Who’d cruise?

CRUISE 1

You’ve seen the TV programmes –  great floating apartment blocks, three thousand passengers shoehorned into a metal monstrosity and force-fed cheesy pop music whilst hi-de-hi hosts drag them from the endless rows of sun beds to play tacky tv-show style games whilst tipsy on the all-inclusive alcohol.  And what about those endless, endless queues? Queuing to get off the ship when in port, herded back on.Who’d go on a cruise?

Well, I would actually and I have done so many times. Because it just isn’t the way the TVs producers (always chasing the ratings by showing any situation at its worst – after all that’s what makes ‘good’ viewing) portray it. They will choose the loudest, shrieking females at the sail-away party, the one ghastly snob who talks to the incredibly hardworking staff as if they were something she’d found stuck to her shoe, the one person who brags constantly that they have taken 100 cruises and is on first name terms with the captain.

The thing about cruising is that its yours to enjoy as you want. If the bun-fight in the self service cafeteria floats your boat (pun intended) go for it! We opt for the grander dining rooms where we are led to our tables set with pristine cloths, where the service is impeccable, the wine-waiters knowledgeable and the atmosphere leisurely. After our first experience, we have never taken part in the sail-away parties with their grating music, preferring instead to sit on our balcony quietly sipping a glass of champagne. Nor have we ever whiled away the night in the casino. But we have spent many a pleasant evening watching classic plays such as Hobson’s Choice or Blythe Spirit, or watching scaled down versions of west-end shows.   I’m not a fan of comedians so rarely choose this as a form of evening entertainment but this doesn’t matter because every evening there are several alternatives on offer – a singer in one bar, a band in another, or would you prefer a classical pianist?  I’ve heard someone say that [she’d heard that] cruise ship entertainment was ‘tacky’. My response to this?  Take a look at the outstanding Ukrainian violinist Katerina Rosso.    http://www.barryball.com/index.php/artists/kateryna-rossa Scroll to the bottom of her page and click the first video link – stunning!

We find the cabins comfortable, well equipped and a sight bigger than most hotel rooms.  Sliding patio doors lead onto the balcony and one of my favourite things to do when sailing is to watch for sea-life. I’ve seen dolphins leaping, porpoises playing in the ship’s wake and a whale ‘spouting’. I’ve seen shoals of jelly fish in their thousands.

Ventura

A large cruise ship can offer more facilities than a small town. A tiered theater which seats 775 people (more than the one in my local town), a cinema, library, an art gallery, hair and beauty salons and for those who want it, a fully equipped, state of the art gym. On sea-days I’ve attended several interesting talks on all manner of subjects, classes in Spanish, jewellery making sessions. I’ve even known there to be a choir group. There’s more:  several well stocked shops (jewellers, perfume and cosmetics, clothing, leather goods and gifts) and numerous bars and restaurants which offer choices to satisfy all tastes. Most food is included in the cost of the cruise but for a supplement of a few pounds how about an evening at Qsine (Celebrity Cruises) or Marco Pierre White’s (P&O)?  It is possible, of course, to spend absolutely nothing on food because what’s included is wide-ranging, good quality and plentiful.

Cruising is essentially a touring holiday but without the need for the constant packing and unpacking – instead, your accommodation travels with you. It’s wonderful to see (albeit as a snapshot) so many different places.  Without boarding a cruise ship I might never have experienced a souk in Morocco… or the Medina

 

… or seen the awesome Peterhof Palace (Catherine the Great lived here at one time) or the Hermitage Museum with its staggering thirteen miles of corridors in St Petersburg.

 

I’d certainly never have seen Stockholm’s stunning archipelago of nearly 30,000(!!!) islands – some large enough for several houses, some so tiny that the cormorants jostle for space. It takes around five hours to sail past and their beauty is breathtaking – the most wonderful sight I have seen on any holiday I’ve taken.

 

Maybe we’d not have chosen a land-based holiday in Croatia if we hadn’t already enjoyed three ports on an Adriatic cruise – Dubrovnik, Makarska and the oh-so-Venetian Rovinja.

