“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.” John A. Shedd
The cruise is over and I’m writing this back at my mom’s house. In this post I want to summarize my impressions of cruising. First, let me say that I am delighted to have spent this time with my mom and to have had an opportunity to go on a cruise. But I am quite confident this will be my one-and-only! Cruising is great and has a huge appeal to a lot of people, I just don’t happen to be one of them. The crucial thing to me is to make a distinction between cruising and traveling; as far as I am concerned they are not the same, in fact they are opposites. The bottom line is that cruising is about entertainment and traveling is about experiencing other places, peoples and cultures. To demonstrate what I mean, here is a list of the things that cruising has to offer; in other words, if you love these things, you will love going on a cruise:
- Drinking at the bar
- Swimming in the pool
- Fine dining
- Eating around the clock
- Comedy or song and dance shows.
- The Jacuzzi.
- Relaxing and doing nothing with family and friends
Being on a cruise offers all these things in abundance, but none of them are about traveling. In fact you can do all of them at home without leaving your home town, they are just greatly magnified on the ship. They are all forms of entertainment that you would go and do after work or on your weekend, they have nothing to do with traveling. Unfortunately, I don’t enjoy any of those things. So the money spent on a cruise is wasted on me. If that was all there was to it, I would have been bored out of my mind and hated it. Fortunately the excursions saved the day.
We were on a seven day cruise and four of those days we were docked in a foreign port. At each of those ports-of-call we had a large assortment of different tours ashore to choose from. No matter what you were interested in, you could almost certainly find something that you wanted to do. If you wanted more of the same you could spend the day ashore at a beach drinking, swimming and sunbathing. For the adventurous you could swim with the dolphins, stingrays or sea turtles or you could go snorkeling or diving on the reef. There were also jungle adventures where you could raft, tube, ride an ATV, take a Jeep tour and even go on a zip-line. There were gardens, National parks, zoos and many other things to explore. If you were more interested in experiencing new people, places and cultures there were numerous tours for that. So there was no shortage of interesting things to do and see.
The problem is that you are in each port for a very small amount of time. The longest we were in a port was 9 hours and shortest was about 6. So you could go out and see maybe one thing, but just how much are you experiencing of a different culture in that brief a time? Still, it’s better than nothing so I took a tour in each place. Here is a quick summary of what I did but I will mainly have photos at the end of the post showing them.
- In Cozumel, Mexico I took a bus through the jungle to a Mayan temple. I was fortunate and had a great tour guide. He wasn’t just going through the motions he was thoughtful and gave us some great info. The reason I choose this Mayan temple to visit was because it was on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean which gave me more photo opportunities. It was a hot day so that made it harder, but all in all it was a great tour.
- In Belize City my mom and I took a horse-drawn carriage ride around the city. Again the tour guide was very good and gave us some good insight into the country. Belize attracts a lot of retired Americans because English is the first language, the crime rate is very, very low and you can live very cheaply. In fact, 23% of the population is retired American ex-patriots. Being in Central America it is close enough to drive to and from the States and fairly easy to do so. For some people it is the perfect retirement destination.
- At Mahogany Bay, Isle of Roatan, Honduras, I went to a private park: Gumbalina Park. Roatan was by far the most beautiful place we went to and by far my favorite. The population is about 10% retired Americans (Oprah Winfrey has a mansion there). I asked the tour guide if I could retire there with an income of $1500 dollars U.S. as an income and she replied that yes, I could live very comfortably on that. She thought I could live fairly well on $1000 a month but below that it would start to get pretty hard.
- Our final stop was at Grand Cayman and there I did a tour just for fun! I have always been fascinated by pirates so I took a two hour cruise on a “pirate ship”. I had hoped it would be somewhat educational, but it was all just light-hearted fun. They gathered the kids together and made them swear an oath to the Pirates Creed to eat lots of candy, play every day, sleep late and not listen to their parents. Actually, that all sounds like a pretty good idea to me!! After that was done they asked the kids if their parents were mean to them, and of course they all said, “Yes!” So they tied some of the parents to the mast and “tortured” them by pouring ice water on them. Even though it was a hot day, it looked like it was a mild form of torture! Then we dropped anchor and everyone went swimming in the gorgeous, warm Caribbean Sea.
So it is possible to do some traveling on a cruise, but it is very limited. While I can brag to you that I have been to the Caymans and Belize, to be honest I really haven’t experienced them. Spending 4 hours in a country—and most of that on a bus—can’t seriously be considered traveling to a country. Again, it is better than nothing, but just barely. No, the only way to really consider yourself a traveler is to fly or drive into a country and spend some time there. The more the better but it certainly should be counted in the days and not in the hours. Ideally it should be counted in weeks or months, but for most people that is not realistic.
I have traveled extremely little, so I am in no position to try to tell you how to do it. However, there are many, many blogs and books describing how to travel on extremely little money so the information is out there. If I was to become a world traveler, I would fly into an area, stay at hostels or cheap hotels and travel from a home base. To get out and about I would take a mixture of public transportation, taxis and tours. There is nothing wrong with taking tours; sometimes they are the best bang for your buck.
Like nearly everything in life, the bottom line is it all depends on your tolerance to risk and discomfort. Taking a cruise allows you to travel with zero risk and no discomfort (in fact you are in total luxury) but it rewards you with the minimum of travel experience. However, traveling is not that appealing to me so I am risk and discomfort adverse. Spending time in nature is my primary motivation in life and for that I am willing to take quite a bit of risk and have some discomfort so being a vandwelling boondocker is perfect for me.
What about you? Since you are reading my blog, there must be some part of you that longs to live a mobile life. Unfortunately, there is no gain without some pain. If you want the full rewards of mobile living, you are going to have to put up with some risk and discomfort. The key thing is to be really honest with yourself and decide how much risk and discomfort you are willing to tolerate. Once you have done that, then take a leap of faith and jump out into the deep end for a refreshing swim!
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Attributed to Mark Twain