She’s spent 214 days over the last four years on cruises to Europe and the Middle East.
Our interview with Jennifer Hicks will inspire and enlighten you!
Jennifer, when did you take your first cruise?
My first cruise was July 2009. It was a four night Baltic Sea Cruise to Stockholm, Tallinn and St. Petersburg.
Was it love at first cruise? Or did you develop an appreciation for cruising as you got older or went on more cruises?
I used to think that cruising was just for the retired set. Then I started seeing beautiful photos in my travel magazines of cruise ships in lovely places like Santorini (Thira) and Venice which got me thinking that perhaps I should look into it.
My husband took some convincing to book that first cruise but now he loves it as much as I do.
How many cruises have you taken in your life?
I have taken 20 cruises on seven cruise lines and spent 214 nights at sea. My trusted travel agent is Mitch at Military Cruise Deals. My husband is a civilian with the US Navy, and Mitch finds the best deals while providing superb service.
Obviously there are many travel choices that you could have made, yet you’ve chosen to take a cruise at every possible opportunity. Why do you keep choosing to cruise?
There are so many reasons! I love the fact that we can have family time, personal time and couple time on board.
I love being waited on in the dining room and having a menu without prices.
I love the children”s programs onboard, the evening entertainment and the many things to do.
Above all, I love visiting amazing places while only having to unpack once.
The only thing I don’t love is trying to watch my weight. Everything just tastes so good.
You’ve mentioned that sometimes your husband is not able to go on all those cruises with you. Do you ever get lonely cruising with just you and your son?
Caleb (her son) and I have been on six cruises without my husband. He just can’t get enough time off to match up with all the great deals I’m finding. Cruising is just so safe and such a great way to meet people that we’re never lonely.
You’ve cruised on many different cruise lines:
After so many cruises, have you noticed major differences in the ships or cruise lines’ quality, cleanliness, food, cabins and staff?
I’ve been on seven different cruise lines and they have many things in common. I don’t see myself ever just cruising with one line. I don’t have a favorite. I like to mix it up, try different menus, different cabins and different shows. They all deliver an outstanding vacation experience!
While you’re officially a resident of Maryland, your husband’s work has been in Europe and that appears to have influenced where you’ve cruise to. You’ve taken about a half dozen cruises that left from either Rome or Barcelona and cruised to all these Italian ports: Naples, Genoa, Livorno, Palermo, Sicily and Venice.
Did you feel like one day per cruise was not enough, so going back to these same ports on multiple cruises was still interesting for you? Where any of these ports more interesting and easier to enjoy than others?
Venice is my absolute favorite port in all of Europe. There is nothing like sailing in and out of that gorgeous city!
The exotic or unusual cruises you’ve taken are a cruise that started in Dubai and another that went to Haifa, through the Suez Canal and to Alexandria in Egypt. Many people are intimidated by Middle Eastern cruise itineraries such as that. Were you? What were the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of those ports of call for you?
The beauty of traveling to riskier places by cruise ship is that you know you will be well cared for. Risks are minimized and professional local tour operators give you peace of mind. The Middle East can be risky but I just didn’t feel afraid on the various cruises we’ve taken there.
Also, my husband kept assuring me that pirates wouldn’t want a cruise ship but prefer the oil tankers and smaller vessels. He was right. The pirates left us alone! Of course we did have an escort of merchant marines and had to stay off the open decks at night.
The Suez Canal has an amazing history and is truly fascinating to cruise through. One side of the canal is green because of the waters from the Nile and the other is dry as a bone. Many people lined the canal to watch us pass through.
I must mention Petra, Jordan as being the most magnificent archeological site we’ve been to. I highly recommend you put it on your bucket list. We were fortunate enough to visit Petra twice and still would love to return to see more. (To access Petra, cruise to Jordan’s only cruise port, Al Aqaba.)
And you took one cruise from Rotterdam that made many stops in Ireland. Many people probably haven’t considered a cruise as a good way to see Ireland. Was the famously beautiful greenery of the Irish landscape close enough to the ships ports for you to be able to experience it?
Our British Isles cruise was a 12 night on Holland American Line with two of the ports in Ireland and one in Northern Ireland.
We loved this cruise and would be happy to do another of the British Isles. Waterford, Ireland was our first port in the Emerald Isle and I had tears in my eyes as we tendered into port because the gorgeous green and the live bagpipe music combined to create such a powerful effect on me.
The weather in the British Isles is unpredictable. We thought we’d have more sun in August but we had rain almost every day of the cruise. We still had a lovely time.
You’ve also taken multiple cruises to the Greek islands at the far Eastern tip of the Mediterranean, and the Canary Islands at the far west of the Med. I’m wondering which you enjoyed most about each? What major difference you experienced between those two itineraries?