Rovinj

The same happened with Madeira; we fell in love in a day and just had to return.

Funchal, Madeira.jpg

Though we might have chosen a Greek holiday, we’d certainly not have seen as many islands as cruising allowed us to. The old town in Corfu was my favourite.

Corfu - old town

I doubt that we’d have thought to travel to Estonia or Lithuania.

 

Many of my friends have cruised and enjoy it as much as I do. It’s not for everyone but most people who say that it’s not for them cite three main reasons: sea-sickness, dressing up and feeling ‘hemmed in’ or claustrophobic. Many cruise ships are as large as a village with big open spaces both inside and out.  A walk around a single deck on the celebrity Eclipse (pictured at the top of the post)  is half a mile – multiply this by as many as nineteen decks.  And there’s half an acre of REAL grass on the top deck.

With regard to sea-sickness, I tell those who voice their concern that a 116,000 ton cruise ship is not a cross channel ferry!  The latter are flat bottomed and ‘bounce’ on the waves rather than slice through them like the cruise ship or ocean liner, and these are fitted with enormous stabilisers.  If I, who cannot even travel on the Isle of Wight on a ferry without a couple of Boots travel sickness tablets (I’m not exaggerating), can happily sail across the unpredictable Bay of Biscay on a cruise ship, you will be fine.

Dressing up is, for me, one of the best parts of cruising. A 14 night cruise will generally have four formal nights i.e. black tie. How often do most people get that chance?  I LOVE it, but its not compulsory! Granted, on those nights, anyone not dressed ‘appropriately’ will be refused admittance to selected restaurants and bars, but there are plenty of other places to go. If wearing short and a vest to dinner is your thing, do it … just not in the same restaurants as me! Better still, choose a different kind of cruise. Horses for courses.

There are also those will dismiss the idea of a cruise because they have a reputation for being full of old fogies. Hahaha!  Wrong. But again, do your homework – Fred Olsen and Saga are a world apart from the Royal Caribbean ships with climbing walls, ice-skating rink and ‘Tidal wave’ slide. Certainly, the right cruise ship is a really safe environment for the elderly, even having medical facilities on board. A friend’s 95 year old father and his lady friend are regular cruisers. Perhaps you’d rather party all night. Again – Choose your cruise!   And by the way , with regard to queues – time your disembarkation right and you’ll walk off unhindered.

Our retirement and semi-retirement have unfortunately curtailed our cruising activity and a new central heating system put paid to foreign travel of any kind this year but the brochures for next year sit temptingly on the coffee table. Neither of us have any hankering to visit the Caribbean though I know many who have very much enjoyed it. It’s some years now since we saw the Norwegian Fjords and its looking like that might be the choice for next year (though if we do choose it I will NOT be taking a trip up Mount Dalsnibba. If only the brochure had mentioned the 45 hair-pin bends)!  It was one of the scariest moments of my life, even if the view over Geirangerfjord was amazing.

View from Mt Dalsnibba

Then again, husband has a fancy for Iceland and I’d quite like to revisit Barcelona and Florence….or maybe it’s time to go back to Venice. Then there are Amsterdam and Bruges  which rank among some of my most-enjoyed city visits. Decisions, decisions!  One thing is for sure – those brochures will be well thumbed by the time we make up our minds.

For anyone considering a cruise I’d recommend the Berlitz guide to Cruising. Your local  library will have, or be able to get hold of, a copy. In addition to masses of general information, it describes each cruise ship in detail.

 

 

 

22 comments

  1. I’ve never been on a cruise and most likely won’t get to. But that’s okay, I have the opportunity to travel if I so wish. However, Eloise, you did paint a rather exciting picture of cruising. I do know people who save up and do it every year, they love it so much. Hope that your next one comes soon!

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    • We plan to visit Edinburgh and Devon next year in spring/early summer and hopefully a cruise later, perhaps September. Love holidays but always love to get home too.

