Mike and I decided on a whim that we were going to get around the world without taking any planes. Since it was a whim, we're figuring out the economic viability after the fact! This is the second post on my series of cost comparisons, the first tries to decide if cruise ship journeys are reasonably priced once you factor in accommodation as well as transport. This one compares cruises with other forms of sea transport.
One of the things I've realized as I've experimented with different ways of traveling over the years is that what works best and costs least for a single backpacker isn't always the best option for families. As far as getting around by boat is concerned, I mentioned here that I thought freighters would prove more expensive for us than cruise ships. I've now gleaned one data point that confirms that. I was quoted the cost of a freighter passage at 112 US dollars per person per day. The cost for our family would then be 335 USD per day. The problem for families here, is that the cost is per person, and it seems children pay full fare.
On a direct comparison cruising is quite a bit cheaper for a family. Our Pacific cruise costs 105 USD per day for one adult (but 60 USD for a child, 270 USD for the family). For a single traveler, things are different. Unless they can find a partner to share their cabin, they will end up pretty much paying for two people to get a cabin by themselves. At over 200 USD per day the cost of a cruise then becomes much greater than the cost of a freighter. Of course famillies with more children can also find themselves in difficulties with cruise ships. Unless the ship offers cabins big enough to fit the whole family, the children may end up paying an adult fare.
In any case, the difference between freighter travel and cruiser travel is not vast. When you take into account the fact that cruises may take more circuitous routes and charge for extras, a freighter ship can be a viable option for anyone. As a family we also want to factor in our interest in the places the cruiser is going to, and the entertainment and social opportunities on cruise ships versus freighters, especially for a child.
What about the other options for ship travel? Surprisingly, overnight passenger ferry services with cabin accommodation (where they're available) are in the same price range as cruises or freighters, though they vary quite a bit. The possibility of getting a job on a ship and being paid to travel can be pretty much ruled out for families. It is possible to charter a boat to go somewhere, but it's extremely expensive, so, only an economically viable option for very large families, I imagine!
As for sailing your own boat, that's a whole different story. We've ruled this out because it would mean: first, selling our house to buy a boat, and second, spending months or years learning to sail it. But it's interesting that you do find quite a few families taking their boats long distance. I would be curious for data points on day to day expenses for that kind of trip, if anyone has any? I would guess they're probably quite low, but dependent on how long you want to spend in ports?