Get Away From It All With A Freighter Cruise
If you answered, yes, yes, Yes, YES! to the questions above, then perhaps a freighter cruise is just the relief you need from your overstressed, overdressed lifestyle. And with a freighter cruise, you can get away from it all while getting somewhere. A freighter cruise would not break the bank, either. But you need to be prepared for a bit more adventure than your average cruise.
Freighter cruises are not fancy. They are not jam packed with activities, or people. Freighters offer you a cabin, meals, a chance to get to know the crew, a lounge or recreation room, visits to various ports of call, and lots of time to just relax and unwind. Freighter cruises can be as short as a week or two, or as long as 18 weeks around the world sailing. Your choices for freighter cruises, destinations, durations and costs are nearly unlimited. With most cruises costing between $90 and $120 per night, they have got the cruise lines beat hands down on prices. In short, there is a freighter cruise for everyone.
Freighter ships cabins can range from bunk-bed-berths-share-the-bath dormitory type rooms to suites that accommodate with a queen-sized bed, refrigerator, bath with tub and large windows rather than portholes. Most freighter cabins are in the standard range meaning they are about the equivalent of the lower-class cabins available on cruise liners. Some freighters cabins were initially designed for the company big wigs, and can be quite posh. One thing about your cabin you may find that cabins on lower levels of the superstructure have their portholes blocked by the freight containers being carried by the ship. Just remember, the ships purpose is to carry the goods you are just along for the ride.
Depending on the ship and the freight company, you may or not have a steward to care for your room. So, be prepared to make your own bed, set out your trash bin and, in general, tidy up after yourself. Unlike cruise lines, most freighter cruises do not penalize the single traveler for occupying a double cabin. In fact, some have gone out of their way to encourage the single traveler in joining them.
Freighter cruise cuisine can vary greatly, too, from ship to ship and company to company. Dining aboard a freighter is informal, so you have no need to pack a suit and tie or fancy dress. There is one and only one dining room aboard a freighter. Meals are generally served at fixed times, in one to two hour windows. Many freighters open the pantry or galley 24/7 for self-serve snacks or refreshment, but you may want to pack some of your favorites, or purchase them in port, just in case there is nothing to your liking. Your cook will be the crews cook, and the cuisine served will be what the crew eats. So, if your freighter is of German registry be prepared to eat German dishes.
On the other hand, if your crew is of mixed nationality, say Filipino, German, French and Scandinavian, you may just be in for a culinary adventure, as the galley tries to satisfy the varied palates. Eating in the same dining room with the crew can pose some adventures of its own, too. While English is the international language of the sea, your formerly East German captain may be more at ease with Russian, while his French First Mate ends up translating everything the Filipino Engineer adds to the dinner conversation. Some things freighters do not normally offer endless buffets, special meals (vegetarian, diabetic, etc.) or gourmet haute cuisine.
Freighter cruises do not provide much, if any, formal, organized entertainment. There will most certainly be a lounge or recreation room, shared by crew and passenger alike, to provide a place for watching DVDs or videos, playing cards or board games, and a shipboard library of well-read paperbacks. You will definitely want to take along your own entertainment and reading material, though, as your viewing and reading choices may be as multi-linguistic as the dining room. A short wave radio might be a good idea, as AM/FM types do not receive any signals offshore. There is no internet or mobile phone connection either. Some freighter cruises do have a swimming pool, most are indoors but some can be found on deck. Some offer an exercise room, too.
Many passengers spend their time in walks around the deck, or lounging about in a deck chair, catching a few rays. There are long afternoons for napping, chatting, reading or writing. (Did you know Alex Haley wrote much of his groundbreaking bestseller Roots while serving aboard a freighter?) Some ships engineers offer tours of their engine room, while bridge visits with the captain or first officer are welcomed by some crews. In short, your shipboard entertainment varies widely from freighter to freighter. What you would not find on a freighter cruise are days crammed with organized nonstop activities, BINGO, casinos, Vegas style shows and trips to the spa.
Port visits with a freighter cruise can be adventures in their own right. First, while commercial cruises run on tight schedules, freighters do not. So that might mean your scheduled stop in port at 8am may not happen until 8pm. Or not happen until next Tuesday, for that matter. Secondly, most cargo docks are well off the beaten path. Be prepared to spend a good bit on taxi or bus fare just to reach civilization and even more to get to any tourist-y type attractions. Third, time in port usually depends on the dockhands and port master.
You may end up not having enough time to even leave the ship, if the offloading/loading is completed sooner than originally thought. Lastly, some port visits may be cancelled while en route, depending on the cargo contracts with the freight company. An expected call may not occur at all if the shipping company does not have enough out-going cargo to warrant it.
Freighter cruising may not be for everyone. It is not a glamorous or glitzy way to travel. While it does have its benefits, from a lower price than most cruise lines to a chance to really get away from it all, its drawbacks may put off some who prefer a bit more pampering to a freighter cruises adventurous nature.