If you’ve never taken a cruise before and have been considering one for your next holiday, a great way to get a taste for the wonders that a cruise can offer can be a sample sailing, otherwise known as a “cruise to nowhere”. These can also double as a good way to get your fix of cruising if you’ve planned a holiday elsewhere but have a few days to spare.
All of the major lines spending an extended period of time in Australia offer multiple chances each year to take part in a sampler cruise, with short sailings featuring 2-3 days at sea setting off not just from Sydney but from ports around the country on a regular basis throughout the year. But there are some important considerations, both positive and negative, that you should keep in mind before eyeing one of these cruises.
Sampler cruises will often take place over a weekend.
Carnival Cruise Line, for one, operates many of its Sampler cruises over a weekend, which ties in well with the working crowd as it means they can squeeze in a little getaway without needing to take much time off work. This can work well if you’re needing some time reacquainting yourselves with some great cocktails by the pool without needing to fly or drive anywhere to stay at a resort.
The daily schedule will be jam packed with activities.
Sampler cruisers are exactly that – they are designed to showcase the value that a cruise holiday offers, with the hope that you will fall in love with it and book yourselves on a longer sailing as soon as possible.
As such, with only a few days at their disposal, the cruise line is keen to show off as much as possible of what it offers, so you’ll likely find your daily onboard guide absolutely packed full with activities in all corners of the ship. These will range from things like food, wine or chocolate tastings, cooking demonstrations, trivia games, extra performances of one of the onboard shows, opportunities to learn a new card game in the casino, fitness sessions, sports competitions, health and wellness seminars and much more. Often, many of these will be taking place at the same time and some won’t be repeated, leaving you with the difficult job of deciding which to attend.
Some products or experiences may not be available.
Due to the extremely short nature of the sailing, the cruise line may decide not to play all of its cards, thereby encouraging you to come back for a longer voyage another time.
An example of this may be its drinks packages. Sometimes, cruises to nowhere can attract a crowd interested in doing little else but party, which in turn can result in higher levels of alcohol being consumed per person than may happen normally. And cruise ships are businesses in their own right, so if it can maximise revenue from selling drinks at normal prices (or even discounted prices per drink) rather than charging a flat fee per day, it may choose to do so.
Another example is duty free shopping. On random days throughout longer cruises, you’ll find promotions on particular items available at different times, such as a special discount day on jewellery purchases, handbags, men’s watches, branded ship merchandise, artwork or even alcohol (which if purchased will be withheld by the cruise line and delivered to you as you disembark). These sorts of sale events may not always be held on a short sampler cruise.
This is not always the case though, so check with your cruise line on whether or not drinks deals are on sale and consult your cruise program for details on merchandise sales.
Don’t expect the ship to travel very fast.
Cruise ships are marvels of modern engineering and if you’re a bit of a nautical buff or are interested in the more technical elements of sea travel, you may want to head out to sea just to see what these floating cities are really able to do in terms of gliding across the water. Some of these ships are able to travel up to 30 knots (55kph) but most cruise at speeds of around 20-24 knots (37-44kph) when they’re on a timetable and have to be somewhere.
Unfortunately for you, a ‘Cruise to Nowhere’ literally sees the ship able to completely relax, with no demands on its whereabouts for a few days. As a result, especially in these times of volatile fuel prices, the Captain won’t be too keen to push the ship’s engines or burn much of the oil and diesel stores, so it’s highly unlikely the ship won’t be moving at a great pace.
On a recent sampler cruise on Explorer of the Seas, the ship rarely reached double figures in terms of speed, but it’s good there was plenty to do as the sea wasn’t passing by very fast.
Extra parties may be held.
For those onboard who are keen to party, a sampler cruise will likely be able to cater to this need by arranging a few extra opportunities to enjoy the music and bar offerings. Sometimes, a beach themed party on the top deck might help guests kick off the evening’s party a little earlier than normal before they head to the nightclub until the wee hours.