I know some of the hardcore travellers I have met over the years will recoil in horror, but yes, I went on a cruise. A typical big ship, Caribbean port, short daytime shore stops cruise. Excluding the very different experiences of a live aboard diving cruise in Thailand, a luxury overnight cruise with 8 passengers in Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay and sailing on a cargo ship to the most remote settlement in the world, this was my first cruising experience.
Cruise ships are big.
In fact, in small towns they dominate the skyline!
This bar has a great view of the sea… when there is no cruise ship.
So, here’s the good and the bad.
Things that were better than I had expected:
– Crowds. Apart from the mandatory evacuation drill, which felt – as it should – like cattle herding, and a little bit of waiting at US immigration at the end of the cruise, nothing ever really felt crowded. You generally never wait at restaurants and security to get on the ship takes 2 minutes. When you arrive in a small town with your fellow 2,000 passengers, the town also doesn’t really get crowded, because people go on and off the ship all day, some go on remote excursions and some never leave the ship.
– Age. Average age is high on most cruise ships, but it doesn’t feel like a retirement home. There are passengers in all age groups, but some elderly people clearly go on cruises because they no longer have the mobility or health to travel by any other means. Some of these people look well over 200 years old and push up the average significantly. Median age might be a better measure. At dinner, we were ironically the oldest people at our table.
– Stops. One rarely hears anything about the small Caribbean countries so it would be easy to assume there is nothing to see or do, apart from bars and beaches. What we forget is that some of these places have a very long history – by American standards – with settlements dating back to just a few decades after Columbus landed in the Bahamas. Local industries can also be interesting to visit. More on that in future posts.
– The cabin. I thought a window would be useless for a Caribbean cruise, as there is really nothing to look at while at sea. A balcony would have been nice, but the price was much, much higher. So we went for the cheapest option and discovered an unexpected benefit of interior cabins: sleep! The cabin is very silent and when you close the door and lights, it goes pitch black. Don’t put an alarm and you could easily end up having chicken for breakfast.
– The logistics. I expected that, but it’s hard to exaggerate how easy the travel is. Visit a city, board the ship, have dinner, go to bed, get up for breakfast, walk off the ship into a different city, in a different country, without going through immigration. Too easy.
Things that were worst than I had expected:
– People. Many are boring. When I use to work for a living, I would stay in nice hotels and go on expensive tours. I often met people with interesting, successful careers. Travelling full-time and staying in modest hotels, I often meet fellow travellers with fascinating, adventurous lives and unconventional stories to tell. On the cruise ship, we mostly met boring people with boring lives, boring jobs and no curiosity. “So, this is a Dutch Island?” exclaimed a loud elderly American man. Politely, the taxi dispatcher answered: “No, this is America”. We had just landed in the US Virgin Islands.
– People. They are morbidly obese. No, not all of them, but much more than I had ever seen in one place, anywhere in the world (yes, including Oromocto, for my Canadian Army friends). Unlimited free food, easy transportation, no big surprise. Why would that bother me? Because I noticed they were all relatively young. Have you ever seen a 500 pound (225 kg) person in their 80s? 70s? Even 60s? Nor have I. I found it sad and a little depressing.
– Entertainment. Most of it is very bad. The main shows might have a few good performers (we saw a great duo of acrobats), but the animation during the activities is horribly lame.
This exciting action shot does not do justice to the pathetic “cooking competition” between some of the ship’s chefs, with the help of some passengers. During the one day at sea, we went to a quiz, but it took the lady 10 minutes to figure out which set of questions had not already been used during the previous days. And the “jokes” they make. Cringing.
– Prices. Cruises are cheap, but when you want any extras on board, they gouge you. Alcohol, good coffee (bad coffee is free), laundry, pay per view movie, pictures, all are sold at ridiculously inflated prices. This may not apply to luxury lines, but then the cruise is obviously not cheap!
Will I do it again?
Possibly, but probably not in the Caribbean. I saw a cool Buenos Aires – Santiago de Chile cruise which stopped in the Falkland Islands before sailing around Cape Horn. Cool. And I would expect most people who think it’s cool to go to the Falklands would generally not be totally ignorant and boring. I would also consider doing it again as an old man. I saw several people who clearly would not be able to travel otherwise. Kudos to them for getting out of their routine and seeing the world on their electric tricycle!
Here are a few more pictures. In the next few days, I will post much more stuff about the countries we visited.
Not for people with a fear of heights; a glass floor in the dining room. It’s a 10 storey drop to the water!
My favourite deck when the ship pulled into and out of port. Steel floor, no furniture, no music, no bar, access hard to find. I usually had it to myself, probably bigger than the royal suite balcony, for free.
And that’s what I would look at.