Earlier this month we posted a lengthy article, full of budgets and graphs detailing exactly how we managed to pull off this trip around the world without flights. (You can read that here: How To Achieve the Impossible: A Cheap World Cruise.)
As that post was already painstakingly long enough, we didn’t get a chance to discuss what the whole experience was actually like. So we’re now following-up by giving a discussion about what we liked and what we didn’t like. We also answer the question if we’d travel like this again, by utilizing repositioning cruises, rather than flights, to travel entirely around the globe.
The 300-day trip around the world was quite the adventure, that came along with many pleasures and some drawbacks too. There were some pros and cons to a global voyage like this. So here’s a candid look at both sides as we reflect back on this grand adventure. Grab a cup of coffee and let’s talk travel!
Top 5 Things We Loved About Cruising Around the World
1) Transitioning from One Culture to the Next
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of traveling around the world without flights was slowly changing from one culture to the next. This very gradual evolution is something you don’t get to experience when flying. It was an awesome novelty to feel these subtle transitions, which are brought upon by centuries worth of history, trade routes, and political relationships.
The following is an attempt to briefly sum up this cultural shifting that took place over the span of the 10-month trip.
Beginning our journey in the maritime provinces of Canada, the British and Scottish roots were very evident in the food, music, pubs, and gardens. Yet as we moved into the bilingual province of New Brunswick, it proved to be a smooth introduction to French Canada. We eventually bid au revoir to Montreal, exiting through the largest bilingual city in the country, Ottawa.
Canada’s capital was a nice entry point to the countryside and farmland of Ottawa, which then carried over as we entered the Midwest US. Landscapes went from endless plains to towering mountains until we reached Seattle.
There were many similarities between the Emerald City and its northern neighbor, Vancouver. The strong Asian populations in both cities stood out. Over 40% of Vancouver is of Asian ethnicity. So although the mass expanse of the Pacific Ocean separates these two continents, we were already experiencing the culture that we were in route to.
Japanese-American lecturers aboard our transpacific cruise helped prepare us for our next destination by teaching us Japanese, origami, and tea ceremony etiquette as we slowly crossed the world’s largest ocean. It all proved helpful in Japan, but we soon departed by ferry to South Korea. This was the perfect intermediary between Japan and China, as there were clear influences from both nations that shined through here, even though Korea has a distinct culture of its own.
China was full of regional shifts that we experienced while traveling across the country. China also shared some similarities with its neighbor to the south, Vietnam; our next destination. The Chinese New Year celebrations seemed to be just as strong in Vietnam. Yet Vietnam was also a clear introduction to the Southeast Asian countries that would follow as we moved south and west: Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia, one culture evolving to the next.
In Singapore, Chinese New Year Celebrations flourished. But not far from China Town, we stumbled into Little India and noticed many Indian immigrants throughout the thriving city-state. While stopping at the Malaysian island of Langkawi, we further noticed it was an extremely popular vacation destination for people from India. So we were already getting the Indian vibes, before arriving to the subcontinent.
The Silk Route has long connected southern India with Arabia. This maritime route was apparent not only in the shipping lanes, but also upon arriving to Oman. It’s here that Indian people actually make up 20% of Oman’s population, further easing us into the Middle East. Yet mosques outnumbered Hindu temples, as prayer calls blared throughout Oman, which continued as we cruised through the Suez in Egypt.
And although Egypt and Greece have widely different cultures, this was another smooth transition. The common connection of the Mediterranean that has bonded these countries throughout ancient history from the Roman Empire they were both once a part of.
The Greek island of Crete was our welcome to Europe, with its architecture, religion, and cuisine. Yet the feta cheese was quickly replaced by mozzarella as we continued onto Italy, while the European Union bonded these countries politically and economically.
This was further noticed as we moved around mainland Europe. While local cuisine or language often changed, many customs and even store brands remained the same, from Italy to France, Switzerland, and Belgium. These subtle similarities even continued as we otherwise felt a sudden contrast from France to England.
