In your travel-related conversations around the campfire, have you discovered that many veteran RV campers are
also cruise vacation enthusiasts? The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reports that 8.2 million American households own RVs, and the cruise ship industry estimates that as many as 19 million worldwide passengers currently board cruises each year. When you stop to consider it, there are striking similarities between touring select inland destinations via RV and sailing from port to port on a cruise ship.
The Good Sam Club has already taken the lead on combining these two complementary traveling styles – by offering ‘camp plus cruise’ group tours in fabulous locales like Alaska, Hawaii, and South America/Antarctica. And many of Good Sam Club’s caraventures include dinner cruises (on the Great Lakes, for example) or harbor cruises (as in Charleston, South Carolina ) as part of the overall fun. What is it about RV camping and cruising that makes them match up so well? Let’s compare and contrast these two popular modes of travel…
Packing Your Bags
RV camping and cruise ship travel have one major positive element in common. Both modes of transportation allow you to pack and unpack just one time – which covers the entire length of your journey.
In terms of packing and stowing, RV’s are a bit easier than cruise ships because campers really don’t need to use luggage at all, unless they wish to do so. If you own an RV and you have direct access to it at the time of your trip departure, you can simply load needed supplies – from clothing to snorkeling gear to groceries – directly into cabinets, drawers, closets and compartments. And your ‘stuff’ remains where you place it – throughout the course of your travels. As an RVer, you never waste time packing and unpacking as you change locations.
In fact, most experienced RVers keep many essential items in their rigs on a permanent basis. Routine galley supplies, sheets, pillows, blankets, towels and the like can stay put, and you can simply add the clothes and incidentals that are needed for each upcoming adventure.
As with RVing, cruising is also easy in terms of packing. Since you don’t have to unpack or repack as you sail between ports of call, you only have to handle packing duties at the beginning and end of your cruise. As compared with RVing, cruising requires one extra step – the luggage phase. Most cruisers bring packed suitcases and tote bags with them as they board their ships, and they generally unpack their luggage into closets and dressers inside their assigned ‘cabins.’ Cruisers need only bring clothes and personal extras such as reading materials, favorite sports equipment and bath supplies. Items like towels, sheets and all the food required for daily meals and snacks are provided by cruise lines.
To Drive or Not to Drive
When you’re RVing, someone on your camping team drives the vehicle from here to there. When you’re cruising, the captain and crew steer the ship, freeing you to forget about driving and related responsibilities. Depending on whether or not you like to drive and be in control of your travel route and vehicle, you might consider the driving/no driving aspects of camping versus cruising as either positive or negative.
What’s on Your Itinerary?
One of the greatest aspects of RVing is the amazing flexibility factor, the ability to linger and change direction or even speed past a mediocre site as you travel from locale to locale. You can plan ahead and map out each step of your journey, or you can heed the irresistible call of that winding country road that leads to nowhere (or everywhere). Your time investment and travel plans run according to personal preferences.
Cruise itineraries are certainly diverse, but after you board a particular ship, detours and skipped destinations aren’t on the agenda. The up side is that cruise ships sail all over the world, and when you’re choosing a cruise vacation, you can pick the cruise line and ports of call that suit your interests and budget. The down side is that each ship’s itinerary is set in stone. A cruise’s pre-determined path only changes in cases of inclement weather (as in hurricanes), natural disasters (think floods or earthquakes), or malfunctions on the ship.
The bottom line is that an individual’s spontaneous preferences don’t change the course of cruise ship itineraries, but they can have major impacts on the progress of RV vacations. RVing definitely outranks cruising when it comes to choosing your own pace and path.
Whether you’re camping or cruising, you can plan for a cost-cutting or cost-inflating vacation experience. RVers can stay on a thrifty track by staying close to home to control gas expenses and joining campground membership clubs such as Camp Club USA to conserve dollars on campsite fees. You can also save a bundle by cooking meals in your galley instead of dining in restaurants and choosing free or reasonably priced campground-based activities as opposed to visiting commercial attractions with expensive admission prices.
For their part, cruisers can keep an out-to-sea budget in line by minimizing purchases of souvenirs and alcoholic beverages (the costs of which add up very quickly on cruise ships). You can also cut cruise tabs by doing a little independent research and setting up your own portside excursions – as opposed to buying pre- arranged packaged tours for your ship’s ports of call.
