There are thousands of cargo ships, freighters, mail/supply boats and container ships sailing around the world loaded with cargo, delivering goods to ports of call on every continent. What you may not know is that about 1% of these ships also carry passengers. If you are looking for a unique travel experience and have the time for a longer trip a freighter cruise may be something to look into.
All about freighter ship travel:
Freighter cruises offer a very different experience than a typical cruise ship. First of all, there are usually no more than 12 passengers onboard (having more than 12 requires the ship to have a physician) which means a much quieter, more relaxed setting. There is no activity coordinator, no tour guide, no shuttle bus in port, no nightly show and no midnight buffet on cargo ships. For many people this is a drawback but for those looking to escape the crowds or wanting a more independent experience a container ship cruise may be a better fit.
Another unique trait of cargo ship travel is the length of the voyage and the diverse itineraries available. Freighter cruises are typically much longer than a regular cruise. There aren’t any trips you can take over a weekend. Cruises are often 2 weeks or longer and may last a couple of months if you are sailing around the world. Freighter and container ships cross all the world’s oceans and have ports everywhere imaginable. Mail and supply ships travel to smaller islands and remote villages offering some really unique ports of call. It is possible to literally sail around the world on a freighter cruise if you have the time.
Life onboard a freighter cruise:
Cargo ship travel offers a truly unique experience. You will be sailing onboard a working vessel, often a European ship with an international crew of sailors and officers. English is the ‘common’ language onboard although you’ll probably hear several other languages spoken between the crew members. Staterooms on a freighter are usually larger than what you would get on a standard cruise ship. You will have a private bathroom and may even have a suite. A steward will clean your room regularly (usually at least once a week).
Dining: Meals are served in a dining room that you will share with your fellow passengers and the officers of the ship. These are casual, relaxed affairs, no formal nights involved. Food is included in your voyage price and may include free wine.
Ship amenities: Although nothing like a typical cruise ship, there are more amenities than you might imagine for a working ship. Most freighters have a dining room, lounge/bar, gym or workout area, and many have saunas and swimming pools. There is always enough deck space to stretch out in the provided deck chairs. Ships also have a small shop where you can buy duty free alcohol to make your own cocktails.
What to do: Most of your time on a freighter cruise will be spent at sea. Many people that enjoy travel by cargo ship say that this is the highlight: plenty of time to relax, watch the sea, and truly unwind in a relaxed, informal setting with no pressure to do anything else. If you are worried about being bored this might be the best choice for you.
Ports: The priority of the container ship is its cargo. This means that ports of call are chosen based on the ship’s needs and the schedule may change. In fact, the number one tip freighter passengers recommend to those about to sail is ‘be flexible’. Time in port may be a few hours or a couple days. Often passengers take a taxi into town and explore on their own or with each other.
Fellow passengers: The typical freighter cruise passenger is someone with the time to sail for extended periods and a desire for the more relaxed, informal environment offered. There are many writers, artists, retirees, and ex-sailors that choose to travel by freighter.
Cost: Prices can vary widely depending on the ship and the itinerary. A general guideline given by freighter cruise travel agents is around 100$ per day.
To Learn More: Experts recommend using a travel agent that specializes in this unusual type of travel. Look for a freighter cruise agent or explore online. There are websites with maps, itineraries, rough pricing and frequently asked questions to help you look further into this truly unique possibility.