As someone who enjoys traveling to non-cliché places and seeing what off-the-beaten-path adventures the world has to offer, the idea of a cruise doesn’t seem so appealing. In fact, to most hardened explorers, it is nearly the antithesis of what traveling is all about. In many ways, it’s true. It takes away the adventure of finding lodging, discovering unknown cuisine, drinking with people who don’t speak your language, crossing borders, and the overall sense of uncertainty that I look for when traveling somewhere new. It’s a pre-packaged, “let us take care things”, deal. Taking all of that into account, it seems pretty clear that cruising isn’t a great choice to see the places you want to see. Or is it?

For my latest trip, I was fairly strapped for time and funds. I noticed a promotion from a cruise line that caught my attention. For just $239 ($300 after fees), I could get a 5-day cruise down to the Bahamas, including all of our food for the trip. After looking at the itinerary and finding a port within driving distance, I decided to book the trip with a friend. In order to save money, we opted for an interior room without a window. We knew that we wouldn’t be spending much time in our guest-room other than sleeping, so it wasn’t much of an issue for us. After a quick drive to the coast, an evening on the town, and one night in a hotel, we were slightly hungover and ready to board.

Day  1 & 2: Departure and Sea Day

Cruise view - Seth Mason
















Our cruise left at 4pm, which meant we needed to be at the port around noon. After arriving and checking in our bags we were quickly able to get through immigration. By 1:30pm, we were sipping our first drinks on the deck and waiting for departure. What we noticed first on the ship was the quality of the staff. I’ll write more on the staff later in this article, but I’ll quickly say that they definitely made the boarding process fast and easy. In addition, the room and the overall condition of the boat was absolutely spotless, especially considering the last guests had left only five hours earlier. Before we departed, we explored all eleven decks of the ship, making sure to note the nearest lifeboats and bars. We walked across most of the upper decks and familiarized ourselves with the parts of the boat that offered some of the better views as well, just for future reference. As soon as it hit 4pm, we sat in on a quick safety meeting, lifted anchor, and headed out to sea.

That night offered us our first taste of what the ship was like when it really came to life. Our 8:15 dinner got us started off right with a good meal and great service to go along with it. The variety was impressive, and from what I tasted, everything was well prepared. After our meal, we decided to see the comedy show that the cruise director had been raving about. Regardless of the fact that we had a few drinks in us by the time we got there, the comedy was actually fantastic and was a show I’d definitely pay to see on land.

We later found ourselves meandering through the casino. While I am not a big gambler, I do know that the casino experience on a cruise ship is very different from that on land. Many of the people gambling on the ship aren’t experienced gamblers, so the atmosphere can be very welcoming. Often times, dealers would explain rules, provide some basic tips, and excitedly talk to anyone at the table willing to chat. On more than one occasion, when a table was empty, the dealer would have no problem sitting down and showing me how a game worked. I don’t think you’d find that very often in a typical casino.

Overall, I was impressed with the entertainment on the cruise, especially considering we were on a smaller ship. Granted, I haven’t cruised many times so I don’t have a point of comparison. Between the comedy shows, the lively atmosphere, and the decent food, however, I never found myself feeling restless during our first two days at sea.

Ok, on to the ports themselves…

Port 1: Freeport, The Bahamas

The first port we docked in was Freeport, on the Grand Bahama Island, one of the largest Bahamian islands. Cruise lines offer excursions for guests in nearly every port at which they dock. Most guests opt for these provided excursions, which can offer some interesting activities but can also carry a hefty price. Some of the more common excursions we noticed were all-inclusive drinks on a beach, shopping, tour buses, and snorkeling and scuba trips. Another popular option is to walk or taxi to nearby beaches to enjoy some drinks and pristine clear waters, which we saw a lot of guests doing as well.

















