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Cruising FAQ



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The following is a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) related to freighter travel.  The intent is to provide a quick overview of the freighter cruise experience, including such topics as costs, lengths of typical trips, and what to expect while on board the ship.

A rectangular archway supports overhead containers loaded near the bow. Just behind it, the angled overhang of a hatch cover supports containers loaded above the walkway.

Q: How much does it cost to travel by freighter?
The cost of cruising on a freighter averages around $100 per person per day including meals (some ships are more and some less).  Traveling alone isn’t much more expensive than traveling with a companion.

Q: Is this something I can do on a long weekend?
Not really.  Average trip length is about a month.  The minimum trips I have seen listed are about two weeks.  Some trips, such as those that go around the world can last three months.

Q: Why go on a freighter cruise rather than a regular passenger cruise?
I would view freighter cruises and regular cruise-line cruises as two totally different experiences.  A cruise ship is more of an entertainment vacation, while a freighter cruise is more of a relaxation vacation.  I could easily imagine that there are people who would enjoy doing both types of cruises, each for it’s own unique experience, even if money was no object.  The idea of going on a regular passenger cruise doesn’t appeal to me all that much.

Q: Do freighter passengers work on the ship?
No, you are purely a passenger.  These are real ships, not floating dude ranches.  I am guessing you might get strange looks if you asked to chip paint or "swab the decks".

Q: Is there much shore time?
Typically not.  Most freighter cruises are aboard container ships, which were designed to allow efficient loading and unloading.  As a result, shore time is usually fairly short.  The “at-sea” experience is the main part of the trip.  On my trip, the time in port was 12 to 36 hours, but often this was four to 12 hours more than planned.  In other words, if you had gone ashore, you probably could not have safely planned to use all of this port time.

Q: What kinds of people usually travel on freighters?
Most freighter passengers are the kind of people who like to relax, read, write, or otherwise able to entertain themselves.  Most freighter passengers are retired, and many are women.

Q: How many passengers are typically carried on a freighter?
Most passenger-carrying freighters have a maximum capacity of from one to twelve passengers.  Twelve is the magic number, since those carrying more than twelve are required to have an onboard physician.  Since having an onboard physician is an expensive proposition, those carrying more than twelve passengers often carry many more (50 to 100 passengers) in order make up for this extra cost.  Those ships are as much passenger ships as they are freighters.

Q: How is the “on-time” performance of freighters?
Really bad!  One of the rules of freighter travel is “be flexible”.  My ship left a day and a half after it’s scheduled departure time, and it is apparently one of the more regular ships.  This is probably one of the biggest disadvantages of traveling by freighter, and probably explains why so many of the passengers are retired.  Always make sure you can change your flight arrangements without a major penalty if you need to fly to and from the port at which you join and leave the ship.

Q: Can I use the freighter as a method of transportation to get to my real vacation destination?
A trip on a freighter is usually an end in and of itself.  Although it is sometimes possible to make “one way” arrangements on a freighter, most people get onboard at one port, and remain on the ship (other than port stops) until the ship completes it’s round trip.  One problem with using a freighter as “transportation” is the variability in the schedule.

Q: Did the captain and other officers wear uniforms?
I’m not even sure the officers have uniforms.  No, the captain and everybody else usually dressed very casually onboard.

Q: Are these passenger-carrying freighters American built, owned and operated?
No.  In fact, I am not aware of any American owned, flagged or crewed freighter that carries passengers.  A typical passenger-carrying freighter may be German owned, Panamanian flagged, have German officers and a Filipino crew, though this varies by ship.  Fortunately for English speaking passengers like me, English is very often the official language onboard, because of the varied nationalities typically present among the officers and crew.

Q: Where onboard can I go, and where can’t I go on the ship?
This is going to vary from ship to ship, and from captain to captain.  I recommend asking the captain or other officers and crew if you have any questions.  I am told that many captains ask that passengers stay off the bridge while the pilot is onboard (probably to reduce confusion and congestion) and to stay away from the cargo areas of the ship during freight handling operations (probably for safety reasons).  In my case the captain was very unrestrictive of where I could go and what I could do, as long as it didn’t interfere with the work being performed.

Q: Where can I find out more about specific freighter cruises that are available?
Be sure to visit the links section, where I include travel agencies that specialize in freighter cruises.

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