Cruise Advice

The ultimate guide to world cruises

The thought of spending three or four months as a passenger on a world cruise is an exciting prospect for many cruise enthusiasts. Although costly, the experiences you have and the memories you make can last a lifetime. I was lucky enough to work on board the P&O Cruises ship Arcadia, during her 2011 world cruise. It was by far my most memorable contract in terms of an itinerary, and I got to visit places I’d never even heard of before.

World cruise season is now upon us, with lots cruise ships departing on circumnavigations to far-flung, exotic destinations. From Fred Olsen, Princess and P&O Cruises to the more luxurious Viking Ocean Cruises, Cunard and Silversea, more and more cruise lines are embarking on these exciting voyages.

Whether you are thinking about booking a world cruise, or are just curious about them, here are a few need-to-know cruising tips.

What is a world cruise?

A round-the-world cruise is a circumnavigation around the globe on a cruise ship. This normally takes a minimum of 90 days and can last up to four months. Traditionally, a world cruise takes in a number of countries and continents as the ship navigates its way across the globe. But a growing number of cruise lines are offering grand voyages, which take a similar amount of time but tend to stick to a particular hemisphere. Some brands will still call these world cruises. Ships tend to set sail on these adventures in January, with most departing from major cruise ports such as Southampton and Miami.

Packing for a round-the-world cruise

I’ve met passengers who insist on taking a different outfit for every night of a cruise. This is very difficult when you are spending 90+ nights on the same ship. Well, it’s a lot of washing anyway! If you are a UK citizen departing from Southampton, you can bring as much luggage with you as you like. But remember that you need to have somewhere to store everything in your cabin.

Stock up on essential toiletries, but don’t go mad. After all, many westernised cruise ports will have places to purchase branded toiletries. You’ll also have the option to buy things in the shops on board, which I have found very useful from time to time. It’s unlikely you will use up your toiletries as quickly as you expect. This is something that still baffles me when I pack for three months away with my husband. One lot of shampoo and conditioner will easily last me the three months, even though I wash my hair every other day! Washing powder is something I always pack a lot of, as do many seasoned cruisers. I don’t like the powder you buy on board and most ships don’t sell fabric softener.

Remember you’ll be visiting differing climates and sea days can be much cooler. So if you are stopping at lots of hot places, make sure you pack warmer clothes too. Ships can be cool inside, so always make sure you have a warm jumper or cardigan to hand. You’ll also be departing and returning from the ship’s home port at different times of the year.

Finally, make sure you have a decent pair of walking shoes or trainers. These are the one essential item you’ll need whatever the weather. It may sound obvious, but you’ll be walking over different terrain in a range of climates. I have come across people who didn’t pack this essential item and it limited what they could do ashore.

Pre-book shore excursions

If there is one bit of advice I really must stress, it is to pre-book your excursions before you cruise. So many of the excursions sell out before the cruise even starts. I lost track of the number of irate people wanting to book trips to places like Pearl Harbour or an evening at Sydney Opera House, when these tours sold out months prior to the cruise departure date.

Me climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge
Me climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge

Each cruise line will have different payment rules for excursions on world cruises. At the time, P&O Cruises took full payment for pre-booked excursions before the ship sailed. I’m not sure if this is still the case though. You can still book some things when you board, but numbers may be limited. If you want to do an overland tour off the ship (a great experience), you have to book these well in advance.

If you have a budget and don’t really know what excursions to do, I would suggest booking only those you think are essential. Read advice online and ask questions in cruise forums to find out more information. You can learn about the other excursions once you get on board. Many ships will have port lecturers who will tell you more information about the destinations you are stopping at.

Sydney Harbour
Sydney Harbour

Remember that you can explore many ports independently, but do your research before you go. For example, if you end up visiting somewhere like Luxor, there is nothing near the port area so excursions are really the only option. Many cruise lines also charge for a shuttle service in ports, so make sure you establish which places you’ll need the shuttle, and which have a local bus service you can use. Internet is often very poor (and expensive) on board, so don’t get caught out unnecessarily. Use your excursions team as a tool to find out more about each place. We were happy to tell passengers about independent options and sometimes it was refreshing not talking about tours!

