The right combination of sea and port days make for a much more enjoyable cruise ship vacation.
A lot of people, particularly those who are new to cruising, tend to place a higher value on a cruise that includes more ports of call. For example, they believe a 7-night cruise that visits six destinations is better than one with only four or five ports of call.
In my view, this philosophy sells the cruise experience short and can make for a less pleasant voyage. And it provides far less value to the paying passenger. Why?
First, most cruise ships are loaded with tons of great facilities like hot tubs, health spas, mini-golf, swimming pools, water slides, climbing walls, wave pools, retail shops, etc. that rival anything on land. In addition, there are organized activities from dawn until midnight that run the gamut from aerobic sessions, enrichment lectures, and dance classes to bingo, paddle tennis competitions and Wii tournaments. Enjoying these activities and facilities, which are part of the cruise vacation experience, often gets short-changed when a voyage offers no days at sea.
Second, a cruise that features too many destinations often has to arrive in port late or leave it early in order to rush to the next port of call. This can result in passengers having too little time in a port to see everything they want to, or to combine some shopping with sightseeing.
And third, getting up early everyday to go on a shore excursion can be very tiring. In fact, after just two or three consecutive days of touring, passengers can get so fatigued that they begin to regret having signed up for so many excursions. Or worse, they’re so tired they have to go to bed right after dinner and miss out on the evening’s fun and entertainment.
But as experienced cruisers know, a voyage that combines a healthy balance of ports and sea days provides a far better vacation experience. For one, it gives passengers an opportunity to explore and enjoy their ship – which is hopefully one of the reasons they took a cruise instead of a land trip. And two, it gives them time to plan for and enjoy their shore excursion without wondering where they are each day as in the movie “If it’s Tuesday this must be Belgium.”
So what’s the right combination of sea and port days?
It really depends what part of the world you are cruising in and how intense the shore excursions are. For example, Caribbean ports tend to focus on water, fauna and beach tours that last just a few hours. So it’s relatively easy to tour an island, do some shopping, and still have three or four hours of daylight to relax on the ship.
In that case, four or five ports during a 7-day cruise should be just about right.
However, a cruise in the Mediterranean, the Baltic or South America is altogether a different story. Ports can often be located quite a distance away from the nearest major city (e.g. Civitavecchia for Rome, Piraeus for Athens, Livorno for Florence, etc.), which can often mean shore excursions of 7+ hours. Even worse, tours to nearby landmarks like Iguazu Falls in Brazil, the Galapagos Islands near Ecuador, or Moscow from St. Petersburg often involve 10 to 12-hour trips that depart before dawn and don’t return until late at night.
In these cruising regions, it really helps to have at least one sea day in between every two ports of call. In fact, some people prefer to have two consecutive sea days during a longer voyage. And after a long airplane ride, most people love to have a day or two at sea before beginning any shore excursions.
The bottom line is that you want to have enough time to enjoy all the amenities your cruise ship has to offer, as well as to feel rested enough for each shore excursion on your itinerary. After all, you don’t want to return home from your cruise feeling you still need a vacation. Or even worse, that you can’t even remember what it was like to take a cruise!