Intrepid explorers have been navigating the world's oceans for millennia as famous seafarers set sail to seek out new lands. But though the globe has been mapped out, travellers continue to make their own voyages of discovery, with ocean cruising more popular than ever.
An ocean cruise can take you virtually anywhere, from Alaska to Antarctica, Polynesia or the Mediterranean. And with competition hotting up between cruise companies, and new, cutting-edge ships regularly taking to the seas, passengers have never had it so good. While ancient explorers enjoyed few luxuries, today's ocean liners boast lavish cabins and dining areas, swimming pools and spas. The most ostentatious vessels even come with chandelier-adorned ballrooms and butler service.
Wherever you embark on your cruise, whether it's in Sydney's majestic harbour or a colourful Caribbean port, the anticipation is palpable. There's the clamour of excited chatter on the gangways, seagulls squawking above and ship horns gearing up to sound their departure.
Cruises can last anywhere from a long weekend to many months, but most last 7–14 nights – which is ample time to savour the perks of a mode of travel that attracts an increasingly diverse cross-section of travellers, from children to pensioners and everyone in between. Don't be surprised to see several generations of the same family cruising together as a group, as cruising offers something for everyone.
There are so many appealing aspects to an ocean cruise – and not just the fact that you'll get to visit several different places while only having to unpack once. Each ship has its own character and charm. Some are akin to floating five-star boutique hotels, with art lining the walls, swanky jazz bars, and a passenger count in the hundreds. Others are more like bustling resorts, catering to several thousand guests, with Broadway-size theatres that showcase glamourous musicals, stand-up comedy and magicians.
The amenities on each ship varies, but most have pools, gyms, sun decks, adults-only zones for quiet relaxation and wellness centres, where you can receive pampering treatments. Some of the larger ships even have opendeck running tracks.
Onboard activities invite guests to sign up for everything from culinary schools and quizzes to dance classes and photography workshops. Some vessels also invite experts to give lectures on subjects related to where you're cruising, so you can quickly become au fait with the local history, geography, flora and fauna.
Another joy of ocean cruising is the array of enticing dining options, from sprawling buffets to sit-down restaurants with waiter service. Efforts are increasingly made to serve food from the region you're cruising in, so if you're on an Alaskan expedition, expect the likes of wild Pacific salmon to be on the menu; likewise, reindeer is a popular dish on Scandinavian voyages and if you're sailing off France's Mediterranean coast, bouillabaisse – a traditional Provencal fish stew – might take your fancy. Speciality eateries also grace most ships and depending on the cruise liner, some are complimentary, while others incur an extra fee. It's the same with alcohol. On some cruise lines you pay by the glass or purchase beverage packages; on others drinks like premium wines and spirits are included in your fare.
Shore excursions are another treat that some cruise lines include among their all-inclusive offering (on others you have to pay). Either way, these are excellent options to help you explore your ports of call, with trips designed for both lovers of culture and adventure. One day you could be treading the cobblestone streets of a medieval city, the next you could be tasting wine amid picturesque vineyards. Snorkelling with colourful reef fish and turtles, helicopter rides over glaciers and ziplining through the jungle are other enriching possibilities.
While you'll love exploring both your ship and your destinations, there'll be times when you'll want nothing more than to relax and recharge in your cabin. The most alluring staterooms and family suites have balconies, and maybe even hot tubs, and there are few nicer feelings than sitting on your balcony overlooking the sea with room-service breakfast as the sun rises, or a drink in hand as the sun melts into the sea, and you reflect on the highlights of your holiday.
Picking your dream cruise can be a challenge with so many options to consider. Would you like to cruise with people of a mostly similar age? Would you prefer a smart-casual style of cruising or a more formal one with guests donning tuxedos and cocktail dresses? It's here where you'll really appreciate the value of using a travel adviser to match you with the right cruise line.
Despite what cruise sceptics might think, there's an ocean cruise to suit everyone. And with so many ships and itineraries to choose from, it's just deciding which one suits you best.