Cruise expectations vs reality

Imagine going to sleep in a lovely comfortable bed after enjoying a sumptuous meal and a full night’s entertainment and then you wake up in some place completely different to the one you went to bed in? Sounds like an introduction to a novel, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. 


2min read

Published 6 July 2023


Imagine going to sleep in a lovely comfortable bed after enjoying a sumptuous meal and a full night’s entertainment and then you wake up in some place completely different to the one you went to bed in? Sounds like an introduction to a novel, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. 

It’s what makes cruising so exciting and its biggest selling point. Our introduction to this window seat view is, in fact, one of the absolute realities of many modern ocean cruises and one of the best reasons for embarking on one!

So, what do you think cruising is all about? Are your perceptions indeed, true or can we give you a little glimpse into what is fact and what is not really accurate? Cruising inspires sailors at heart who return repeatedly and “nay-sailors” who typically have never cruised before.

These folks may think it’s expensive, crowded, rigid, confining and a complete yawn-fest. But that’s hardly the reality today.

I wanted freedom, open air and adventure. I found it on the sea.
Alain, Gerbault

Fact #1 - It is not all about sailing all over the place while you sleep

Without a doubt, there are many great ocean cruising areas to choose from. The Mediterranean Sea, especially the Greek Islands in the Aegean, comes immediately to mind.  Then there is the Caribbean where the tropical islands significantly differ from those in the Med’s Aegean area.

Cruises to the colder regions of the planet are also on the menu, with at least one sailing well into the Arctic Circle and others exploring the fjords of Scandinavia. There are cruise lines that offer round-the-world voyages, and closer to home are the very popular coastal cruises along the coast of Mozambique and some to Namibia and others to our islands on our doorstep in the Indian Ocean.

Not as well-known as ocean cruises, there are splendid cruises along the mighty European (Danube), American (Mississippi), African (Nile) and Asian (Yangzi) rivers. But, for your first-time cruise experience, we will be dropping the anchor on ocean cruises, specifically.               

Holidaying aboard an ocean-going cruise liner is a truly unique way of spending leisure time. It is akin to staying in a floating luxury hotel that travels from place to place. It is also a worry-free holiday because virtually everything is on board that you could want or need to make your holiday truly memorable. Of special uniqueness and worth mentioning is a cruise that sails into the Arctic Circle to give its passengers an unprecedented view of the Northern Lights! Undoubtedly the very best way to experience this natural phenomenon!


Fact #2: Cruising is not as expensive as you think

Yes, it’s a fact, rand for rand it’s hard to beat cruising for a value holiday. When you consider that all meals, entertainment, and accommodations are included in the base fare, a cruise is often cheaper than staying at a resort. Yes, you’ll pay for extras like drink packages, spa treatments, speciality restaurants, and excursions. But they’re usually on par with a land-based hotel or resort. What’s more, you can save big by booking in the off-season where fares often dip.

Most of the top cruise lines offer "all-inclusive" packages, which then in truth means your accommodation, food, onboard entertainment and certain activities are provided for in the fare. Our travel experts have a wealth of cruising experience, and we cannot emphasise it enough, you must be 100% sure of what you pay for and what the additional expenses may be. So, let us guide you to ensure you aren’t in for any hidden costs.


Fact # 3: Cruising is not just for seniors

According to research, the average cruiser age is 47 years old. While some lines do attract an older demographic — especially on longer itineraries — others are more popular with families, groups and younger singles and couples. Cruise lines are increasingly catering to both younger and more adventurous travellers, rapidly with more active activities, fun children’s programs, outdoor racetracks, VR and gaming, laser tag, waterparks, trendy spa treatments, and shore excursions that range from glacier hiking in Alaska to stand-up paddle boarding in the Caribbean.

Fact #4: Cruising is not boring

Forget bingo and shuffleboard. Some ships these days have so much to do that the vessels themselves become the destination. It’s hard to be bored when you can rock climb, ice skate, surf, skydive, zipline, bowl, swim, splash in water slides, work out in the gym, play video games, learn to cook, taste wines, and gamble in the casino. And that’s just during the day. In the evening, you can enjoy shows and music performances, dance in the disco, watch outdoor movies, attend lectures, sing karaoke, or chill at the piano bar.

