Before cruising regulation laws changed in 2016, "cruises to nowhere" were a popular and profitable way for cruise lines to offer quickie two-day vacations that led to, well, nowhere. Essentially, these cruises let passengers enjoy everything onboard the ship without docking at a port of call. It was partially a marketing strategy for the cruise line and partially an easy getaway for cruise lovers. Today, some cruise passengers are still taking cruises to nowhere, but they're doing it legally. Passengers simply stay on the cruise ship when it docks. Whether this sounds like a genius workaround or a waste of money depends on who you ask. Take a look at the pros and cons of a cruise to nowhere.
1. Fewer crowds. While (almost) everyone else is lining up to exit the cruise ship at port, those who stay behind will find themselves with free reign to use the usually overflowing swimming pools, restaurants, fitness center, and bars.
2. Free meals. If you’re on a cruise ship that includes free dining (the vast majority do) then your meals onboard are already covered. Same goes for those who purchased drink packages. Staying onboard saves dollars on food and drinks.
3. Gambling. Many cruise ships have small (or huge) casinos onboard that are only open in international waters and must close at port. The popular exceptions to that rule are ports in Nassau or Bermuda, where it’s legal to stay onboard and gamble.
4. Lectures, shows, and classes. Most cruise ships cater to those who choose to stay onboard with a selection of activities. Norwegian offers a daytime itinerary that includes culinary demonstrations, live game shows, towel animal folding lessons, and dance demonstrations.
5. Mobility restrictions. Not all ports are easy to navigate, especially for senior or disabled passengers. For some, docking at a port and enjoying the view from the cruise ship is much safer than going ashore.
6. Time to relax. Lots of “cruise to nowhere” passengers simply enjoy having a whole stretch of days in front of them without a schedule. For them, sleeping in, ordering room service, and lounging by the pool is the whole point of a vacation. So why not do it on a cruise ship that’s essentially an all-inclusive resort?
1. Not all cruises. A “cruise to nowhere” can be pretty bleak if you’re on a very low cost cruise ship with few amenities or a smaller specialty cruise that’s designed to dock at smaller ports for maximum immersion in a place. For instance, Viking Star includes shore excursions in their base rates and docks in Barcelona and St. Tropez.
2. Not all cabins. Sure, if you splashed out on a spa suite with a private balcony and butler service, you might be tempted to spend more time soaking up every last minute in the lap of luxury. But for budget-conscious cruisers with Inside Cabins, you’re going to be looking for every excuse to get out of your windowless and cramped cabin and out in to the world.
3. You’re missing out. Proponents of “cruises to nowhere” sometimes argue that they take the same cruise every year and have seen everything they want to see at port. But that can’t possibly be true. For those who need some inspiration, check out our Port Guides.
4. Tourism dollars. Cruise ships are allowed to dock in specific destinations because they bring tourists and tourists’ dollars. It’s no secret that cruising (like all travel) has environmental and social impacts that can alter a destination. So it seems a little unfair to not get off the boat and spend some money on the local economy.
Overall, we think it’s a huge mistake to stay onboard a cruise ship (if you’re physically capable) for the entirety of your cruise. You’re missing out on experiencing new cultures and trying something different by remaining on the ship. But we also understand the siren call of free buffet lunches and no lines at the free-fall waterslides. As a compromise, we suggest spending at least the morning in port, and then returning to the ship for a late lunch and onboard activities. After all, if you’re just on the cruise ship for amenities, you may as well book an all-inclusive resort on land. We’ve got a few suggestions for you.
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