Should I take a land vacation or a cruise?

Rome land trip March 2019
MSC Magnifica Med Cruise November 2018

I see this debate come up quite often on different travel groups online and often with friends. When does it make sense to cruise and when does it make sense to just take a land vacation?

For those who don’t know before moving to England last summer we lived in Alaska for six years. Alaska is amazing and a huge flux of tourists come in the summer months including by plane but also from cruise ships. My husband and I actually took an Alaskan cruise from mainland Alaska where we lived down through the islands and to Vancouver, it was an amazing trip, but I would still pick a land vacation to Alaska over a cruise if you had to choose between the two. You can do all the major shore excursion type things such as flight seeing, whale watch tours, zip lining, sled dogs in addition to being able to visit places cruise ships just can’t go to like Denali. Some people though just want something more relaxing so only three days of short seeing is okay with them and then three sea days just to relax. It’s definitely nice to just be able to chill and not have to plan a lot of things on your own. For Alaska almost every cruise line offers a land and sea option which gives you a few days mainland first, definitely a good option but expensive.

I found ourselves facing a lot of the same decisions once moving to England. There’s tons of affordable cruising options here and cruising here in Europe and the Mediterranean is often more affordable in my opinion, especially when taking into account the cost of food and hotel room along with the exchange rate (US dollars to the pound and to the euro). Financially I’ve come out ahead on each of the cruises we’ve planned when looking at cost of getting around, hotels and food. That’s not taking into account the childcare and the entertainment. My cruise coming up out of Southampton works out to $155/night which includes the nightly service charge. That will get us to 9 different ports of call also (France, Spain, England, Germany and the Netherlands).

So when does a land vacation make more sense? In the Mediterranean a lot of people are trying to see major places in Europe which just doesn’t make a lot of sense sometimes. The port of Civitavecchia which is used to get into Rome is about an hour by train away. Le Havre that is used to the Normandy beaches and Paris often almost 3 hours away. Even if you’re in port 12-14 hours a lot of your day is taken up getting on and off the ship and transporting to and from town. Not to mention a lot of cities like Rome and Paris have so much to see and do you will only get the tiniest taste possible. It’s fun to really explore places sometimes.

Back in October my family joined my cousins family on a trip to Croatia. We rented a big van, stayed at some amazing AirBnB’s for pretty cheap. We got to see so much more than we ever could have done from a day or two on a cruise ship to Dubrovnik, Split or Zadar. You get to explore places in the evenings which is when most cruise ships leave. The same is true for Rome. I find Rome is the most magical at night. I became really emotional walking back from having dinner at Piazza Navona towards St. Peter’s and then to our AirBnB near the Vatican. These are experiences I would not have had from a cruise ship.

Like all things when planning a vacation it just comes down to what you’re looking for. When I am traveling with my kids alone I prefer cruising. I like having the down time I get when they go to the kids clubs and I like waking up and being able to take them to a new place every day and the variety. When I really want to explore an area I’d rather take a land vacation. I’m really looking forward to planning longer trips to Ireland and Scotland so we can go into the country side. I also really want to go to Sweden soon. Those three places are high on my land vacation bucket list while we’re living in Europe. But I’m super excited to not cook over Thanksgiving and cruise the Greek isles in November also. It’s all about balance. Just like I’d never only go to Disney World every year I’d never just cruise and never just take land vacations.

How do I choose which cruise to go on?

I use three main things to choose what cruise line to go on.

  • Itinerary and dates that itinerary
  • Cruiseline preference
  • Price (including perks and promotions)

Itinerary and dates: This is pretty self explanatory. One of the biggest hurdles is figuring out where you want to go and when. Once you have an idea of where you want to go and when the options dwindle making it a lot easier to choose an actual cruise. For example, there’s a lot less Caribbean cruises in the Fall during hurricane season. We’re going in October and I had limited options between Royal Caribbean and Carnival. For European cruises a lot of the major US lines only operate seasonally and often they have limited itinerary options. This is what made me try MSC back in November 2018, but we ended up loving it!

Cruise line preference: We all have preferences. Over the course of about 20 cruises I’ve found my own. I do like Carnival. It’s a solid offering with a lot of Caribbean options which was great when I lived in Florida. It’s also great for kids with kids clubs starting at aged 2 instead of 3 like most and also changing diapers (a huge bonus for those cruising with 2 year olds or late to potty train kids like I did).

I love Celebrity when we go adults only. They’re so relaxing and a bit more upscale. I also feel like their food is better. It’s a slightly older crowd and more laid back.

The third cruise line I lean towards in MSC. I just started cruising them because they were the only option that was affordable and going when I wanted, but we had an amazing time and my daughter cried our last night when we had to leave and get off. They have some amazingly affordable longer European itineraries (often under $2000 for 4 people). They also charge half the gratuity/service charge rate per a kid and kids sale free when booking a US rate. Something to note is that MSC does loyalty matching. I matched Gold with my Carnival Platinum status giving me extra perks on my first cruise with MSC.

Price: Price is obviously a huge thing for most people. We travel a LOT so I admit that we don’t usually splurge and do $10,000 cruises. I’d rather have extra money on the ship to do fun things or to explore off the ship more than spend a lot more for the same itinerary on a fancier line. I am hoping to splurge to do Disney next year, but my kids are HAPPY on Carnival and MSC so I feel like that will probably be a one time thing (but AMAZING I’m sure).

When you’re pricing out cruise lines make sure to compare apples to apples. Some lines may be more expensive but often include a complimentary drink package or other perks (can cost up to $100/day/pp on some lines). If you plan to drink a lot it’s something to consider. I first tried Celebrity when they priced out cheaper than Carnival because I was getting $300 of on board credit and also free beverages which was worth about $1000. MSC will watch kids under 3 for free so you can have dinner in the evenings, other lines charge a fee for that same service. If it’s something you may use a lot it’s something to think about. Kids sale free promotions are big too, even at discounted 3rd and 4th passenger fares those amounts add up quickly.