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Sailing Into Controversy

Scott Vogel

Let's see. What are the three topics you're never supposed to bring up in casual conversation? Politics, religion and ... uh...

I know, cruising!

Yeah, those first two can ignite the occasional minor squabble, but if it's World War III you're in the mood for at the next cocktail party, just let it delicately drop that you're planning to go on a cruise in the near future. Next, hum a little "If My Friends Could See Me Now." Then take three steps back and watch as your guests immediately devolve into two camps.

In one corner there will be the AGONIES: "Are you [redacted] kidding me? I'd rather die than be trapped on a boat with a bunch of 95-year-old, chain-smoking slot machine hoarders, not to mention the chaise longue-hogging spawn shaking their groove thangs at the Time Warp disco."


Did someone call for a "Boat Trip"? Hey, if cruises are good enough for Cuba Gooding Jr. and Horatio Sanz... (Photo by Astrid Wirth)

On the other side of the room you'll find the ECSTASIES: "Oh, you're sailing on the Epitome? You could hardly do better when it comes to intimate, mid-size boats with teak promenades, simulated golf, a cabaret/juggling act and gigantic sculptured mermaids hanging in the atrium."

What is it about cruising that's so polarizing? The answer, I think, goes to our deepest ideas of what a vacation is. (By the way, watch for our special cruise issue this Sunday!) For some, there's something mentally claustrophobic (and sometimes physically too) about putting yourself in the company of a thousand strangers, watching as their most intimate holiday habits unfold, and then retiring to a bunk bed in a 100-square-foot room.

But there's also something liberating too. How else would you be able to visit 5 countries in 7 days? How else could parents get a little alone time and know that their kids were having just as much fun at the Castaway clubhouse?

Or maybe there's some other explanation for cruising's opposing camps? What about you? Are you a cruise-lover or hater? An Agony or an Ecstasy?

By Scott Vogel |  January 18, 2008; 8:04 AM ET  | Category:  Cruises , Scott Vogel
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Love NCL because of the freestyle dining - not fond of others because of the dinner seaitings. Being on a cruise is like working in an office buidling in one way - yes there are thousands of people around - but you only really see a fraction of them - because there are so many different places for people to be.

Posted by: Spruby | January 18, 2008 9:28 AM

I dislike the idea of passive travel in general. I want to experience the places I visit, not stop in for 8 hours, buy some duty free and get whisked away.

That said, I'm in my 20s now. Perhaps in 30 years that idea won't sound so bad.

Posted by: Liz | January 18, 2008 9:37 AM

Been on two -- friends wedding at sea on the Grand Princess in March 2001 down to the Carribean (via FL) and a Celebrity one (forget the name of the ship) to RI and Canada (via NYC) in October 2004. I cannot wait for my third! There's so much to do on the ship/off the ship and you can't beat the friendliness of the staff.

For what it's worth, I'm 34 and while my parents and I did share a cabin in 2001, I splurged for my own with a balcony for the 2004 cruise. 3 adults in one small cabin (we did have a window) was rough.

Posted by: WDC 21113 | January 18, 2008 9:41 AM

I will second the NCL recommendation - my sweetie is dead set against being told what to do, and she loved being able to pick and choose where/when we ate.

I loved cruising. I am responsible most of the time for the packing/unpacking/laundry on a trip, and for me it's a real break, unlike a regular multi-stop trip where I spend most of my day worrying about where DD left her iPod charger and where sweetie can find the kind of coffee she likes if I run out. It's exhausting - and I'm ready to get back home for some rest!

Posted by: Rebecca in AR | January 18, 2008 10:13 AM

I was always in the first camp until I had too many friends talking about how wonderful their cruise experiences were and how they couldn't wait to go on another one. I still haven't been, but it's looking more and more probable.

Our extended family has rented beach houses on the Outer Banks in the past, and I'm thinking a cruise would be a perfect change of scenery (though a bit pricier). Problem with sharing a house, is that, uh, not everyone's standards of cleanliness are the same. It seems to me that a cruise would solve that problem. You've got staff to prepare meals and clean up afterwards. Whatever mess you have in your own cabin won't overflow into common area, etc. Sounds good to me.

Posted by: non frequent flyer | January 18, 2008 10:15 AM

This all comes as good news to me. I'm about to take my first NCL cruise!

