10 questions I always get about cruising
Updated: Jun 8, 2021
Even in a Covid-filled 2020, I was surprised to realise that I went on three cruises last year!
As a freelance cruise journalist for Cruise Passenger and Cruise & Travel Asia, I did a lovely and relaxing trip with Princess Cruises in January. This was before coronavirus struck and global lines suspended their operations of course.
Whenever I tell friends that I’ve been on one of these cruises, I always get the same questions.
These include “What is there to do on a cruise?” and “Isn’t it just a floating shopping mall?”. Though cruising has definitely increased in popularity amongst Singaporeans and globally, some still see it as a boring travel option for retirees.
Obviously, we’ve all been on one of those cruises with our parents when young, where the facilities were a little dated and the casinos were the main draw.
But cruising has gotten a major facelift since then! I clear the misconceptions by answering some common questions about cruising.
Is cruising safe in a Covid-world?
This is the question on everyone’s mind, isn’t it?
Very honestly, I wouldn’t say it's impossible to catch Covid on a cruise. Then again, you can catch Covid anywhere - in a shopping mall, at work or at a home gathering with friends.
Yes, the “self-contained “ nature of cruises does mean the virus can spread easily. But they aren't the “floating petri-dishes” some people assume them to be.
For one, cruises are extremely stringent about health and safety protocols - both before embarkation and on board.
Before the restart of cruising, lines like Royal Caribbean and Dream Cruises underwent major sanitisation and disinfection, and changed their HVAC systems to include fresh air ventilation in cabins and throughout the ship. They also refurbished their medical centres, to include quarantine rooms, critical care wards and upgraded equipment, and a comprehensive laboratory with PCR testing.
All international crew were also tested for Covid, and required to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine on land before beginning work on board.
All passengers also have to undergo mandatory Covid-19 testing before boarding. Dream Cruises conducts a rapid antigen test on the day of boarding, and Royal Caribbean sends you for a PCR test 48 to 72 hours before embarkation.
Once guests were welcomed on board, both lines were ultra-vigilant about enforcing safe-distancing, firmly reminding guests from different travel groups not to cluster. Cruises are also operating at half-capacity to prevent over-crowding.
There was temperature-taking and contact tracing (through tapping one’s seapass) nearly everywhere we went, and food at the buffets were dished out by servers to maintain hygiene standards. Seating at the restaurants and theatres are spread out as well.
In the event you do get Covid, both lines also cover your Covid-related medical expenses with their ‘Cruise with Confidence’ policies. For example, Royal Caribbean covers onboard medical treatment, the cost of land-based quarantine and travel home for you and your travel party.
So back to the question. Whilst cruising isn’t risk-free, I can firmly say it’s a generally safe vacation.
What is there to see and do on board? Is it just a floating shopping mall?
I wouldn't exactly deem cruises a floating shopping-mall - mainly because shopping is only a very very small part of what you’ll be doing on board.
Sorry to disappoint (budget) shopaholics, but shops onboard are mainly high-end boutiques and brands like Michael Kors, Swarovski or Bvlgari. If you want affordable shopping, you’ll have to do so when disembarking at port stops.
Fret not- there’s plenty of other activities on board. On Royal Caribbean, I had loads of fun riding the waves on surf simulator Flowrider, took flight for the first time on skydiving simulator iFly and enjoyed 360 degree views of Singapore’s port and skyline on observation capsule NorthStar.
There’s also the SeaPlex, an activity centre which hosts activities like bumper cars, Xbox games, table tennis and even dance classes!
On Dream Cruises, I explored exciting games at the Virtual Reality lab, slid down five heart-racing slides at their waterslide park and tried my hand at rock-climbing and mini-golf.
They also have a high-elements rope course and zip-line, Zouk Beach Club for watching movies, and a SportsPlex for games like basketball, tennis and archery.
And come evening-time, make reservations at the theatres on board for some Broadway-style shows. Both lines bring in world-class entertainment, including acrobats, dancers, singers, illusionist and comedy acts. I also loved the live-music on board Royal Caribbean, such as guitarists and musicians who played at the various lounges and bars.
Even in a Covid-era, lines are doing a fab job at keeping your day filled with activities. We’re talking trivia game shows, wellness talks, fitness lessons and even scavenger hunts.
Is cruising affordable?
Lots of people also want to know how affordable cruising is, with misperceptions that it is an expensive holiday.
