Louise Roddon, an award-winning travel writer for The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Observer, and more.
Whether it’s your style of travel or not, cruising is big business. In recent years – the pandemic aside – the cruise market has seen a massive uptake in new travellers, and growth rates are continuing to rise at levels not seen in other areas of the travel industry.
Perhaps it has something to do with the hassle-free nature of cruising. Check into that stateroom, unpack, study the itinerary, pick your excursions – and each day you return “home” to a refreshed room, thanks to the myriad staff who keep everything shipshape.
Then next morning, a new port of call. More adventures. And you haven’t had to lift a finger to organise anything, nor repack that suitcase a dozen times or worry about where to eat. Blissful? The growing figures bear this out.
Naysayers will trot out the old “petri-dish” cliché, especially since Covid reared its ugly head, but in my job as a travel writer I’ve been on cruises of all shapes and sizes and have never witnessed unsanitary conditions. Ironically, when I ask these grumblers how many cruises they’ve taken, the answer is nearly always the same: none.
In my experience, there are cruises and then there are cruises. Like glitz, non-stop entertainment, sparkly glamour? Pick one of the bigger liners. Bear in mind, however, that attractively low prices for a week’s voyage in the Med often come with hidden extras: drinks, then gratuities on those bevvies; speciality dining surcharges, excursions – and of course the gratuities for all those hard-working staff, which you can opt out of, but would you really have the gall to do so?
Prefer something more niche, low-key but chic? Ideally with an all-inclusive element? My choice would be Viking Cruises. Both their riverboats and ocean liners carry an attractive Scandi vibe, and new to the fleet, is their first expedition ship, Viking Octantis, which allows guests to access the more remote corners of the world, often with on-board experts delivering site-specific lectures to enhance your voyage.
Of course, if you’re cruising, you may well be visiting countries with many different currencies, and on an organised cruise excursion, it’s not always easy to get to an ATM. And even if you find one - if you’re in Morocco, say, for one day, then moving onto Spain the next, just how many dirhams should you withdraw without ending up with loose currency that you might not be able to change back into your own currency, once home?
Some cruise ships will exchange money for you on-board, but that is becoming increasingly rare, and where it does exist, the rates are rarely favourable.
So how have I managed my cruise spending so far?
For a while, I’ve been using a pre-paid travel card that allows you to transfer funds from your existing account – rather in the manner of a holiday piggy bank. It’s been good, especially at letting me know how much I spend each day, what the conversion rate is, and how much I have left to spend. But there have been times when my funds were running low and I’ve been out of Wi-Fi range and thus unable to top up from my home bank.
Well, Currensea has helped solved my dilemma. This money-saving travel card is directly linked to my current bank account, and promises no daftly high foreign exchange rates. It also has the lowest overseas fees on the markets. What’s not to like?
I’ve been trying it out on a ten-day Viking Cruise from Athens to Venice. Many of the destinations we’ve been visiting, like Santorini, Katakolon, Corfu and Koper in Slovenia come under the Euro – but in Dubrovnik and Zadar the currency – at least until next January – is the Kuna. Luckily, both destinations are geared up for card payments, so Currensea has proved a boon.
My first tap payment was in Olympia – site of the original Greek Olympic games. My son and his girlfriend braved the ancient running track in 38-degree temperatures, and in record speeds, so of course I felt pushed to reward their efforts with cooling drinks and snacks in town.
At tree-shaded Café OIympias, the four of us had iced coffees and spinach and feta pastries. Total cost? €26, which Currensea exchanged to £21.83; a saving against other banks, the app told me, of 74p.
I also liked that the app gave me details – including a map – of where this purchase was made, and on what date the money would leave my account. A useful tool for potential disputes.
In Corfu I bought a pretty handbag and a belt for my husband from Gipas Iossif in the Old Town. The exchange rate? £1 = €1.1911. Better than my currency exchange centre back home. I’m also able to set a customised daily limit – very wise in these shop-stuffed destinations – as well as having the benefit of Currensea’s own ATM daily withdrawal limit set to £500.
So, my overall impression of the Currensea card? Effortless spending. Hassle-free – come to think of it, a bit like cruising itself.
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