Posted by: John Corrigan | January 18, 2008 10:54 AM

I always hated the very thought of a cruise, but finally gave in and tried one (Istanbul to Athens). It was a luxury cruise, fabulous destinations, and yet ... it just didn't make any sense to me. I also despise tour-group traveling primarly because it's so inflexible. I can see the appeal to a certain segment of the population, but it's so limiting!
I would only consider trying it again as a practical solution for something like a family reunion, but even then I'd opt for an all-inclusive resort (as the lesser of two evils) instead if I could convince everyone else.

Posted by: Karen | January 18, 2008 11:19 AM

My husband and I have signed up for our first River Cruise on the Avalon Artistry leaving from Amsterdam to Budapest. We have never taken a cruise before and are looking forward to it.

Posted by: Peapod | January 18, 2008 12:16 PM

we're generally independent travellers who like to land somewhere, rent a car and drive around for 2 weeks on our own. However, we did do a Baltic cruise this summer, because we weren't comfortable with driving in Russia, and we really wanted to see St. Petersburg. We liked the experience, but only for areas we can't get to any other way -and we'd stick to smaller ships with a lot of shore options and flexible dining policies. We're planning an Alaska cruise for later this year- again, that's something you have do do by water.

Posted by: logan circle | January 18, 2008 1:35 PM

I took a 'freighter cruise' last summer. I spent 9 days at sea between the US and Antwerp. There were a toal of three (3) other passengers and 21 crew aboard a 1000ft containership. (The officers were German and spoke at least some english, the crew were filipino and mostly didn't)

It was wonderful. No responsibilities, peace and quiet. The only thing I really had to do was remember to show up on time for meals (in the officer's mess).

This kind of trip is the exact opposite of what most people think of as a cruise. I plan to do it again in a year or two.

Posted by: Al | January 18, 2008 2:56 PM

I used to be one of those people dead set against cruising. I'm in my 20s and spent time traveling independently around Europe. So my idea of a vacation is to take public transportation and stay in hostel. Yet in 2006 my parents offered to take the family on a carribean cruise. I was a tad reluctant even though you cannot beat a free vacation. Would I get seasick? Would it suck to only spend a few hours on the boat? What do I do with myself on the at sea days? Would I get sick of being trapped on a boat with my family?

However, only some of my fears turned out to be realized (i do get motion sick) and I ended up having a good time in spite of myself. It was nice not to have to worry about planning an itinerary and making travel arrangements. Would I pay to go on a cruise now? Probably not. But my family is planning another one this summer, this time to the Meditterranean and I will go. This time I'm actually looking forward to it. Afterall, you can't beat a free vacation.

Posted by: JS | January 20, 2008 9:46 AM

I travel extensively and look forward to articles on Brazil. But the bashing of American tourists by Scott Vogel ("Cruising 2008: The Girl from Ipanema, A Cruise for the Muse" article on 1/20/08) is unwarranted, in my opinion. There are a diverse array of American tourists. Don't be a hater by dwelling on how "Sophisticated" tourists dread Americans while on travel. Stereotypes are indefensible.

Posted by: Darren | January 20, 2008 1:10 PM

Love cruising, but hate the 100 percent single-supplement "gouge" rate. Hotels don't find this necessary, why should a floating hotel?

Posted by: Kevin | January 22, 2008 1:50 PM

Kevin: Tell me more about the hotels you've stayed at that charge a person staying alone in a room half the price of two people staying in the room. I've never seen such a hotel. Where do you travel? Every hotel I've been at charges the same for one or two people in a room, just as the cruise lines do. Do you live in America?

Posted by: Tom | January 22, 2008 4:22 PM

My family and I love to cruise.We have taken a family cruise for thanksgiving for the past five years. It's been the best vacations with 20-30 people. We recommend Royal Caribbea. It has the largest ships and the best activities for all ages. We are trying Carnival in March for the first time. Hopefully it will be fun. Cruises are great because you don't have to worry about where to eat and sleep. You get to see a different place every day. Love cruising

Posted by: Yvonne | January 23, 2008 11:36 AM

my husband and i have been on 5 cruises with3 different cruise lines and have had a wonderful time on each cruise. i like having assigned seating because i like to be pampered. we have seen beautiful places and and had wonderful activities aboard the ships. we are now in our 60's and look forward to more cruises in the future.