There are a lot of sea days

There are lots of sea days on a world cruise, particularly when crossing the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Be prepared for rough weather and lots of time changes (clocks going forward or back). We went for seven days without seeing land in the South Pacific and we lost an entire day coming back from Australia. Make sure you take something to entertain you and, if you like reading, invest in a Kindle. I always travel with one now.

It might sound obvious but exercise is the best way to stave off the lethargy of sea days. A walk around the promenade deck or half an hour in the gym might not sound appealing, but it’s a great way to keep yourself active.

You can be the biggest fan of sea days, but by the end of a circumnavigation even the keenest cruiser will be tired of them. Passengers also start to get bored early on, which can result in lots of people complaining (which I experienced first-hand as a crew member).

Not everyone sails for the full duration

You may be surprised to hear this, but the percentage of people sailing on a full world cruise is often very low. In 2011, around a quarter of the passengers sailing on board Arcadia were travelling for the full three months. The rest joined during different sectors of the cruise. These sectors are split in to chunks and can last two weeks or more. This has its pros and cons. It’s inevitable that passengers get to know each other on a long cruise, but don’t be surprised if you become friendly with someone who is only on board for a short time. Alternatively, if you are doing a sector of a world cruise, don’t be surprised if the ‘world cruisers’ are a bit cliquey with each other.

Arcadia on her world cruise in 2011
Arcadia on her world cruise in 2011

The different sectors also mean that the atmosphere on board shifts regularly and if sectors are sold off cheaply, this can also change the type of clientele. Many people who travel on world cruises are retired or freelancers, due to the nature of the voyage. So you are likely to find an older passenger base compared to your average two week cruise. But the average age will fluctuate when each sector changes, particularly during the shorter two week segments closer to home.

Injections and Visas

Make sure you know whether you need to have any injections or visas before you sail. Your cruise line should keep you informed of the necessary precautions, but it’s good to know these yourself. When I travelled to Africa in the past, I needed a yellow fever vaccination. When I sailed to Australia and Vietnam, many passengers needed visas and not everyone had them in advance. This was then a headache for the officers to organise on board. If you don’t have the right documentation, you won’t be getting off and the ship could be fined or refused entry in to port.

Most rumours start in the launderette

Experienced cruisers will already know this, but most of the rumours you hear on ships are started by passengers talking in the launderette. These are maximised on a world cruise, when people become bored and tempers begin to flare. You have to remember that three months on a ship with the same people (albeit maybe only 25%) can take its toll. I’ve heard all sorts of stories which have evolved like Chinese Whispers. Take what you hear with a pinch of salt and don’t believe any of it!

You’ll be craving simple food by the end

This might sound silly but after three to four months of lovely, rich ship food, you are likely to be craving the simpler things in life. If you are on a large ship, you will have a wider choice of food options. But on smaller ships, the eating choices are more restricted. A lot of cruise lines will rotate their menus roughly every 30 days, so you will are guaranteed to have the same meal again at some stage. I came home craving simple things like beans on toast (and not the ship’s version). Don’t be afraid to try local cuisine ashore. After all, it could be your only time travelling the world and it’s a great opportunity to try new things.

You can find more information to help with cruise planning on the Cruise Advice section of this website. Or you can find information on a number of world cruise ports here.

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  1. Really informative post, we would love to do a world cruise at some point. I worked as a nurse on Celebrity, many years ago and can totally relate to the craving baked beans lol! Being able to amuse yourselves on sea days is important too as you say there are plenty of them. Great post!

    1. Thanks for your kind comments Paul and Carole. I’d love to try a Celebrity ship, I’ve heard very positive things. I’m sure you got to see a lot of the world as a nurse. Hopefully you’ll get to do a world cruise one day!

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