A few years ago we got an amazing last-ish-minute cruise deal to go and explore the Baltics. We had always fancied visiting Scandinavia, but flying to each individual city and staying there was going to cost us small fortune we simply don’t have. That’s when we started thinking about cruises and ended up having one of our cheapest holidays. Let’s get back to that in a bit, because one of our first concerns was our age…
Are cruises only for ‘old’ people?
This is probably a question that springs to mind for any twenty-something and we were no exception. At tender ages of just 23 and 25, were we basically going on holiday with our grandparents?
To find out, we turned to Freckles’ parents – avid cruisers if there ever were any. Anyway, they reassured us that the average age on cruises they had been on was actually around 40 and there were many couples in their 30’s. That’s not so bad we thought, we have loads of friends that are (almost) 30.
The average age on a cruise seems to depend on when you go
A few weeks later we arrive at the cruise terminal, excited to get on the ship and embark on our first ever cruise. Whaaaaaat? Our hearts sank a little. “Are we the …youngest?” whispered Frog. As it turned out, all eyes were on us and the good 40-year age gap was making us stick out like sore thumbs.
Our “don’t over research trips” technique had failed us enormously. Now don’t get us wrong, we are not saying that you can’t have fun with older people. We love old people. In fact, Frog has great memories of his grandparents and Freckles’ grandma and grandad have a much better social life than we do! The biggest problem here was that these were oldies that only spoke GERMAN.
1800 old German people for 11 anglophones. That was the ratio of nationalities. But we can’t complain too much, those only 2 French people must have felt even worse.
What’s the moral of this story? You need to take factors like the departure port (ours was in Germany) and the time of year into real consideration if you’re looking for a certain cruise experience. Seriously, what were we expecting going on a cruise from Kiel in May? None the less, our age didn’t make too much difference to our overall experience and we still had a great time. Live the present moment, right?
How we got the best cruise deal EVER
So the bit you’ve been waiting for…how did we get the best cruise deal ever? Basically, we got an 11-night Baltic cruise for £500 each. Initially we expected to pay about £1000, which was already a fairly good deal. Prices seemed to be a bit lower because of the Concordia accident a few months earlier…oh yeah, we forgot to mention that we went with Costa.
Anyway, we were booking on the French version of the website because we live in France and we needed to pay in Euros. Just before entering our payment details, Freckles had a quick look at the T’s and C’s, but had a doubt about something in French so changed the website to the UK version. And this is where things were strange.
Whereas the cruise was going to cost us 1100 euros in France, it was only 500 pounds in the UK. Basically half the price with the exchange rate at the time. It was simply unreal. Of course, we called Freckles’ dad and begged him to pay for the cruise with his UK credit card and we reimbursed him the next day.
In the end, we were able to use the money we saved to pay for a drinks package and excursions in Russia.
Are cruises all inclusive?
Kind of. It depends on what kind of cruise experience you want…
Alcohol on cruise ships
On Costa cruises (and the majority of cruises), alcohol is not included in the price, so you need to either buy it by the glass or pay for a drinks package. Of course, you could not drink at all and just stick to the free coffee and tea, saving you a small fortune.
Avoiding the cruise excursions
You can also save a huge chunk of money by avoiding the cruise ship excursions. We were able to walk into all of the towns we docked at, but it took us up to 30 minutes each time. Sometimes there is also a public bus that you can get nearby. Of course, this works our much cheaper than taking the cruise shuttle (about 12 euros) or the tours which can be as expensive as 100 euros!!
You basically need to do an excursion in Russia
The only time we went on a cruise excursion was in Russia because we thought it would be easier. You need a visa to get into Russia, so basically you need to organize one before you leave, or go an excursion where you are on the cruise’s group visa. We decided to go for the latter option because we wanted to visit some of the palaces outside of St Petersburg.
Since then, Freckles’ parents have been on a similar cruise and found an independent tour company that also had the visa included. It was about the same price as the cruise excursion but it sounded much better because they got to actually walk in the street, go on the metro and explore a market. We were confined to a bus and under really strict rules, which we totally hated.
Tipping is not necessarily included
You need to check the cruise ship rules regarding service charges. Some ships impose a fixed rate that you have to pay, while on others you can refuse the charge and tip at your discretion. We just paid the fixed rate because it is basically the staff’s wage and we would hate to short-change such hard-working people.
What first timers need to know about cruises
The ship does not wait for you if you’re late
Ok, so avoiding the excursions will save you money but you need to have an eye on your watch. While the ship will wait for the official excursions, it won’t wait if you’re an absolute idiot and too busy taking photos in the city.
We almost learnt the hard way in Stockholm. We had a bit of time left so decided to walk back to the ship (we had taken the bus into the city). What we didn’t realise is that the ship was actually quite far away. As the minutes counted down, the ship was in sight but getting no closer. With just 7 minutes to go, we started running.
Never again do we want that stressful experience and please, please, please don’t make the same mistake. We were running across this pasture of land like the horror version of the Sound of Music. Our arms were flying in the air just like Maria, but the words coming out of our mouths were far from poetic. We made it with literally seconds to spare.
You need to print your booking voucher
We’re not quite sure how this happened, but we turned up with the wrong documents. We printed the booking confirmation and turned up with our passports. Apparently, there was also a booking voucher (like a ticket), but we were totally oblivious. Luckily the staff at the port were understanding and helped us out.
They’re strict about pregnant women traveling on cruise ships
We say that because an obviously pregnant woman was being questioned at the check-in stage. We have no idea if they let her on but it wasn’t looking good. If you’re pregnant, you will probably need to check the cruise ship conditions before booking.
They want to take your photo ALL THE TIME
Some people must really like it for there to be photographers available at every moment of your cruise, but we just found it annoying. We were polite at first, but after a while we just refused.
What’s more, the photos are obviously available to buy afterward and of course, they are ridiculously expensive. Apparently, if you wait until right at the end, you can negotiate a bit of a discount because they will just go in the bin once you leave the ship.
We were also approached by one of the photographers on the second to last day and he slipped a USB key in Frog’s jacket pocket. He said that all of our photos were on it and he was willing to give us the key if we slipped him a 20. We’re not sure how often this happens, but it looked like he knew what he was doing. If we had been bothered, it would have been an amazingly cheap way to get our photos!
They can (and do) change the itinerary last minute
They mention this in the terms and conditions and it does happen. Our stop in Denmark was canceled due to bad weather, so we got taken to this really rubbish place in Germany. We were totally gutted but there was nothing we could do about it!
Our overall impression
Going on a cruise is a great experience. You get to wake up in a new city every morning, eat restaurant-quality food every night and do a bunch of cool activities on the ship. Our only regret is that you only get 1 day in each city (Russia was the only exception when we had 2). In general, we felt that it wasn’t quite enough and we missed out on the night atmosphere, which we usually really appreciate. However, the days are long so you still get to see the majority of a city if you’re up bright and early.
Overall we would go on another cruise if the price and itinerary were right. So don’t forget, if you want to book a cruise, always check the price in a different language. You might be pleasantly surprised!
Tell us about your cruise experiences! Have you ever got a cheaper price by changing the language or site URL?