I took my first Caribbean cruise and quickly learned that cruising is a lifestyle — and it's not for me
I took my first cruise on Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas, the largest ship of its kind.
My inaugural cruise showed me how the lifestyle is appealing for many, but not for me.
Cruising involves thrilling activities, planning ahead, managing crowds ... and constant motion.
I went on a Caribbean cruise for the first time in April 2022. By the time I disembarked the ship, I decided it's a unique type of vacation.
Cruise novice here! Before stepping onboard my first Caribbean cruise in April of last year, I had never even seen this type of ship in real life.
I embarked on a seven-night voyage on the largest cruise ship of its kind, Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas. I joined the cruise for a reporting trip with multiple stops in the Caribbean Sea that included Roatán, Honduras; Cozumel and Costa Maya in Mexico; and Royal Caribbean's private Bahamian island.
It felt surreal to be on such a large vessel in the middle of the ocean, and a week of sun and cool breezes was just what I needed after a winter at home in New York City.
For me, it was easy to see the appeal of cruising. But my experience left me thinking that this type of travel is not ultimately for me.
Many people love cruising, and I can see the appeal. In January 2020 — before the pandemic disrupted the cruise industry — Forbes reported that at that time, an average of 30 million people took a cruise each year, up from 17.8 million in 2009. In 2022, Royal Caribbean alone hosted 5.5 million guests, which was still below pre-pandemic numbers, according to Statista.
But after spending a week onboard the ship, I realized that cruising comes with pros and cons, and ultimately decided it's not my ideal type of vacation. Here's why.
The other passengers I met love cruising. I didn't find any other first-timers.
After talking to several fellow passengers, I quickly understood that cruising is a lifestyle. Most people I met were well-seasoned cruise travelers who choose this type of travel time and again.
They told me that they take cruises for every vacation, racking up hundreds of nights on cruise ships and earning points on their loyalty programs.
I shouldn't have been surprised. Cruising remains a popular vacation option, even after two years of the pandemic; my ship had more than 5,000 passengers and can hold up to 7,084 people, according to Royal Caribbean.
Despite searching, I didn't meet any other first-time cruisers on the ship.
Many cruisers say the motion of the ship rocks them to sleep, but I got seasick.
As someone who is prone to motion sickness, I should have predicted that I'd have a hard time cruising; I get nauseous from a rocking chair in a living room. During the days at sea it was especially challenging for me to eat and participate in activities.
An added challenge was the location of my room, something seasoned cruisers pay attention to while booking.
Since it was at the very front of deck eight, I felt constant motion in my room. According to some of my fellow passengers, the front of the ship is one of the worst places to be if you're often seasick. Higher decks in the middle of the ship feel calmer and more stable, they said.
Some nights were rockier than others. On the roughest nights, I heard and felt thunderous sensations beneath me every few minutes. Loud thumps and heavy vibrations in my room sounded like large pieces of furniture falling down. The first night this happened, I feared the worst — the Titanic comes to mind. By the end of the trip, I realized that this is a normal aspect of cruising: Waves hitting the bow of the ship produce the sounds.
But I don't think I could ever get used to this.
The port stops were often beautiful, but I didn't think we were docked long enough to get a true sense of each place.
Since it sometimes took days to get to each port, I thought we'd spend more time in each one.
I booked excursions for the ports, thinking I'd have time to explore the destination after the activity, as well.
I enjoyed the excursions I went on, especially hiking in Honduras and exploring ancient ruins in Mexico. But some of my excursions took the entire day, ending just in time to return and board the ship for departure.
I was also hoping to see the stops at night, but we always departed before sundown. The ship usually docked in the morning around 8 a.m., but left in the afternoon around 4 p.m.
I would describe being in these ports as getting a "taste" of the Caribbean, but certainly not a real adventure in each destination. The experience was helpful, though, as I realized I prefer to vacation in one place with more time to explore it.
Part of what you're paying for on a cruise is access to the all-inclusive activities onboard the ship, like water sports and mini golf.
Wonder of the Seas was packed with activities. Guests could play games in the arcade and ride waves on the surf simulator. There were sports like ping-pong, basketball, and rock climbing, as well as more surprising offerings like a carousel, laser tag, an escape room, and even ice skating.
