Think of two cruise voyages that couldn't be more different from each other.
You might have an idea of certain types of sailings that could fit that request, but I think I nailed it with a pair of trips I took on consecutive weeks.
I ventured into the wilds of Alaska on a small-ship expedition with Un-Cruise Adventures and followed up by sailing the inaugural voyage on Harmony of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, a mammoth floating complex that can carry almost 6,800 people.
This wasn't on purpose. My schedule just worked out that way, and the stark contrasts helped me learn a lot about why people might like each style of cruise -- and aside from suffering a bit of cruise-induced schizophrenia, I also learned that I can have a good time on either type of trip. Find out what style of cruise best fits your personality by checking my comparison of an Un-Cruise Adventures cruise in Alaska vs. Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas.
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On Un-Cruise Adventures' Wilderness Explorer, I cruised with 35 other passengers. Luckily, we got along very well. If we didn't, there isn't any place to hide. On Harmony of the Seas, a ship that stretches more than 1,000 feet long and rises some 16 decks, you have options. Bump into a group of fellow travelers who are a bit disagreeable -- maybe they are discussing the U.S. election season too vehemently, for example -- you can politely excuse yourself (just say you are heading to the bar for another beer), and you never have to see them again . . . for an entire week. There is plenty of space for everyone!
I loved going into the brilliant wilderness of Alaska every day to hike, swim, kayak and spot creatures in their natural habitat. Again, I was lucky. I had fantastic sunny weather during my cruise. Alaska is notorious for periods of heavy rain, and while this doesn't prohibit going out for hikes and such, those who are bad-weather averse might not want to venture out. The destination is the attraction for Un-Cruise voyages, so if you don't get off the ship for a daily activity, your entertainment options become quite limited. Although, there is always the bar and the refreshing embrace of Alaska Brewing Co.'s tasty beers.
The ship is the destination for many people who choose a vacation on Harmony of the Seas, and you get to see cruisers in their natural habitat, foraging at the buffet and turning just the right color of crimson while baking the pale flesh in the sun. The ship also features tons of fun stuff to do. Families and friends can travel together with no worries about having to agree on what to do each day. There is something for everyone.
Harmony of the Seas has a 10-story dry slide, three waterslides, rock climbing walls, zip line, ice skating rink and FlowRider surfing simulators, to name some of the dozens of activities aside from the large pool areas, fitness center, theaters with large-scale variety and Broadway-style shows. You can watch a production of "Grease."
Whale watching is a highlight on Un-Cruise sailings, and we spotted orcas "thisclose" to our ship. Whale watching on Harmony of the Seas . . . (insert your own joke; I'm not going there!).
Your workouts on the Un-Cruise Adventures ship consist of epic hikes and paddling sessions while out in the wilderness. Trust me, this is an awesome way to challenge yourself. A small space on an upper deck of the four-deck boat also has room for a workout, with a couple dumbbells, yoga mats, a stationary bike and an elliptical machine.
Harmony of the Seas features a full-scale gym with all the equipment you would find at the best health clubs on land and offers a range of fitness classes, too. Plus, the attached spa is the place to go for massages and other treatments like facials, wraps, nails and hair styling.
On an Un-Cruise ship, you'll have to do your own styling and treatments (what happens in your cabin is your business).
On Harmony of the Seas and any big cruise ship, you can get food at almost all hours of the day -- from about two dozen restaurants, including a massive buffet. Room service is also a quick phone call away.
It's true, the constant eating and drinking is a big part of the attraction for many cruisers on these big ships.
You also get well fed with delicious regional cuisine on an Un-Cruise Adventures voyage in Alaska, too. With king crab, salmon, steaks and other delicacies on the menu. It's just that meal times are set -- with breakfast and lunch buffets serving a variety of dishes (and you can always get seconds) -- and the dining venue is the same for everyone for each meal. So, there is not an endless temptation to consume. One bar, one dining room on Un-Cruise. And no room service.
