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Freighter Cruises: No Buffet or Floor Show, But No Crowds Either!

By Carol Johnson

When most people think of taking a cruise, they picture the Love Boat- a tremendous white ship festooned with flags, decks lined with expensive canvas chairs, bars, shuffleboard courts, and nattily dressed attendants standing at the ready to snap to attention to fulfill every little whim of every passenger. Speaking of passengers, these ships usually carry hundreds of people jammed into tiny little rooms, packed into the onboard swimming pools, standing in long lines at elaborate buffets, and parked at tables in the noisy dining room, right?

Well, if that is your idea of traveling by sea, then you have plenty of cruise lines to pick from, and a huge variety of travel packages to select. However, if you want a true seagoing vacation that will afford you comfort, relaxation, casual dressing, spacious cabins, and a small group of passengers sharing the ship with you, then you need look no further than a freighter cruise.

Conventional Cruises
In the mid-20th century, before the jet age, ocean crossings were very popular, with large ocean liners ferrying passengers back and forth across oceans around the world. However, once people were able to fly to their destinations much more quickly, large ocean liners started losing passengers. So, they retaliated against the decrease in popularity by boosting the amenities offered on board to make traveling by ship a vacation in itself, not just a means of travel.

Today, this industry is booming, and ships are regularly packed with vacationers who enjoy the fancy meals, glitzy celebrity entertainment, scheduled classes and activities, and exotic ports of call. However, for an increasing number of travelers, those fussy extras are more like annoyances than amenities. If you’re that kind of traveler, then maybe a freighter is just what you’re looking for.

Freighter Cruises
Freighter travel offers travelers quiet days at sea in informal surroundings with no formalities. Usually, the only scheduled activities are mealtimes, and passengers eat the same meals as the officers. Although no special diets are accommodated and the menu isn’t fancy or exotic, the meals are well-balanced and the menu is varied, and the food is usually high-quality fare.

One can travel to virtually any destination around the world, and on every ship you’ll find spacious, well-furnished cabins with private facilities, larger than on most commercial cruise lines and all located on upper decks. Most of these ships offer a small exercise room, a swimming pool, a lounge with upholstered furniture, a library with a selection of reading materials, a television for viewing a selection of movies, and good deck space for walking, or just sitting in a comfortable deck chair with a good pair of binoculars and watching the ocean and occasional dolphins, whales, and sea birds that may join you for a moment or two.

Passengers can interact with the officers and crew, and may spend time on the bridge enjoying conversations with officers and learning about the ship-special experiences not possible on cruise ships where dozens of passengers visit the bridge in small groups as part of a tour. Most freighters flying under foreign flags allow passengers unrestricted bridge visitation, and with passenger loads of usually less than a dozen people, sometimes lasting friendships are formed between passengers, officers, and ship’s crew personnel.

Duration of Travel
Often you need a long and flexible time period to make the most of your trip. Although some travelers use a transatlantic crossing as a leisurely way of going from one point to another, most passengers book a freighter for its full itinerary, which can last anywhere from 2 weeks to 5 months. Modern container ships offer 1 to 3 week voyages, and various mail and coastal ships have specialty cruises that can last from a week to several weeks in any direction. The choices are limitless.

The best thing is that traveling by freighter is still the best cruise value to be found anywhere. Fares typically range from USD 90 to USD 130 per day, including all meals-less than half the cost of traditional passenger ships. Most commercial freighter companies charge the actual fares charged by the shipping lines and don’t add any additional margins.

If there is a drawback to freighter cruising, it is that these are working ships, and therefore the average time in port is usually just a day or sometimes just a matter of hours. However, for general cargo ships and ports without modern cargo facilities, the port time may be longer. Also, the ships usually dock farther away from city centers and tourist attractions, so you’ll have to take a cab to do any sightseeing while the ship is in port.

However, if you are an independent traveler who knows how to plan your own vacation time and you like to organize your own shore visit, your schedule is flexible, and you want to get away from the crowds rather than traveling with them, then this might be just the ticket for you. The largest travel agency in the world dedicated to freighter cruising is Freighter World Cruises, whose motto is “If you have the time to relax and a cruising spirit, a friendly freighter waits for you.”

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