1) It was loads more fun!
Nobody likes a 12-hour flight in a cramped airplane, but who doesn’t like spending two weeks on a cruise ship? This was our first real cruising experience as a family, and it went fabulously well. With most of our days at sea, we basically lived on a floating all-inclusive resort: there was gourmet food available everywhere all the time, a heated pool and hot tubs to soak in at our leisure, and plenty of comfortable spaces for reading and relaxing. There were other amenities – a theatre, a casino, a fitness area, trivia and karaoke – but I was primarily concerned with getting some down time. Which takes me to my next point…
2) Everything was taken care of!
When we boarded the Celebrity Millennium, we were coming off two months in the car after traversing the continent twice. Our Canada-USA road trip was rich in many things, but a leisurely pace was not one of them. We were always on the move, and Roman and I were always scrambling to stay two steps ahead, figuring out where to sleep, what to eat, and what to do once we got there — and how to make it all affordable. Then, we boarded a ship and suddenly found ourselves in an environment where all our daily needs were taken care of, our itinerary was set, and our costs largely fixed. It was a perfect two week pause to rest and reset.
3) It didn’t break the bank!
We were lucky to catch the Celebrity Millennium on a repositioning cruise, which made it more affordable than most two-week cruises. Our initial cost for the four of us was well under $5000 CAD for a stateroom with a balcony. The price tag went up considerably by the end of the cruise after paying exorbitant “automatic” gratuities and on-board internet costs, exchanging dollars into Japanese Yen, and paying for the occasional glass of wine and cup of espresso. Still, if one considers the price includes transport to Japan as well as two weeks’ worth of accommodation, food, and entertainment, it’s definitely worth the money. Because so many of our cruise days were at sea and we were effectively ship-bound, we also didn’t have as many opportunities to spend money on snacks, souvenirs, train fare, vending machines, and all those other little costs that tend to build up when you are traveling.
4) The kids loved Camp at Sea – and so did we!
One of the best amenities on the cruise ship was the kids club. With only eleven children on board (out of nearly 2000 passengers), the Camp at Sea staff were able to give the boys their undivided attention. Not only did they play X-Box and watch movies, but they participated in well-organized games and activities that the boys loved – just like a real summer camp! On top of the excellent staff, the group of kids at the club were all roughly the same age and became quick friends. We were lucky enough to meet three other families traveling long-term with their children (this was surprising at the time, but in retrospect, who else would bring their kids on a trans-pacific cruise in early September?) So the kids were entertained and had a rare opportunity to interact with their peers, while we suddenly had whole swathes of time to ourselves to read a book in quiet solitude with a cup coffee.
5) It was an indirect route to Tokyo – and that’s a good thing!
Our desire to travel primarily without airplanes is what brought us to this option in the first place. We spent many days just moving across the open water, watching it sprawl in all directions towards the haze of the horizon. We watched it gleam in the sunshine beneath blue skies, and froth in the rainy fog, whipped by the wind. We saw thin stretches of land appear and disappear as we made our way towards Hokkaido across the Bering Sea past the Aleutian Islands. Air travel is all about finding the most direct route from A to B that money will allow. Our extended time on the ship gave me a sense of the vastness of the ocean and of our movement across the globe in a way that a one-day flight could not have. More importantly, it brought me to places and experiences I would simply have flown over had we not taken the longer route.
It wasn’t all idyllic, but it was pretty fantastic, especially for me. With no job and the kids occupied for a chunk of each sea day, I was truly on vacation. Roman, on the other hand, was still working, occasionally wrestling with the very expensive and largely ineffective onboard internet to keep pace with deadlines. There was also the difficulty of the time-change: we needed to set our clocks one hour back almost every evening to keep up. This caused some wonky wake-up times, but still felt less burdensome than full-on jet-lag. Daily trips to the buffet were not great for the waist-line (but so worth it). The nightly entertainment was pretty heavy on the cheese, but still enjoyable. Laundry services on the cruise were also laughably priced, so I ended up washing our clothes in the bathroom sink and hanging them all over our little stateroom like garlands (I felt very silly doing this until I learned from our fellow traveling families that it was common practice). At the end, I was sad to leave the Celebrity Millennium, and also excited for the next leg of our adventure.