It’s “the perfect holiday for independently minded people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s,” boasts the easyCruise website. The cabins may be small and the frills nonexistent, but the base price is low and the cruise ship will drop you off at a [% 328989 | | different island %] each day with plenty of time to see the sights and enjoy the nightlife. And when the ship sails, the outdoor bar on Deck 5 is supposed to be hopping with a hot-tubbing, drinking, and dancing young crowd.
Sound good? I thought so, so I signed up for seven days of sailing the Caribbean during easyCruise’s first ever winter season. But when I stepped into the sports bar on my first day onboard and saw a sea of white hair, and then paid almost $20 for a disappointing meal, I began to have some doubts. Was the Caribbean easyCruise experience as cheap, easy, and fun as the website promised?
What they promised and what I got
For a very low per-day rate, easyCruise offers a place to sleep, access to the ship’s onboard amenities, and transportation between [% 328989 | | Barbados, St. Vincent, Martinique, Bequia (a Grenadine island), Grenada, and St. Lucia %] for a minimum of two and a maximum of 14 days. Onboard amenities include a coffee shop, a sundries shop, a sports-themed restaurant, an outdoor bar with hot tub, a sun deck (though I never saw anyone up there), and a gym (ditto for the gym). The cruise line also operates a couple of shore excursions in each port for an additional charge, and these occasionally get canceled, mostly due to lack of interest.
From all that I read about other travelers’ experiences on easyCruise, I was expecting a minimalist cabin, long days on shore, and nonstop partying on Deck 5 (the outdoor bar) in the evenings. My expectations were only somewhat correct. Here’s a rundown of what easyCruise promises on its website, and what I found on my Caribbean cruise.
‘easyCruiseOne features a unique minimalist chic orange colored cabin design with frosted glass fittings.’
The cruise line’s description is pretty much accurate. Most cabins feature two twin mattresses on a raised platform with about a hand’s width of space in between them, two hooks and eight hangers for clothing and towels, a high shelf, and a ledge along the headboard. Luggage must be stored on the shelf (for small bags) and along the narrow hallway (for suitcases). The mattresses and duvets are relatively comfortable, though the pillows are flat. And, of course, some of the walls, the headboard, and the platform are bright orange. Most rooms have no window, but you can pay more for doubles with a window, windowless quads, or suites with balconies.
An en suite bathroom is enclosed in mostly translucent glass (the tops and bottoms are transparent so you can see your roommate’s feet when she showers) and hold a towel rack, a toilet, sink, mirror, and shower with no curtain. When you shower, most of the bathroom gets wet, and any noise you make in the bathroom can be heard throughout the cabin. Clearly, easyCruise is not the place for modest people.
I found the bathrooms frustrating, especially as ours had a stick instead of a lock and our toilet stopped working on two separate occasions. But, I’ve stayed in hostels that offered much less. In the end, the cabins were more or less as expected, though a few design modifications could make them more user-friendly.
‘The ship stays in port every night until 4:00 a.m. in the Riviera and 11:00 p.m. in the Caribbean, allowing you to enjoy the life on shore—the beach, sightseeing, shopping, dining, and clubbing.’
The above statement is quite misleading. With the exceptions of Barbados and Bequia, we had to be onboard by 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. every night. Not only was there no chance to experience any nightlife, but we often had to rush through dinner in order to get back to the ship on time. Our early departures could have been due to the fact that the ship was down to only one working engine, but I don’t really want to think about that. One of easyCruise’s biggest selling points for me was its long hours in port, so I felt a bit shortchanged.
‘The idea is to offer a unique holiday experience to independently minded travelers in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.’
I read that the average age on easyCruise in the Mediterranean is 32, and was expecting a similarly young crowd in the Caribbean that would spend the evenings mingling and reveling at the outdoor bar. Later I learned the average age in the Caribbean is 38. That means there should be as many 20-year-olds as 60-year-olds onboard, but I would bet the average age on my sailing leaned more toward 60 than 20.
My travel companion and I hung out with seven other travelers who were our age (20s and 30s); we saw a few more, but they only spoke French. Most of the other passengers were older—many significantly older—and the Deck 5 bar was usually not well attended in the evening. I witnessed no hot tub hijinks or drunken bumping and grinding, which was fine with me, but I would have preferred a little more socializing after 10:00 p.m. With nothing else to do onboard but go to bed, I was hoping the other guests would provide some late-night entertainment.
I learned from some of the crew that prior to Christmas, evening events such as karaoke, salsa lessons, and The Newlywed Game brought the crowds to the bar. But those events had stopped, and on nights when people happened to dance I could count the revelers on one hand. I was disappointed with this change, but it does mean you’ll never have trouble getting a spot in the hot tub.
Is EasyCruise cheap?
Yes and no. Your cruise fare is ridiculously cheap; we paid $372 for seven nights’ double occupancy (that’s roughly $27 per person per day) in a windowless cabin. Four people sharing a quad can pay even less. And, if you book early, you can often find easyCruise specials for still less. However, prices are going up. A suite on a Mediterranean sailing that cost $1,320 last October would be closer to $2,000 by this October.
Airfare is also a significant expense. You’ll need to shell out at least $500, likely more, to get to any of the islands in the winter high season. You might be able to find deals on November and early-December airfare, but in January, February, and March, plane ticket prices go sky high. For the Mediterranean sailings, Europeans can find cheap tickets on sister company easyJet or another low-fare airline, making an easyCruise an all-round discount option. In the Caribbean, everyone is coming from afar and paying for the privilege.
