So you think cruising is for seniors? Or that seasickness is a given? Sally Macmillan sinks some commonly held perceptions about holidays at sea.
Cruising is expensive.
Your meals, accommodation and entertainment are included in your fare, so if you booked a no-frills bargain cruise from Australia to the south Pacific or New Zealand - those super-low prices advertised are usually for a quad-share inside cabin - and didn't spend money on any extras (booze, soft drinks, ice-cream and shore excursions), you could cruise for as little as $85 a person a day.* Which is probably cheaper than staying at home or going on a family camping trip.
If you have children, particularly teenage boys who tend to eat a lot, buffet meals are a boon; kids' clubs are usually free for younger children, so they're entertained while the parents can have a few hours to themselves; and if you live close to one of our major port cities, you can save money on transport costs by boarding a ship in a port near you.
Cruising is ideal for extended families. Larger ships have a range of entertainment that will appeal to grandparents, parents and children, and the choice of meals means there's something for everyone on the menu.
* Based on fare advertised in The Sun-Herald on March 3, 2013, Flight Centre, 13-night Sydney to New Zealand round trip, from $1115.
Cruises are only for seniors.
Cruise lines say short ocean cruises are increasingly popular with younger families, couples and single travellers, although it is very difficult to find exact figures. If you are retired and have enough money, you can afford to spend months at sea on a world cruise or similar, so it follows that the longer the cruise, the older the average age of the passengers on board.
However, conversations with our three cruise converts - and many other holidaymakers I've met on various ships in the past few years - reveal that people in their 30s, 40s and 50s are taking cruises in greater numbers than ever before. River cruises tend to be patronised by older couples and single travellers, but as Christian Schweitzer, the Australasia marketing manager for Globus Travel, which runs Avalon Waterways, says, the average age is "trending downward" from 68 four years ago to 62 today.
The kids will be bored.
Most cruise lines offer kids' clubs for specific age groups, and itineraries and facilities on some larger, resort-style ships (Royal Caribbean, Disney, Norwegian Cruise Lines, MSC Cruises) are designed with families in mind. Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class ships (the biggest in the business) boast ice rinks, basketball courts, minigolf, zip-lines, flowriders and rock-climbing walls, as well as daily parades of cartoon characters in the huge indoor promenade area.
Voyager of the Seas, which is in Australia until the end of the "wave season", offers most of the above facilities, including an ice rink and rock-climbing wall. Carnival Spirit, now based in Australia year-round, is famous for having the world's "steepest water slide at sea", Green Thunder, which keeps kids of all ages entertained for hours.
Shore excursions (whether you book excursions organised by the cruise line or take off on your own at the various ports) also offer wonderful opportunities for young adventurers.
I'm worried about being seasick.
This can be a problem, but one that can be managed. Large, modern ships have very efficient stabilisers, but it's the nature of the sea to be bumpy at some point, and some people are extremely sensitive to any unstable motion. Anxiety about feeling sick can actually make you sick, so try not to dwell on the possibility.
If you are prone to motion sickness, there are a few things you can do to ward off the dreaded mal de mer:
Book a cabin in the middle of the ship (the most stable position) with a window or balcony (keeping the horizon in view can help your body maintain balance).
Spend as much time as possible on deck.
Wear acupressure bands on your wrists (they're drug-free and cheap).
Dose yourself (and/or kids) 24 hours before the cruise with over-the-counter remedies or prescription drugs. Discuss with your doctor or chemist what suits you because no remedy suits everyone.
Try ginger pills. Sailors have sworn by ginger for centuries.
Eat some strawberry jam, because it's supposed to taste just as good coming up as it does going down!
I've heard that you put on at least two kilos a week on a cruise.
While it is easy to stack on the weight on a cruise, partly because there are so many opportunities to eat pretty much 24/7, there are also plenty of opportunities to work off those holiday kilojoules.
As a simple preventive, if you tend towards overeating, keep away from the buffet; remember that cocktails, wine and beer are loaded with sugar; drink lots of water; and go for fresh fruit instead of desserts. Ships have fitness centres and gyms that offer a range of equipment, classes and personal trainers; promenade decks that are ideal for walking and running; stairs you can take rather than lifts; and plenty of shore excursions involve walking, cycling or swimming.
Holland America Line runs On Deck for a Cause on all 15 ships in its fleet, which involves walking five kilometres around the decks to raise money for cancer research. That's nine to 12 laps, depending on which ship you're on - an excellent feel-good exercise all round.
I'll be bored.
Hello! Depending on the cruise, you can sign up for classes in acting, dancing, cooking, computer skills, yoga, golf - you name it, there's a course to suit you.
Cruise lines these days are very aware that not everyone wants to lie around the pool soaking up sun and cocktails (although, of course, that can be a most enjoyable part of the experience). When you're on a cruise, you have time to pursue interests you might be too busy for in everyday life.
What sort of courses do the major cruise lines offer? Princess Cruise Lines offers the ScholarShip@Sea program that encompasses practical courses in art, craft, digital photography and more; guest lecturers give talks on destinations you'll visit on the cruise. Holland America Line has the Explorations program, which includes computer workshops with their "techsperts" and Culinary Arts Centres that feature cooking seminars and demonstrations. P&O Cruises' Australian ships offer wine and coffee appreciation seminars, and art and craft courses.
Cruises aren't safe.
Tragedies such as the sinking of Costa Concordia in 2012 are, thankfully, rare in the cruising world, but one of the effects of that accident has been an overhaul of compulsory safety-drill procedures on all major cruise lines. Captains can order people who don't attend safety drills off the ship, and people who make a nuisance of themselves are similarly likely to be offloaded at the next port.
While there don't appear to be reliable statistics about crimes committed on cruises, all cruise lines employ security officers, and CCTV cameras are installed throughout the ships. It makes sense to leave your valuables at home, or in the safe in your cabin, and if you're a single female who's nervous about travelling alone, make sure you put in place all the practices you would if going to a bar on your own anywhere in the world.
And it's worth bearing in mind that it's virtually impossible to "fall" overboard: people who do go over the side have fallen while climbing between balconies.
I'm claustrophobic and couldn't bear to be stuck in an inside cabin.
How much time are you planning to spend in your cabin? There is plenty of space on promenade decks, by the pool, or in other nooks and crannies aboard a ship, where you can relax with a book, have a coffee or a drink, or take part in any of the activities on offer.
Depending on how busy or social you are, you might use your cabin only for sleeping and showering. However, if you like your own space - and private views over the ocean and ports you visit - and are on a cruise that's longer than a few days, it's well worth checking out prices for a balcony cabin.
As with other holiday accommodation, the more you pay, the more choice you'll have. Some cabins or suites with windows rather than balconies are bigger, because the balcony can take up room space, so it is worth doing your homework - or asking a specialist cruise travel agent to do it for you - before you book.