Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cruising is incredibly self-indulgent

by Richard L. Weaver II

I am writing this from a two-story nook (Deck’s 8 and 9) called “Words,” the onboard library of Celebrity’s ship Millennium, sailing the Mediterranean Sea from Barcelona, Spain, to four other countries (France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey) ending in Venice, Italy. In this dark wood, plushly carpeted nook are a dozen large, comfortable (overstuffed) chairs, convenient tables, and pictures of writers such as Philip Roth, Gore Vidal, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. It is quiet, the lights are low, and there is a delightful peace here away from the lively pool, spa, casino, and lunch buffet areas. There are close to 2,000 people onboard plus close to 1,000 wait staff — an eclectic crowd gathered from all parts of the globe.

Counting our river cruise with Grand Circle Travel, this is our eighth cruise, and I thought it time to make some observations as I did early in our cruising experience. Obviously, we like cruising, but there are portions of it that appeal more than others. Relaxing here in “Words,” clearly is one of them.

An important aspect of multiple cruise experiences is becoming accustomed to the rules and expectations. For example, we register all online, print out results, sign them, and carry the needed documentation with us. We follow requirements regarding what we carry and what we pack in our checked luggage. Reading ahead is essential for saving time. Getting caught in security, for example, can not only cost valuable time, but in the Amsterdam airport, it prevented us from making a plane connection that cost us 5-6 hours. We now pass through security check points with ease, except for the necessity of waiting in the inevitable long lines which cannot be avoided. I overheard one gentleman who travels a great deal complain that it is those who seldom travel and, thus, do not know the requirements, who make it difficult for others.

Our impression of “cruise types” has been confirmed. When I first wrote about cruising, I thought my stereotypes might be unfair. They have been substantially confirmed.

“Cruise types” include drinkers. Not only is this an important money-maker for cruise lines, but people enjoy their indulgence at all locations onboard, and everywhere you go, cruise-line wait-staff, are there asking if you want something from the bar. A simple “no thank you” is enough to free yourself from one waiter, however, there are often three or four others likely to ask you the same question. There is a gratuity attached to each drink; thus, wait staff have everything to gain from their pursuit. Fortunately, they are neither demanding nor intrusive.

Another characteristic of “cruise types” is the desire to gamble and play bingo. The casino has been a central location on all our ocean-going ships, and seldom when open have we found it sparsely populated. Bingo is a daily activity conducted in all the larger venues, and some people cannot get enough of either. Gambling success or losses is often a conversation topic among “cruisers.”

A third characteristic of “cruise types” is smoking. Although Celebrity Cruise Lines has confined it to the port side of the ship in all venues, it permeates more widely than the left side alone. Just walking through the casino or any of the bars is enough to give non-smokers headaches. One smoking venue — especially for cigar smoker s— on all Celebrity ships is Michael’s Club where the evening entertainment is often a piano player — entertainment that can be annoying for non-smokers simply because of the smoking venue.

Incidentally, and as an aside here, my wife and I have become “cruise types.” No, we have not taken up drinking, gambling, or smoking, but we have enjoyed the cruise experience for getting us to places we would not otherwise see, for providing us good food in abundance (and always available), for being waited on hand and foot, and in having excellent (but expensive) guided tours that are interesting and educational. For example, our excursion from Villefrance to Nice and Eze on the French Riviera had a well-educated guide who revealed a wonderful sense of humor, offered great historical information, and provided insightful personal observations. He began guiding tours in 1973 (34 years ago) when he was picked to be a guide as a teenager who worked on repairing the coaches. He spoke 5 languages (German, Italian, Spanish, French, and English), never completed his education, owns and works on a small farm he inherited from his father, and has one daughter.

When it comes to excursions, we have indulged: “If you’re going to all these places, you need to really see them,” is our thinking. On our Mediterranean cruise we took excursions to see Michelangelo’s original David, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum, Pompeii, the Acropolis and Forum, an olive farm and a winery, as well as, in Istanbul, The Blue Mosque, the St. Sophia Museum, the Grand Bazaar, and the Topkapi Palace.

We have enjoyed the people with whom we have cruised. It is true that many have money. You can tell that from the way they act and dress. We had less contact with others on our Mediterranean cruise, and that is partly because we sat at a table for two. Our contacts with others occurred on the many excursions we took; however, unlike previous cruises, we exchanged no email addresses; thus, there is unlikely to be any continued contact with those passengers.

One of the real pleasures of cruising has always been the entertainment. When we sailed on the Zenith from Jacksonville, Florida, to the southern Caribbean, we heard and enjoyed a trio (singers and instrumentalists who played guitars and a bass) from the Phillippines called the Alambre Trio. We liked them so much we kept in contact via the Internet, and we cruised with them a second time on the ship Horizon to Bermuda, and a third time to the Bahamas on the Norwegian ship “Spirit.” It was like going to a concert every night.

Ship entertainment includes dance bands, party bands, pianists, guitarists, and singers. We have heard and seen an accapella group of four men, comedians, jugglers, aerialists, ventriloquists, and a violinist. The variety seems inexhaustible, and I haven’t even mentioned the cruise line’s own singers and dancers who put on regular, elaborate, theme-based performances.

Cruising is self-indulgent, and it is pleasure seeking of the most extravagant nature. Luxurious, hedonistic, and excessive — I would never claim otherwise, and I make no excuses. It is a travel option, and we have found it to not just be satisfying but educational and worthwhile as well. If you’re going to be self-indulgent, why not see various parts of the world at the same time?
At the website Cruises, the “Love to Know” essay there explains cost benefits, cruise vacation benefits, variety benefits, cruise vacation benefits: family benefits, as well as safety benefits. It’s a worthwhile read.

There is an ezine article, called “Cheap Cruises” by Junaid Ashraf Mianoor in which he offers a variety of ways to get good deals for less online. He makes some sensible suggestions.
Copyright June, 2009 - And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.

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