Here is where we diverge. Until this point, we had been settling into the comfortable and effortless boat life. But once we set foot in Freeport, we decided we would see everything the island had to offer, literally. We had about eight hours (8am – 5pm) to explore the island. We were able to track down a small jeep rental company we found online. We had called ahead to ask about rates and agreed to make a reservation. When we walked up, he had a beautiful jeep wrangler sitting in the drive with our names on it. We took the top off, plugged in our music, and headed east. The island is only 10 miles north to south and spans just under 100 miles east to west, so we knew that covering the entire island would definitely be feasible.

After just half a mile of driving, it became very evident that we were leaving our ship and port behind, as well as the cultural and monetary bubble by which we’d been surrounded. Roads thinned, traffic became non-existent, and even the architecture changed almost completely. Finally, I felt like I was stretching my legs. Our first goal was to take the jeep into its’ natural habitat. Having basically no itinerary meant we could take as many detours as needed, so a bit of off-roading didn’t put us behind at all. We visited the Lucayan National Park, which had some very interesting caves, and also gave us access to some beautiful beaches, which we had to ourselves. Apparently, one of the beaches we swam at was a major part of one of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies.

















After our park excursion, we continued east toward the coast. It was at this point we noticed that east of us the clouds looming overhead looked pretty gnarly. As we kept driving, the rain, lightning, and high winds made it very clear that we weren’t just in a small thunderstorm. As we drove through one of the many neighborhoods, on the slowly submerging Grand Bahama Highway, we noticed a small house that had a “restaurant” sign in the window. Outside were a dozen or so locals chatting over the lunch and heavy rains. We figured this would be as good a place as any to stop and grab some lunch. The lady who lived there was more than happy to cook us up some fried lobster and cole slaw, which was also the only thing on the menu. Talking with the locals on the patio, it was pretty evident that tourists don’t make it out this far often. When they discovered that we had just docked from one of the ships, they were even more impressed at how far out we had come. After our meal, we jumped in our extremely soaked jeep (no back windows), and got back on the highway.

As we trudged on, however, so did the storm. With the roads being sub-par in most areas, flooding was becoming an issue. In some areas, the road seemed to be non-existent. Luckily, the Jeep didn’t really care. We forged on. Then, all of the sudden, the road gave way to the ocean. We had hit the easternmost tip of the island where the road seemed to just continue into the water. By this time, our jeep was nearly a lifeboat.

We didn’t really have the time or weather for celebration. We had only three hours to get back to the ship or risk spending the rest of the vacation in our Jeep. The trip back was an adventure in and of itself. After forging the roads and highways of Freeport and soaking both the outside and inside of our jeep, we made it back to the port, where the weather remained sunny and beautiful. It hadn’t rained one drop on the western side of the island. We quickly refuelled the car, returned it to the shop, and boarded the ship just two minutes before the horns blew.

Port 2: Nassau, The Bahamas

















The second port was Nassau. We knew of the reputation of Nassau as being a very touristy location, much more than Freeport, even. After some searching online and recommendations from our casino dealers, we were able to find a few spots off of the beaten path and outside of the port area. Once we docked, we took a quick twenty-minute walk outside of the port to the Graycliff Hotel. This historical mansion dates back to the 18th century and was once a headquarters for the US Navy in the region. Today, it features a cigar factory and a chocolatiere, in addition to a world-class restaurant and hotel. We were able to do a self-guided cigar tour, where we met Miguel, from Cuba. He sat with us for nearly an hour and showed us how they made each cigar and just exactly which leaves are used to create the effect they want. He even described and compared each cigar they manufacture and which cigar, for a novice such as myself, was best to start with. After our cigar tour, we decided to explore a bit more of Nassau including the tourist trap that is the market, but decided quickly to return to the Graycliff and take advantage of one of the nicest pools you’ll likely ever see. It was here we decided to finish off our Bahamian experience, accompanied by drinks and cigars. I know, that’s not very consistent with our previous island experience, but if you had seen this pool…

