’s the BUT….. find the smallest cruise ship you can. Find one that doesn’t go to all the same places as the big cruise lines. If you have teenage kids, and aren’t too bothered about keeping them on a leash, then Carnival is fine. Something more sedate, with some great fun opportunities, Royal Caribbean or P&O, need to sleep a bit more? Then Holland America Line will suit. Celebrity and Norwegian Cruise lines fit in the middle as well, so there is choice and Cunard is in the middle to top end as well.
But be warned, if you want something special, go smaller rather than large. Find a ship under 2,000 passengers and that’s a start. Less than a thousand and you’re doing great. 500 – 600 and you’re onto the cruise of a lifetime. Smaller still and try out the really beautiful ships in the south pacific, medi and caribbean under the windstar banner. They even have sails and if the wind is right, you can have that moonlit walk on the teak decks under the stars without 2,000 other passenger pushing and shoving to get the same view and NO Engine or soot to spoil the tranquility. (Dolphins and whales love swimming with sailboats! and don’t get hurt by propellers!)
Smaller ships cause less local damage, visit smaller, more private, more intimate ports in more remote spots from the main civilisation centers. Less bus time and more You time.
Travel the world and see it for yourself. It is still a beautiful place, you just need to find your place in it.