5 Cruising Tips for Backpackers

Cruise — By on November 3, 2011 at 9:56 am
Cruise Ship DockedBy Gina Douglas
Special to Lost Girls

“I hate you!” exclaimed my new friend, a just-married bubbly and outgoing bride from New England, as I sat back down next to her after a quick bathroom break.

We were in the cruise ship Celebrity Equinox’s game room and the “Newlywed Game” was about to start. I looked at her uncertainly and let out a laugh. “What do you mean?” I asked, confused. “What did I do?”

“He –” she said and pointed accusingly at my amused-looking boyfriend. “Just told me you went to Paradise Beach while we were in Mykonos today. I wanted to go there so bad!”

Why on earth didn’t you go there then? I thought.

And thus began my realization that not everyone realizes cruising can still be independent travel.

Turns out my new friend and her newlywed husband were the type that felt you had to book all days in port through the cruise via shore excursions to ensure an easy and stress-free day in port.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Despite the amazing deals that are out there for cruises and that cruising is a way to see normally expensive places on a budget, as well as being able to see several cities when you’re short on vacation time, the thought of being “stuck” is one reason many people are hesitant to go on a cruise for the first time. Thoughts of being stranded on a boat, only to get off it and walk around a city in a group with dozens of other tourists terrify many travelers. And I don’t blame them. My first time on a cruise was a couple years ago and as someone who’d spent every vacation prior to that with a big green backpack strapped to my back, I was worried I’d regret the decision to finally give cruising a try. After meeting new people and hearing about the different ways people on the cruise were handling their vacation, I came to the conclusion that it is entirely possible to keep your backpacker mentality on a cruise ship. You just have to take the unconventional route when it comes to cruising and keep a few things in mind:

Don’t take shore excursions.

Do your own research beforehand and plan out a day in the port. There are plenty of transportation options in most cruise ports to get wherever you want to go.

Pick “your” spot on the cruise ship

Whether this is the least populated bar in the back of the ship, the quiet library, or the martini bar smack dab in the middle of the ship; having a place you continually frequent during the cruise will help give a sense of “place” to the ship.

Partake in the nightly entertainment

The aforementioned “Newlywed Game” was surprisingly hilarious. By filling your nights with the ship’s entertainment, before you know it you’ll be in the next port.

Make new friends.

Treat the ship like your own huge hostel (minus the shared dorm rooms, cold water, and lack of soap) and introduce yourself to other 20 and 30-something-year-olds on the ship. You may even find some new travel buddies for the days in port – or for exploring the ship at night.

Watch for destination-specific menus and entertainment.

Some cruise lines will have region-specific nights in their buffet restaurant, perfect for sampling more of the cuisine before or after being in a port. In addition, lectures from destination experts may be available to learn about a port before arriving. Local entertainment is also sometimes brought in on the ship; during one night of my cruise while docked in Kusadasi, Turkey, the top belly dancer of the region was brought onboard for a show and was one of the highlights from my entire trip.

Above all else, remember that just because you’re on a cruise ship doesn’t mean you have to lose your sense of adventure. I found Paradise Beach in Mykonos by becoming annoyed with the tourist crowds and shops in Mykonos Town. My boyfriend and I began walking up a hill out of town, simply to get away from it and eventually came to a scooter and 4-wheeler rental shop. For 12 Euros and a recommendation of the best beach to visit we were off across the island and frolicking in the gorgeous waters of Paradise Beach for the remainder of our day in Mykonos. A last minute change of plans like that is something I love about backpacking and that can happen just as easily in port during a cruise as long as you keep one thing in mind – get back to the cruise ship on time!


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