And although the Atlantic Ocean separates the UK from North America, this British presence was still felt once we had reached Nova Scotia, which is Latin for “New Scotland” after all. We were greeted in Halifax by bagpipes and our favorite fish & chips shop awaited our lunch order.
Flowing through each of the connections was really such an awesome experience. It’s a unique aspect felt while traveling this way and something that we genuinely treasured.
2) The Simplicity of Cruise Travel
Typically while traveling nonstop around the world, we’re frequently undertaking long bus rides in cramped conditions, constantly packing & unpacking, schlepping luggage from one place to the next, sometimes staying in questionable rooms, discovering showers without hot water, spending countless hours determining how to get from point A-to-B, and continually running around town in search of a decent meal at an affordable price.
That is all part of the fun of long-term independent travel. But it can become taxing when doing this for prolonged periods of time. The cruises provide us a nice break from all of that, while still being able to enjoy the pleasures of travel.
For long-term travelers to keep travel fatigue away, many suggest stopping somewhere for a while. Instead, we jump on a cruise! Slowing down somewhere can be nice to unwind, but we miss the joys of travel. This cruise travel allows us to have our cake and eat it too, sometimes literally.
Even after months of cruising, it still feels like such an amazing novelty to be transported from one port to the next, all while we sleep.
We remain quite comfy in our “floating hotel.” Cruises maintain a standard higher than we’re typically accustomed to. Instead of worrying about whether the shower would be hot, our concern turns to what towel animal would be left on our bed and whether we’ll get milk or dark chocolate left on our pillow.
Meanwhile, we awake to another exciting new location without having to worry about a thing. We get to reap the benefits of travel without having to endure the burdens of constantly packing up or worrying about transportation logistics. After spending years going through the travel routine, cruises really indulge us in making it all so seamless and easy.
This overwhelming sense of convenience comes so welcomed after being on the road for long stretches of time.
3) Being Forced to Relax
We’re often traveling around the world quite quickly. A fast pace of travel has been a long-held bad habit of ours. We really like to pack in an itinerary to experience as much as we can when roaming around a country. We’re no strangers to changing locations every few days and maintaining such a fast pace for several months at a time. That’s just how we roll.
An agenda like that can be a lot of fun. But it can simultaneously become exhausting.
Sea days on a cruise ship force us to relax. There’s no aggressive itinerary to follow. No sights to see. No interesting places to tempt us. No train to catch.
We may have to pencil in an interesting lecture to attend or a trivia game. Perhaps we need to be cognizant of the time to catch happy hour or make our dinner reservation. This agenda become our new reality.
It’s quite a contrast from our crazy independent travel ways. Yet it’s a contrast that we always welcome and embrace when on cruises.
The longest stint of sea days we encountered during these cruises around the world was an entire week. This occurred when crossing the Pacific and again when voyaging through the Middle East through the Red Sea.
We figured that such an amount of time would be way too long to spend at sea. We anticipated that boredom would set in, and perhaps even a sense of cabin fever. But that never happened.
Instead, we kept busy by joining the various shipboard activities that usually packed the daily agendas on these floating resorts. We also took time out to do something we rarely ever do while on traveling on land: just relax.
I envisioned doing a bunch of blogging during downtime. That never happened.
We instead kept busy having fun throughout the cruises. Heck, not only was there constant shows, games, lectures, classes, and concerts; there was a go-kart track waiting for us to race around on while cruising on the Norwegian Bliss!
Thinking that we’d clearly become bored during all these sea days, we even took precautionary measures to load up our laptop with the first two seasons of Game of Thrones. Our plan was to binge them during all that downtime we’d certainly have during the many days at sea.
As it turned out, we never even manage to start episode 1.
4) Avoiding the Burdens of Air Travel
There are many benefits that come with air travel. It’s actually pretty amazing that we have the opportunity to be whisked halfway around the world in a matter of hours. Flight routes are regularly becoming more affordable too, opening up a number of travel possibilities. It’s a great option.
