It’s complicated! A world cruise with sixty some sea days gives you a lot of time to reflect on things. One of the things I have been reflecting on are the advantages and disadvantages of the three types of overseas travel we do: cruising, land tours, and staying in apartments for one to four weeks. Not one of them is perfect and not one of them is all bad. We have done land tours with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), Odysseys Unlimited, and Road Scholar. Of these, OAT is our favorite, so my land tour comparison will be based primarily on them. Apartment living would be renting an apartment and doing all touring on your own or buying individual tours from a company like Viator. I will give an item for comparison and try to evaluate each one. If this is not of interest to you, you might want to skip this one
1). Sightseeing. This is a clear win for apartment living as you can see what you want, when you want, and for as long as you want. If it is raining when you were planning to go on a hike, you can go to a museum instead and hike the next nice day. Cruising is the clear loser as they are only in the port for a limited time and have an inflexible schedule. It is impossible to see everything in a large city in the time allowed. Land tours tend to spend more time in a city and see it in more detail. Since everyone’s interests are different, any cruise or land tour is going to spend too much time at some sights and not enough at others.
2). Crowds. Cruising is again the clear loser. Our ship has a capacity of only 930 passengers but we still send out half a dozen buses with 30 to 40 passengers to a sight and create our own crowds. The larger the cruise ship, the larger the problem! And many times there can be multiple ships in port on the same day. Furthermore, most ports are in large cities which are inherently crowded. The land tours we like are small groups of up to a maximum of 16 with OAT, so we never create our own crowd. Apartment living is again the winner as it is only the two of us. We can plan our day to avoid the crowds.
3) Buses. In apartment living we walk and use public transportation. Since most of our travels cover a relatively small area, the time on public transportation is minimal. A cruise ship must always dock on water and bus you to the destination and back to the port again. Land tours can reduce the time in a bus as they can move from destination to destination without being forced to retrace their path. So time in the bus ranking is cruises worst and apartment living best.
4) Service. Cruising is the clear winner here as everything is done for you. Apartment living is the worst as you have to do almost everything for yourself. Land tours which utilize hotels are somewhere in between.
5) Packing and Unpacking. This is what everyone loves about cruises as you only have to unpack and repack once. Apartment living would come in second as we tend to stay each place for one to four weeks. Land tours would be last as you usually move every two to three days.
6) Planning. Land tours are the winner here as there is virtually no additional planning required. The same could be true of cruising, but the shore excursions tend to be very expensive and many of them are not so good, so we tend to spend a lot of time picking the right shore excursion or planning an alternate. Apartment living certainly requires the most planning as there is no one else to do it for you. In my case, I enjoy the planning almost as much as the doing.
7) Food. This one is a tough call. Since the food is included in the price of the cruise and the food on most ships is pretty good, I think we eat better on cruises than the other two. However, you are limited to the restaurants on the ship, so the menus can get monotonous. In apartment living, eating is totally in your control as you can eat in the apartment or any restaurant you want. However, since you have to pay for every meal, we don’t tend to eat as well as on a ship. Land tours give you no choice on included meals, but there are usually a few optional meals you can choose yourself. An advantage of both land tours and apartment living is you are eating authentic local food and not ship food.
8) Health. Catching something from your fellow passengers is a significant risk on both cruises and land tours either on the bus or the ship. On a land tour, any sick passenger must be on the bus when it moves from town to town. On a cruise, there is some remote chance a sick person will elect to stay in their cabin rather than expose all their fellow passengers on a bus tour. However, you are exposed to far more potentially sick people on a cruise ship. Apartment living presents no increased risk from living at home.
9) Accommodations. If you look at the whole ship as your home rather than just your cabin, the ship accommodations surpass any apartment we have rented and most hotels. A win for cruises.
10) Problem Solving. There are generally no problems that you will have to solve yourself on either a cruise or land tour. The cruise or tour company will resolve any problems that occur. With apartment living, it is up to you to resolve any problems.
11). Tour Guides. With apartment living, you are the tour guide. This is not a problem in Europe with a Rick Steves guide book, but can be a lot more work elsewhere. You can also use Viator, a Hop On Hop Off bus, or free tours by locals to get an introduction to an area. On a land tour, you have the same guide all the time. In our experience, the best guides tend to work for the land tour companies since it tends to be steadier work. Companies such as OAT are very selective about their guides and they are normally excellent. On a cruise, it is a different guide on every tour and some are very good and some are terrible. It is strictly the luck of the draw.
12) Entertainment. This one is no contest. There is a wide variety of nonstop entertainment on a cruise ship. With apartment living in a foreign country, we are normally limited to musical performances where the language is not important. The exception here would be San Miguel which we love because of the entertainment, but it still can’t top a cruise ship. Land tours have very limited entertainment.
So which is best? Since our focus is on experiencing the culture of an area in some depth, that is best done with apartment living or a land tour. In a developed country such as those in Europe or North America, we prefer apartment living. In a less developed country or one with customs markedly different from ours, we prefer a land tour. For comfortable living, continuous entertainment, and good food, it is hard to beat a cruise. However, we think it is definitely the worst way to see and experience an area. Any other thoughts or questions are welcome.