I’ve been to 10 Greek Isles and will add another in a month. Greece is absolutely one of the most gorgeous places to cruise.
Santorini is on almost all of the cruise brochures I get. There is a reason. Go to Santorini if you haven’t yet. It is the most dramatically beautiful island in Greece. It is like my equivalent of Disneyland.
(Important note to readers! If you search on our Web site for a cruise stopping in Santorini – you’ll never find it, because the official name for Santorini is Thira. Odd, but true.
The Canary Islands and Madeira (Madeira is Funchal, Portugal) are also beautiful and fascinating. Many trans-Atlantic cruises stop here on their way to the Med. I’ve been twice to these islands and I know I’ve said this before but I’d love to go back.
On the Island of Tenerife we took our son to Loro Parque which was just as good as Sea World. It was my son’s first chance to see killer whales close up. We sat right up front and got splashed. It was so much fun!
With all this cruising comes an important decision you have to make at every port of call: What are you going to do: stay on the ship, walk off and go it alone, or take a guided shore excursion?
For many people, the shore excursions can be so expensive, many people choose them sparingly – doing maybe only one or two per cruise. How about yourself? Do you recall anything you did at ports that was free or affordable and particularly fun?
I like to take the ship’s excursions if I’m going someplace new and or know I just can’t miss a certain site.
Petra, Jordan was an example. But, they are pricey and if you do every port with a ship excursion your cruise will become quite expensive.
I’ve found the meeting up with fellow passengers on www.cruisecritic.com is the ideal way to be part of smaller excursion groups.
On my last cruise I joined a fun international group of 15 for sites from Alanya, Turkey. We had a memorable day together visiting three ancient sites and having a traditional lunch. In Dubrovnik, Croatia while on a Carnival Breeze(The Breeze is one of Carival’s newest, biggest ships!) cruise we took a local bus into town, walked to the cable car and rode it up the hill for the most amazing views. We had a nice ice cream in the cafe at the top and then wandered the charming city together, stopping for photos with a man dressed as a pirate with parrots on his shoulders.
I would love to hear about some of your favorite shore excursions. In case this helps jog your memory, below is a list I made of some of the ports you’ve cruised to:
Istanbul – Topkapi Palace is my favorite site there.
Athens – I live here so I think everything is wonderful but you have to go to the Acropolis.
Rhodes – I loved the Archeological Museum & the Palace
Haifa – Nazareth, Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem are a must.
Port Said, Alexandria, Egypt – The Pyramids are the highlight here. I’ve been three times to them. Egypt has over 100 pyramids so if you can see some of the others besides those at Giza you will have a more personal experience.
Dublin – We explored the city on our own and had a lovely day.
Holyhead – (Wales) We took a full day tour all around Wales with cruise critic friends. We loved the Caernarfon Castle.
Belfast – Another full day tour with friends. City tour and the Giant’s Causeway were terrific.
Barcelona – My favorite is Las Ramblas and the Picasso Museum.
Rome – We loved the Vatican Museum and Colosseum the best.
Naples – We used to live here so I feel like I’m home when we stop here. Go to Pompeii if you haven’t yet. Also the National Archeological Museum is amazing.
Venice – Hands down my favorite Mediterranean Port. Most unique city in the world!
Malaga – I loved the Alhambra Palace. Truly fabulous! Spain has a hold on my heart and it started in Granada.
Lisbon – Gorgeous city full of lots to see. Do a city tour by hop on and off bus
Valetta – I only have been to Malta once but sometimes I long to live there. It had a hold on me from the start. I took a city tour with Disney.
Monaco – It is a fairy land where everyone seems fabulously wealthy and is super safe. You must go to Monaco at least once!
Palma de Mallorca really surprised me. It has everything one would want: history, art, great shopping, beaches, aquarium. I want to go back so badly.
You’ve cruised in the following Holland ships: Westerdam, Rotterdam, Ryndam and you’re scheduled to cruise on the Noordam in April of this year. You have a young son whom you take along on most of your cruises. How did he feel about Holland, Princess and Celebrity? Did he feel there was enough to do and others his age to play with?
All of the lines we have sailed have made a huge effort to make our son happy onboard and I appreciate it! It keeps me coming back to cruising again and again. We will not cruise with a cruise line that doesn’t have a children’s program.
The recent incidents of technical trouble on a few cruise ships have caused some people to be nervous about cruising. Do you worry at all about something like that happening while you are on board?
I think cruising is very safe and I think people should not be afraid. It is safer than flying or driving for sure! I don’t like rough seas but it doesn’t keep me from cruising.
I try to ignore the negative news about cruising because these incidents are so rare and don’t represent the reality of cruising to me.
What’s still on your cruise bucket list?
We thank Jennifer for taking the time to share all that with us! I’m sure it will help us all get more out of our future cruises to Europe and the Middle East.
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