Pros and Cons of Cruising

Cruise ship in the Virgin Islands.

Deciding how and where to choose your next vacation is sometimes a daunting task. With a whole world of places to pick from, a cruise that requires minimal planning and promises relaxing fun can be an appealing option. Cruises are one of the biggest industries in the travel market because of that. Indeed, nearly 30 million people cruised in 2019. Of course, like any form of travel, there are numerous pros and cons of cruises. 

Unsurprisingly, the cruise industry was one of the industries most affected by the pandemic, and cruise numbers dropped significantly during 2020 and 2021. However, with fears of Covid now declining, cruising is once again on the rise. Over the summer of 2022, the industry saw an explosion of bookings for the upcoming months and years. Cruise lines reported booking numbers at almost pre-pandemic levels. 

I happened to be among those that booked a cruise last summer and just came off a week-long cruise with Norwegian. Over the last decade, I’ve taken five cruises and have loved them all. Cruising allowed me to visit multiple dream cities without any planning, relax on pristine beaches, and take advantage of the ship's onboard activities. But while I enjoy cruise vacations for these different reasons, there are drawbacks to this type of vacation. In the post, I explore the pros and cons of a cruise vacation.

Pros of Cruising

1. Cost-effective 

At first glance, a cruise can appear to be an expensive vacation seeing the amount listed per person for the entire cruise. However, once all the math is done with sales and promotions, oftentimes a cruise comes out as a cost-effective option for travel. That total amount listed includes lodging, food options, and sometimes even drinks and shore excursions or Wi-Fi depending on the package. Cruises are also great for budget planners since multiple cruise lines allow you to pay off your total balance in monthly installments, including Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Virgin, and Holland America. Not to mention there are always amazing sales and deals occurring for most cruise lines, especially around major holidays and in the post-covid era. Sales can range from up to 50% off cruises, free flights, all-inclusive onboard packages, and reduced prices for additional passengers. Taking advantage of these deals will often show how cost-effective a cruise is. 

Couple standing in front of cruise ship at Bermuda port.
Our first cruise to Bermuda in 2013, which I could afford even fresh out of college!

2. All-Inclusive Food

One of the best parts of cruising is the various food options available on board. Most cruise lines have numerous restaurants, specialty dining, and buffets to enjoy eating your heart out. Best of all, cruises include all-inclusive meals in their pricing. Buffets, grills, and even most main dining rooms are all free of charge throughout the cruise. The food quality can vary depending on each cruise line or ship, but in my experience, I’ve never had a bad meal on board. While the free options are great and a good reason to choose a cruise vacation, the specialty dining that is generally reasonably priced also shouldn't be missed. 

Gelato on a cruise with the Caribbean in the background.
This gelato is a work of art!

3. Visit Multiple Destinations in One Trip

A huge benefit to a cruise vacation is the ability to see a variety of locations in a single trip. Of course, this is possible on other vacations, but that requires additional time and resources, whereas, on a cruise, it’s simply the next stop. Some itineraries have ships that dock at a sole location for several days, but these one-stop cruises are few and far between. The majority of cruise itineraries include multiple cities, towns, or islands. On a Mediterranean cruise, for example, you can visit Spain, Italy, France, and Croatia in ten days. On a Caribbean cruise, an itinerary can include visiting Jamaica, Mexico, and the Bahamas in a week. These are just two examples of the destinations a cruise goes to in one trip. In sum, a cruise offers an accessible way to experience a myriad of bucket-list places in a short amount of time. It’s a great option for many travelers, and it’s how I visited several European cities for the first time, including Taormina!

Couple at the Montenegro port, standing in front of the sea.
Beautiful Montenegro! One of the many destinations I visited on a Mediterranean cruise.

Also check out the best Caribbean cruise packing list here!

4. Onboard Activities and Entertainment

A cruise is a twofold vacation: the ports visited and the onboard experience. The entertainment on a cruise can range from Broadway show performances to standup comedians. Thrilling activities like twisting water slides on par with an amusement park and adventurous rock climbing are a few of the many activities that cruises offer. There’s a bit of everything and something for everyone. There are also separate clubs for young children to keep them occupied all day, arcades and events for teens, and adults-only programs. During the day, classes or games are available, and themed dance parties are at night. One can expect to find a casino, plenty of shopping, and daily events on every cruise. Entertainment varies from ship to ship, which leaves the choice entirely up to each cruiser's desires! 

