I have sailed on 110 cruises and doing so has helped me learn about myself and how I like to travel.
Cruises are a way to connect with loved ones and dining with strangers leads to new friendships.
I wish I'd stuck with one cruise line more to get loyalty rewards and attended more ship lectures.
I've been on 110 cruises in my life and I've had some wild, wonderful experiences.
Here are my biggest takeaways and lessons I've learned that I hope might help other future cruisers or give them some food for thought before their next departure.
Just one cruise wiped away my really bad experiences on the open sea
When my late wife, Donna, convinced me years ago to go on a short cruise, I was ready to face some bad memories.
My previous experience on the open sea was when I was in the Army and it was filled with bad ship experiences — multiple stormy crossings and dull sailings had soured me on oceans in general.
Yet those weeks of nautical misery were wiped out by just three days on my first cruise. Even in the 1970s, a cruise felt luxurious and surprisingly affordable. I was hooked.
I wish we'd stuck with one cruise line more consistently to earn better rewards
Early on, we decided we wouldn't try very hard to earn the rewards that come with being loyal to one cruise line. Back then it was an easy choice because rewards were far and few between.
But as perks became better, we felt a pull toward one line. These days, we lean toward Royal Caribbean. As a loyal traveler, the cruise line gives me three free drinks per day. Plus it operates out of Port Canaveral, just 20 minutes from home.
I can only imagine how many perks I'd have now if more of my cruises had been booked through them. Still, though, we use our discretion and sail with other lines if we like their ports and offerings.
Freestyle dinner seating isn't for me
Some cruises offer freestyle dining, where travelers can sit wherever they want and regularly change seats. But I prefer to have a table with the same two, four, or six other people each night.
It's a great way to form connections, plus the server gets to know my special needs and doesn't need reminders. As a bonus, by the end of the cruise, your tablemates may have become your friends.
Looking back, I'm sorry I missed so many of the lectures that were offered on board
Some cruises offer opportunities to watch guest speakers and attend lectures. In retrospect, I wish I'd gone to more.
One of the most outstanding ones I saw was on a special cruise that took us to Archangel and Murmansk, Russia. Our lecturer was the former ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock, who discussed his interactions with Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, and insights into the breakup of the USSR.
He was outstanding and what I learned was eye-opening. Plus I got to know him slightly as we were both of the same stature and I was occasionally mistaken for him on the ship.
I grew a little more in love with my wife on every cruise
Many special moments can be had on cruises with people you love, even if it's someone you see every single day.
We shared the same house, bedroom, and bed at home, but daily tasks or obligations often separated us. On the ship, though, we started each day together with the cruise schedule, picking out the things that interested us before setting out on our day.
We almost always ate breakfast and lunch together and, during those times, we were able to really talk and listen to each other.
Cruises require you to be more tech-savvy these days, which can be difficult to navigate as you get older
Unfortunately, my age and ability to use technology have an inverse relationship. The older I get the more technology confuses me, especially when it comes to making online bookings and navigating the cruise lines' phone apps.
This has led me to the conclusion that I probably should not cruise alone, but I'm fortunate to have three offspring who love cruising and will join me. I'm also not hesitant to tell my traveling companions when I can use help and I'm still able to regularly travel.
Cruises have made me more capable of handling emergency situations
I've encountered a few troubles throughout my travels, but I think I've met many of them with solutions that worked.
For example, during a stop at Ocho Rios, Donna got pepper-sprayed by a police officer while being a bystander at a jewelry store. I was immediately able to get a police escort back to the ship and get her medical help.
Since I lost Donna in 2021 my confidence level in handling those situations has diminished, but I make it work.
I no longer try to beat the system, be first in line, find the best price, and get the best seat
As I've gotten older, I've gotten more relaxed and able to accept what is easiest for me.
I used to study the deck plans in search of the most unusual, rare cabin but now I'm satisfied just getting the best I can without great effort.
Really, it's all about learning to relax and remembering to enjoy yourself. That's the best lesson you can carry forward — and also to never ask fellow passengers what they paid for their cabin because it will only upset you.
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