Cruising was quite popular for upscale and even middle-class North Americans and Central Europeans until the arrival of the recession. The convenience of unpacking once for the entire vacation and never changing your “hotel” appeals to millions.
The food served is ample, but generally of only acceptable quality in most cases, although touted as gastronomic. There are, as always, different cruise lines offering a range of quality, size of boats, cabins, service and itineraries.
Some cater to the middle-class who are lured by colourful and often overstated advertising. Some cruise lines operate huge boats accommodating up to 4000 passengers. Some are even planning larger boats, but there are inherent problems with having 4000 people living in such small quarters.
Once bacteria or viruses establish themselves, they spread fast and are uncontrollable. Cruise boat kitchens are kept immaculately clean, and authorities in every country operating cruise piers inspect all the boats regularly in an attempt to make sure that epidemics are prevented.
There are even websites that lists boats inspected and their scores for all to see. Security in large boats represents a serious problem. Some cruise lines issue a security clearance card to every passenger, and inspect everyone boarding and de-boarding. Waiting lines to clear security can be long and very time consuming, especially when agents are poorly trained.
Some companies even go as far as hiring retired FBI agents as security chiefs.
Then there are government mandated evacuation sessions. In my case, the session was too short, poorly organized and presented.
Cruise lines offer their winter itineraries in Caribbean waters, and come summer switch to destinations in the Mediterranean Sea and now increasingly also to the Baltic Sea with planned visits to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia (St. Petersburg), and Finland.
Modern boats offer many amenities including swimming pools, shuffleboards, climbing walls, and spas, but all have waiting lines and you must make reservations to use them.
Cruise lines that operate large boats advertise an abundance of food, but never make mention of quality, claim tips are not required and/or mandatory. The food is rarely of high quality, although plentiful, and in most cases someone of authority asks passengers enjoying their last dinner to show appreciation of the service received with a “gratuity’ to be put in an envelope.
Here are some facts that I have observed during such a trip. Mimozas, traditionally a blend of orange juice and champagne, were degraded to orange juice and the least expensive sparkling wine on the market. Needless to say the taste left a lot to be desired. Then the boat administration promised caviar. In reality what was served not real caviar but imitation, and it was clearly noticeable.
The service was touted as being the best, but it was slow, unprofessional, and sullen. Servers were clearly not, or poorly trained, and even worse supervised.
Alcoholic beverage prices are supposed to reflect the duty free status of cruise boats, yet there was hardly evidence of duty free prices. Wine and cocktail prices were close to prices charged in regular mainland bars and restaurants.
Passengers are looked upon as ready-made markets and constantly asked to book land trips at exorbitant prices, which are short, poorly organized, and actually worthless as each passenger could do it by him/herself for much less.
Practically every boat has a casino. All passengers are constantly reminded to visit the casino, which at least in my opinion, is offensive.
There are many cruise lines. Some specialize in huge boats, and hope to become profitable by taking advantage of economies of scale, and by constantly pushing cocktails to unsuspecting passengers at exorbitant prices given the fact that the liquor is purchased duty free.
Others operate small boats; offer the use of several different restaurants, and 24-hour on-demand food service. The boats are thoughtfully designed and lavishly decorated, cabins are comfortable and the service is beyond reproach, but prices charged are extremely high.
My experience is based on an Alaska cruise with Holland America Lines. Upon my return I complained, but the company denied all responsibility.
In the end the boat, which was old, was sold to a Mediterranean cruise line and I am told it is being operated as a gambling boat out of territorial waters.
Before you book a cruise, research all companies and see for yourself what they offer. Ask friends and people you know about their opinion. Never believe a travel agent. They are interested in their commissions and will never reveal the true picture, unless you deal with a highly reputable agency.
|Writer – Hrayr Berberoglu – E-mail – Read his books?
Professor B offers seminars to companies and interested parties on any category of wine, chocolates, chocolates and wine, olive oils, vinegars and dressings, at a reasonable cost.