But traveling by air also has its share of burdens.
There’s the increasing measures and wait times of airport security. It’s due largely to terrorist threats that are difficult not to have in the back of your mind. Then there’s the baggage restrictions and fees that have become commonplace. Next comes to cattle call to line-up to get on the plane.
The shrinking seat space is never a joy for tall people like me. An overnight flight sitting nearly upright in these seats can feel like a cruel form of torture. Then throw in unruly passengers and inedible airplane food. Add to that fun instances like flight delays, lost luggage, and missed connections.
We’ve encountered all of these things in the past while using plane travel. It happens.
Yet by traveling entirely over land and sea, we get to avoid each of those headaches. It’s a beautiful thing!
5) An Extra Hour in Our Days
Continually crossing time zones from west to east brings upon some interesting phenomenon. While crossing the International Date Line that cuts through the Pacific, you actually lose an entire day. For us, October 7th, 2017 did not exist in our lives.
We crawled into bed on Friday night and then woke up eight hours later
…on Sunday morning. So weird!
October 7 occurred all throughout the world, but that date never happened on our ship. We plowed right through the 180th parallel in the waters somewhere in between Alaska and Russia. During this crossing, that date then disappeared right from the ship’s calendar.
The tradeoff in losing this day is that we got to regularly turn back the clocks, as we crossed each time zone. That means we frequently got to have 25-hour days. So cool! What would you do with an extra hour in your day?
We often found ourselves naturally waking early, which was such a nice perk to experience. We’re not typically early-morning people but would always like to be. This continual westbound movement got us on a great waking schedule.
Other people took advantage of the extra hour to regularly party the night away. That could be a fun way to play your cards too! However each extra hour is spent, I think we can all agree that it is very nice to get to travel so far while not experience jet lag.
Instead, we woke up feeling so refreshed every morning.
The Red Sea sure is living up to its name! Naturally rising early enough to catch the sunrise has been a nice side effect of taking these westbound repositioning cruises around the world. During this voyage from Asia to Europe, we’ve already set the clocks back six times, providing for several 25-hour days. With all those extra hours of sleep, even late risers tend to be awake for spectacular sunrises like this one, way out in the Red Sea!
A Few More Things We Loved
We could ramble on for a while about this, but want to keep this moving. Still, we’d be remiss not to mention a few more unique aspects we thoroughly enjoyed about cruising around the world.
Closets, Closets, Closets! Our clothes constantly sits in our packs. It’s so nice to air out those clothes and have a closet, where your clothes can stay for a prolonged period of time. Closets are something you don’t realize you’re missing, until you’re without.
Friends! On these longer cruises, 14-28 days each, we’re on the same boat with the same people the entire time so we have the rare chance to actually foster some friendships. While not on a cruise, our travel friends only last a day or two because we’re moving on. So it’s really nice to be able to catch up with the same people, day after day, on these cruises.
That Food! The cuisine on these ships includes fantastic cuisine and fancy meals, night after night, that we otherwise can’t normally afford. Sure, I’ll have another lobster to go alongside my filet!
Strolling into Port! It’s so nice to simply wake up, grab a quick breakfast, walk right off the ship, and begin exploring a new location. No luggage to pick up. Usually no customs. Often no taxi to catch. Just walk off the ship and start your day!
Fun! Cruises really foster a sense of “fun” on the ships. Although we’re constantly traveling, we sometimes forget what it feels like to be on vacation. There’s a big difference. The feeling of excitement from people who are on vacation-mode on cruises is contagious and we love that. Constant parties, games, music, and entertainment further fan these flames. It all really lifts our spirits.
What We Didn’t Like Cruising Around the World
We could easily carryon and rave about how glorious this world cruise was that we pieced together. But the truth is that there were some aspects of the journey that weren’t entirely fulfilling. So here are some aspects we didn’t particularly enjoy about this manner of traveling around the world.
