European Cruising: Costs, Cuisine, and Children

While we attend the TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) conference this week, guest blogger Nicole Beattie shares her witty take on two popular topics about which we know almost nothing: cruising and travelling with children. Enjoy!

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] M [/dropcap]y dream vacation has always been one that included everything but my children. Meals prepared, drinks served, room service breakfasts, and relaxing on my own time are pretty much the most luxurious things a mother of four can imagine. After a year that included my husband’s military deployment and then moving a family of six from Texas to Germany (and the resulting culture shock of living there), I needed a little bit of stress relief more than ever. If one has a limited amount of time in Europe, the few hours of port time allowed on a cruise followed by many hours eating, drinking, and staring at the beautiful blue sea is not a worthwhile way to spend it. Since I currently live in Europe, I have lots of time to waste in frivolous ways. Although a week at a resort was an option, I wanted an all-inclusive, no worries, ridiculously carefree vacation in which I pretended I was not being completely irresponsible with my time by occasionally hopping off the boat to take pictures next to famous things. Cruises are perfect for this. Anyone who gets antsy being in the same place for long periods of time, wants to see new things all day, and does not enjoy snoozing in the sun and getting leathery skin while foreign waiters bring drinks and Latin music blares (like my husband) might not get the most out of the experience. Still, even the people most resistant to fun can find something to love about a week visiting the ports of the sunny Mediterranean.

 

Dubrovnik from above

Dubrovnik, Croatia

 

Costs:

 

If there’s one thing I can say about cruising, it’s that someone who wants to travel in Europe can see a lot more of it for a lot less money by not going on a cruise. “7-day Mediterranean Cruise, starting at $699” sounded great, until we decided we’d like to pay just a little more for a room that had a window and enough square footage for everyone to stand simultaneously. Then add taxes, surcharges, port fees, and whatever else goes in there and pretty soon we were up to $2500. Once on board, we discovered that there was a seventeen dollar per day “service charge”.  Beverages are not included in the fare, and the drink plan was either all-inclusive at twenty-five dollars per day, per person, or paying for every drink individually. There were limits to my frivolity, and we opted for tap water until the last two days of the cruise when we finally splurged on the drink plan.

Of course, that was just the cost of being on the boat… there were also cruise-operated excursions and tours, taxis, restaurants, souvenirs, shopping, incidentals we forgot or lost, and money lost when exchanging currency or using ATMs. Don’t forget the flights there and back! The biggest downside to cruising is definitely the cost, especially knowing that seeing Europe on a budget is also a fabulous experience. Still, pretending to be rich and carefree is a ton of fun.

 

DUBROVNIK, CROATIA - JUNE 21:  In this handout...

Cruise ship docked in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife

 

Cuisine

 

For my husband and I, trying new foods is part of the fun of traveling— most of the time. I don’t know if this is falls into the “cruise haute cuisine” or “European culinary oddities” category, but we were served some strange things during cruise dinners. Our meals were six-course, 90-minute events. The first night, my husband opted for a shark fillet. As a somewhat reluctant carnivore, I found this rather unappetizing and made a joke about dolphin being next up. Wednesday night’s menu: Dolphin. It had another name in Italian, so I asked our waiter if it was in fact Flipper headed to the dinner table or just a bad translation, and he confirmed it was a member of the dolphin family. No one else looked as nauseous as I did, so I ordered the vegetarian entrée and left it at that. But over the course of the week, we were offered lamb, rabbit, duck, veal, and suckling pig. Perhaps petting zoo inhabitants are standard cruise fare, but I was a little put off. Also odd: making mousse out of fish.

 

Children:

 

I never thought of cruising as a vacation for children, or at least something I wouldn’t do with my children. I wouldn’t have done it with all four of mine, and knowing now what cruising is like I still wouldn’t do it! We were lucky enough to have grandparents watching our three older children though, leaving us with only our three-year-old son. (In my world, that still counts as a luxury vacation.) This was a very child-friendly cruise, with a Kid’s Club for childcare, a baby pool, and passengers unperturbed by the noise and chaos of kids everywhere. Being in a big floating hotel was great because it meant we were never far away from a change of clothes or a place to take a nap. Away from the boat, traveling with our son was more difficult. Our little guy was a trooper and often walked miles with us as we explored back streets and famous sights. However, when he was too tired to walk, he was a heavy load to carry! There were also times when he would fall asleep while being carried or sitting for a meal, cutting short our time on a tour or in port. And because he’s three there were many temper tantrums, especially when he was hungry or tired. We later discussed whether a folding umbrella stroller would have helped—and in some ports, like flat Istanbul, it would have been a huge help. In others, like Venice with all its bridges, it wouldn’t have helped at all.  Now I research before I go anywhere!

 

Stroller

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon

 

Having a little person who fell asleep during dinner every night also minimized our ability to see any of the evening entertainment on board the ship. There was only one night when we were able to drop him off at the Kid’s Club and enjoy an evening on our own. Unfortunately, my relaxed evening led to an unbelievable hangover the next day in Dubrovnik. Even though my son’s backpack allowed me to vomit discreetly on the tour bus before escaping, I would still recommend moderation to anyone celebrating time away from their children the night before embarking on a tour in humid 99 degree weather. Not only was carrying my kid’s puke-filled backpack all afternoon unpleasant, we also missed out on all the sights of the city. My advice is to avoid anything slushy, fruity, or umbrella-topped altogether.

We had a wonderful, relaxing time on our cruise. While I can’t say it was worth every penny, I have no regrets (aside from the incident in Dubrovnik, but that could happen to anyone). Some ports were more memorable than others, but waking up each morning in a new place was a lot of fun no matter where we were. The culinary experiences were interesting, if not always appealing, and we had some very delicious meals in the ports. Sun, shopping, swimming, eating, exploring, touring… we enjoyed (almost) every minute, and can brag that we returned home with great pictures and memories, awesome tans, five extra pounds, and empty pockets—the ultimate cruise experience!

 

Cocktails!

Slushy, fruity, and umbrella-topped = so lethal (Photo credit: joz007)

 

About the author

Nicole Beattie lives in Kaiserslautern, Germany with her husband and four children. By day, she is a loving wife and mother who tends to her family’s needs and is occasionally brave enough to bring them on her European travels. By night, she dreams of replacing them all with a pack of wild dogs to cut down on the mess and noise in her house.

Head over to her blog to say hi. 

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Comments

  1. One of the reasons my husband and I enjoy cruise ships is that we don’t have to pack and unpack at every destination. (We don’t travel lightly so this is a very big deal!) We see many areas in a short period of time which gives us incentive to come back and visit those spots that we found very interesting for a greater length of time. We’ve also had the good fortune of taking lovely excursions with knowledgeable tour guides.

  2. I’m definitely with you regarding packing and unpacking – great point!

  3. This is an awesome cruise. I wish I could go on a cruise someday. Thank you for sharing this post.

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