Freighter Travel - The Cruise People Ltd.




What are passenger freighters? - They are working cargo ships, mainly container vessels, which carry a small number of passengers. The maximum passenger load is 12 and the average is about 5.

Who sails in passenger freighters? - People who love the sea and ships. At the captain’s discretion, passengers may be invited to visit the bridge and see the intricacies of ship handling, navigation and cargo transfers. Also, a request to the chief engineer may result in an invitation to visit the engine room and see what makes a ship tick. Freighter passengers are content to watch the sea go by, read, listen to music and socialize with their fellow passengers. It's a bonus if you spot whales or other sea creatures, but you can be sure to see a variety of sea birds. In general, people with flexible schedules and who feel at home in small groups and prefer casual travel.

What is there to do? - Besides the possibilities of visits to the bridge and engine room, there is usually a passenger lounge with games, movies and DVDs. Many ships have a small pool and/or fitness room. Often, there is a pantry where passengers may get snacks 24/7. On the outside of the accommodation block, there are stairs with landings at most decks - great places to put your chair and watch the world go by, read a book or grab 40 winks in the fresh air. Most ships have enough open deck space to walk around the ship. In ports, you can tour the city by taxi or, in some cases, on foot. However, some ports are a long way from the city centre and the ship could arrive late at night and sail early the next morning. I can watch the loading and unloading of containers for hours!

What about accommodation? - Cabins are usually large with private facilities (sink, shower and WC). Most have a desk, windows, and a sitting area. Cabins are clean and usually carpeted. Passengers are asked to bring indoor shoes to keep the dirt from the pier out of the passenger areas. Frequently, there is a fridge and you can stock it from the slop chest (small on-board duty free shop). Stewards do a weekly cleaning and change of towels and linens.

What about food? - Passengers dine in the senior officers' mess. Stewards serve and passengers receive the same food as the officers. The type of food will vary with the nationality of the officers but the cooks will do their best to accommodate you. I was pleasantly surprised when clients (who hadn't told me they were vegetarians) came home delighted with the dishes the cook prepared just for them. Meal hours are about the only regimentation aboard (except being aboard before sailing).

How safe are freighters? - These ships all have to pass the coast guard safety inspections and the crews are trained to handle emergencies. Passengers will participate in mandatory safety exercises. If the seas are rough, an officer will advise on the suitability of taking a stroll around the deck. Remember, you will have to be extra careful on board and, especially, ashore in port where containers are being loaded and unloaded and large trucks are moving around the terminal almost continually. In some ports, shore leave and embarking/disembarking may be prohibited for safety reasons. The captain's word is final in all cases.

What paperwork do I need? - ALL passengers must carry a valid passport. Some countries, such as India, Australia, Indonesia, North Vietnam, Japan, and China, will require a multiple entry visa. Requirements may vary with nationality of your passport so be sure to check. ALL passengers must carry out-of-country hospital/medical insurance including emergency evacuation (sometimes called air ambulance) coverage. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED is cancellation insurance to protect your investment in case of illness, accident or bereavement of yourself or an immediate family member. ALL passengers must be fit enough to climb many stairs daily. Some cargo ships have elevators, but many do not. Your doctor must fill out a medical form (close to sailing date) indicating that you are in good health and are fit enough to sail in a ship with no doctor aboard.

What does it cost? - Costs will vary but a general guide is about $200 Canadian per day including port taxes/fees and deviation insurance. Longer voyages are usually less expensive per day because the taxes and deviation insurance are a lower percentage of the total. The big winners are singles. On freighters people travelling alone still get a private cabin with facilities but pay either no single supplement or a very small one.

What to take? - Besides the required paperwork, take casual, comfortable clothing including good walking shoes and a wind and water resistant jacket. Don’t run out and buy these but if you have them, bring along a camera, short wave radio, gps unit and a scanning radio for the marine frequencies. Pack a few of your favourite music CDs, DVDs, and books. Maps and travel guides can be useful. Some folks bring a portable tape recorder to tape their observations for a later journal. Laptop computers are fine but do NOT expect Internet or e-mail connections on board. Remember, current on board will be 220 volts AC with round-pronged European outlets so adapters and transformers may be required. If you have a favourite laundry detergent, you might bring a small supply with you.

Where do they sail? - In general, voyages have to cross an ocean. Please note that information sheets describe whole voyages but usually it is possible to book segments if space is available.

Australia/New Zealand - Voyages to/from North America - east or west coast.

“Banana Boats” - Although no longer available from North America, “banana boats” still sail between Europe and the Caribbean

Europe - There are sailings to/from northern Europe (Usually UK, Holland or Belgium) or to the Mediterranean from/to Montreal, Cleveland and the United States. We even have a voyage from the west coast to Europe via the Far East and the Suez Canal.

Far East - Voyages from both coasts of the USA to countries of the Far East. These voyages will include transits of the Panama or Suez Canals.

South America - Although no longer available from North America, voyages to South America are still available from Europe.

South Pacific - From California to the South Pacific – for the full voyage (no segments available).

World - We offer two around-the-world voyages of up to 126 days. Prices start at less than $140 Canadian a day and both come highly recommended. There are also half-world voyages between London and Australia through either the Panama or the Suez Canal.

We are eager to answer your questions and to discuss the many options involved in freighter travel. I would welcome a phone call or e-mail from you.

Fred Cherney