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Planning Retirement Online

Container ship travel          

                            April 2009


container shipCruising is becoming more and more popular these days, both for a wonderful holiday and also as a mode of transport from one location to another. However, if you are looking for something different, something slightly unusual and with a more down to earth feel about travelling, then booking a voyage on a container ship might be the perfect answer. It offers a very different way to travel from normal airlines and cruise ships, and it can also be a fun holiday in itself.

Container ships, cargo ships, or freighters -  these are all terms for the commercial vessels that ply the oceans from port to port across the globe transporting all the goods and equipment countries need for everyday life and specific projects.

Many of these large ships put aside a few cabins for paying passengers – and everyone I have met who has travelled on a commercial vessel has said not only have they had an amazing time, but it was so different from what they expected and anything they had experienced before.

The first thing is that travelling on a commercially operated ship means the feel of on-board life is far more workaday and practical than you would find on a holiday cruise ship. The officers and crew are professional seamen; not only do they have a wealth of stories but they also come from a wide range of countries. It isn’t unusual to be making friends with Polish, German, Filipino and Russian crew and this alone adds a unique feel to the trip. Because crews on these commercial ships are always small, you will find you get to know the officers and crew well and most people report they made really good friends during the trip.

You are also thrown together with any other fellow travellers, as most container ships will only cater for a handful of additional passengers at most, rarely above 12. That can make it great fun, or a bit challenging if you find you really have nothing in common.

Facilities can vary but will always be comfortable. Some smaller ships will offer a fairly basic bedroom and ensuite; some of the larger ones will offer a beautifully appointed stateroom with attached private lounge area. Most of the boats today offer an on-deck swimming pool and possibly a small range of activities such as books and reading material, lounge room, video, tv or dvd player and screen, table tennis and other games, but some of the longer trips on larger boats can offer indoor swimming pools and even additional facilities such as fitness centres and saunas. What won’t be on offer are organised activities or an on-board doctor. An essential to travelling on a commercial boat is to take lots of reading material, cards perhaps, and other items to ensure a high level of self-sufficiency in entertainment.

Passengers usually eat in the mess (not dining room!) with the officers, the food can be very good indeed but again, unlike a normal cruise, it is unlikely you will be offered a vast choice or a choice of timing. If you have very specific requirements, it is important you discuss this with the shipping line or agent before you book.

One advantage of travelling on these boats is that sometimes you can have longer in port than on cruise ships, so you have time to really explore and get the feel of a place.

Prices can vary, travelling on a container ship isn’t necessarily the cheapest holiday, most people do it for the experience rather than to save money. There is a huge range of trips on offer, from a short seven day trip on a British coaster trading along the ports of southern England £450 per person) to a wonderful 84 day long world voyage from Felixstowe taking in the Suez Canal and a list of fascinating ports of call in the far east and west coast America before returning (£5,180 per person). Trips to unusual places such as St Helena can also be found.

One word of warning, when the ship docks it will be a hive of activity and there will not necessarily be passenger facilities or taxis waiting to take you into town. You will probably have to call a cab (the crew are usually exceptionally helpful here) but you will be very much on your own in strange cities and it will be your responsibility to ensure you are back on board well in time for departure.

There are agents in the UK that can help advise you on container ship travel and there is quite a lot of information available on the net, including from the following sites:

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