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  2. Hi Eloise. I’m a cruise virgin! When I started reading this post I, quite wrongly, assumed you were going to say you weren’t a fan of cruising. I have no idea why… Many of our friends love cruising and I think don’t knock something until you’ve tried it. Perhaps we’ll start with a river cruise or the Baltics. Great post!

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    • Yes, it sounded negative to start with, but that was intentional. I must admit to knocking skiing even though I’ve not tried it. It just doesn’t appeal. I wouldn’t mind trying a short river cruise but I think I’d feel very confined as there is often just the one restaurant and the scale of economies means that entertainment would be limited. Also, the prices are inclusive of excursions and we’re very anti organised tours. We like to do our own thing. The Baltics was the most varied cruise. Fascinating places.

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      • I thought so; brilliant way to draw readers in! Yes, I can imagine that one might feel confined on a river cruise #no escape! We would be like you and would definitely prefer to do our own thing. Do you find any/many people with whom you can connect, if you want to?

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        • We opt to share a six or eight seater table because we (more me) like to chat to new people every night. We always do freedom style dining with no set times or fixed tables. We have occasionally had a great table that has gelled well and arranged to meet up again a couple of nights later but we tend not to make longer-term friendships. I know people who do though. I think that if you spend a lot of time on sun beds on the open decks you are probably more inclined to meet the same people and form friendships.

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          • I like the idea of freedom style dining! I think my concern would be being stuck with people from whom I couldn’t escape! That sounds terrible, I’m actually very friendly but I have heard some horror stories which may have been exaggerated, of course!

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            • We’ve had good tables, fantastic tables and one or two where we’ve made our exuses to leave as soon as we’ve eaten, but I reckon over more than 150 nights cruising, those sorts of tables have been almost non existent. Mind you, I have to admit to making VERY subjective, instant decisions about people. As we walk to the dining room, my husband trusts my instinct if I hold back. The he knows that the people in front of us don’t appeal to me. What an admission!

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  3. Great post!!! I went on my first cruise this year to Alaska on the Norwegian Sun . I was a little reluctant to say the least. But, I did enjoy it, like you I stayed away from the more cafeteria style dining and opted for the lovely restaurants on -board. We saw some amazing sights including a bear and humpback whales. I went with my parents who enjoy cruising a lot. Whilst the schedules are a bit rigid for me, I don’t think I would have been able to see half of the things I saw if I didn’t go on this cruise. Its a great way to see places like Alaska for sure! Thanks for the interesting read 🙂

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  4. Sorry, you’ve still not sold me cruising, Eloise. Too many people ina -large vessels and on WATER. Like some fear flying, which has never bothered me, but WATER … I think of Titanic and even the Herald of Free Enterprise just of Zeebrugge and even a more recent one, the name of which escapes me. I would be on tenterhooks the whole time, waiting for the siren and the shout of Man the Lifeboats! And of course, there wouldn’t be sufficient of those, or the ship would’ve capsized and the boats would be on the ‘wrong’ side, etc, etc. It must also cost a small fortune to cruise (plus the clothes one would require) and we’d rather keep our money as ballast for a rainy day and, in the long term, for our children. We’re happy on terra cotta as one person so beautifully said as a malapropism!
    Margaret P

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    • Definitely not for you then, Margaret! Safer than a drive on a motorway statistically speaking, but I hate flying so I can understand that for some, the fear is water. As to cost, generally less than a week in a ‘good’ hotel when you add in meals, entertainment etc, but as I say, horses for courses! We watch the prices avidly and choose our time and we’ve had some great bargains. We love travel and were happy to stint ourselves on other things to enable it. I guess it will be even more of a treat now that we can’t do it so often.