All that is on top of fascinating ports of call around the world. Each day you can spend time in a new port — sightseeing, touring, exploring, shopping, people watching, beach combing, snorkelling, diving, hiking, museum-going, and much more. And on small ships vessels, you can slip into ports that larger ships can’t get to, unnoticed to share experiences with locals.

Yawn-fest? Never!

Fact #5: Ships stabilisers these days alleviate seasickness

Modern cruise ships feature stabilisers that are very effective at smoothing out the ride. Unless you’re in rough seas, and you’re prone to seasickness, the chance of turning green is unlikely. For peace of mind, if you do suffer from motion sickness, book a cabin in the middle of a deck, the ship’s natural balance point, where you’ll feel the least movement and come prepared with appropriate anti-nausea treatment, just in case.


Fact #6: Cruise ships are not that restrictive

Of course, you’ll be confined to the ship as it sails from port to port, but you’re unlikely to ever feel trapped. The ship usually sails at night while you’re busy having dinner, enjoying evening entertainment and sleeping. During the day, ships dock, allowing you to spend most of your time ashore. If you are someone who likes to be out and about, be sure to book an itinerary with few to no sea days so you have the freedom to go ashore each day.

Ships are floating resorts with some so large, they resemble small towns. It’s very hard to feel hemmed in on a 20-deck floating resort with plenty of open deck space and endless entertainment and activities. Plus, you can stay as digitally connected as you like with Internet access available most of the time.

Fact # 7: You don’t have to gain weight while cruising

The choice is yours. While cruise ships are famous for their 24/7 dining and all-you-can-eat buffets and that doesn’t mean you have to over-indulge. Cruise lines these days understand that passengers are increasingly health conscious. Their menus reflect that with plenty of low-cal, low-carb, vegetarian, and many healthy options.

Plus, there are many ways to work off your extra helping of pudding in the gym, yoga class, jogging track, or dance class not to mention just walking around the decks or using the stairs instead of the elevators. And, of course, you can choose from an array of active experiences in port, such as hiking, biking, ziplining, horseback riding, and scuba diving to burn off those extra calories.



To recap, let's look at what to expect when you step on board:


This is straightforward. The more you pay for the cruise, the more luxurious your cabin will be. The level of luxury you get is simply what you are prepared to pay for it. That said, cabins and suites are generally comfortable, and spacious and bathroom facilities are en-suite. Some upper deck suites even have sliding glass doors that access private balconies and bathtubs or jacuzzi baths.


Meals are included if you dine in the ship’s main dining rooms and buffets. The food is always delicious! However, certain ships’ dining rooms offer items that you are charged extra for (like a choice rump steak prepared to your specifications), but these are always highlighted on the menu. Should you choose to eat at alternative venues (e.g., onboard restaurants) you will indeed have to pay extra for your food. 



Onboard tap water is of a higher quality than the bottled variety so is 100% safe to drink. Regular coffee and tea and select juices are usually included in the buffet or in the main dining room at breakfast. Some cruise ships offer complimentary tea and coffee 24 hours a day. Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks are usually excluded but sparkling wine might be provided on embarkation or during special events such as the captain's cocktail party/dance.  Some cruise lines allow you to bring your own beverages on board but drinking them in public may entail a corkage fee. Take advantage of the ship's daily drink specials on offer and happy hour deals. Check with your Flight Centre cruise expert if it’s possible to purchase an all-you-can-drink beverage package.

Room Service

During the day, most cruise ships provide a limited room service menu while some have a 24-hour service available but are accompanied by a steep "convenience charge" and an "automatic gratuity" exceeding 15%. Furthermore, it is customary to give a tip for all room service deliveries! 


There are usually two separate types of entertainment on board, shows and participation events.  Main theatre shows are included in the price of your ticket. These performances include singers, dancers, magicians, ventriloquists, variety concerts, bands, orchestras and the like and are always top-notch.  Participation in events like quiz shows and karaoke likewise. There are however other events like game shows and dinner theatre shows that you'll have to pay to participate in or be in the audience.



