Sometimes the best cruise destination is “thataway.” (Photo: Getty Images)
A luxurious weekend getaway was exactly what Tammy Merrill was looking for one February. She had it all planned out: a visit to the spa, decadent meals with killer views, a trip to the theater, and maybe a couple of rounds at the casino. But this wasn’t a vacation to Monte Carlo or Las Vegas; it was actually a trip to nowhere.
In recent years, cruise lines have added quick getaways to their expanding roster, called “cruises to nowhere.” By definition, a cruise to nowhere is just that — a cruise that calls on no ports at all, and returns to its port of embarkation after one, two, and sometimes three nights. “It’s always so hard to find long periods of time to take off from work,” says Tammy, a three-time weekend cruise veteran. “These shorter cruises are the perfect way to take a couple of days to both decompress and try out some new activities, like a show, without much planning.”
Though shorter than your typical cruise, each of these ships promises that you will reap all the benefits of a 5-, 7-, or 10-day cruise in just 48 hours. “The destination isn’t part of the allure,” says Maryanna Estomba-Rousseau, editor in chief of Onboard.com. “The ship is the destination!”
A NCL cruise to nowhere as it leaves New York Harbor (Photo: Bamberry/Flickr)
Not to mention, it’s a great way for first-time cruisers to get a taste of life on the ship without committing to a long trip. According to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), noncruisers who express interest in a future cruise select three- to five-day cruises (40 percent) at more than twice the rate of past cruisers (16 percent).
“Price point and the lack of vacation time are a big factor in choosing a cruise to nowhere,” adds Maryanna. “Not to mention, a large percentage of the U.S. population has never cruised, and a cruise to nowhere is the perfect entry point for first-time cruisers.”
And if you’re looking for a weekend getaway without the hassle of planning, these short cruises are ideal. “We use the first day to relax and try out the spa and the gym,” says Tammy. “Then each night, someone comes around with a list of activities to choose from, and we’ll pick a show or a contest and schedule our dinners around that. It’s a great way to do a lot without so much preparation. It’s all done for you!”
Without those pesky ports-of-call sapping your time and energy, you can catch a show every night. (Photo: Scott Smith/Flickr)
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), its member lines, and travel agents reported that — aside from quick trips for couples or families over a weekend — growth in multigenerational and celebration travel, as well as social/affinity groups, were some of the top cruise trends in 2014. “They’re tailor-made for multifamily functions (such as weddings, anniversary celebrations, just getting together time),” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of Cruise Critic. “They’re short enough that they’re not expensive getaways.”
There’s also been a rise in the appeal of short cruises for bridal showers and bachelor trips, according to Norwegian Cruise Line, because of their value. “Our 1-2 night ‘cruises to nowhere’ are in fact very popular and frequently sell out,” says a rep for Norwegian Cruise Line. Bonus: No one has to worry about driving home.
In fact, many people see these quick jaunts as three vacations in one. If you want a taste of Vegas without the sensory overload, the onboard casino is the perfect taste of Sin City. Tired of standing in line at the same local clubs and bars? The ships’ nightclubs offer that new “hot spot” feel without the pretentious doormen. If a more relaxing vacation is more your speed, then the variety of decadent dining options and spa services will leave you feeling like you just left a weeklong beach retreat.
A cruise to nowhere is the perfect way to savor the pleasures of doing nothing. (Photo: Thinkstock)
In addition to the casino and shops, these cruises often offer shows and other activities (like cooking demonstrations and dance classes) that’ll make you feel as if you were on a longer trip — and leave you wanting to come back for more. My husband hates being stuck onboard for long periods of time,” says Tammy. “So we love all of the options available in a short period of time. If we went out for a weekend on our own, we’d never plan all of the things the cruise ship recommends [for] us to try.”
But make sure to book in advance. “In this case, a cruise to nowhere can be a bit more frenetic than a seven-night or longer voyage,” adds Carolyn. “If the line offers pre-embarkation reservation services, definitely book your preferred features once you book the cruise. Don’t wait until you get onboard.”
Though you may think this is the ultimate spontaneous adventure, due to safety restrictions you can’t show up on the day of departure, hoping to get a room. Like a typical cruise, you’ll have to prove your identification and citizenship to board, and you’ll still have to go through the same security checks and drills as if you were cruising to another country. You’ll also need to book the trip in advance on a travel website or directly with the cruise line to ensure a spot. It’s then that you choose from a variety of cabins (the interior rooms are the cheapest and the ones with balconies or suites are pricier).
Related: Surviving the Cruise Ship Buffet
“I’ve found the times to get the best prices are booking very early on, or last minute,” says Tammy. “That’s when I tend to find the best deals.” Initially, the prices might seem a bit steep, starting at around $100 per person per night. But it’s important to remember that the fee includes not only accommodations, but also all of your food and activities. You could easily spend that much on a couple of theater tickets and a nice dinner in one night.
“…and straight on `til morning.” (Photo: Getty Images)
Numerous cruise lines offer these quickie packages sprinkled throughout the year. These cruise lines tend to favor certain ports of embarkation like New York, Miami, and Tampa, but more and more are popping up all over the world. A quick search on Expedia.com will yield a list of options for you to scope out to see if there is a port close by offering a cruise to nowhere. Or look up each cruise line individually to see if they offer these quick trips as well.
Norwegian Cruise Line: 2-night cruise from New Orleans leaving Nov. 21, 2014, and Nov. 13, 2015. Leaving from New York Nov. 7, 2014, and Jan. 16, 30, Feb. 13, and Dec. 11 of 2015. Leaving from Southampton Oct. 27, 2015. Prices start at $74 a night.
Royal Caribbean: 2- and 3-night cruises from Cape Liberty leaving Nov. 18 and 21, 2014. Prices start at $246 a night.
MSC Cruises: 2-night cruise from Cape Town leaving Nov. 1, 2014, and Jan. 24, 2015. Prices start at $130 a night.