On Harmony of the Seas: Dozens of bars and lounges and a similar number of eateries. "Ooh, ice cream! Yes, I'll have a cone!"
It never ends. You'll wander past grills filled with hot dogs, burgers and fries. Or a coffee shop that just happens to have tasty pastries, cookies or sandwiches at the ready.
Un-Cruise ships offer the chance for daily excursions ranging from hikes, walks, standup paddleboarding, skiff tours, kayaking tours up fjords and small boat trips to get close to a calving glacier or powerful waterfall. Even snorkeling! The sports marina opens off the back of the ship giving access to nature. You even can take a plunge into the chilly waters at the end of the trip. (It's a fun bonding ritual for cruisers who have shared a week's worth of adventures).
Harmony of the Seas offers a range of excursions that differ based on what destination you visit. So, you can get a variety of active challenges such as snorkeling and bike tours and such. You also might just take a city tour or go for a relaxing day at a stunning Caribbean beach. Buying a tour through the cruise ship means you might end up in a larger group traveling by bus depending on how popular the excursion is. You also pay extra for these activities. On Un-Cruise, the daily activities are always about getting out into the wilderness of Alaska and are included in your fare.
Both ships have hot tubs! It's awesome to sail near a glacier or through a gorge looking up at the mountains from the comfort of a hot tub while enjoying a craft beer in Alaska.
It's also wonderful to watch a Caribbean sunset and play in the nearby pools during a sea day on Harmony of the Seas.
As you can imagine, packing for each ship is quite different. No need for rain gear on Harmony of the Seas. You'd better pack your rain boots, pants and jacket for Un-Cruise Adventures trips in Alaska (you can rent gear, too) or you will have to miss a day of activities, which send you out onto the trails, rain or shine.
For Harmony of the Seas, you might decide to pack dresses or suits and ties for formal nights, dinners and dancing, etc. The cabins are tiny on Un-Cruise Adventures Alaska ships, with decor that is far more functional than fancy. Your bathroom also could be a typical "marine head" with the toilet/shower combo packed into a tiny space.
Harmony of the Seas offers staterooms with large balconies and suites that are as big as some small apartments. The daily program for a cruise on Harmony of the Seas offers a wide array of activities designed to keep a diverse passenger base having fun. Trivia, bellyflop contests, art auctions, late-night comedy shows, themed dance parties and 3-on-3 basketball or blackjack tournaments, for example.
The end-of-day program for Un-Cruise sailings consist simply of an enrichment talk on the geography, animals or history of the regions you visit.
I'm sure there are many more points to compare that show just how different each style of cruising is and thus just how startling it was for me to go directly from the serenity and closeness of a small group of almost 100 percent like-minded travelers looking to venture out into the Last Frontier on what was a bucket-list type of trip for many to the organized chaos and buzzing energy that pervades the world's largest cruise ship.
I have long been a chameleon as a traveler. I am easy. I love all types of adventures and easily adapt to all sorts of environments and conditions. These back-to-back weeks put the incredible differences between these two types of sailings into stark relief, however, and I would prefer a break to process one wonderful experience before jumping into the next. But sometimes my schedule is too packed for me to have a choice.
My aim here was to give details about each type of cruising so that you will know what you are getting into. What type of cruise suits your personality? Harmony of the Seas vs. Un-Cruise Adventures?
Some of you will know right away.
Want to party with friends and family and hang with fellow revelers (among which you probably will find a few new friends) who are out to have a good time? Pick Harmony of the Seas.
Want to party with nature? And ponder your small place in this in this world while exploring the wonders of the amazing wilds and making new friends in a more chill and intimate setting? Take an Un-Cruise Adventures voyage in Alaska.
Or you just might want to try each type of cruise for yourself to see what I'm talking about.
Just don't try them out in consecutive weeks like I did.
Thanks for reading and happy cruising, whatever your style.