When people ask about my job, there are usually two reactions: "Oh, I'd never go on a cruise" and "Can I carry your bag please?" When I talk about some of the places I've visited and amazing things I've seen and done through cruising, the naysayers who see it as boring, start taking an interest.
Swimming with turtles and sea lions in the Galapagos Islands. Sailing to Antarctica, the most pristine wilderness in the world. Being greeted by smiling schoolchildren and warrior tribes in remote islands in south-east Asia. These are just a tiny sample of experiences I've enjoyed in places that are virtually impossible to reach other than by ship.
Travellers today have an unprecedented array of ships (river and ocean-going), destinations, itineraries and cruise styles to choose from. Here are 20 more reasons to check out cruising for your next holiday.
1 ENJOY VALUE FOR MONEY
Fares for all cruises include meals, accommodation, entertainment and kids' clubs and there are always last-minute bargains. But shopping on price alone isn't the way to get the best-value cruise. Talk to a CLIA agent, particularly during Plan A Cruise Month (October), and let them know what you're looking for. Balcony cabin? Drinks included? Time of year? Destination? Big or small ship? A good agent will find a cruise that works for your tastes and budget – and that's good value.
2 RELAX WITH NO WORRIES
There's a reason why that phrase "you only unpack once" is such a cliche in the cruise industry – once you've boarded your ship, you can relax. You don't have to worry about where you're going, how to get there, beating traffic and checking in to a different hotel every night. Someone else is in charge of menu-planning, shopping, cooking, washing-up; and if you've had a few drinks with dinner you won't be busted for being over 0.05.
3 EAT FABULOUS FOOD
You don't have to sail on a luxury ship to enjoy fine dining. Mainstream cruise lines serve menus designed by celebrity chefs such as Luke Mangan (P&O), Curtis Stone (Princess) and Jamie Oliver (Royal Caribbean); yes, there is a charge but usually it's a fraction of what you'd pay in their land-based restaurants. The more upscale you go, the more extensive the choice – Jacques Pepin (Oceania), Nobu (Crystal) and Thomas Keller (Seabourn), to name just a few.
4 WHERE THE RESORT TRAVELS WITH YOU
Megaships that carry several thousand people are designed for fun-loving holidaymakers – everything from thrilling activities to shops, cinemas, theatres, gyms, kids' clubs, restaurants, bars and spas is part of the package. The biggest ships boast ice-skating rinks, rock-climbing walls, massive waterslides, surf and sky-diving simulators, parks, lawns and even go-kart racetracks. And the view changes every day.
5 FIND A SHIP TO SUIT YOU
Ocean-going cruise ships range from 50-passenger expedition ships to 6000-passenger megaships, with a whole range of sizes and styles in between, cruising all over the world. Sailing enthusiasts can cruise on traditional tall ships and luxury lovers can take to the sea on palatial boutique vessels. Then there are intimate-sized river ships and hotel barges, cruising the waterways of Europe, China, Egypt, India and south-east Asia.
6 ENJOY SHOW BUSINESS
Whether your taste runs to lavish Broadway productions or a string quartet playing in a quiet lounge you'll find an incredible variety of entertainment at sea. Live music – rock, classical, country, jazz, blues – stand-up comedy, Cirque du Soleil-type dinner shows, big-name speakers and crew shows – there is shiploads of talent performing on ships of all sizes and styles. There are also entire cruises dedicated to music, dance, drama, movies and comedy.
7 SPOIL YOURSELF IN THE SPA
Just as spa resorts and wellness retreats are taking off on land, cruise lines offer a raft of treatments and spa experiences. Spa suites are increasingly popular – these are near the spa and occupants enjoy priority access to spa facilities, specialised in-room products and on some ships, exclusive spa restaurants. Many ships have "thermal suites" that include saunas and steam rooms; all have extensive menus of treatments that range from massages and facials to acupuncture and Botox.
8 KIDS' STUFF
Family-friendly cruise lines have kids' clubs that are divided into different age groups; teams of enthusiastic, qualified carers entertain the offspring while parents enjoy some well-deserved me time. Organised activities include crafts, music, games, treasure hunts, pool parties, sports and game shows; teenagers often have their own adult-free lounges with videogames, movies and karaoke. Cartoon characters pop up on Carnival, NCL, Royal Caribbean and P&O ships and waterparks keep kids occupied for hours.