Onboard, we saved by ordering the discounted drink of the day at the bar and the discounted room cleaning on Wednesday in Bequia. I had hoped to make it through the week without a towel change or room cleaning, but when you take most of St. Vincent’s black sand beaches home with you in your bathing suit, it becomes imperative to clean your bathroom. On the flip side, we found the onboard meals at the sports bar to be overpriced for the low quality of the food; the vegetarian options were plentiful but rarely lived up to expectations. Maybe the burgers were better.
Plus, at the end of the cruise, we learned that though all onboard prices were listed in dollars, easyCruise will charge your credit card in euros. When your bank then converts the euros to U.S. dollars, you’ll have lost money through two currency exchanges, rather than one. So everything onboard is more expensive than it seems.
Onshore, I figured we could save a lot by eating locally rather than returning to the ship for meals; on many of the islands, food did come cheap. We often bought fruit and bread from local markets or grocery stores and took advantage of the favorable exchange rate with the Eastern Caribbean dollar. Travelers who like street food can save big with local specialties.
But unless we were willing to take our chances with local public transport, such as shared vans, we found transportation costs on the islands could snap our travel budget in two. If you’re traveling in a group of four or can hook up with other passengers, you can save a lot by splitting the cost of cabs or car rentals. You probably do not want to spend a lot of time in most of the port towns, and you’ll need some sort of transportation even if you’re just headed for a nearby beach, let alone if you want to explore the island. If you’re a single traveler, you might get more for your money if you opt for easyCruise’s shore excursions. You can potentially save by booking your excursions independently of easyCruise, but you’ll need to do this in advance, before you know what time the ship will dock at each island.
In this respect, the Mediterranean itineraries seem superior. “When you have ports that are 2,000 years old,” says Bob Blake of Fodor’s, who sailed easyCruise in the Mediterranean in October, “everything is built close to the water.” From the ship, you can walk to restaurants and shops or take public transportation if you’re going far. Europe is much more suited to independent travelers than the Caribbean, where there’s less of an infrastructure for a kind of travel that isn’t dependent on taxi rides and tours.
When you add up what I spent on airfare, cruise fare, meals, and cabin cleaning, I paid just over $1,000. I could certainly pay about the same price for a seven-day Caribbean cruise out of Florida on Carnival and have a nicer cabin and better onboard facilities. On the other hand, I might not get to experience local cuisine or the intimacy of a small ship where I got to know other passengers and crewmembers.
Is it easy?
Not in the Caribbean. Well, it’s certainly an easy way to see six islands in so many days. If you tried to arrange interisland transportation on your own, you would spend a lot of time in very small airports and would probably end up exhausted.
I contend that easyCruise isn’t so easy because in order to have a good time, you have to do a lot of legwork. Before our cruise, my travel companion and I read everything we could about easyCruise and the islands we were visiting. Every night, we’d pull out our two guidebooks and various travel brochures and try to figure out what to do the next day. But both of us love planning trips, so for us, this was fun.
The real problem was that often we’d find that we’d be interested in seeing a certain attraction but in order to do that we’d either have to pay through the nose for a taxi or car rental (or find other travelers to join us), book a tour (which we couldn’t do onboard), or play bus roulette and risk getting stranded if we couldn’t find a bus back. If all you want to do is pay for a cab to take you to the beach, easyCruise can be fairly easy. If you are an “independently minded” traveler on a tight budget who wants to explore the islands, easyCruise can present a bit of a challenge.
The easyCruise staff occasionally provided a port map but couldn’t answer logistical questions about getting around the islands. Usually, a tourist office was located at the pier so you could get a map, but sometimes there wasn’t even that. In St. Lucia, we were dropped off at a sketchy ferry port far from the main cruise terminal with no signs pointing our way to town or a tourist office. Luckily, I had been to the island before and managed to head in the right direction.
Once we got to the beach or restaurant on each island, I really enjoyed my experience. We saw baby turtles at a turtle sanctuary, sipped cocktails at an outdoor bar while watching the sunset, and swam under a waterfall. But, I felt that I had to put a lot of effort into getting to that point, more than I ever had to in my rambles through Europe.
Was it worth it?
The Caribbean easyCruise experience does not live up to the high expectations set by its more popular Mediterranean counterpart. This failing may be the unofficial reason why company-head Stelios is thinking about sending the easyCruiseOne to Florida next winter to sail Bahamas itineraries. Cheaper airfare to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale could attract the young socializers who livened up the Mediterranean (and made easyCruise a profit with sold-out ships and a booming cocktail service).
If you don’t mind no-frills cabins, can travel in a group of four or more, and like to do advance planning, you can probably have a fabulous time seeing some less-touristed Caribbean islands on a tight budget. The itinerary is certainly the best thing about the experience. Or, if you just want to get some sun and turn in early, easyCruise can also be an economical option.
However, if you’re an explorer with a limited expense account, easyCruise may be tough going. You can’t easily see a lot of an island without coughing up the cash, and while men can hop into a shared van and let the wind carry them to the next adventure, women travelers are advised to be more cautious.
EasyCruise plies the waters of the Caribbean through April 29, then repositions to the Mediterranean and begins its summer season on May 13. If you’re looking for the best that easyCruise has to offer, I’d recommend skipping the Caribbean and getting a discounted early-bird deal on the Europe sailings.