Day 5: Day at Sea

After our second and last port day, we spent one last day on the open seas before arriving back in the U.S. Here I’ll talk a bit more about the ship itself and how the staff made it such an enjoyable experience. If you do find yourself on a cruise in the future, I cannot recommend enough getting to know the staff. All of our staff were from overseas, with many coming from Eastern Europe, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Australia. Each worker we encountered was thrilled to tell us about their home, why they were on the ship, and what they wanted to do after. By the time our cruise ended, we knew our housekeepers, waiters, bartenders, and casino dealers on a first name basis and even spent some of the day with the staff in Nassau. We definitely met some of the coolest and most adventurous people working on that boat. I mean, you need to be willing to dedicate 6 months of your life to living on a boat half way around the world, no?

The last sea day was spent lounging on the deck in the beautiful weather. If there is one thing that a cruise can provide that other travel experiences can’t offer, it’s the complete sense of escape. When you have reached that moment on the ship where you think, “The most productive thing for me to do at this point is to take a nap on the deck and read a book”, you have really disconnected from the landlocked world.

Day 6: Back on Land

We decided to get up fairly early (as recommended by our housekeeper) and try to beat the crowds off the boat. We got up at 7am, quickly got our things together, and got in line. Within an hour, we were off the boat, through customs, and walking out of the port. I must admit, as much as I enjoy the airport and the feeling of adventure that comes with flying (is that just me?), the ease of departure and arrival on our cruise was definitely a great experience.

So, you’ve heard about my cruise, but I really haven’t addressed the question I set out to answer.

While I know that cruising isn’t for everyone, I can say that it was definitely a good experience for me, and I am not at all your average cruise-goer by any means. While I didn’t have many of the thrills that I get when I normally get to travel (minus the day in Freeport), I do know that when I came off the boat I didn’t feel like I should have spent my time elsewhere.

If you know where you want to go, enjoy the process of planning your trip and getting into the culture, the cuisine, and the ambience of your destination, then a cruise may not quench your travel thirst in those ways. However, if you have reasonable access to a port, and you find yourself with a few days free days, a cruise could very well be a good option to consider. With some of the offers out there these days, even with a flight to the port it can be a very economical vacation.

If you do end up trying on your sea legs, here are some cruise tips that I can give based on my trip.

Cruise Travel Tips

Is Taking A Cruise Worth It

Opt for the interior room

It will save you cash that can be spent on drinks or in port. You probably won’t be in your room enough to warrant an upgrade anyway. Warning: It always stays pitch black when the lights are off, making it very easy to sleep through most of the trip.

Look into the cruise line’s alcohol policy (if that’s your thing)

Some cruise lines allow you to bring bottles of wine on board, some don’t. Also, many of the cruise lines will have an alcohol program that allows a flat rate to be paid for nearly unlimited drinks. We paid under $50 a day for unlimited drinks, which saved us a ton of money by the end of the trip.

Study up on your destinations

First, choose the destinations wisely if you have the luxury. If you want to try to experience a little bit of the culture and scenery of the destination, you’ll have to really dive in quickly. You’ll only get one day at each port, so get up early, get out, and don’t save anything for later. Doing the research beforehand will save you a lot of time and potential frustration once you dock.

Unless you are trying to scuba dive during your trip, I would recommend straying away from the excursions and planning something unique during your time at ports. Once you get out of the port area, you can experience a bit of what the country has to offer and end up getting some great stories out of your one day on land.

Get to know the cruise staff

Most of the people working aboard these ships, especially in the Caribbean, aren’t necessarily there for just the paycheck. Many of the crew are there to try something different and see different parts of the world. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to work on a ship for six months without a sense of adventure. Show interest in the staff and where they are from, and they will help to make your trip that much better. Chances are you will meet some great people while you are at it.

Let us know what you think: is taking a cruise worth it? Share your experiences and opinions in the comment section below.

Photos courtesy of Seth Mason; Flickr, Montel G.