The Difference Between Freighter Cruises and Regular Cruises

Freighter cruises have been on our minds recently. First, we wrote an overview of freighter cruises, covering the essential information about these unique vacations, and then we explained how to book a freighter cruise, which was necessary because of the vast differences between booking a regular cruise and a freighter cruise. (By “regular cruise,” we simply mean a cruise vacation offered through a cruise line.) Reflecting on this last remark gave rise to the present article: booking a regular cruise is so much different from booking a freighter cruise because these two types of cruises are so different; however, they are both called “cruises,” which might suggest to some that they are more similar than they actually are. As stated, they are not similar at all, so we thought it would be beneficial to spell out the main differences between freighter cruises and regular cruises. And, to bring our reasoning full circle, hence the present article.

Broadly speaking, there are two man differences between regular cruises and freighter cruises: the first has to do with on-board experience, and the second with itineraries. (Obviously, there are many distinct differences within these general categories, though.) As concerns on-board experience, the differences are stark. Regular cruises offer an almost limitless supply of entertainment and recreational opportunities, ranging from casinos and night clubs to basketball courts and spas. This wide range of possibilities is exactly what draws many people to cruising. Freighter cruises have none of the elaborate on-board capabilities to make such activities possible. Some of the more well-endowed freighters will have a small swimming pool and perhaps an exercise room, but this is about all. So, what do people do on freighter cruises? Basically, they relax, and then relax some more. Freighter passengers lay out in the sun, read for hours, enjoy the rhythms of the sea, and not much else, and this is exactly why some people are drawn to them. Another major difference with respect to on-board experience is the number of passengers on board each type of ship. Regular cruises (at least through any of the more major cruise lines) have thousands of passengers – the entire cruise is dedicated to passengers, so obviously there will be a lot of them. Freighter cruises, in contrast, regularly have only a few passengers on board, exactly because the ship isn’t at all geared toward passengers.

This last point also explains why regular cruises and freighter cruises have such different itineraries. A standard cruise has a well-defined plan from the first day to the last day. You know exactly where you are going and returning to, and you know all the ports in between. You also know when – in terms of both time and date – the trip will occur. This is far less true of freighter cruises. Of course, a freighter cruise will have a reasonably established plan, but since the goal of the journey is to deliver cargo and not serve passengers with a perfectly structured vacation, this can throw the itinerary, such as it is, off. If a different port needs to be visited for reasons of cargo, you will be taken to that different port. If a freighter has to leave a day late because of some shipping delay, the freighter will leave a day late. This is why one of the first things you’ll be told when you look into freighter cruises is that you need to be flexible with your vacation plans.

Essentially, we have only made explicit what is implied when anyone with a familiarity with regular cruises reads about freighter cruises: there are obvious differences between the two (and above we have only listed a few of the more major differences). Many people, however, do not know the cruise industry particularly well, and we would hate for them to enter a freighter cruise expecting a regular cruise, or (although this is presumably quite rare) vice versa. Each type of cruise has its virtues, but hardly any of their respective virtues are shared.

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