by Shirley Linde

Hopping a freighter evokes a romantic image of escape. What is it really like? A well-known travel writer gives you the insider's scoop.

Traditional cargo vessels are pretty much obsolete; today's freighters are mostly container vessels and spend less time in port, but they still offer unique opportunities to travel. Passenger accommodations can be quite comfortable and spacious, usually consisting of a cabin with twin beds and private bath, with occasional availability of a suite or an owner's cabin with a separate sitting room.

Freighter cruises can take you to ports big cruise ships miss.


Food? Plentiful and good, but not up to the gourmet feasts one expects on luxury cruise ships. Dining is informal, and many ships have a pantry where passengers may help themselves to snacks.

Entertainment? There usually is a lounge where you can meet with other passengers and the officers. There may or may not be a swimming pool and sauna; there are only small areas of deck space for lounging or reading. There is usually no organized entertainment. Take lots of books!

Who can go? Most freighters have cabins for only a few passengers, usually no more than 12, and they may not all be booked. Crews may speak little or no English. Young children are usually not accepted, nor are persons over 75 years of age; those over 65 must provide a medical certificate signed by a physician stating that they are fit to travel, and all passengers must have insurance (no doctor is required on board unless there are more than 12 passengers).

Cost? The costs are less per day on a cargo vessel than on a cruise ship, but the voyages are often longer, so the overall cost is about the same.

Booking: If you decide to take a freighter, you can contact your travel agent for arrangements or contact the cruise line directly. Plan on a broad range of travel dates instead of specific times and dates. Dates of departure and arrival, and even ports of call, are often subject to last-minute changes. And be sure to confirm dates of sailings, the restrictions on passengers, the length of any specific trip, whether one-way fares are available, whether layovers are possible, and what shore excursions are available. If you are flexible, then hopping a freighter can still be one of life's great adventures.