1) There’s Never Enough Time in Port
This was the biggest drawback for us while using the cruises to get around the globe. During our normal travels over land, we stop into cities to explore them for days, weeks, or even a month at a time. That’s one of the great benefits to living a nomadic lifestyle of long-term travel.
Yet during our cruising segments, that perk is taken away from us. We usually only had a quick day to attempt to pack in as much as we could. It often felt like a big tease and just left of yearning for more.
We regularly raced back to the ship in the nick of time. Once back on the cruise, as it pulled away, our sad eyes would be glued to the fleeting sight of land. We would wave goodbye to our new friends onshore, wishing we had more time to spend with them.
Often we were fortunate to have an entire day to explore on land. Sometimes we even got two days with an overnight stop – score! But those instances were far and few between.
Occasionally the time allotted was much less. For instance, after being at sea for a full week, we arrived to the Greek island of Crete at 8:30 in the morning, ready to explore! Yet it was barely enough to scratch the surface, as we had to be back on the ship by 1:30 pm. That’s only five hours – what a tease!
It felt like a perfect way to torture a travel-lover. It’s like dangling a carrot in front of a horse.
We often linger in countries for months, so it just didn’t feel right to only have a few hours to enjoy Greece. The worst was our brief visit to India. We had never visited India before, so we were full of excitement to finally arrive. And although we were fortunate to have a nice full day in Mangalore, it’s difficult to truly experience this expansive country within a mere eight hours. We departed across the Indian Ocean happy with our visit but with an unfulfilled feeling.
On the other hand, it is still nice to get a small taste of a place. India is a perfect example of that. Having gotten the opportunity to “sample” this country, we now have the confidence to know that it is somewhere we enjoyed and would love to return to.
2) The Painfully Slow and Expensive Wifi
Cruise wifi was a huge obstacle for us, as digital nomads who work online. Wifi on cruise ships is notoriously slow and crazy expensive. We’ve seen rates as high as $1-per-minute and it may take a full minute (or longer) just for a page to load. The slow speeds are understandable, given the satellite connections out in the open ocean. There were even periods in which we lost connection entirely, lasting days at a time.
It’s painful to pay hundreds of dollars to access this slow and unreliable connection. A 4-hour work day could easily cost $240 to accomplish, at $1-per-minute. There are bundled packages to help lessen the blow. Yet we’ve regularly found unlimited wifi packages to cost even more than the cruise itself – really!
Before boarding our transpacific cruise, we were faced with a tough predicament since Heather was maintaining a part-time job, requiring over 20 hours of online work each week.
We did the math and determined that we would be upside-down thousands of dollars if we would have paid for a hefty internet package on each of the cruises.
Meanwhile, for those who do make such a splurge, it may not even be fast enough to support the work that is needed. We feared it wouldn’t be fast enough for us, so ultimately Heather had to made the tough choice to resign from her job. It was a difficult and drastic decision, as it was a good part-time gig that has helped to fund our travels.
The wifi situation on ships makes it extremely challenging, or even completely prohibitive, for anyone with a regular online job. It’s really an unfortunate reality on cruises, particularly since sea days can so easily lend themselves to working online. We dream of a day when cruises have faster wifi that is also more affordable. It could become a reality, as technology advances and cruise lines attempt to capture the millennial market.
Despite having to give up an online job, we otherwise managed to scrape by with the dismal wifi situation onboard these cruises. Whenever we were in port, we used our phone data and connected to wifi at cafes to take care of any pressing Internet needs. Finding a place with wifi often became a chore whenever in port. In some of the more remote ports, it proved to be a challenging proposition that would require us to carry our laptops around town with us.
If we didn’t have some of the online obligations that we do, it wouldn’t have been a big issue. Yet while attempting to maintain a blog, and other online pursuits, the cruise wifi situation most certainly did impose some heavy burdens.
