- Cruising is for old people
- You don’t get chance to explore before you are away to somewhere else
- I’d be bored stuck on a boat all the time
- I don’t want the dressing up all the time
- I don’t want to have to share a table with the same people all the time
- Cruising is expensive
I was wrong.
Cruising can be for old people and on the cruise we just went on with P&O I would guess that the average age was around 60 and there were very few toddlers or teenagers. P&O does have that profile though..and this is where the brands reveal their own identity. My first cruise was with Royal Caribbean and that was a different proposition entirely. We went with our late teenage children and had a fantastic family holiday. The modern cruise ships have ice rinks, dodgem cars, video games, surfing pools, climbing walls, karaoke booths, bungee jumping.
It is true that the typical stop in port is one day – arrive at 8am and depart at 5pm. This is a bit of a myth though. When I look back on the vast majority of holidays I’ve been on I hardly set the world alight with exploring. It tends to be excursions once in a while and that’s it. The cruise lines are very slick at making the most of time ashore. For example, even though you may be in a new country the disembarkation routine is incredibly slick – show your cruise card and walk ashore. So from breakfast table to standing in line for the coach can be five minutes. The cruise ships are also very clever at picking ports. The journey to the nearest town can be a 15 minute bus transfer, a ten minute shuttle from the ship in a tender or literally step off the ship into the port. Some of the places are quite interesting to have a look around – Villefranche and St Maarten are good examples. Others with only a short transfer are Barcelona and Toulon. In my opinion cruise holidays are really not the time to visit Rome, Paris or Florence but Pompeii was a fantastic excursion. I honestly believe that the Caribbean is possibly the perfect place to cruise. The islands are generally very small and, from a tourism point of view, one day is enough. Adding days at the start or end in the larger islands is probably the best way to do it.
Being on board boat is also a really pleasant experience. Each day there is a newsletter listing all the activities. As well as almost guaranteed sunshine and the joys of sunbeds and pools cruise ships have a huge advantage over the equivalent “sun” holiday ashore. There is a choice of where to go and generally pools are divided into noisy and quiet. Royal Caribbean had a pool area which was effectively Spring Break at sea – constant DJ and activity. P&O had an adults only zone with a deep cool pool. Some pool areas have a big TV screen showing movies and live football through the day. There is a well equipped gym and spa with terrific panoramic views which would motivate even the most sluggish. It really isn’t deck quoits and bingo… unless you want it. The modern cruise ships are much more like expensive resorts than high rise hotels. The night life is a different thing altogether. The quality of entertainment is generally excellent. The ships have a large theatre to stage elaborate productions – musicals, circuses and even an ice dance show. The bars are all equipped with big lighting rigs to stage cabaret, magic and comedy in a more intimate setting. This is a real differentiator for the cruise ships but, as with everything, if you don’t want it you can watch a movie under the stars or just sit in a lounge.
It’s true that the dressing up is a part of cruises. Typically there are two formal evenings per week. However you don’t have to participate. On the Royal Caribbean cruise you could completely ignore it and a large proportion of the American tourists did. There was absolutely no dress code restrictions and those who chose not to did not feel any stigma. On P&O the dress code was applied in most bars and restaurants but not in all. We met people on the ship who didn’t want the hassle and just went to the unrestricted restaurants on formal nights. But here’s the thing, for me and many others its a nice thing to do!
Sharing tables is an interesting one. On the first Royal Caribbean cruise there were four of us and we chose the Freedom Dining option which meant we could eat at any time (albeit with the same staff each night). We filled a table so we didn’t have the interaction with other guests other than occasionally on large tables at breakfast time. On the P&O cruise the Freedom option was sold out and so we had a set dinner time and the same companions each evening. What we quickly realised is that everyone is in the same boat (no pun intended) and we actually had some fun. Our tablemates were a couple from Eastbourne and a couple from South Wales. Thankfully, all with a sense of humour and a willingness to contribute to the conversation. Over the two weeks we learned a little more about each other. We weren’t looking for ongoing penpals but the shared dining was a surprisingly enjoyable part of the experience – thank you to Janet, Gaynor, Mike and Terry! There were of course some real pains aboard. These varied from the Cruise Bore who wants to tell you what to do tomorrow to the idiot who thinks he (it was almost always a man) is back in the days of Imperial rule and treats staff accordingly. We only suffered a couple of these over breakfast and never suffered them twice.
As for the expense of cruising, like all things there is a ticket price and there is the real price. We had two weeks in the Caribbean for just over £1000 each outside school holidays and including flights to Barbados. This included all meals and entertainment. Additional costs were excursions, alcohol (reasonably priced), upgrades to the special restaurants and an optional tip for staff. I don’t think we could easily do anything similar in Europe for the same money. Getting the value appears to be about flexibility and being able to go when the deals are around – this more than anything is why the cruises appeal to an older audience.
I don’t feel an urge to do a cruise every year now – I’m not a convert to the Cruise Club – but it is a great idea for a bit of winter sun.