9 FUN FOR FAMILIES
Multi-generational family groups are embracing cruising big-time. And no wonder: resort-style ships have enough activities, facilities and accommodation to suit everyone from babies to grandparents – plus the space to get away from each other. Grown-ups can retreat to adults-only sanctuaries while the children are busy at kids' clubs, everyone can reconvene for lunch and dinner and if Grandma would rather relax with a cocktail than go on a shore tour, that's all fine too.
10 LEARN SOMETHING NEW
Travel really can broaden the mind – cruises offer an amazing range of courses you can take on board. Finally, there is time for all those things you promised you would do but put off – classes range from photography to gourmet cooking, dance and social media. Computer courses are some of the most popular, so get in early for free lessons from experts on digital photography, editing and blogging.
11 ENCOUNTER WILDLIFE
Whether you dream of swimming with whale sharks or seeing polar bears in the wild, a cruise can make that dream come true. Mainstream, luxury and adventure lines offer a huge variety of shore excursions that involve close encounters and unforgettable photo opportunities with all sorts of animals and birds. Top of the list for wildlife spotting cruise destinations are Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands and the Arctic.
12 GET BACK TO NATURE
Australia and New Zealand boast some stunning natural attractions that you can observe from a ship – The Kimberley, Great Barrier Reef, Bay of Islands, Fiordland's Sounds – or explore on a shore tour. Then there are places such as Hawaii's volcanoes, French Polynesia's tropical islands, the Arctic's rugged coastline, the Peruvian Amazon, south-east Asia and the destinations mentioned for wildlife spotting. The list is virtually endless.
13 TRAVEL SOLO
Cruises are very social, whether you're on a megaship or a 150-passenger river ship. It's easier to meet other people on a smaller vessel – because you'll see them regularly – and many lines run on-board events for solo travellers. Many nervous solo travellers make lifelong friends after taking their first cruise. And if you don't want to pay the single supplement and don't mind sharing with a stranger, some companies organise same-sex cabin sharing.
14 EXPLORE SPECIAL INTERESTS
Meeting like-minded people is one reason why themed cruises are booming. Expert-led workshops, hands-on classes and specially tailored shore excursions add to the appeal and there's a wide selection of themed ocean and river cruises to choose from. Gardening, golf, food and wine, photography, comedy and music are the most popular but more specialised topics are also covered (crafts, marathon-running, genealogy, to name just three).
15 JUST LIKE HOME
If you're concerned about travelling to remote places where you don't speak the language or worried about sightseeing on your own, cruising provides an easy solution. Shore excursions organised by river and ocean ships are led by English-speaking guides and on-board meals cater for western tastes as well as offering regional dishes when you're cruising in places such as Asia and the Middle East.
16 FIND ROMANCE
It's no secret that honeymoon cruises are big business. Once you've picked your dream destination, look for a ship that provides plenty of opportunities for couples to enjoy private time together. Smaller, luxury ships are the way to go for a serene on-board experience. Book a balcony cabin, couples spa treatments, tables for two in fine-dining restaurants (and breakfast in bed in your cabin) and romance is assured.
17 WORLD-CLASS LUXURY
A handful of cruise lines cater for unashamed lovers of luxury travel. Imaginative itineraries to destinations inaccessible to megaships coupled with superlative service, gourmet dining, stylish interior design, sumptuous suites and lavish spas give the world's best hotels more than a run for their money. Fares that include everything from on-board water toys to unlimited drinks are another attraction for top-bracket cruisers.
18 GROUP THERAPY
If you're planning a celebration for a wedding, significant birthday, anniversary or retirement (hens' and divorce parties are also on the up and up, according to a P&O Cruises spokesperson), a cruise is a great option. Parties, cakes and special packages can be organised for you and discounts apply for group bookings over a certain number; for example, a free cabin or free cruise for one person. Rigorous planning, however, is vital.
19 KEEP FIT
With all the gyms, classes, personal trainers and active shore excursions – cycling, kayaking, hiking – at your disposal on ships of all sizes, your next cruise could be the perfect opportunity to start a new fitness campaign. Your time is free from everyday constraints like work and household chores and now there are entire cruises devoted to fitness and wellness. It can even be fun.
20 APPRECIATE ART
Some cruise lines invest millions of dollars in art collections that are displayed around their ships. Holland America Line's newest ship, Koningsdam, features nearly 2000 artworks ranging from museum-quality classic paintings to contemporary sculptures; Regent Seven Seas Explorer's collection is worth more than $US4 million; and Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas has a staggering 11,000 installations and contemporary pieces on board. Learn more with self-guided tours.