Thursday, 20 February 2014

Just cruisin' - genealogy at sea.

As some readers know, quite a few Aussie and Kiwi geneabloggers were on the high seas in February. No, we weren’t just hanging out together, sipping daiquiris and sunning ourselves by the pool…or playing at pirates. Quite the contrary, for there was little time for such frivolities.

Voyager in Sydney on a disappointingly grey day of departure.

We were participating in the 4th Unlock the Past Cruise, which was really a genealogy conference at sea. Over the decades I’ve been adamant, and prejudiced, in my “bah, humbug” attitude to cruising in general, so how ironic that not only did I take the plunge, but on one of the biggest ships sailing in Australian waters at present, Voyager of the Seas. It just shows what the peer pressure of meeting blogging mates in real life can encourage you to do, not to mention the appeal of 9 days talking genealogy without people’s eyes glazing over. 

As the company will be running a few cruises in the northern hemisphere over the coming 12-18 months, my comments may be of interest to others on the far side of the world. Of course this company isn’t the only one that does genealogy conference cruises, but they are the only one I’ve experienced.
So as a first-time cruiser and conference-attender at sea, how did I find this experience?


·        Spending time with fellow obsessives talking and learning genealogy.
·        Meeting my virtual mates from blogging in real-life, knowing their family stories but getting to know them as friends.
·        Hearing excellent speakers both international and national. I live tucked away in Australia’s Top End so I don’t get many chances to listen to knowledgeable speakers so this was a real treat for me. I think it’s important not to underestimate our national speakers too, as they have a wealth of knowledge. 
  • Aussie speaker and geneablogger,
    Jill Ball aka Geniaus
     - a dynamic, enthusiastic and informative speaker.
    A Down Under focus meant there was lots of expertise on our specific research issues and the overseas speakers provided the knowledge on our ancestors’ places of origin, and tech tools that assist us with our research.
  •  A wide array of topics in session streams to choose from – more than an on-land conference.
  •  The geneabloggers had their own support group from the start, recognising each other even in the check-in queues…the power of social media!
  • The panel sessions and the informally structured genea-readers session gave people a chance to share in a way that’s not really possible in a teacher-learner presentation model. These were a great idea.

  •  A competitive price compared with a just-cruisin’ cabin cost made it a viable expense.
  •  Having shore days to offset the sea days with a full conference program - it was great to only have an evening session on those days.
  • Meeting new friends at my dinner table and having nine evenings to get to know them…lovely people all: Cathy, Dot, Marlene and Thomas.
The Ethics Panel moderated by Jill Ball: Pauleen Cass, Kirsty Grey and Maria Northcote.


·        The session streams inevitably, and unavoidably, end up with clashing topics, both (or all three) of which you’d like to hear. Not so much a weakness as a conference fact of life.
·        The density of the program was both a strength and weakness, as it left little time for general socialising, chilling out or just meeting other genies.
·        I missed the usual conference informal get-togethers over coffee or lunch. I suppose this is inevitable on a ship which needs to provide safety over hot drinks especially. It also made it difficult to find people you might have been looking for to share common research interests etc.
·        While the geneabloggers were successful in meeting others, some attendees mentioned they had difficulty making friends/contacts except via their dinner table companions or happenstance cabin companions (if they elected to share).
·        The structured table settings and tea-breaks reduced the opportunities for informal meetings but the UTP lanyards were a great clue to invite yourself to sit at a table with others over lunch.
·        The ship’s haphazard internet connection meant that I ended up writing my blog posts at night then posting them as soon as we arrived in port so I could use my mobile wi-fi dongle.

Sailing out of Hobart: only one more conference day left.
Would I do a genealogy cruise again?

I was surprised that I didn’t find the scale of the ship particularly annoying – whether that would be true if I’d had to spend time with the masses I don’t know. I do know my grandchildren would have loved the DreamWorks characters on board, and I thoroughly enjoyed my AWOL activity of seeing the ice-show.

My cabin was very comfortable and I’d elected not to share – I’m getting too set in my ways for that, and since my sleep patterns are haphazard it just didn’t seem fair to someone else. If you want to read my posts on the cruise this link will take you there.

My criteria for another cruise?

Who are the speakers and what are the topics being covered? You do need to be aware that as these are planned well in advance so speakers’ personal lives and health may result in changes or cancellations.
Are any of my geneablogging mates going along? This gave such an easy entrée to conference cruising that I’d be looking for that again.

How is that money tree in the garden growing? Now I’m retired I weigh up the benefits of one travel experience against another. Where will I get the best value from my travel dollar? It may not be on a conference cruise at all, if there are higher priorities on my bucket list.

What ports will we be visiting? Ironically one of the things I liked about this cruise was that I’d been to all the ports before several times. It meant that I didn’t feel any pressure to rush from pillar to post while on shore as well as having a heavy conference commitment. I was also able to meet up with friends or new cousins in port, or visit an archive. Having said that, if I was doing another, the ports of call would be more important for me.

Disclaimer: These comments are my own perspective on the cruise even though I was an official blogger and speaker on the cruise. My comments are not intended as an advertising promo for Unlock the Past, merely to give others some insight into genealogy conference cruising so they can make informed choices. 


  1. Thanks for the compliments, Pauleen.

    Yes I wish I would have had more socialising time on the cruise too but I had great fun - let's do it again sometime.

  2. One aspect of the genealogy cruising that I like is that I know I will meet up with genealogy friends from across Australia but I also acknowledge it must be hard for people who don't already know someone (either in real life or virtual life) to make connections with such a packed program.

  3. Thanks Pauleen One aspect of genealogy cruising that I like is knowing that I will be meeting up with genealogy friends from across Australia but I also acknowledge that it must be hard for those who don't already know others (either in real life or virtual life) to meet people with such a packed program. The UTP lanyards meant that many people joined us for breakfast or lunch and that was a great way of meeting new people.

  4. Thanks Jill - would be fun! Shauna, I agree the lanyards helped to make the connection but as that was haphazard a more informal meet and greet during the cruise would be good.

  5. Sounds interesting, although I can't imagine going on one, both because of the cost and a cruise - I guess I have some of your cruise bah humbug feeling.

  6. Kristin, I know entirely what you mean but I have, to some extent, been converted. The cost is okay if you're travelling to somewhere on your bucket list as well as benefiting from the conference.


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