Well, I’m happy to report that cruising is indeed affordable and value-for-money. In fact, I would consider it more value-for-money than an average staycation at a hotel in Sentosa (arguably the best location to “escape” from Singapore).
Here’s a concrete example for my experience. A stay at a Sentosa hotel would set you back around SGD 300 to 500 at the very least. My stay at W Sentosa cost around SGD 300 per night, and that was only because I enjoyed a discounted MOE rate thanks to my husband. Add-ons like meals at in-hotel restaurants or activities around the island would cost you even more.
In contrast, my cruise on Royal Caribbean cost SGD 660 per person for a total of 3 nights. This was inclusive of food (at both the buffet and full-service restaurant), accommodation in a balcony stateroom, nightly theatre performances and the usage of pools, whirlpools and other cruise facilities like the rock-climbing wall and FlowRider surf simulator.
On Dream Cruises, a stay in a balcony stateroom costs around SGD 632 per person for 3 nights, based on November and December prices last year. If you choose to stay in a lower-priced accom like an interior stateroom, you end up paying even less!
As you can see, this makes cruising a very affordable option in terms of getting your money’s worth, as compared to a loyal staycation. For around SGD 200 plus a night, you get to enjoy shows, more food than you can possibly eat, plenty of cool activities and amenities and a room with a sea view!
Is everything included (i.e free) on board?
No, not every dining place onboard is all-you-can eat, and not all activities are free. But trust me - there’s enough free-food and activities to keep you happy.
On each cruise line, you’ll find at least one buffet restaurant featuring a variety of international options , and a main dining room - also known as a full-service restaurant complete with waitstaff. These dining options are usually complimentary, and you can order as many dishes as you want even in the full-service restaurant.
Menus rotate on a daily basis, with a mix of western and Asian cuisine. There’s also a couple of other complimentary eateries if you’re seeking snacks after dining hours, like Royal Caribbean’s Café Promenade.
Most lines also include a number of chargeable specialty restaurants, each with their own unique cuisine. For example, Royal Caribbean has partnered with celebrity chefs - bringing you Jamie’s Italian restaurant and Wonderland by Dadong. On Dream Cruises, you have options like Seafood Grill and Prime Steakhouse by Mark Best.
If you’re looking for alcohol or sweet juices, these are also chargeable. You can either order them on an ala-carte basis at restaurants or bars, or buy alcohol and drink packages on board your sailing. Coffee, tea and water is complementary though, and can be ordered at most dining venues.
Certain premium activities also cost a fee. On Royal Caribbean, this would be the iFly skydiving simulator and the NorthStar capsule. FYI- these activities are only chargeable for Asia sailings, something I still don’t quite understand. The line’s rationale was “preventing no-shows”.
On Dream, you’ll have to pay for games at their Virtual Reality ESC Experience Lab, but most other activities are free.
And on most cruise lines, treatments at the cruise spas are chargeable. These range from SGD 70 to SGD 175 on Dream Cruises, depending on whether you want a foot massage, full-body massage, facial or even hair treatment.
I can’t recall exact prices on Royal Caribbean, but they weren't cheap. You’ll need to be footing out around SGD 200 or more for a full-body massage. All services are charged in USD as well.
Will I be seeing mainly elderly, retired people?
The short answer is no. Yes, cruising may have once appealed to an older demographic with more time and money on their hands, but things have changed over the last decade.
With the modernisation and refurbishment of ships to include techy thrills like a Bionic Bar (on Royal Caribbean’s newer ships) , more young people are taking to the seas.
I’ve been on four cruises in the last two years, and have seen a mix of passengers of all ages - from young toddlers to the elderly. These include plenty of young families, as well as millennials travelling with groups of friends.
Obviously, the longer sailings (7-nights or more / around-the world trips) would be mainly populated by retirees who no longer have to work. But on shorter trips of 2 to 7 nights, you’ll see plenty of younger couples, friends and groups of solo travellers.
Will I be off the grid? Is there Wi-Fi?
Whether it’s for work or aimlessly scrolling through social media, most people can’t live without their Wi-Fi.
Well, you’ll be happy to know that most ships do offer Wi-Fi packages on board, so you can post about your very cool cruise experience or browse emails.