The slides — including the tallest slide at sea, which drops 10 stories — appeared to be a big hit on the ship with cruisers.
The ship also had a wide variety of entertainment, including dancing, drumming, ice skating, and acrobatics. There were also live bands performing throughout the day and comedy shows at night.
I'm not much of a swimmer, athlete, or thrill-seeker. And I don't have kids, so I'll admit that most of the activities didn't appeal to me. I didn't get into the water slides or sports, which are the top attractions on the ship. I did have fun playing laser tag and mini golf, but overall, I thought the activities served a different audience.
I found myself seeking solitude in pockets like the adults-only area, but every day involved dealing with crowds.
When you go on the world's largest cruise ship, it's guaranteed to be crowded.
Passengers packed certain areas of the ship, like the outdoor decks and main buffet, throughout the day. Guests often filled the elevators to the point that I felt it was faster to take the stairs. And to my disappointment, I found myself continually losing the challenge of finding an open chair at the pool.
I was hoping for more relaxation, but so many people made me anxious. Add my dislike for crowds to that, and this aspect of cruising stressed me out during the entire trip.
While I did find some peace and quiet in the adults-only area in the mornings, I didn't find any other crowdless corner of the ship besides my stateroom.
Cruising solo proved to be more expensive and challenging than other solo vacations.
Speaking of staterooms, my ocean-view cabin was cozy but came with a catch as a solo traveler.
It was more expensive, so I recommend taking a vacation buddy.
Because most cruise-ship staterooms are meant to hold at least two people, booking a room by yourself often means paying higher prices that are equivalent to two people. This is known as the "single supplement," as it helps the cruise line make up for the lost revenue that would have come from a second person onboard, according to the LA Times.
According to Cruise Critic, some cruise ships have solo cabins priced for one passenger, but it's not common. For example, Royal Caribbean has some ships with single-occupancy staterooms, but my ship was not one of them.
The listed rates for my ship were per person, not per room like most hotels. When switching between one and two guests in my search, the cost per person doubled when I had just one person selected.
My total cost was $2,000 for an ocean-view stateroom. It would have cost about half the price per person if someone came with me.
I also think I would have enjoyed the cruise more with a travel companion.
Cruising on the world's largest ship alone was lonely at times.
I think my cruise would have been more fun if I brought a buddy with me. While there were many social activities and friendly cruisers who chatted with me, I longed to have a conversation with someone who knew me, and to share my travel experiences in new places with a loved one.
I usually enjoy solo trips, but being surrounded by so many families and groups of friends made me wish I could have been with mine, too.
When I'm traveling, I prefer the freedom to explore on my own and be spontaneous. But if I didn't plan my day on a cruise ship, I risked missing out on hard-to-get reservations.
A cruise will keep you busy; every day is full of things to do. In the mornings, I received a daily planner listing the day's timed events and activities.
I like to go with the flow on vacation, and that means not booking every hour of my day. But making spontaneous decisions proved challenging.
The specialty restaurants and all the shows on board required guests to make reservations through the Royal Caribbean app.
The circus-style acrobatic-water show in the AquaTheater, for example, was the most popular show — and the hardest reservation to get. I failed the first day, and ultimately didn't see the show until I scored a ticket two nights later.
Other passengers seemed to like the system, and it was clearly the expectation by the cruise line. I, however, found the constant planning to be stressful.
I left the ship with the ideal cruise-goer in mind: a person who likes planning vacation itineraries, doesn't mind crowds of fellow passengers, and will commit to the thrill of a water slide. It just wasn't me.
Apart from reporting, I spent my cruise laying in the sun, exploring ports during excursions, and occasionally participating in activities like laser tag and rock climbing.
After spending seven nights on the largest cruise ship in the world, I can see why it would appeal to a traveler who likes all sorts of entertainment in one place, with the occasional excursion to a new destination.
But for me, I don't think cruising is my preferred form of travel. I'd rather spend more time at each island than wander a ship. Next time I want to visit the Caribbean, I'll hop on a plane.
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