Did you know that 20 million people go on cruises every year? I will admit this number was a surprise to me. Beyond some Old Hollywood-inspired fantasies and a childhood devotion to The Love Boat, it had never once occurred to me to consider going on a cruise.
The MSC Divina in all of her glory. (All photos from Glynnis MacNicol)
Until last month.
Shortly after Christmas, I was invited to spend a week aboard the MSC Divina. Ocean, sun, warmth. It seemed like a no-brainer. Of course, this winter on the East Coast has been so relentless that I probably would have accepted an invite to spend a week on the SS Minnow. Fortunately the Divina is a massive ship, with multiple amenities, and was scheduled to make a series of stops at some glorious-looking beaches. I was sold.
Cruising in recent years has gained a bit of a bad rap for a variety of reasons, but to be perfectly honest, none of this concerned me as much as getting away from the cold, and so I boarded the Divina with few worries and even fewer expectations. All I wanted was to get away from the ice and into the sun. Much to my surprise, when I disembarked a week later, I had unexpectedly become a convert to cruising.
Related: Confessions of a Cruise Ship Doctor
Whether you have cruised before or are thinking about doing so for the first time, here are my top five reasons you should (re)consider a cruise vacation:
1. It’s an enjoyable cure for digital burnout. This was perhaps the best discovery I made on my entire trip (other than a lovely café in Old San Juan). Because while we all say we’d like to get offline more — much the same way we all say we’d like to exercise more and eat less sugar — it’s the doing bit that is the tricky part. As I discovered shortly after boarding the Divina, Internet on the high seas comes at a premium. As in, $300 for 24 hours of online access. Did you just do a double-take? I certainly did. Then I panicked. But once I’d calmed down, I began to appreciate it. Here’s why: On a cruise you purchase Internet access in increments: one hour, three hours, eight hours. After you’ve done, so a clock appears with your allotted time, and once you hit start, the clock begins a countdown.
When you are finished, you hit stop. Believe me, when you have only 59 minutes online and those 59 minutes cost nearly $30, you discover very quickly how much of what you do online during a normal day is unnecessary. David Gelles, author of Mindful Work, calls this “mindful web browsing.” I call it realizing that when you put a price tag on emails, you immediately realize that a lot of things can wait. Because it’s so expensive, instead of feeling guilty about clicking off, you feel good about it.
2. It is a road trip on the water. One of the reasons I’d never considered a cruise is the same reason I’ve always avoided resorts: I like to be on the move and have the freedom to go where I want when I travel. In my mind, cruising mostly involved sitting still in a small, probably crowded space that I couldn’t leave when I wanted. Turns out it’s exactly the opposite.
The open sea air and constant motion of the ship lends the entire experience an air of possibility, and no matter how small your room may look, it is nearly impossible to feel crowded on the open ocean. Of course the problem with road trips, or any trip involving multiple stops, is that so much of your time is spent packing and unpacking. Not so on a cruise, where you unpack once and that’s that. On the days you port — we stopped at Saint Martin, San Juan, and Grand Turks — you just take what you need, see the sights, eat the food, lie on the beach, and return. Even better, every day while you’re out, your steward shows up and cleans your room, makes your bed, folds your clothes. All you need to do is put your order in at the bar once you’ve reboarded.
3. You have room to breathe. Speaking of feeling crowded, it’s hard to look at any of the large cruise ships and not envision yourself being packed on board like a sardine in a floating can, elbowing fellow travelers at the buffet or on the pool decks, navigating around noisy children, everything hot and crowded. On the Divina it was the exact opposite.
No matter where I went on the ship, it often felt half-empty, so much so that I asked someone if we were at full capacity (we were). It turns out this was not my imagination, nor was everyone hiding out in their rooms. It’s intentional. MSC’s cruise director, Andre Schlemmer, told me that one of his main responsibilities is to specifically schedule onboard events in order to create a “flow of passengers to optimize the room spaces on board so that we never overcrowd specific areas.” He noted that because of this, while the ship may be massive (and it is — there are 17 decks), it never “feels massive.”
4. What seasickness? One of the things a number of people mentioned when I told them I was going on a cruise was seasickness and stormy weather. As someone with a strong aversion to flying, I didn’t give this much thought; as far as I’m concerned, basically anything is better than traveling in a metal tube at 30,000 feet. The truth is, after the first few hours on the water, the motion of the ship begins to feel entirely natural and barely noticeable. Also worth noting: Unlike on an airplane, ship captains can see bad weather coming hours ahead of time and frequently divert the ship to avoid it. In fact, on our way back to port in Miami, this is exactly what happened. To skirt some large swells, MSC Capt. Pier Paolo Scala redirected us, giving everyone a calm, sunny day at sea. Of course if you do hit the large waves, there’s little to be concerned about beyond losing your lunch. Today’s cruise ships are built to withstand even the stormiest weather (I was often scoffed at by experienced cruisers on board — and there were many — for even asking about big waves).
5. Fabulous entertainment. Imagine going to Las Vegas, except instead of being in an enormous air-conditioned hotel where you rarely or never see the light of day, you’re on the open water.
Sun, fresh air, blackjack, and Michael Jackson. On the MSC, the onboard theater is two decks high, holds 1,600 people, and provides a 360-degree view. Large cruise ship entertainment (and gambling!) is a bit like a mini Las Vegas set afloat, with lots of flash and high production value but not the recycled air.
WATCH: How to Save Money on Your Next Cruise
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