Travelling on Board a Container Carrier
Whenever you hear about someone travelling around the world by sea as part of their vacation, the first thing that comes to mind is a cruise ship (or yacht if they have an above average budget). But there is another less frequently explored option – container carriers. If you love adventure, going against the grain and avoid crowds, a container carrier cruise could just be what you need.
Basically, when you go on a container carrier cruise, you are simply piggybacking (but at a considerable fee) on the container ship as it moves cargo from one port to the other.
Whereas cargo ship travel is cheaper than cruise ship travel, it is still fairly expensive – you should budget for at least $2,000. You could previously reduce on the travel costs by becoming part of the ship’s crew but new regulations have made this difficult to for anyone except a credentialed mariner.
Container carrier cruises initially attracted retirees who are still the majority nowadays but there is a growing number of relocating executives and returning students that are finding this means of travel convenient. This is in part due to the fact that unlike cruise ships and aircraft, the only limit to the amount of cargo you can bring on board is the capacity of your cabin. If you are relocating, this can save you big on standard shipping and airfreight costs.
On board the ship, you will usually have access to common areas such as the mess hall, lounge, and swimming pool (if present). In most container carriers, passenger rooms are outside cabins. Some freighters (especially German ones) have an expansive cabin that has two rooms – one the bedroom and the other a lounge/living room.
As this is a ‘business’ ship, there aren’t any deliberately organized recreational activities and facilities. There is no radio or TV but there are usually lots of video and plenty of books, magazines and other literature. Some however have an onboard gym, sauna and table tennis room. As such, rest and relaxation comes from watching the sea birds, playful dolphins, giant whales (depending on the route) and islands/land the ship will pass by.
Unlike cruise ships which may do a particular route less than ten times a year, container carriers as the fundamental cross-continental conveyors of world cargo are far more regular. The busiest routes have sailings once or twice a week. In addition, cruise ships cover routes that have the most demand. Passengers who want to go on the ‘road less travelled’ would be better served by a container carrier.
Passenger numbers on container carriers are very small. An average-sized cruise ship would pack 5,000 passengers. A container carrier on the other hand will have 12 or less passengers on board. The limit on number of passengers has to do with maritime regulations that require a ship to have an onboard doctor whenever there are more than 13 passengers.
Given this small number of passengers, demand for a place on container carriers is extremely high. It is not unusual to find the ship fully booked 8 or more months before departure date. As such, planning way in advance is not an option. Note also that you may need a Visa for the different ports of call that the ship will dock at to discharge or load cargo.
Note that although retirees are the majority of container carrier passengers, there are upper age limits. The specific limit depends on the carrier but for most, this is may be anywhere between 70 and 79 years of age.