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Cruise vs. Land: A Fight to the Finish

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Many of the places on our newly created bucket list involve land destinations, and I recently came to realize this could have serious implications on our quest to see the world before we die from the deck of a cruise ship. We may have to choose one or the other from time to time, dividing our time between land and sea, in order to fit everything in.

So I thought I would use this opportunity to stage a different kind of comparison of cruise vacation vs. land vacation - a boxing match of sorts.

I used to think I would be happy just traveling the world by cruise ship. After all, what could be better than sitting on my balcony as our floating chariot leads us to far away places. Then, in 2011, we gathered the entire family together and ventured to Portugal, the land of my husband's ancestors. His parents spent time there as children, and we thought it was far past time we made the journey. It was an incredible experience, renting a car and traveling all over the place, visiting the tiny rural village where his father was born, as well as the home where his mother spent her girlhood, its facade long abandoned and somewhat broken, but still standing.

This made me think about other destinations in the world we have yet to see, particularly in our own country. Several days ago we returned from a week in Arizona, visiting Grand Canyon and Sedona, just a sampling of places we would like to see in this country before we're too old to enjoy them.

The contenders in the ring will be my Ireland/Scotland cruise last summer ("Cruise") and a theoretical similar land tour of the same area ("Land"). The tourists in this bout will be a family of six in a rental vehicle - I call the family "ours", but it could be anybody's.


Besides the obvious - the inability for a cruise ship to go far enough inland for, say, the Grand Canyon, here are some differences I've noticed in my own limited travel experience.

We'll go five rounds.

Round 1: The Journey

Cruise: It's a very relaxing, picturesque ride around the Isles when the driving is left to our brave and noble captain. We lounge on our balcony watching the world go by. Family members are having fun exploring the ship.

Land: Driving long distances can be tiring, not only for the driver but for weary passengers, as well, when confined to a car loaded with an excessive amount of luggage - not to mention the backseat driver who wants to control the driver and the kids whining "Are we there yet?"

And the The Winner of Round 1 is: Cruise

Round 2: Convenience

Cruise: Our bags appear as if by magic at our cabin door on the first day. We unpack, lay our stuff out neatly in the drawers, making it a painless process to get dressed every day, and don't think about luggage until the end of our time at sea.

Land: Each family member hauls their own over-stuffed bags into the rental car, where it is soon discovered there is not enough room for all this luggage in the trunk. Holy crap! Mom (yours truly) decides the only way to solve the problem is to toss out some of her least favorite articles of clothing, merge the rest with everyone else's stuff, and leave the excess bag behind, asking the hotel clerk to kindly do what they will with it. We schlepp our luggage in and out of each hotel along the way. Certain members of the family have organized each day's outfit into plastic baggies for easy management. The rest of us go on a daily fishing expedition.

And the Winner of Round 2 is: Cruise

Round 3: Bang for our Buck

Cruise: For one price, we get our transportation, meals, entertainment, on-board activity, recreation, atmosphere, fresh air, a daily change of scenery, a new place to land our feet every day, and a room with a view (a window at the very least will be required for that last one). The best part? Everybody in our party can pretty much do and eat where they want, choosing from the obscene number of dining and entertainment options on board.

Land: The package put together by the travel agent might include air, hotels and a rental car, but that's about it. Or you might try to be creative and piece your own vacation puzzle together. Either way, be prepared to dish out lots of British pounds or Euros for bangers & mash, haggis, Irish stew, fish & chips, and all that Guinness you'll drink. And don't forget the park and castle entrance fees. Oh, and that part in the cruise where everyone goes there own way? No way. Since there is only the one car, we are all forced to stick together like glue, and we all must mutually decide on a place to eat, which can be a bit challenging when Dad wants a big juicy steak, and Junior wants a Happy Meal.

And the Winner of Round 3 is: Cruise

Round 4: The Sites

Cruise: The ship will take us to different fabulous ports throughout the sea journey, where we can get a brief look at the city or town it covers, from several hours to a full day - and occasionally an overnight in each port. Planning ahead is important in order to make the best of the limited time in port. A couple of hours may be fine for one port, and not nearly enough for another.

Land: Freedom is the word here. It's our itinerary, created by us, and we can plan it any way we want. We're not on someone else's schedule (unless, of course, your husband runs a tight ship with everyone on his schedule). We can choose to spend three days in a city to get a real flavor of it, an overnight in another, an hour or two at an Irish pub, or simply pass through town. With a car, we can go anywhere, whenever we want. This is very important when visiting a destination with a particular purpose in mind, i.e. family heritage.

And the Winner of Round 4 is: Land

Round 5: Freedom

Cruise: There is nothing that says we need to get off the ship when it docks in a port in the itinerary. If we feel like staying on board, we may even have the pool to ourselves. If we prefer to do nothing, we can take comfort in the fact that no one will think less of us. We are are on a cruise, and that's what we paid for. Have we ever stayed on board in lieu of visiting a port? No. The world is too big and time is too short to ignore a destination. But it's still an option.

Land: The whole family is packed into the car, we've paid good money to see SOMETHING and are going to have to drive to get to the places we came to see. No, there will be no "doing nothing" on this land tour. We're on a mission. We have a lot to see and limited time to see it.

And the Winner of Round 5 is: Cruise

There you have it. The Cruise has taken the championship title, just as I knew it would.

Will this stop us from vacationing by land? No, of course not. Land vacations still have their special place in the world of travel, especially since the kids are grown, and it's just the two of us now. It just means that we now make sure the rental car is the right size for our luggage!

Do I still prefer cruising? Absolutely!

To read more of my personal cruise and travel stories, visit my blog: Seven Sea Journeys at CruiseCrazies.com

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Great BLOG Jan!! One of the complications you continuosly mention throughout the "Battle for the Belt" is the car. With the price of fuel constantly rising, that puts a HEAVY burden on your vacation finances. We flew to Aruba years ago as part of our resort exchange and it was in no way inexpensive. We had to pay for our meals and even though we had a full kitchen with a refrigerator in our room that we stocked from the local grocery store, the prices of food on Aruba was high. Then you factor in you don't want to eat-in every meal. You want to try some of the local restaurants. Another expense!! And of course, we rented a car to traverse the land, getting lost numerous times. When we would drive through Oranjestad, we would see cruise ships docked there and I remember wishing I had been a passenger on one of them!! And I won't even mention the 6 hour flight there from Florida (including delays). Let's see, Flight to Aruba, 6 hours. Drive to the port of Tampa, 20 minutes. Cruising is an easy winner here!!!

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Thanks, Tim.

Here is another little story about the car in Portugal we rented: We had to rent two cars for the seven of us. Our particular dilemma was that - believe it or not - are you ready for this ...... none of us could drive a manual trans. My brother tried to teach me before we left, and it went about as well as the previous time he tried to teach me when I was 16. A disaster. Any van big enough would be a manual. Imagine trying to maneuver one of those around the winding, hilly little villages of Portugal, shifting like hack. It would not have been a pretty sight. Therefore, we spent HUGE bucks and rented two automatics. It was worth it for the peace of mind, and they did upgrade us to a couple of nice BMWs - probably because that was all that was available in automatic.

Yes, the components of a land trip do add up. But if you want to explore a place with any depth, sometimes you just have to open your wallet and let the moths fly out.

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