Beatles Invasion show on a cruise ship for onboard entertainment.
The Beatles Invasion onboard the Norwegian Encore.

5. Stress-Free, Easy and Convenient

This is my favorite reason for cruising. Cruises are unbelievably easy to plan and are an overall stress-free vacation! As someone with severe anxiety and depression, taking a vacation that requires zero work is exactly what I need. When planning a cruise, it’s as simple as booking the flights (if the ship isn't departing from your city,) booking the cruise itself, and picking out an excursion from each port on the predetermined itinerary. That’s it. Quick, painless, and convenient, especially for anyone with kids and a busy schedule. Once onboard, cruising is the epitome of leisure: sunning on the deck, having tropical drinks by the pool, and enjoying endless food. I like to think I resemble a sloth when I’m on a cruise, and it’s an amazing break from the daily grind of real life. If you’re looking for a relaxing, easy-to-plan, and stress-free vacation, then a cruise may be right for you!

Double rainbow in St. Thomas on a cruise.
Relaxing on the deck while enjoying this double rainbow in St. Thomas.

6. There’s Something for Everyone

There are cruises to every continent, to countless countries, and to a myriad of diverse cities across the world. Some cruises are tailored specifically for families and children, and some are tailored for adults only to enjoy themselves. Any itinerary imaginable exists, including low-key beach vacations, adventurous hiking and exploring, and epic sightseeing excursions. All of it is possible on a cruise. Whatever it might be that you’re looking for, whether it be sailing to the Virgin Islands or hopping across Europe, a cruise exists to meet your needs. There are endless cruise lines, ships, and itineraries to choose from. Also, most cruises cater to a large crowd, so onboard you can spend your time partying, relaxing by a pool, or delighting in the various entertainment shows and classes. Cruise vacations deliver on a diverse set of needs, and there is always something for everyone! 

Cons of Cruising

1. No Flexibility

On a cruise, there is a set itinerary with zero ability to deviate from it. Meaning there’s no room for flexibility in the schedule. If you miss a departure from the port, it’s up to you to somehow find your way back to the ship or return home without your belongings. If you’re enjoying a location and want to stay longer, that’s not possible. Or perhaps you’ve already visited a spot and would prefer to skip it, that too isn’t an option apart from remaining on the ship for the duration of the time in that particular port. Being deadlocked into set hours at each destination, usually with minimal time, can lead to frustration and disappointment. This type of rigidity in a vacation isn’t for everyone and should be factored into a final decision when considering a cruise. 

2. Limited Time at Each Location 

Times at ports will vary depending on each cruise's itinerary, but for the most part, it’s a limited amount of time. There are exceptions to the rule, I’ve observed some cruises that allow for 2-3 days at a single port. In fact, on my first cruise, we were docked in Bermuda for three days. However, this is generally not the case. At most ports, you’ll only have hours at each destination. Which is not enough time to truly experience everything a city or town offers. It’s a great taste of each place, but it can feel rushed and lacking compared to a vacation with multiple days or weeks to spend at a location. 

British Virgin Islands sign in front of cruise ship.
With only 6 hours in the British Virgin Islands, we left wishing we had more time there.

3. Illness

In early 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, cruises were among the first places to be hit by rapid waves of Covid. Passengers were stranded for weeks in quarantine out at sea, with countless individuals and families falling ill. Covid certainty demonstrated how easily illness can spread on a cruise. Even before the pandemic, cruises were long known to be a risk to passengers for getting sick. From seasickness to colds to food poisoning, it’s not uncommon for a passenger to come down with something. Of course, there are preventive measures passengers can take: Dramamine for seasickness, vitamins, and vigilant hygiene practices to ward off colds, and steering clear of foods that are more prone to food poisoning, such as seafood. Nevertheless, illness can occur on a cruise, and it’s something to consider when booking a vacation. 

