Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel the world on a working ship? If you have the time, such a dream is within reach and even much more affordable than voyages on traditional cruise liners. A variety of freighters book a few individuals as passengers (generally no more than 12–as opposed to up to 6000 passengers on a mega-cruise liner.) Meals are generally taken with the ship’s officers, and passengers have access to the officers’ lounge and other facilities. Cabins are often larger on a freighter than on a cruise ship and smoking is often allowed in the cabins (and sometimes even in the dining room.)

Advantages of a Freighter Voyage

Freighters are distinctly different from traditional cruise ships. The chief difference is that these vessels are working ships, with real sailors and laborers, not just cruise directors. Also, although the freighter crew will help you enjoy your voyage, their primary concern is getting the ship’s cargo safely from one port to the next. Still, for the adventuresome traveler, freighters have many advantages. Among these are:

1. One-of-a-kind voyages. Freighters don’t travel the same route every week like cruise ships. They also call at ports that cruise ships bypass because they cater less to tourists. For someone tired of St. Thomas, San Juan and Nassau, this can be a real plus.

2. Serenity. If the thought of vacationing with 3000+ of your “closest friends” on a mega-cruise liner repels you, you’ll likely enjoy the peace and quiet aboard a freighter at sea. Sure, the ship is bustling while it’s in port, but there’s a lot of quiet time at sea.

3. Cost.The cost per day per person is dramatically lower than on a passenger cruise vessel.  For example, a 28-day voyage on the “Hanjin Palermo” from New York City to the North Sea and back is 85 Euros per person per day ($110.) This compares to $220 per person per night on a similar journey on Cunard’s “Queen Mary 2.”

4. The opportunity to see a real ship at work. Booking passage on a freighter gives you a chance to see a real ship and real sailors at work.

Disadvantages of a Freighter Voyage

Despite the many wonderful and unique aspects of traveling on a freighter, such a vacation is not for everyone. Below are a few of the disadvantages to a freighter cruise:

1. No entertainment.  If you are the kind of cruiser that wants to be playing bingo, riding the wave runner or dancing in the lounge every waking moment, a freighter is probably not the right vacation for you. Entertainment is generally limited to reading on deck, watching movies (and the passing scenery) and sunning on deck. A few ships have swimming pools.

2. Length. Generally freighter voyages are longer than the traditional seven-night cruise. If you don’t have a lot of vacation time, this isn’t the vacation for you.

3. No kids facilities. Since these are working vessels, freighters aren’t designed to accommodate small children and most ships won’t even book them because of liability concerns.

Where to Find a Freighter Cruise

With one exception (Grimaldi shipping), passage on a freighter is booked via a booking agency. Some booking agencies that cater to North American passengers include Freighter World Cruises, A La Carte Freighter Travel and Maris Freighter Cruises. As space is very limited on each ship, you’ll want to make your reservations well in advance.

Have you ever traveled on a freighter? Share your experiences with us.

Save Money by Seeing the World on a Freighter