There are striking similarities in the sleek, efficient designs of bedrooms, baths and showers in RVs and on cruise ships. Such commonalities tend to help experienced RV campers feel ‘at home’ in cruise ship cabins.
Just as with sleeping quarters in various classes, makes and models of RVs, cabins on cruise ships range widely in value, size and style. Based on your preferences and travel budget, you can choose anything from a compact windowless cube with minimal maneuvering room to a sizeable luxurious suite with a private balcony and hot tub.
Most repeat cruisers mention mealtimes as some of the biggest advantages of ship-based getaways, There’s no grocery shopping, no food prep duties , and no galley clean-up on a cruise. What’s more, all those delicious meals and snacks are included in the price of your cruise ticket. It’s a meal plan that’s hard to top, especially for those long-suffering folks who cover 24/7 cooking duties back at home.
The upbeat aspects of mealtimes for RV campers are the ready availability of galley facilities, the opportunity to individualize food choices according to taste and nutritional necessity, and the ability to eat exactly what you want whenever you want it. Outside your RV galley, restaurants are another handy source of food for campers. After all, part of the ‘fun factor’ associated with travel is sampling each region’s distinctive cuisine.
Today’s generation of communication tools – laptop computers, personal cell phones, smartphones and assorted hybrids – are convenient, reliable and generally cost effective when you’re traveling via RV.
These devices can also be used effectively on many ships. Be advised, though, that cruise lines customarily charge hefty ‘per minute’ fees for internet access. Likewise, charges for phone calls and text messages originating from ships can be costly. So it pays to inquire about related fee scales and discounted package deals before you start dialing and texting while you’re cruising.
Is there a doctor in the house? If you’re sailing on a mainstream cruise line, there probably is. Keep in mind that healthcare services on cruises are usually limited to treating garden variety illnesses and minor injuries, such as sea sickness, jellyfish stings or sprained ankles. If you are seriously hurt or gravely ill, chances are you will be dropped off the ship for more comprehensive treatment in an onshore hospital at a nearby port. You might encounter less-than- ideal care standards, depending on the locale where the illness or injury strikes.
If a medical issue arises while you’re RVing, you’ll probably be able to exert more direct control over your course of treatment. When you’re camping domestically, you reap the advantages of ready phone and e-mail communications and a health insurance safety net. If your physical condition permits, there’s a possibility of returning to your home town and/or familiar healthcare facilities. At least, there’s the likelihood of consulting your personal physician to make an informed choice about the best care options in the area where you’re traveling.
For greater peace of mind, think about purchasing a crisis-oriented travelers’ aid plan like Good Sam
Emergency Assistance Plus. It provides invaluable services such as worldwide medical evacuation and speedy prescription replacement – no matter how or where you travel.
Both RV resorts and cruise ships tend to excel in the realm of recreation. RV campers can participate in a wide range of individual and group activities, from nature walks and water aerobics classes to musical jam sessions, holiday suppers, craft workshops and community game nights. Likewise, cruise ships offer a little bit of everything in the way of entertainment – exercise centers with pampering spa therapies, rock climbing walls, swimming pools, gambling casinos, magic shows, and lively song-and-dance revues. Campers and cruisers alike hit the jackpot concerning available recreational pursuits.
Traveling with Pets?
As experienced campers know, most RV resorts and parks welcome quiet, well-behaved pets – as long as the pets and their owners follow posted rules and standards. Such is not the case on major cruise lines, where strict health regulations and animal quarantine laws must be obeyed. An exception is granted for working service dogs, as they are allowed onboard cruises with their masters.
In consideration of regular pets, however, only one luxury cruise ship currently allows kennel-confined animals – on a very limited (and expensive) basis. For travelers who are determined to cruise with pets, some smaller charter boats and sightseeing companies are more animal-friendly than the mainstream cruise lines.
Double the fun!
Adventurous travelers don’t need to make a difficult, one-sided decision between RV camping and cruising. Thanks to an abundance of highly rated RV resorts located within close proximity of bustling cruise ports, it’s relatively easy to double your travel fun when you go cruising by land and by sea.
Paula Loehr is a journalist, nurse, teacher and avid RV camper/cruiser from coastal Florida.