Unless you’re staying in a suite-class roo, Wi-Fi packages can be costly - especially if you don’t get them on discount. The Wi-Fi on Princess Cruises’ Sapphire Princess cost USD $62.95 for 120 minutes (plus 20 bonus minutes for pre-purchasing packages). I found it to be pretty reliable, but it certainly costs an arm and a leg!
As for Royal Caribbean, try your best to get your packages on discount. After you book your cruise, the line sends you marketing deals via email a few weeks, where Wi-Fi, dining and alcohol package prices are slashed. I ended up paying around SGD 28.82 per day (for four devices, equating to around $7 per person) when I booked a Wi-fi package two months before sailing.
When I checked prices again on board, they rose to an astronomical SGD 60.89 per day for four devices!
On Dream Cruises’ World Dream, packages are undeniably the most affordable. They cost around SGD 50 for two devices for three nights. This lets you check emails, browse social media, chat on Whatsapp and stream videos. Packages are cheaper when you get them for more devices as well.
Wi-Fi on all three lines was generally found to be fast, with the exception of my 2019 Spectrum of the Seas sailing on Royal Caribbean where access was cut whenever I went into my room.
So the bottom-line is - you’ll be able to access the internet at sea - for a price of course. However, we are “overseas” after all, and periods of brief, spotty service should not take you by surprise.
What is the dress code, and do I need formal wear?
If you’re picturing suits, ties and evening dresses, rest assured that you won’t be needing those on a cruise in Singapore.
We don't really see formal nights on the last evening of cruises anymore, especially not since Covid.
So how you want to dress is entirely up to you! For Singaporeans, casual is usually the way to go. At most public areas, shorts, slippers and T-shirts are perfectly accepted. I even accidentally wore slippers (I know) to a theatre show, and didn’t get turned away.
At the dining rooms, you may get turned away if you’re a little too casual though. For example, wearing slippers, swimwear or a singlet for lunch and dinner ( covered sports shoes and T-shirts are fine though). And really, you should only be wearing swimwear to and from your stateroom and the pool decks.
Of course, don’t be afraid to dress to the nines if you want to! A nice sundress is great for photos on deck, or a button-up shirt and pants for a theatre show or dining at restaurants (or simply if you feel like it). We even saw one or two people wearing suits and a cocktail dress on Royal Caribbean.
Do I need to bring my passport？
Yes! Whether you’re going on a cruise-to-nowhere or one stopping at various ports, you still need your little red book. This is because you’re required to scan your passport at port customs, and you will be travelling on international waters.
On Singapore’s cruise-to-nowhere, the ship sails along the Straits of Malacca and sometimes even the Southern part of the South China seas.
On multi-port cruises before Covid, passports were kept by the cruise lines after embarkation to expedite clearing the ship in foreign ports. They were returned to us on the night of our departure.
On my cruises-to nowhere, we were allowed to keep our passports with us. All staterooms come equipped with safes, so you can secure your passport without having to carry it around.
Will I get seasick?
I know friends who get seasick easily, and most of them were not affected on cruises sailing out of Singapore.
For one, when travelling on a big ship, you hardly feel the motion of the ocean. Most ships are equipped with excellent stabilisers as well.
The waters around the Straits of Malacca (the usual route for cruises from Singapore) are pretty calm too. When travelling up toward the rougher South China Seas, there may be some days where you do encounter rough waters. Be sure to bring motion-sickness medication if you suspect you might get sick.
You may also consider booking a cabin in the mid-section of the ship, where it is most stable. This way, you’re likely to get a better night’s rest.
What can I do with kids on board?
Luckily for parents, cruises are a haven for kids! Besides the activities, pools and theatre shows (many of which captured the children’s attention as much as the adults) , most cruises have a kids club with complimentary activities for your little ones.
At Royal Caribbean, this is the Adventure Ocean. Multiple programs run for babies (6 to 36 months old) to kids (12 years old), and playrooms are really cool and modern-looking! They’re specially designed with kids in mind, which means lots of colour, toys and room for them to run around.
As for Dream Cruises, there’s also a Little Dreamers Club with toys, movies, games, craft workshops and other fun activities to keep the kiddos occupied.
Whether you’re looking to join junior in such activities, or even drop them off and spend some time without them (we know, everyone needs a break from those rascals sometimes!), a cruise pretty much has you covered.
So there you have it, my answers to the most common questions about cruising. As you’ve probably guessed, I absolutely recommend going on a cruise without hesitation!
If you’ve any more questions or would like me to cover a particular topic about cruising, let me know!