4. Tourist Spots

The countless places cruises travel to are all amazing and extremely sought after. These are popular and famous locations that people dream of visiting. Naturally, this makes them big spots for tourists and draws large crowds. At each port, cruisers are contending not only with guests of their ship but most likely with throngs of passengers from other ships docked there that day. As well as the many visitors who traveled outside of a cruise and the people who live there too. Cruisers can anticipate long wait times for attractions, excursions packed with tourists, and little to no space at well-known sights. When planning a cruise, don’t expect to wander off the beaten path as there is limited time at each destination, and passengers are at the mercy of the cruise’s itinerary. It’s important to know what is and isn’t achievable when deciding on whether to book a cruise and understand the crowd levels at the selected ports as they are tourist spots. 

Crowded street in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Crowds in Dubrovnik, a popular tourist destination and cruise port.

5. Additional Costs 

While most cruise lines don’t hide the fact that there are additional costs on a cruise, especially for things like premium beverages or specialty meals, it can be alarming to see once on board what isn’t covered and how much it all adds up. Certain activities on the ship, such as a VR experience or laser tag may require an additional fee. Or even grabbing a latte from the bar rather than a standard coffee from the buffet is an out-of-pocket expense. Shore excursions (which aren’t always listed with prices when booking a cruise) can also be very costly. Additionally, I was shocked on my first cruise to discover the onboard service charge wasn't included in the initial cruise fare. This is a per person, per day fee that at the end of the trip amounts to an extra several hundred dollars. When deciding on whether or not to take a cruise, it’s important to factor these additional costs in as much as possible to have a better idea of the full cost. 

Woman in dress on cruise ship.
Fun laser tag area, but must pay extra to play.

6. Bad for the Environment

It should come as no surprise that cruises aren’t great for the environment, in fact, they’re downright terrible for it. The carbon footprint a cruise vessel can leave is comparable to greater than 12,000 cars. The fuel emissions cruise ships generate significantly impact climate change, and this pollution also leads to poor air quality. In addition to the carbon emissions released, cruises further negatively affect the environment by dumping sewage and trash into the ocean. So not only are cruises impacting our air with carbon emissions, but they’re also hurting our marine life and oceans. However, the cruise industry has made sustainability commitments, targeting to make zero-emission ships over the next decade and achieve net-zero carbon cruising by 2050. Each cruise line has its own sustainability efforts, and it’s up to each vacationer to choose accordingly. 

Cruising at Glacier Bay National Park.
Glacier Bay National Park has implemented environmental monitoring and compliance for cruise ships.

Final Thoughts:

Despite the cons, cruises are one of my favorite ways to travel. I love being able to visit multiple places in a short amount of time on one trip with stress-free planning. I’m also a huge foodie and enjoy a great meal onboard a ship followed by a show. Nevertheless, the cons can be significant, and before deciding on whether to book a cruise, it’s best to weigh both the pros and cons of cruises to decide if it's right for you! 

Pros and Cons of Cruising

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  • Kelly Francois says:

    I also love cruising, although I haven't been on one since the pandemic. I've heard that many things have changed. One of the things I love most about cruising is that you get to see different places and can then decide where you want to go back to visit for longer. Great post.

    • Jillian says:

      I hadn't cruised since the pandemic either before this trip! Many things have changed but I found myself loving cruising as much as I always have, especially because I was able to see different places!

  • Brianna West says:

    I have been on cruises and find a lot of the same pros and cons as you! Due to the carbon footprint and the lack of time in each location I stopped taking them for quite a long time, however I have slowly started to look at other smaller options around the world!

    • Jillian says:

      I completely agree! I've also started to consider those smaller and more sustainable options!

  • Shelly says:

    So true for the pro’s and con’s. We’re going on a cruise in March. Pinned for future knowledge.

  • Linda (LD Holland) says:

    When we first started cruising, we saw mostly the cons. And then we became converts and see mostly the pros of cruising. We love the ease of just unpacking once. We use the short days in a new spot to assess if it should go back on a list for a future visit. A great taste test.

    • Jillian says:

      My husband and I are both converts now as well! It truly is a great way to test a place out and have the ease of cruising in general.

  • Karen says:

    You have some well-made points here. While I would never take a cruise for the cons you mentioned here I can definitely see why some people love them.

    • Jillian says:

      It's definitely not for everyone! It's important to make the right decision for you, and to know both the good and the bad of cruising!