Do you return from a cruise and immediately start planning your next one? Perhaps you even book your next cruise before your current one is even over.
While some cruise casually as a one-off vacation, others share a deeper passion for cruising. You have undoubtedly met a chronic cruiser who has spent more time at sea than they have on land!
During the height of the pandemic, Royal Caribbean Blog reader Joe01 posed the question in our forum, “Why are people addicted to cruising?” - and I thought this was an excellent, thought-provoking question.
He received countless responses from cruisers alike who shared why they prefer - and love - to cruise over and over again. The top comment, from user Kwong, made me laugh: “Look man, it's not an addiction. I can quit whenever I want to!”
Of course, the cruise shutdown throughout 2020 had many of us cruise-lovers missing the ability to be whisked away from reality on a cruise ship. We dreamed of waking up to new places each day, watching sunsets at sea and being carefree onboard with little to no responsibilities.
But, can you actually be addicted to cruising?
Research shows that experiencing new places through travel and wanderlust has been linked to increased happiness and creativity. Those who prioritize vacationing are happier in general than those who do not vacation. In fact, an extremely relaxing vacation can have lasting effects on our happiness even after we return home.
So, it’s not surprising that cruisers take to the high seas over and over again. Here’s what research says about the cruising and travel addiction, including some supporting insight from RCB readers.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am obsessed with cruising - and I have been for as long as I can remember.
But, I am not alone in this, as nearly 60% of cruisers are repeat customers and take at least one cruise each year.
Growing up, we cruised every year as a family - and I loved everything about it. I’d beg my parents to take me and my sister on the newest and biggest Royal Caribbean ships. My dad would give me a destination, timeframe and budget and I would spend hours looking for the perfect Royal Caribbean cruise.
Cruising was something we enjoyed as a family, whether it be a short spring break trip or a big summer expedition to see Europe for the first time. The quality time together and memories made were unmatched.
RCB User PhillyLady echoes my sentiments: “My first cruise was in the Mediterranean when I was a teenager, and I was mesmerized by the calm blue waters, clear sky and exotic destinations. Cruising became a type of vacation experience that was simply a part of all our lives--more than just an addiction.”
The more I cruised, the more I found myself wanting to plan as many as possible. I dreamed of seeing exotic places like Thailand, China, Japan, Norway, etc - and cruising made it not only possible, but extremely accessible to visit these bucket-list itineraries. I even studied abroad on Semester at Sea, living on a ship for 100 days, and traveled the world.
Then, the pandemic struck and left an unexpected void in my travel-loving soul. I wanted nothing more than to cruise and experience new places, but yet we were stuck at home. I told my husband, “I think I am actually addicted to traveling, because I feel depressed that I literally cannot right now!”
But, what exactly is it that keeps us coming back to cruise ships time and time again?
There are many different ways to travel and vacation, yet people (including myself) come back to cruising repeatedly. If a destination can be reached by cruise ship, this is always my preferred method of traveling.
“Well, once you realize that the experience of travel is extremely rewarding and unlike anything else, the more you want to keep doing it,” explains Dr. Brein, a social psychologist who specializes in travel and intercultural communication.
Cruising is not only affordable, but it’s super convenient. I can see multiple countries and destinations without unpacking my suitcase. Transportation and logistics are taken care of. In my mind, cruising is the perfect balance between relaxing onboard and being pampered while still having daily exploration, cultural immersion and adventure in port.
Humans are naturally drawn to safety and comfort. For many travelers, cruise travel feels inherently safer than alternatives with easy access to medical care and onboard security.
On a cruise ship, I feel safe and very comfortable, making it easy to relax. Once I started cruising to more far-flung destinations in Europe, Africa and Asia, this became even more true. I had a safe place to return each night with clean water, a freshly made bed and gourmet food.
RCB user Dawnelda feels similarly, stating that she feels very safe on a cruise ship compared to land-based solo trips she took in her early twenties. Other women agreed that cruising, even solo, feels much safer on a cruise ship compared to land-based alternatives.
Research shows that traveling acts as a form of escapism.
We all deal with stress in our lives. To cope, it’s a natural instinct for humans to create a daily routine that feels predictable and easy to minimize this stress. Over time though, our daily routines become monotonous and even detrimental to our personal growth and potential for new opportunities.
In this way, traveling acts as a form of escapism. Many agree with this sentiment for why they love cruising so much.
RCB member Krhardy shares, “For me, it's a total escape from reality. I am blessed with a wonderful life...a husband I adore, 3 successful and independent adult children and 3 grandchildren, and amazing friends. That said, life has stress. The second I walk onto a ship, all of my worries seem to just disappear for a short time.”