During the middle of our Asia-to-Europe cruising, this very blog was hacked. Our entire website was yanked offline. It was a nightmare to resolve, as we spent hours in port on the phone and online, investigating the issue and hiring web security experts to get the site back online. Instead of exploring these amazing destinations we had limited time in, we were instead hunkered down at cafes, reviewing code and waiting on hold for tech support on the other side of the world to hear our pleas. It was a sad reality in a few of the SE Asia ports we stopped at.
When we had an overnight stop in Thailand, we even left the cruise for a night. I simply booked a hotel in Pattaya for $25, just so I could have personal space with unlimited wifi for two days to continue working on the issue. It was worth every
This hacker attack was an unpleasant reminder of how important it is for us to have the need to be connected. If this had happened during a time when we were stationary and connected, it would have been a major annoyance. But to attempt to deal with the attack while on a cruise, it felt like a complete nightmare.
On the other hand, it can be nice to take a digital detox when we didn’t have pressing Internet needs and websites aren’t being hacked. Having several days away from phone notifications and email alerts is rejuvenating.
3) Some People
Even though we regularly use cruises to get around the globe, we’re not your typical cruisers. It’s been refreshing to find that these more exotic cruise routes around the world tend to attract many like-minded and fun-loving people onto these ships. We’ve met so many awesome people from all walks of life that we still maintain friendships with today.
That said, there are still some really hardcore cruising types who seem to be more obsessed with status and luxury than the actual destinations being visited. They’re usually more interested in stateroom categories, loyalty standings, how many cruises you’ve been on, or hard-to-get dinner reservations. Everyone enjoys different things in life. So if that makes you happy, it’s all good!
Yet rather than status, we’re obsessed with travel. I’m sure many people find that strange. That’s okay too.
But being nomadic minimalists with such a strong passion for travel, we do find it difficult to click with the more status-oriented cruisers bragging about their suite amenities. We’d be much more interested in hearing them boast about whatever awesome shore excursion they may have taken. Yet such travel experiences seem to come secondary to the cruise ship itself. Often they may not even get off the ship, favoring a spa day. To each their own.
But it sometimes goes beyond the difference in interests and the forced pleasantries exchanged. It can be tough to witness the rudeness and even cultural insensitivities among some of these hardcore cruisers. You can often hear them complaining about petty issues. Maybe there was some dust in their room or their four-course meal was paced too quickly for their liking. It breaks our heart knowing that the ship’s hardworking crew may be written-up for such trivial and unwarranted grievances, as disgruntled passengers march back to their luxury suite.
We often become friends with our cabin steward. (They tend to be from the Philippines, so it’s frequently a bonding conversation when they realize we’ve spent time in their hometown.) These stateroom attendants have told us some horror stories about such cruisers.
Yet what irks us more is the cultural insensitiveness we regularly see some cruisers display. For example, we’ve often witnessed cruisers getting off the ship in Islamic countries wearing shorts, sleeveless shirts, and even women in bikinis. It may not be against the law in these places, but it is extremely offensive not to cover up, as they’re guests in these countries. You can blame ignorance, but there are announcements and even notices sent directly to each cabin warning passengers about dressing etiquette.
We try to assimilate to cruise culture by dressing up on formal night, which otherwise isn’t really our style. We’ll even join in a conga line with a smile, even though deep down it makes us cringe inside. But we do make an effort to embrace the cruise culture. We wish cruisers would embrace local culture. Or at the very least, simply respect it.
This disrespectful behavior that some cruisers display on land gives cruising a bad image. We hate this. As frequent cruise passengers, it’s tough to be lumped together with this group. We do try to subtly educate other passengers when possible. But we simply can’t police the wardrobe of an entire ship.
I am happy to report that this has been a minority of people on the ships we’ve cruised on. And it’s a big ship, so such bad eggs can be easily avoided. But these situations do occur. Always. And it leaves a bad taste in our mouths.
On the other hand, we’ve been delighted to see the evolution of some tourists who do become more culturally aware throughout a voyage. Their initial impressions of places may involve some xenophobia and even mild racism. Such sentiments are glaring during polite conversation.