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  5. As a fellow cruiser, I loved reading your blog post today. I agree with everything you say! My husband and I are retired and our children are grown but every year we do a family vacation. Taking a family cruise is the easiest as everyone can do as they wish, eat whatever they wish (cost included!) and we all have a wonderful time. I love cruising so much that I could go on a cruise to nowhere! The photos of the places you have visited are stunning. I’m going to put the Morocco itinerary on my list after reading your blog today 🙂 Have a great weekend, Pat

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    • Hi Pat, just like you, I could happily cruise nowhere! I think it should be an option…no port fees would certainly cut the cost. I gather they are staggeringly high. Perhaps we should suggest it. What I like most is the total flexibility to make it the kind of holiday you want…as busy, as leisurely, as cultural, as fun-filled, as anything!! Morocco was an experience and one which I’m glad I had, but I wouldn’t have wanted a whole holiday there.

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  6. Oh wow, Eloise, it’s great to meet another fan of cruises. I love them, although I always forget I’m not a good sailor (more about that in a mo’) I have two friends who also love cruising, but the majority turn their noses up and think the very idea of cruising is exactly as you stated at the beginning of your post: crowded and tacky, iffy people etc, etc, blah, blah. Well, that’s not my experience, but nevertheless, I think our experience of cruising (we’ve been on 5) has been slightly different to yours!

    First off, is that we only started going on cruises well into retirement. It never entered our heads to do that kind of holiday, but we had a disastrous break in Scotland one year and the amount of driving I had to do. I booked a cruise the minute we got back as I just felt I needed to be pampered, you know, just for once! Gosh did I love that first one. It was a Saga cruise on the Ruby – now retired. The Ruby only had about 300 passengers with one sitting in one dining-room! Food was excellent and the cabin was enormous with a bath in the large bathroom – and this was on the lowest level possible!!! We’ve never had a balcony – we are ALWAYS on the lowest level because of our finances, but that cabin was amazing. However, the Saga was the smallest ship and it was a baptism of fire as the trip to Norway was in a howling gale and did we rock – oh yes – deep swaying from side to side. And every single other cruise ship after that has moved a lot – not one has been stable as you’ve experienced! Even on the Holland & America one with 2500 passengers (the largest one we’ve been on and an experience not to be repeated) the ship had a definite deep swaying shudder as the stabilisers stopped the obvious even deeper sway it might have done without stabilisers. I take the tablets though and they work.

    I could go on, but two final things. Been to the Caribbean, but won’t ever again – it’s that 9-hour flight, no thanks. And we’ve been twice with Saga and would continue as their quality is I think, of the highest you can get. But can’t afford it now. So – it’s Fred Olsen from now on. We can afford it and they look after you well.

    And as for the dressing-up, I’m in my element – just love it!!!! Cheers Eloise, great post!

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    • So glad you enjoyed the post, Penny. We love Celebrity (too expensive now) but have done mostly P&O. It is far less affordable now we have a lower income but we’ve done fourteen and thoroughly enjoyed them. The bigger and newer the ship, the more stable it will be. Having tried non-balcony cabins, I would rather do a shorter cruise with a one than a longer one without. As for the dressing up…..I’m in my element too!

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      • Actually, two of the five ships were new. There was Magellan, and you know what I’ve just checked on the net and it says it was ‘rebuilt’ in 2010. Ok, maybe not brand new. But another one the Holland & American one was definitely brand spanking new and big (well, 2500 passengers) and we were on about its 3rd cruise. I read the reviews and they all said she had a ‘sway’ and a ‘shudder’. Yup, our experience was, she sure did!!!! And you know one advantage of the lower decks? Well in a storm – it’s always ‘the more you pay, the more you sway’! Another reason not to go to the Caribbean (went last January) was that it was very windy and the seas were roughest we’d ever encountered. Everyone kept saying to us, ‘this is very unusual’. Wasn’t consoled!!!!

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        • You’re right in that the lower decks are less prone to swaying. Surprising that the H&A should be like that since its large and new! We took a cruise once on the Thomson Spirit which also had a ‘shudder’. Quite unpleasant. We stick now with the tried and tested. The only down side of cruising, so far as I’m concerned, is that it can spoil you for single-Centre holidays. I can get a bit bored staying in one place for more than a week.

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