I wouldn’t be caught dead in a casino. I don’t buy cubic zirconium or Peter Max art. I don’t drink, sleep around, eat nonstop quantities of ice cream and pizza, or sunbathe. So why in the h-e-double hockey sticks would I go on a cruise?
Let me tell you…
By the way, this one is #12.
The Water Is Wide
The first cruise I went on, in 1974, was not as happy-making. My brother and I were schleeped along as teenagers with my newly divorced mother to St. Thomas and Curacao. She bought herself and I matching caftans, and I suppose that idiotic grin I’m wearing is because I’m with my tall, tall cousin. (Who is now an astronomer, how cool is that?) I won’t post the picture of mom and I when I didn’t want to have my picture taken, which is a reminder of how obnoxious I could be as a teenager. I got really sunburned, seasick, was mildly accosted by a crew member (nothing serious, just the kind of thing all girls have to put up with), and mostly remember going to the movie theater and seeing “A Touch of Class” four times. Love that movie. Cry like a baby, every time.
Given the experience, I wouldn’t have thought to repeat it, especially since most depictions of “The Love Boat” characterize cruises as full of alcoholic gambling and singles pick-ups, gluttony and little kids running around. Here’s the thing. There is that. You just have to know how to avoid it or ignore it. If you’ve never been on a cruise because those things aren’t your jam, here’s a few reasons you might….
Dancing. Food. Trivia contests (I’ve won two pins and bottle of champagne. One pin was because I was the only one in the room who knew what i means in mathematics. My Algebra II teacher would be so proud!) A different port every day. Flora and fauna. The motion of the ocean when the sea is at peace.
On specialty cruises, there might be fantastic music (try a musician’s cruise — the womyn’s music cruises have been outstanding, but my brother had a great time going down the Rhine and getting a different live symphony every night). We did Shakespeare’s 400 birthday and they had a Shakespeare expert on board; we did a smaller boat that skewed towards birds, whales, and nature. There are Carnival party cruises for people who like drunken er tipsy experiences, and Disney cruises for people who want to build their travel around their children. To each their own. Frankly, I just like line dancing and Zumba every day. Oh, and now with daily Pickleball, too!
Lots of People, Crappy Communication
Now, I’m not going to lie. The cruises I’ve gone on–the affordable ones–have big ships, with a lot of people. We did a more expensive small ship once, and it got into smaller ports, but it had less to do. There are small, small big yacht-type ones, too. But for me that’s like staying in a hotel that is too fancy for me. I always feel like a Jane Austen character, the poor cousin whose clothes are too shabby or who tee-hee doesn’t know which spoon to use for the sorbet. So, if you want something more affordable or just not too swanky, then it’s ships that have economies of scale. This particular ship this week is the Crown Princess, which, as it happens, I’ve been on twice before. (It’s kind of why we picked it.) Lots to do, and really good food.
But here’s the bad news. Giant ships don’t do well with crowd control and communication, whenever anything doesn’t go according to plan. In this case, we left out of San Francisco, which sounded FANTASTIC since I live in the Bay. Take a Lyft over, sail out under the Golden Gate at sunset…. Unfortunately, the bay apparently has a huge amount of silt in it, not dredged out, and the ship couldn’t dock because of the freakishly low tides at 2 pm. So it docked at 830 pm. Dark outside, fog rolling in, 3000 people trying to get on a ship in a two hour window. It was a nightmare. Three people fainted and paramedics were called. We got there at 730, and 2500 people standing in line waiting for their vacation… it was bad. (I told KK I didn’t want to write this up just to complain). So without going into more kvetching about it, the point is that despite traveling on these giant ships with thousands of people for decades, the large cruise companies just still don’t have their act together. It’s like airports and airlines when the weather is bad. You’d think they’d have better planning, but they just don’t. All I can say is that it became really good fodder for the comics during the week on board. And that if you do take a cruise, some nonsense may happen, and you’ll wonder Why Don’t They…. and the fact is, they won’t. I’ve been on twelve. You have to be prepared to put up with 3000 people.
It should be more like Zumba. I’ve taken so many classes in fairly crowded surroundings–on the ship, you can see that people were dancing scattered around all the tables and in the aisles. But nobody runs into anyone, and yet the music is fast and you move in multiple directions. People are just aware of each other and work hard to dance their own way with as much enjoyment as possible without running into each other. They were line dancing in one spot before we got on board, so maybe if we’d all joined in…. for three hours in the fog … might have gone better. But enough grousing!
Tips and Tricks on Cruises
Pace yourself eating. I saw somebody day one at the buffet with a mound of french fries and meat and pasta and desserts and… oh, honey. The food will be there tomorrow. And don’t rush to eat as soon as whatever-it-is opens. People do rush to eat. let ’em.
My suggestion is to try everything you wouldn’t normally try, and focus on eating what you’d never buy or make. I love grilled tomatoes for breakfast and fresh pineapple! I can get pineapple at the store, but such a pain to cut up. And can’t get it just for me. Then there’s seared scallops, duck pate, lamb, creme brulee, lox… yes, you can buy and order all that, but not in such a beautifully concentrated way. The free fancy dinners serve you less food and the portions are smaller. Try to sit with the same waiter.
Watch out for tours that end with shopping. It’s totally fine to shop, but sometimes they end far from the port (and you have to get your own transport back). And I know bus drivers have rushed us through the most beautiful whatever (rain forest, nature hike, scenic lake etc), just so they can get us back early to shop, when no one wanted to shop in the first place. Shopping is fine, but see if they will tell you how much time is for the shopping vs. the interesting tour thing.
If you do shop, try to “go into town.” Cruise ports, whether in Alaska, Rome, the Caribbean, or Mexico, all look exactly alike. A long pier. A bunch of shops with cubic zirconium and high-end scarves and shoes for women with tiny feet who couldn’t walk into town. Go past those shops. They aren’t actually good for souvenirs.
Be friends with the wait – bartender – room – coffee servers. They like their job and they like being treated like human beings. As do we all.
If you’re really nice to them, they might just leave you a crab made out of towels next to the chocolate in your turn down service.