Hi. My name’s Olly and I’m a backpacker. And a luxury tourist. And a cruise fan. In fact, I enjoy travel in just about all of its many, many forms, but too often I read or hear that you have to be a travel purist. Apparently you can’t fully appreciate hostel culture if you also like to stay in 5* hotels. Well, b*llocks to that.
When I first started travelling independently (a long, long time ago), I didn’t have the budget to see the world in anything other than chicken buses and staying in very basic accommodation. And then I got a job working for a cruise line. One day, on a ‘familiarisation trip’*, I found myself alone in a luxurious spa located at the very front (or ‘bow’ – see, I really did work for a cruise line) of a brand new ship looking out high above Naples. It was then that I realised that this world can be appreciated from various aspects. Sometimes it’s best enjoyed in a particularly well-located hostel, sometimes nothing can beat experiencing it than from the deck of a cruise ship.
Take Alaska, for example. Yes, I’d love to stay in a boutique remote lodge, or hike through the extreme wild of Gates of the Arctic National Park, but to fully appreciate the size of Glacier Bay it’s best seen from the sea. Experiencing those mammoth icy cliffs with a cocktail in hand, or from the waters of a hot tub can, perhaps, make the event even more special.
What I find missing from an experience such as that is the satisfying sense of achievement. My recent hike across the Cairngorms reaffirmed how memorable (in a good way) it can be to be self-sufficient in the wilderness, and that bedding down in a warm tent in the middle of nowhere, having successfully made a delicious hot meal, can be supremely enjoyable.
Enhancing the experience
When luxury gets it right, it really, really gets it right. The best luxury hotels, for me, enhance the travel experience. The Grand Tatras Kempinski, for example, doesn’t look inward to its opulent rooms and spa, but rather makes use of large windows to bring the views of the mountains into the hotel so that you feel you are experiencing the Tatras from the tasteful confines of your room, or the bar, or the magnificent spa.
Of course, the best hostels are also the ones which enhance your experience. They often do this by having common spaces which encourage socialising, but without disturbing those that actually want to sleep. The best hostels help you to make the most of the destination you’re in, whether that be through advice, useful noticeboards, tours, or discounts.
Some hostels have views which are better than any you’d get from even the best hotels in town. One which immediately springs to mind is Hospedaje Penthouse 1004 in Bariloche, Argentina, which has astounding views of the lake and surrounding mountains from ten stories up.
Of course, cruise ships don’t just offer amazing views from the sea. Many are destinations in themselves, where passengers can enjoy go-karting, or ice skating, or surfing, or any number of fantastic activities. And then there’s the restaurants. On the world’s largest cruise ship – Symphony of the Seas – there are 65 (65!) restaurants, cafes, bars and lounges, some of which are found in a huge park with real trees.
Although it’s absolutely worthwhile stepping out of your accommodation, or off of your ship, to experience somewhere, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the highlight being the accommodation/ship itself. Just don’t let anyone try to put you in a box and judge you accordingly. You may even be lucky enough to experience that magical combination of experience-enhancing accommodation/ship in an already-perfect destination. If so, I’d love to hear about it…
*Familiarisation trips are where a travel agent/someone working for a travel company is sent to experience a destination/ship/holiday product so as to then be more effective at selling/marketing it. They are/were a massive perk of working in travel.