Cruising 101

Story and photos by Dave O. Dodge, Dec. 4, 2014.

Each year about the same time, when I decide to switch off the air conditioning for the season, I also get a hankering to get on a boat and head to parts unknown.

There is nothing quite like watching the world pass by from your private veranda, sailing past the Sydney Opera House or watching the twinkling lights on the hills around Acapulco Bay. Cruising offers magical, romantic and unforgettable experiences.

Traditionally, cruise season starts during autumn and peaks in the winter months. But boarding a ship has become a year-round activity and, even though we live in the desert, there are hundreds of ports of calls to start or end your seafaring voyage.

There are many cruise lines to choose from and many offer itineraries that cater to the same-sex clientele, but after more than 30 cruises around the world — only one of which had entirely gay clientele — my partner and I have never regretted a straight cruise yet. We’ve always managed to have a memorable trip that includes experiencing new destinations and making lasting friendships from all walks of life.

Regardless of the type of cruise you opt for, you’re in for a fabulous time: You get to dress up (or down) when you want, you get to eat and drink around the clock and, most importantly, you only unpack once.

What To Do?

Bay of Islands in New Zealand.

The beauty of a well-organized itinerary is that it keeps you on schedule to see and do as much as possible, and still have you feeling like you can party the night away. Which is critical because cruise lines have so many activities to choose from that scheduling them all will be a challenge.

For your inner athlete there are state-of-the-art gyms, volleyball tournaments, miniature golf and even rock climbing. For those that prefer a more leisurely experience, try the daily team trivia contest or attend a mixology class where crafting the perfect Mojito is a rite of passage. Activities vary by cruise line, but if you do your homework, you will not be bored on board.

There are certain things to consider when arranging a floating holiday, and deciding how much do you want to spend and what you really want to see are two important considerations.

Fjords in the Faroe Islands in the north Atlantic.

Just like with any indulgence, heeding your budget is crucial. And, depending on the time of year, there are bargains to be found in the cruise industry. I personally think $125 per person, per day is the right amount for a well-deserved vacation. However, taking a longer cruise can mean getting a better price.

If you do your homework you can book a “transition” or “repositioning” cruise (which is really just a one-way expedition that allows the ship to get from the final destination of one grand voyage to the departure point of the next), for a steal of a price. So, a 14-day, one-way cruise from São Paulo, Brazil, to Lisbon, Portugal, can be cheaper than an eight-day Caribbean excursion during high season — if you do your research.

My secret cruise recipe is a trip of more than 13 days on a one-way route. By leaving from one country and arriving at another (one-way travel) you might find yourself among more sea-savvy company.

Where To Go?

Pyramids in Giza, Egypt.

After itineraries, ports of call are the second thing I look at. For me, the more obscure the destination, the better. Cruise lines are always expanding on destination options to offer increasingly interesting and unique travel experiences.

Spending a week in the Faroe Islands in the north Atlantic might not be on your bucket list, but a day hike among the Fjords can be exhilarating. Or, for if you find yourself in Progresso, on the Yucatan, it won’t take more than a day on a deserted beach to have you wanting to move there. Don’t limit your destinations to the most popular, choose wisely and you may end up breaking bread along Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

Naturally, deciding what to pack will be dependent upon where you’re traveling to and what your itinerary involves. However, it’s important to note that every cruise line has relaxed its dress codes and you will no longer have to jam that ball gown or a tuxedo into a suit case … unless, of course, you want too.

Temple Bar in Dublin, Ireland.

Most itineraries have at least one formal night and descending the grand staircase dressed to the nines is, no doubt, a highlight. Other than that, bring clothes that you can wear multiple times in at least three combinations and accessorize, accessorize, accessorize! Remember, less is more on a ship and there is nothing worse than carrying clothes halfway around the world that you never even wear.

Some of my most enchanting vacation memories and lasting friendships have been made at sea. So keep your expectations realistic, your mind open and hit the high seas. 

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