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Element of surprise

Sail to the unknown: Would you take a mystery cruise?

Mystery cruise vacations sound awfully exciting, don’t they? Or do they just sound awful? We’ve investigated this unusual getaway type to find out what to expect on surprise sailings.

Words by Samantha Priestley

If you’re the kind of person who likes surprises, a mystery cruise could be the perfect trip for you. The clue is in the name, and when you sign up for a mystery cruise exactly where you are going and what you’ll be doing is a mystery.

Different cruise lines do a mystery cruise slightly differently, but one thing that is always the same is the mystery element. You’ll be given the port you disembark from and the port you arrive back into, but everything in between is a secret.

The only people onboard who know where you are going and what you’ll be doing are the staff and they will be absolutely keeping this information to themselves.

Don’t go thinking you can bribe them or prise these details out of them, which, anyway, would kinda defeat the purpose of the mystery cruise. It would be a bit like sneakily opening your Christmas gifts before the big day.

The idea is, you like the thrill of not knowing, the high of the surprise when, each day, you find out where you are. It’s this building of expectation, this reveal, that passengers on a mystery cruise love the most.

Some mystery cruises have been known to have a vote in the evening, and the destination voted top is the one the captain heads to the next day, but usually the staff know exactly where they are going in advance.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Line has done a vote in the past. They’ve given passengers two ports to choose from, obviously close to each other, and the port that gets the most votes is where you’ll find yourselves the next day. If you want a genuine surprise, you don’t have to be involved in the vote, but some passengers love the feeling of rolling the dice like this.

You’ll need a good sense of adventure for a mystery cruise, and you need to be open-minded.

Passengers like to speculate together over a drink or two and there’s often a lot of talk at dinner and breakfast about where you might find yourselves next (some ships purposefully alter course during the night while you’re asleep to really ramp up the surprise element).

But waiting for that moment when you arrive at the next port and find out where you are, is what most people take these cruises for. If you’re the kind of person who loves being organized and you like to plan, this one isn’t for you.

Monitors showing the ship’s route are turned off and everyone gets into the spirit of the mystery. There’s a lot of fun onboard, as everyone there is the same like-minded, adventure-loving type of person.

You’ll get some vague and cryptic clues about the next destination and as you all try to work it out, the guessing game continues until the big reveal.

Yes, of course, you could go on your phone and spoil your surprise by checking on where you’re heading, but escapade enthusiasts prefer to pore over traditional maps or sit back and wait in anticipation.

Perhaps the most troublesome thing about taking a mystery cruise is the packing. If you really don’t know where you’ll be going, you’ll need to pack for every eventuality.

You might have an idea of the area you’re cruising to, based on the port you leave from, but remember your ship could be heading in any direction from there, so it’s a good idea to pack for varying climates and different activities. This is especially mysterious if you’re taking one of the longer cruises.

Most mystery cruises are for a week to ten days, but if you opt for a two-week cruise it really opens up the possibilities of where you might be going.

The exception to this is the Uniworld Mystery River Cruise. Their latest mystery cruise is an Amsterdam round trip, so you know the area of the world you’ll be in. You don’t, however, know exactly where you’ll stop along the way and what you’ll be doing at each stop.

That’s the bit where you need your sense of adventure. Uniworld does send each passenger a detailed packing list before the trip, so you’ll be covered for the essentials, and you’ll gain some clues about what you’ll be doing on your adventure.

You’ll also be sent postcards in the weeks leading up to the river cruise that tease out some clues as to what will be happening. And on the cruise, the next morning’s activities and location will be revealed at special dinners in some fun ways.

Everything else on your cruise will be just like any other cruise. You still get the same great food, the same amenities and entertainment, that you’d find onboard if it wasn’t a mystery cruise. You’re just adding in the extra surprise.

Set Sail

Uniworld Mystery River Cruise

Duration: 9 nights

Where: An Amsterdam round trip

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Published 05.10.23