Cruises, Organized Tour Groups, and Independent Travel


I’ve never taken a cruise. There, I said it.

I know that’s a sin in the eyes of many travelers, but I can’t help it.

One time, several years ago, I did take a gambling boat offshore in Cape Canaveral, I think it was. But once my $20 in nickels had been played out on the slots (I told you I was a party animal!) I found my way to an upper deck and breathed a huge sigh of relief as I dropped into a lounge chair where I stayed until we docked several hours later.

Even though this was a large boat, a small ship I guess, with several decks and escalators and bars and restaurants in addition to the casinos, my stomach and head were less than happy while I was “inside.” Once I was able to get fresh ocean air in my lungs, my unease settled, a bit anyway.

by Stratocaster27 via WikiMedia Commons

I admit it. I’m a coward about some things, and I think cruise ships rate up there somewhere. The thought of being on a giant floating hotel, or even a city, with no land in sight…umm, not comforting to me.

Especially when our kids were small, we did think about taking a Disney cruise. Maybe all that hype would overshadow my discomfort. I’m not sure. We never tried it, anyway.

I know there are people who swear cruises are the only way to travel – everything paid for, no need to leave the ship, entertainment and food of every kind…

But you know what? I can do most of that at Walt Disney World, if I buy one of those meal plans along with the hotel and tickets.

And except for the “everything included” part, I can do it in New York City…or Key West. And I could probably find a package in either of those cities that did include everything.

And if something went wrong, I could grab a taxi and leave.

Of course, there are hundreds and probably thousands of “all-inclusive” resorts like Sandals and Beaches. The usual sites like priceline, orbitz, expedia, and others offer great deals on these. We’ve never tried any of them either, but if you’re nervous about being stranded in the middle of the ocean, maybe this is an option for you.

Another thing we’ve managed to avoid is organized tour groups. So many people suggest that your first trip to Europe should be as a part of a tour group.

by citysightsync via wikimedia commons

Maybe because we had young children when we first went to Europe, maybe because we were meeting family there, or maybe because we just like independent travel, we chose to map our own itinerary. And except for some fairly minor glitches which I’ve detailed in previous stories, everything worked well.

Perhaps one thing that makes me reluctant to take one of these “everything’s included” options is that feeling of “what if I don’t like it? What if I don’t want to do all that stuff? I’ve already paid for it!” It’s sort of like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet – you feel like you have to over-indulge to get your money’s worth…

I’ve said it before, and it’s still true. We like driving around, stumbling into local spots, enjoying the views and the people we encounter along the way.

Wherever you are, if you’re staying in a hotel for several days, you come to recognize other guests and at least develop a nodding acquaintance with them. And sometimes you get into lengthy conversations about where you’re from, where you’re going, and what you’d like to see.

I remember one time we were in NYC with the kids, and as we walked out of the hotel, we met a woman who was just walking down the street. She asked if we were headed to the nearby famous deli for breakfast. We said yes, and she said, “There’s a much better choice,” and directed us to a local place.

And she was right. It was great, and filled with locals. I just looked it up, and it’s now closed, and evidently suffered a decline since our visit 25+ years ago. But you get my drift – local people can tell you about the best places!

We definitely have found this to be true in Key West, where we have developed relationships with many locals and others who dream of becoming locals.

Sure, sometimes those places are owned by family members or others who pay for the privilege, like the perfume shop where our Paris tour bus let us out, or the cloisonné factory where our taxi driver in Beijing took us. But no one forced us to buy anything, and there were lots of other people around.

One thing we do try to do, especially the first time we visit a city, is to take a local tour, whether by bus, trolley, or hansom cab. Maybe this gives us the best of both worlds. Usually, if you hate the driver you have, you can switch to another one at the next stop. And if not, at least you aren’t locked into spending days with him or her.

I admit that there are numerous opportunities for travelers to be taken advantage of, but I cling to the fantasy, perhaps, that most people are kind and good. And while I am probably more aware of my surroundings these days, and make a special effort to use common sense when dealing with strangers, I still believe that independent travel is the best of all worlds for me.

Next: My Bucket List Trip to Australia

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