Brian Major | May 03, 2016 4:15 PM ET
Cruise Ships Offer More Than What Meets Some Eyes
This week I’ll be taking my first big-ship voyage in several years. In earlier years, as cruise editor for two trade magazines, I sailed aboard 2,000-plus passenger vessels frequently, taking more than 100 cruises during that time.
Despite cruising’s steadily growing popularity, officials at the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the industry’s trade association, estimate somewhere around 20 percent of Americans have taken a cruise vacation.
That puts me among a relatively small group of people who can claim first-hand shipboard experience. As such, I try to offer the un-cruised some measure of perspective to the myriad myths and misconceptions attached to this still-emerging form of leisure travel.
One of the most persistent beliefs among people who haven’t cruised is they’ll feel confined in what they perceive as the limited space available aboard a cruise ship.
Yet there have often been times when the ship I was aboard seemed so large I was sure I wouldn’t see every part of the vessel before the journey’s end. Just walking the length of a large modern cruise ship is a workout in itself.
I learned that the hard way several years ago as I tried to board a cruise ship departing Istanbul for a Mediterranean voyage. Somehow I’d missed my arranged ride from the airport to the hotel hosting media the day before the sailing. Only slightly concerned, I found transportation to a reasonably priced hotel. From there I figured to travel to the port the next morning.
Awakened the next morning by the haunting tones of the call to prayer ringing about the city, I dressed and went down to confer with the hotel’s staff, none of whom spoke much English, about how to reach the cruise ship port.
Straining to bridge the language gap with what soon became a small committee of hotel personnel I finally thought to sketch a picture of a cruise ship on a piece of paper. “Karakoy!” they all shouted. Shortly afterward I was in a taxi bound for the port.
Unfortunately the language barrier I surmounted at the hotel became an immovable object at the port. I could see my ship docked on the other side of the gate separating the port grounds from the street, and the driver had dropped me and my luggage off at a manned entrance at ship’s aft (rear) section.
I stood before the gate and asked the guards how to board to the ship, flashing my documents. Not one spoke a word of English. Without much subtlety they shooed me away, gesturing at the gate at the ship’s far front end.
Very reluctantly I started on the long, hot, exhausting trek to the main gate, carrying a large suitcase and two carry-on bags. I was much younger then and in pretty good shape. Still it felt then like the most strenuous walk I’d ever taken.
Finally reaching the gate, documents in hand, I was met by more non-English-speaking officials. While these folks were a bit less threatening than the previous gate personnel, they were unquestionably puzzled by the sweaty, out-of-breath young American who’d somehow failed to board with most of the other guests.
I searched my brain for a way to explain my plight. Just then the public relations official leading my trip, a longtime friend, walked down the gangway. Within a few minutes I was aboard the big ship, quite tired but thankful.
Another common misconception is that large cruise ships are non-stop festivals of forced activity. More than a few non-cruisers, including some fellow travel writers who have yet to take the plunge (so to speak), have told me of their desire to bypass what they describe an unending round of big-belly contests on the lido deck, surrounded by crowds of gawking and guffawing guests.
Without question vacationers intent on such revelry will find plenty of opportunity aboard a modern, large cruise ship. But big ships also offer plenty of room, including upper-deck space where guests can find peace and tranquility. There, you're free to stretch out on a deck chair, soak in the sun, read a good book or simply stare out into the ocean’s vast expanse.
It’s possible, in fact, to achieve a degree of anonymity aboard a large cruise ship. I’ll always remember one voyage aboard a large premium ship. On several evenings I joined a group of writers to enjoy a post-dinner cocktail. We always chose the same bar, and before long observed a slightly disheveled but otherwise placid man drinking alone.
During the week we’d never seen this gentleman anywhere else on the ship. Yet even during some days he could be found at the bar alone, drinking. Later we learned he was sailing in one of the ship’s priciest staterooms. He became quite an obsession among our media circle.
Finally came the penultimate evening of the voyage. A formal evening was scheduled. We all wondered how our well-to-do mystery man would handle the evening’s request for upgraded attire.
As always we failed to spot him at dinner that evening. But when we arrived for after-dinner drinks there he was - wearing a t-shirt with a tuxedo drawn onto the front.
Just goes to show you never know what you will see aboard a cruise ship.
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