Cruise ships provide a host of free activities.  From taking ballroom dance lessons to watching big screen movies, from the old shipboard favourite of shuffleboard to swimming pool games.  Too many to mention here.  Cruise ships’ activities are great fun for all, especially families.

Shore Excursions

The notion that you will be cooped up in your cruise ship 24/7 is erroneous; anyway, being “cooped up” is relative because modern cruise ships are anything but cramped for space. Excursions to wonderful land-based attractions are very much part of what makes cruising so special. Unless your fare specifically includes certain onshore excursions, you will have to pay for them. Going ashore is just as much a part of cruising as enjoying onboard entertainment is. A good tip is if you really do need to make use of the Internet, where you dock in the harbour usually has some infrastructure that provides Wi-Fi.

Spa and Fitness

Steam and sauna rooms are usually available free to guests. Spa treatments such as massages come at a cost.  Usually, the fitness centre is available to all passengers at no extra cost. But there are costs involved if you make use of a personal trainer for example.


Gambling and arcade games

Some ships have full-on casinos aboard; others may have only a bank of slot machines. Unsurprisingly, you must pay your own way when playing casino slots or tables. Bingo is also a popular pastime but, again, you may have to pay to play, some cruises also apply the same to their arcade games.


Duty-Free Shopping

Shops on board cruise ships stock a huge variety of duty-free goods. From electronics and photographic equipment to shoes and clothing, to fragrances and jewellery and just about everything else in between.  Pricing is usually in US dollars or GB Pounds so a wise shopper would do the necessary currency conversion before purchasing anything. 

Sun Decks

The use of the main swimming pool sun deck (which includes the use of deckchairs and hot tubs), water slides and splash play areas are freely available to everyone. Some ships have special adults-only sunbathing areas for which a fee is charged while others offer these free of charge.


Cruise ships cater extremely well for youngsters (3 to 17 years old) in their Kids' Clubs and membership in these clubs is free.  Babysitting is usually charged for.

Internet access fees

Most cruise lines do not offer free Wi-Fi and their on-board access fees can be exorbitant. Most cruise lines offer Wi-Fi packages that can be purchased in advance, and you'll save by doing that

Speak to our travel experts about purchasing drinks packages, speciality restaurants, spa treatments and internet packages before you sail, so that you save instead of purchasing these onboard.



Taxes, fees, and port charges

These are fees that countries, states, towns and ports charge ships and everyone on board that the cruise line will pass on to you. You cannot escape these fees so be sure you check the fine print of the cost of your cruise package so that you know exactly what these entail – you don’t want to be caught by surprise when you are invoiced!

Automatic gratuities

Some cruise lines call them "service fees", and others call them "gratuity charges" so be sure to check with your booking agent if the price of your ticket includes these fees/charges. They are most frequently charged on a per-person basis so can quickly add up to quite a hefty bill.  Having to pay up for these (and they can be very high!) can be a major shock to first-time cruisers!

Normal gratuities

It is traditional to leave a fairly generous gratuity in your cabin for the cabin crew when you depart the cruise. Waiters and waitresses are also tipped between 10% and 15%.


Most cruise lines choose the US Dollar as their currency (some, GB Pounds) so you'll have to take exchange rates into consideration when arranging for onboard spending. All ships have a currency counter, and you will usually have a card issued to you that you charge any extras to your bill and settle on checking out before disembarkation.

Remember that the modern, sophisticated vessels you will be sailing in are crammed full of state-of-the-art equipment and are therefore extremely safe, quite steady (because of submerged stabilisers) and manned by an expert crew. 

The chances of sinking are extremely low while crashing into icebergs is a thing of the past! If the weather makes the sea too rough, the liners head quickly for the nearest port or don't leave the port in the first place. Cruise lines are very safety conscious and do everything they can to ensure their passengers are well cared for.

Cruising is without doubt fun-filled, unique and an experience to last a lifetime. So, why not get in touch with one of our highly trained travel experts and see what cruises are available you'll be expertly guided in planning your cruise today!

Flight Centre

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