Traveling can also be used as a way to shift and reorganize our identities and provides an opportunity to reevaluate our priorities in life.
Karen Stein, a socialist who’s studies travel and culture, explains that traveling allows us to devote our time and attention to identities and commitments that we have, unwillingly, put on the back burner thanks to the stress of daily lives.
Those who travel also find a feeling of increased self-esteem and confidence, Dr. Brein states. We also tend to be more present while traveling thanks to less distractions, which is especially true while cruising due to the nature of being disconnected at sea.
RCB moderator Lovetocruise2002 shares, "For me, as a parent, it is truly the only time that I can get away and 100% relax and not do anything! That is what cruising represents to me. It is not just a vacation. It is more than that”.
For many of us, cruising is more than a vacation. It can be a lifestyle, an escape from reality and a time to shift our perspectives and priorities. Similar to an addiction, we can crave these unique feelings that cruising provides.
Traveling, even on a cruise, offers us a kaleidoscope of new experiences with diverse sights, sounds and cultures.
For humans, research shows that the physical and psychological escape from our daily life is a special experience that can actually alter our brain chemistry. When we escape from our environment and challenge ourselves, it’s exhilarating.
In fact, cruising provides an opportunity to visit places that would otherwise be difficult to reach. You might even visit a destination that you had never considered simply because it was on your itinerary. I tell prospective cruisers that you can choose an itinerary to see certain places of the world, and if you love what you see, you can always return.
RCB user JLMoran feels similarly, saying, “I can visit cities I couldn’t otherwise see with changes in scenery and culture. It’s only one day in each place, but that’s enough for me to decide if it’s a place I want to experience again - and I have transportation to each of those places.”
Experiencing cultures different than our own can help us grow tremendously. With cruising, you can meet new people, learn different languages, try new foods, visit new places, experience different ways of living. We can even grow to appreciate our own lift in a new light after experiencing a culture vastly different than our own.
Ray, another RCB user, feels like, “Each new place we visit is a new experience and as our time on this planet is limited. We need to make the most of it and venture out to experience new things! No point looking back in 20 years with regrets”
Cruising can create cross-cultural experiences, which increases our sense of connectivity with others.
Once you step onboard a cruise ship, you’re encountering hundreds of new faces between fellow passengers and crew members. In port, this interaction continues when you meet and connect with locals.
Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School who studies the psychological impact of travel, explains how these cross-cultural experiences bring us out of our own cultural bubble by connecting with people who have a different background than our own.
By engaging with other cultures, this type of unique connection leads to a general faith in humanity where most realize that even people in different cultures treat you in a similar way, producing an increase in trust. It’s a humbling experience.
RCB member FManke beautifully shared, “For somebody who has never cruised, they would not understand the feeling of standing on deck, in the middle of the vast ocean with no land for hundreds of miles, looking up at more stars than you can ever remember seeing before and both feeling so alive and so insignificant at the same time. In those moments, I find cruising to be very humbling. A small fish in a very large pond. Albeit a very happy fish.”
Of course, too much of anything can lose its zest over time - even cruising.
Traveling as an escape from your stresses of daily life is not only acceptable, but encouraged for all of the reasons above. But, just like anything, moderation is key. Cruising is special because it’s a physiological and physical break from our day to day realities and stress. But, once cruising becomes part of your routine, it can lose its zest because it’s no longer unique.
I learned this last year after 10 cruises, some for work and some for leisure. By the end of the year, I wanted to plan my cruises to be more spread out so I looked forward to them in the same way.
Ask most people who travel for work and they agree. After so much travel, you start to miss your bed, home, routine and schedule. The uniqueness fades when it becomes routine. Earlier this year, RCB writer, Jenna, shared some of the downsides of cruising too much. Similarly, Matt even shared in a YouTube video that his goal for the new year was to take less cruises to ensure cruising keeps its charm and excitement for him.
In short, traveling makes us happy for many reasons, but humans cannot be technically ‘addicted’ to cruising.
From the time you book your cruise to packing your bags in anticipation or ordering that first cocktail at the pool, you experience small hits of dopamine.
As humans, we are wired to pursue that hit of dopamine, aka doing what makes us happy. If cruising gives you that joy, it can fuel your desire to continue cruising.
But you can breathe a sigh of relief, because you cannot be clinically addicted to cruising. But, you could very well have an obsession with cruising simply because it makes you happy. This joy comes from escaping reality for even just a short while, including the benefits of experiencing new cultures and connecting with new people along the way.