Cruising might be the perfect retirement getaway for solo travellers, partners, families and those on a budget. It is for Gaynor and Ian Hines, who have been on over 80 cruises since they were teenagers.
As Ian recalls, “When I met Gay I said to her, before we got married, “Where would you like to go for your honeymoon?” and she said, “Cruising”, and we haven’t stopped”.
The Adelaide couple share advice and stories about the fun and the finance of cruising.
“Well to us, if you have to do anything it’d be to enjoy the entertainment!” said Ian. “Normally at home you don’t go and see those big production shows.”
Night-time shows are a cruise staple, and the type of shows varies according to ship, from music and dance to magicians and trapeze artists. There are also plenty of activities for everyone (and balconies for book readers, of course). “I would start to get involved right from the start of the cruise,” Gai advised.
“All in all, I think you have to put yourself out there and be prepared to join in things. We have done a lot of sports games over the years and a lot of the competitions they have, whether it’s trivia or whether it’s general knowledge or fancy dress.”
If you’re with the whole family, grandchildren will have plenty to occupy them on board. Most cruise lines have clubs and programs for children and teenagers. Not to mention swimming pools!
Back in “the old days”, there were no such clubs on board. There was crepe paper. “When our daughter was growing up of course, they used to provide crepe paper, and of course families in those days would just get together and we’d make some outfit out. No-one took anything, it was all made on board, and it was a great way to have a lot of fun. And she joined in many times in different things over the years when she was growing up,” Gai recalled.
Meeting Fellow Cruisers
Meeting others is a big part of cruising for Gai and Ian and has led to solid friendships.
“You make many friends. We have friends in England and America, plus many interstate, and we plan to stay with them and they’ve stayed with us,” Ian said.
The couple like to share a dinner table with others, and you can ask dining room staff for a table to share with others who’d like a chat. They also meet people during shows or beforehand for drinks, as well as during tours and activities.
“As people get older, there are a lot of single travellers. And I think they should perhaps avail themselves of the solo get togethers, so that they have a chance to meet up with someone of a like age, with maybe similar interests, and that can start a friendship which can go on for years. And, you know we’re very aware there’s a lot of romance that happens in a lot of ships,” Gai said.
If you work it out cost-wise, it can be quite economical.
Ian: “You can ask for extra pillows, whether they’re soft or harder or anything like that.”
Oh! Cruising is luxury these days, as Gai and Allan will attest! They’ve sailed through “the old days” of smaller ships and communal bathrooms. Today every room is a “flash cab” with en suite and TV (not that you’d use that), and great room service.
According to Gai, your room service team is ready to make your stay more comfortable, whether that’s extra pillows or bed padding. “Now I for one do have a spinal issue, and I usually ask for an overlay on top of the mattress. And in most ships, they’ve got those available… it just makes it more comfortable if you do need that extra on the bed,” Gai explained.
“I think the cabin people go out of their way to be obliging. We have never struggled with one who hasn’t been helpful or done that extra mile.”
Bookings and Finance
Gai: “I think, if you work it out cost-wise, it can be quite economical. Especially if you don’t have cabin suites or a balcony. For us it’s not necessary, and that’s the way we can stay cruising for as long as we possibly can.”
So how do you choose a cruise? Mostly, the adept couple books cruises online rather than through a Travel Agent. Here’s how they do it.
1. First they compare prices. If going overseas, they look online at overseas travel agents like cruises.com, to compare prices which will be in US dollars. Or, they’ll go straight to an Australian site like Cruise1st.com or Cruiseoffers.com, Cruiseguru.com, Cleancruising.com or others, which shows the price including taxes.
2. Then they look up the cruises they’re interested in at bestpricecruises.com. This site gives them the tax each cruise charges, which they add to the US price and then convert it to Australian dollars using XE Currency Converter. Here you can also click on ‘Last Minute Deals’ to see the best prices on offer for other cruises.
3. They find the cruise at one of the Australian sites, compare the deals there and then choose their cruise.
4. If you’ll need to fly to the cruise departure point, include the air fare in your planning.
You qualify for a senior’s discount on most cruise lines if you’re over 55 (on some lines you must be 60 or above).
Ian and Gai emphasised that it’s important to know your cruise’s gratuity policy. Many cruise lines, particularly in the US, expect passengers to tip the staff because it’s not included in your cruise bill. Some lines add set gratuities onto your bill, which you can cancel at Reception on the first or second night if you prefer to tip personally. Royal Caribbean doesn’t require tips at all.
Gai: “Some cruise lines do require tips, and they can be dear. So you have to factor all these in if you’re on a budget.”
Importantly, book flights that leave before the end of May if your cruise is in Europe, “because you get the early bird air fare and could save a thousand dollars each”, Gai advised.
Gai and Ian recommend Holland America for cruising the Mediterranean as it has the best ports of call. “We’ve travelled on Carnival, we’ve travelled on Princess, Norwegian, Holland America; all in the Mediterranean. But I do think the ports they (Holland America) have are lovely,” Gai said.
Additionally, one of their favourite cruises is a 12-day trip around the British Isles with Princess Cruises. “It’s twelve days but it takes in so much of England, Scotland and Ireland, and also France.”
Gai: “We have that feeling that it’s enhanced our lives so much, because we would never have met many people that have lightened our days. And I think it’s something that people need as you get older, especially, but even younger people now… because they have got their children taken care of, they don’t have to look for meals, their bedrooms are done, and it’s a way of seeing the world.