(This was recently posted in Escape.com)
Repositioning cruises notoriously have a high proportion of non-port days.
With a five-day ocean crossing scheduled for the second week of ours, we learned after coming aboard that rerouting to avoid Cyclone Cook would give us even more time at sea – three consecutive days before we reached the first port.
Are long stretches at sea a problem? I was going to find out.
“I’d go crazy” was the most common response when I told friends my 15-day cruise included more sea days than ports. Yet, once I started asking other passengers how they felt about the upcoming days at sea, many said they were looking forward to them.
“We always choose the cruises with the most time at sea,” one woman told me. “We can’t get enough of it.” When I asked her why, she stared as if it was obvious. “Because it’s so relaxing!”
The Space-Time Continuum
But it may not be relaxing for you. Spending day after day at sea challenges your normal sense of space and time. You’ll have more time and less space than you’re used to.
For some of us, that’s a wonderful thing. Away from our normally rushed lives, we suddenly have all these free hours, and can spend them any way we want. That’s a true gift.
But you might find the combination of expanded time and confined space hard to handle. You may not know what to do with yourself and start thinking about being off the ship. Except there’s nowhere to go – then the gift has become a trap.
PLANNING V IMPROVISING
The key to surviving and enjoying long periods at sea is knowing which of these personality types you are. If it’s the second, you’re going to need to plan your day – and the ship’s daily newsletter should make it easy to do that. If it’s the first, you’ll be fine however you play it.
I met a lot of planners. “I just follow Navigator” (the Holland America Line phone app for scheduled activities and entertainment) one woman told me. Another couple, seasoned cruisers, said they looked for other card-players at the start of each cruise and established a routine of meeting up at the same time each day.
Then there were the “go-it-aloners”. People who settled on a deck lounge each morning with a book and may, or may not, end up falling asleep. Knitters and embroiderers, quietly absorbed in their craft. Jigsaw enthusiasts poring over puzzle pieces. And, alone at the back of the deck, someone serenely practising an unusual stringed instrument.
These long sea days are a golden opportunity to do things you want to do, but never get around to – book a spa treatment, sit for a photographic portrait, learn new computer skills, attend an enrichment lecture, go dancing in the afternoon, or spend all day playing, drinking and chatting with friends.
Or just sit on deck and stare into space. Does it really matter if the sunshine and the fresh air and the movement of the ship send you to sleep? As one woman put it, when she told me how she appreciated having to rest: “You’d never take the time for yourself at home, would you?”
WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE
There’s something special about slowing down and re-focusing while on a ship that’s alone on a vast ocean. Whether you’re a photographer who spends hours trying to capture the effects of clouds and lights over water, or someone who doesn’t consciously notice the maritime “scenery” at all, this natural environment can have a calming and liberating emotional effect.
The world looks different from here. You’ll reconnect with some things and disconnect from others. My partner took the opportunity to liberate himself from internet and email, which in itself creates a special space.
HOW I SPENT FIVE DAYS AT SEA
My first three sea days were spent getting to know the ship and planning new shore excursions for our changed route. Only during the five-day ocean crossing in the second week did I really get to test my “at sea” survival skills.
I settled on a mix of planning and improvisation. Each day began with the same routine – a cup of tea on deck, and a swim or session at the gym before breakfast. Most days also ended on deck, meeting new friends for a drink or enjoying a quiet cup of tea before bed.
In the hours between, I rekindled a childhood love of ping-pong, listened to a lecture on celestial navigation and attended a digital workshop on photographic editing. I learnt some basic hula steps (where else would that have happened?) and joined a pop-up watercolour painting class organised by a fellow passenger. I read one book and started another, went to high tea and martini samplings, attended an art auction, and spent hours gazing at the water and the sky.
I loved my days at sea, but what worked for me won’t necessarily work for you.
One man, who overheard me discussing with another passenger how relaxed we felt, couldn’t wait to offer a contrasting viewpoint.
“There’s not enough to do!” he complained. His wife, he said, would have liked line dancing and Zumba. He wanted to play mini-golf or take part in a pickle ball tournament. “We’re active people,” he said. “I can only sit in this deckchair for about half an hour, and then I have to get up and move around.”
For him, the number of sea days wasn’t the problem. He had built up brand loyalty to another cruise line with a different activities philosophy, and this voyage was an experiment that hadn’t worked. “I’m just on the wrong ship,” he said.
So you must understand your needs and choose a ship that can meet them. That’s never more important than when a voyage includes long stretches at sea. Some people like a busy ship, while others prefer peace and quiet. Some will adapt to any circumstances, while others have clear ideas about the activities they want.
When considering a repositioning cruise, research the culture and facilities of the particular ship you have in mind. Do you like watching movies? Make sure your ship has a proper cinema. Would you enjoy organised and sociable physical activities such as dance lessons or sports competitions? Check whether these will be available.
Cruise ships have personalities and you need to find one that matches yours. On a ship that’s right for you, extended periods at sea can provide a wonderful opportunity to rest, practise hobbies or socialise. But find yourself on the wrong ship and those days will drag.