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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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
Q: Where onboard can I go,
and where can’t I go on the ship?
A: 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?
A: Be sure to visit the links section, where I
travel agencies that specialize in freighter cruises.
Continue to the next section of Freighter Bum:
Katrin S. Route.