Last week I told you what I didn’t like about my cruise experience with Costa Cruises, and how the experience convinced me that I will never, ever again book a cruise on a large ship. I stand by my opinion and still would pretty much rather cross the USA on a Greyhound bus than climb aboard another monster cruise ship. Well, maybe not. But only because I can’t sleep sitting up (the whole drooling in public phobia, remember?)
Anyhoo, while big ass ships may not be my cup of tea, that doesn’t mean an ocean cruise can’t be just right for YOU. I am an introvert at heart and way too aware of my “personal space,” whereas you might be more, well, normal.
But there are so many cruises available out there! How do you choose? Let’s break it down.
First, a cruise of any kind includes at least three basic elements for your money:
Accommodations: your cabin is your little hotel room on the high seas. Place to sleep and shower? Check. Go basic for the least money with an inside cabin (that means NO WINDOW, which would make me a little claustrophobic) or step up the fare to get increasingly larger, fancier rooms on higher levels and with private balconies. Up to you and your wallet.
Transportation: after you choose whichever ports you’d like to visit, and then get yourself to wherever your ship of choice is docked, the rest of the travel is part of the package. Wake up nearly every day with a new place to explore – and all without having to pack and unpack your bags and drag yourself onto yet another plane, train, bus or car to get to the next location. For me, that is THE best part about a cruise of any kind. I hate packing and I hate ironing clothes that look like you rolled them up and stuffed them in a corner of the suitcase, even though you spent five minutes smoothing and folding each damn shirt to try to avoid the whole dreaded ironing thing. I love unpacking and dealing with all of that just ONCE.
Meals: you can count on your ship to provide three square meals a day of varying interest and quality, depending on where you’re cruising (some of that stuff they served on my river cruise through Eastern Europe was just scary) and how much you’re paying for the cruise (I’ve never been on a top-of-the-line ship, like Crystal or Oceania – I’m just assuming their menus reflect the hefty price tag). Note that beverages (on the ships I can afford) are a separate expense. You can buy a package deal for the trip that will let you drink like a fish (or even just consume enough coffee and Coke to require a defibrillator), or you can pay by the beverage and charge them to your room as you go.
In addition to the basic three elements above, most large ships have casinos, pools, entertainment, a spa, shopping, etc. In short, plenty to keep you busy while you’re on board for lengthy periods of time (or you can hide from everyone in your cabin with a good book like I did – no one will force you to be sociable if you’re not in the mood). Some of it is free, and how much or little you blow on the slots, t-shirts that say, Mom and Dad Went on a Costa Cruise and All I Got Was This Crappy Shirt, or hot stone massages is up to you.
Another thing that every cruise has – and the cost for this can vary pretty dramatically – are shore excursions. On a river cruise, which tends to be fairly pricey, excursions/tours are included in the cost of your trip. There are often a couple optional ones for extra money, but I’ve enjoyed some free time exploring on my own when I didn’t want to spend more for an excursion I wasn’t absolutely dying to take part in.
I can’t speak for the fancy pants big cruise ships, but on a Costa Cruise, all excursions are optional and are offered at different price points. For instance, last week I mentioned I was disappointed that the excursion to a fishing village in Sicily was cancelled because not enough English-speaking people signed up for it. Using today’s exchange rate of $1.27 per one Euro, that excursion would cost about $56. The four-hour “Mysterious Palermo” tour (see below) we took instead cost $67. A walking tour from the dock into the downtown area was $24. That’s the kind of range you’d see for excursions throughout the trip, so planning an excursion in every port could add a big chunk of change to your final bill.
I’m guessing Costa’s excursion costs are on a par with fees charged by other cruise ships. The alternative is to do as Fran and I did, exploring some cities on our own, or you could look into other local tours that may be less pricey. Just Google local tours for any city and you’ll find some options. Consider a “Hop On Hop Off” bus if available. You’ll get a tour of the city and can “hop off” any place that seems interesting, then hop right back on a later bus when you’re ready to move on. Those are usually good value for not much money.
The local hop on/hop off tours are one thing, but if you’re considering booking a local tour that goes farther afield, be aware of one risk. If you participate in a “non-sanctioned” tour and that excursion doesn’t make it back on time for you to get to the ship before departure, you could be left behind. And, if you’re left behind you would be responsible for getting yourself to the next port – potentially a very expensive error. If an excursion planned by the ship itself is running late, the ship will wait for the group to get back before leaving.
So, why consider a Costa Cruise after all my complaining about it? Well, because the COSTA can’t be beat! Hahahahahahahahahahaha! (And thank you – I think – to my friend Dave Thompson who put that line in my head and I couldn’t resist sharing it with you.)
As I said last week, Costa is really kind of the Motel 6 of European cruise lines. So what you have to ask yourself is, do I want to pay a lot more for a fancier ship that is stopping at the very same ports as Costa, probably with almost identical itineraries?
Your Mediterranean cruise with Costa will cost you about $120 a day per person. That’s if you stay in the cheapest cabin and don’t book during their peak seasons. Think about it. That includes your room, your transportation, three meals and maybe even tips for the staff (which is mandatory, by the way). Not bad, right? I think I pay about three times that much for a river cruise, but those cruises do include the shore excursions (worth several hundred dollars, right there) and probably wine with dinner.
I mean, let’s face it. Given the choice, we’d all rather stay at the Ritz Carlton as opposed to the Comfort Inn. But if I have to hang out ANYWHERE with 3,000 people, I’m not sure hanging out with 3,000 RICH people would really make me any happier. There still could be drunken assholes hollering at each other down the hall at 3:00 am after partying all night. They’d just have more money and probably feel more entitled than the assholes on Costa.
And on that profound note, I will say adieu and wish you happy travels, however and wherever you may go. Ciao!