But by the end of the cruise, they’ve connected with people on the ground and have developed a whole new appreciation for other cultures and for travel in general. It’s an interesting evolution to see. It puts a smile on our faces whenever we witness travel breaking down barriers like this. It’s proof that travel can truly be a transformational learning experience.
4) Exorbitant Onboard Costs
As budget travelers being transported into a luxury environment, we’re often taken back by the high prices of all the extras aboard cruise ships. While we may have gotten a great deal on the cruise itself, the prices for amenities onboard these luxury vessels appeal to a completely different breed of passengers who can easily afford such splurges. Unfortunately, that’s not us.
Here are some prices we’ve seen:
- $250 for a 5-hour sightseeing bus tour.
- $100 for a men’s haircut.
- $60 to wash a bag of clothes.
- $40 for a jar of M&M’s in decorative plastic case
- $12 for a cocktail.
- $6 for a bottled water.
No spa days for these two roamers!
If this was just a one-week vacation, such splurges would definitely be something to consider. But for long-term travelers who happened to score a series of deals on these cruises, such expenses are completely cost-prohibitive to maintain over the course of several months (or years in our case). Such splurges would easily bust our budget that we’re careful to keep low.
We’ve developed methods to combat these high prices on cruises. In fact, we try not to spend at all while on the ships. Instead we pursue independent excursions on land, bring a backpack of clothes to be washed in ports, and use tactics like these to drink for cheap on a cruise.
Still, it would be nice to simply go to the bar for a few expertly prepared martinis, have a load of laundry done on a sea day, or even partake in the ease that shore excursions can offer.
But this is how ships make their money. We get that.
We’re just happy to be able to afford to be on these cruises in the first place. The high costs of such extras is a minor annoyance, but we can happily forgo these added luxuries for now. One day we’ll hopefully become rich and regularly splurging too! Those martinis await.
That wifi though!
5) That’s It
We were actually stretching to come up with five things we didn’t like about traveling around the world in this manner. While we could easily ramble another five, ten, or even twenty strong points about what we did enjoy about our flightless trip around the world, we’ve struggled to round-out the top five things that we didn’t like.
Really, the limited time in port and the wifi situation are the big two issues that get us. Higher shipboard prices and a few difficult people are things we can easily deal with.
So Would We Do It Again?
Sure, there are a few drawbacks and some annoyances along the way. But ultimately we had an absolutely incredible time circumnavigating around the world entirely overland and sea.
We would do it all over again in a hot minute if we could. And since we’ve been back on land for a few months now, we’re already eyeing some cruises this fall to satiate our sea-going desires. Floating around the world in luxury conditions yet often on a backpacker’s budget is something that definitely clicks with us.
When presented with the option of slowly crossing an ocean for a few weeks, while being dined, entertained, and hopping around exotic ports vs. taking a red-eye flight, we’ll happily choose the cruise every single time. Particularly so when a two-week cruise of this nature costs even less than a coach flight!
While we overwhelming would love to do a cruise around the world like this again, there are a few things we would do differently.
Here are some alterations that come to mind…
- Now that we’ve cruised Alaska, we would love to do a more South Pacific route, stopping at hard-to-reach islands along the way.
- Since we’ve accomplished our long-held travel goal of circling the world without flights, we’d perhaps consider taking some short-haul planes along the way, in instances that make sense.
- We would linger in lower cost destinations, rather than the expensive countries we largely pursued during this trip around the world.
- Since we cruised through the Suez Canal, we’d love to now cross Asia using the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Perhaps some new travel aspirations are brewing, but it’s nothing that we’re actively considering for the immediate future. We’d love to take another spin around the globe someday. And we found this to be such an enjoyable and affordable way to do it.
Continue reading here:
- What did we pack for this trip around the world? Read: Ultimate Packing Checklist
- Want to know our top cruise tips? Read: Top 50 Cruise Hacks
- Did you catch our previous cruise post? Read: How To Achieve a Cheap World Cruise