The great thing about a cruise is that you are free to do whatever you want to so long as it can be accomplished within the confines of the ship and does not impact the enjoyment of other passengers. So, while you might not be wise to sing opera’s greatest hits off key in the corridors, you can definitely pursue activities that contribute to your personal well-being and the success of your vacation.
I’ve just returned from a one-week cruise to Alaska from Vancouver, BC. On a relaxing sea day, while engaged in the first activity on my list, I compiled my top ten list of cool things to do on a cruise vacation.
1. Stake Out the Perfect Spot for Sea Gazing
All you need is a comfy chair next to a window in a location that, preferably, includes bar service and, of course, a sea view. Settle down and watch the scenery and the sea roll. The only downside is that you may, periodically, be interrupted by line dancing classes, trivia contests, Karaoke competitions, naturalist talks, and the like. In that case, you can watch the sea slip by from your room while sipping the wine you smuggled onto the ship in your suitcase.
- Engage Fellow Passengers in Conversations
You’ll find endless opportunities for engaging people—in the dining room, on a tour, during an activity, in the elevator. Most of the passengers are intent on enjoying themselves. Why else would they shell out a few thousand dollars to share air with 2,000 odd passengers and almost as many crew members? A particularly heartening characteristic of cruises is that, as a rule, people are in good moods.
- Walk the Deck
Next to sitting and watching the world float by (and okay, eating), walking the deck is my favorite cruise ship activity because it gets me out into the air. Make a habit of walking ten, fifteen, twenty laps a day, several times a day, rain or shine. There is no downside to walking the deck. You get fresh air and exercise and have a slim chance of burning off the cheesecake you ate for dessert the night before.
- Join a Fitness or Dance Class
Again, movement is key. When you’re moving your body, you can’t help but feel good. Yes, you might look a trifle ridiculous hopping about to a Zumba class, but honestly, is anyone looking at you, and if they are, do they care? Will they see you again? Unlikely. Let loose and sense the beat. Your hips will thank you.
- Talk with Crew Members about their Home Countries
I’ve never yet failed to enjoy a lively conversation with a staff member eager to share something about his or her life off the ship. And what a great opportunity to learn about people from all over the world! On my Alaska cruise, my favorite conversation was with the guy in charge of excursions. I happened to be carrying my novel “The Towers of Tuscany” when I went to book a shore excursion for Ketchikan. The guy recognized the picture of the towers of San Gimignano on the cover of the novel and promptly launched into a long description of his home island of Khios in Greece which, apparently, was an Italian colony for several centuries back in the middle ages. Christopher Columbus hung out there to learn navigation. The excursion guy gave me an information sheet on Khios, read the back cover of my novel, then shook my hand twice because I was an author. I’m pretty sure that working on a cruise ship is no picnic for a great many of the crew, but I’ve found that most are quite happy to chat about where they come from and when they next get time off the ship. On my recent cruise, the young woman who cut my hair was from Leeds in England, our waiter at dinner was from the Ukraine, the assistant waiter (who never once forgot my lemon tea) was from Serbia, and the man who tended the room was from the Philippines, to name just a few. All worked ridiculously long hours and all were uniformly friendly. It’s impossible to know if they all liked their jobs as much as they appeared to, but their ability to make the passengers happy and comfortable is unparalleled.
- Learn about the natural history and culture of the ports of call
Travel is best when it broadens the mind. Of course, I was a teacher in a former life so I do love a good interpretative talk. And come on, who doesn’t want to learn why glaciers and whales both have calves? On Day 4 of my cruise to Alaska, several National Park rangers boarded the ship at the entrance to Glacier Bay and spent all day sharing information about the flora and fauna of southeast Alaska. I never get tired of listening to earnest young people dressed all in green and wearing Mountie hats.
- Try one new activity
Choose from line dancing, bookmark making, salsa dancing, martini mixing, wine tasting (a personal favorite), the list goes on. Every cruise packs the daily schedule with activities. You don’t want to spend every day racing from activity to activity like a crazed camp counselor, but sampling one or two new activities in the course of the week won’t kill you and might very well enhance your cruising experience in unexpected ways. For example, I was reluctant to take part in the relentlessly cheerful line dancing classes, but once I did, I enjoyed myself, except that I couldn’t get “Elvira” out of my head for a week.
- Let yourself do absolutely nothing a few times a day when the ship is at sea
Find that perfect deck chair, stretch out, turn your face to the sun, and allow your body to sink to the depths of relaxation. You don’t need to stay that way for long. The key is to take short, but frequent “do nothing” breaks during which you banish any thought that you ought to be doing something useful. As Genevieve, my friend and former fabulous massage therapist (she moved away, alas) was fond of saying, “Being Still is Doing Something.”
- Eat without guilt
Yes, cruise ships are famous for being stuff fests on the sea. Eating becomes an endless series of choices. Salmon or sea bass? Filet mignon or smoked duck? Mango gelato or coconut Napoleon? The best, okay, the only, thing you can do is to enjoy yourself. After all, you paid for the cruise with the full knowledge that Olympic level eating was a requirement. You don’t have to be a glutton, but at the same time, you miss out on a great deal of the pleasures of the cruise if you stick to lettuce leaves and raw carrots.
10. Listen to fellow passengers describe the tours they enjoyed during port time
I’m not much on group tours and usually avoid them, but I do enjoy sharing other people’s enthusiasm for their experiences. Listening to someone from Texas or Australia or Germany describe, wide-eyed, their first encounters with bears or eagles or whales does hold a certain charm.
Some people’s top ten list might also include dancing the night away in the arms of a loved one, partying to dawn, bubbling for hours in the Jacuzzi (not an option on an Alaskan cruise, alas), and gambling away all the money not spent on the cruise in the casino.
The important thing to remember is that you’ve chosen a cruise for your vacation because you want to relax, enjoy, relax, repeat. And isn’t that the whole point of a vacation?