Posted by: liz | January 23, 2008 2:30 PM

Good grief! I don't know anybody who would want to cruise after the pictures you painted! Unless you own your own private yacht, island, or state park get used to the fact that most people in the planets northern hemisphere go on vacation at the same time! So land or sea, expect a crowd. When is that? Between March and Early to Mid August. And WHY is that? Ask any school administrator and TV weather personality. Those are facts that don't or won't change. Ya hear me all you Time Share Sales and Hotel Managers? (The smart ones agressively pursue the niche and convention markets...sshhhh!) So expect crowds if you're one of us normal sheep. Cruising? Great food, great shows, great destinations and unpack once. You don't have to do it all! You don't have to eat it all! You don't have to dress up if you don't want to but you will never lack for food, company [or privacy] and entertainment, things to do or do nothing at all. I was just on a sold out cruise in August with 3,000 others and my wife and I could find common space and places on the ship that were empty where we could sit and enjoy each others company. I've seen more of the Caribbean in five years at less than half the price you would normally pay an all inclusive resort for five nights. I'll take cruising any day.

Posted by: Bob | January 23, 2008 2:41 PM

First, Tom, don't be so hard on Kevin. He's right. Cruiselines do charge 1-1/2 to 2 times the rate for a single traveling alone. I've coordinated a few group cruises. It's because the cabins are priced according to double occupancy. I love cruising. It's a way to see several countries in a few days and only unpack once. I don't mind assigned seating/dining times. I love the waiter knowing my name and favorite dining amenities and being pampered and indulged.

I enjoy the island tours. I learn a lot about the history and culture and still have time for shopping. I've never been bored on a cruise. I took my first cruise in my mid 40's. I'm in my 50's now and I still dance the night away at the midnight deck parties, like a 20-year-old. I equally enjoy the sea days. It's a time to enjoy the amenities of the ship, especially relaxing in the hot tub, having a spa treatment, reading or napping poolside or on my balcony. I always return home tanned, refreshed and looking forward to the next cruise.

Posted by: Debbie | January 23, 2008 3:02 PM

Unless you are mega-rich you appear to pay full premium prices for a glorified shoe-box. From what I have read about the size of cabins on the average cruise ship, they make New York's notoriously small hotel rooms look spacious.
There is also the danger that the group dynamic of your chosen cruise might be wrong - when I was in my 20s and 30s the last thing I would have wanted was to be locked up with a bunch of creakies, and now that I am a creaky myself I want it even less!

Posted by: Leslie | January 23, 2008 4:16 PM

Kevin, If you are traveiling alone and can't afford the "single supplement" there are a few choices available. For one the Cunard ships do have some cabins that have one twin bed to accomodate single people traveling alone. Also, if you don't mind a little gamble, Holland America has a program that will place you with a cabinmate of the same sex and smoking preference. If they can't find a roommate for you, there is no single supplement, and you get the room to yourself. Not sure if others have a similar program.
But, if you don't want to take a gamble on a snoring or booring cabinmate, your stuck.

Posted by: rja112 | January 25, 2008 4:32 AM

Kevin,

You where comparing apples and oranges. With a hotel your food is usually not included ( unless it is a continental breakfast) and you get much less customer service than on a cruise ship. Cruiselines service the cabins twice a day. How many hotels have you stayed in that had a turndown service and cleaned the bathroom in the evening?

Posted by: rja112 | January 25, 2008 4:43 AM

I also must agree about NCL. Ther3 is Nothling like Free Style dinning - where, when and who you want. And they have such a large selections of places to dine (more than any other cruise line). So variety it is. I never thought I would like the idea of a week cruise. NCL made me change my mind. I love it and especially the Free Style atmosphere!

Posted by: Kevin | January 25, 2008 11:12 PM

The cruise I was on wasn't with NCL, but I didn't mind being regulated to a specific seating. It was on HAL, but it was a charter that had open seating, instead of assigned seating, as they normally do. It was an RSVP cruise, and as I was traveling alone, I wasn't sure what open seating would be like. If it was seating assigned by the Maitre D, I would have been ok with that. It was a little awkward at first approaching a table, with 2 or 3 people already seated, and asking if you can join them. But I got over it. I also met more people. I ended up dining twice with two elderly gentlemen who were traveling together. They had met each other on a previouse cruise while their partners' were living. They went on a few cruises together, and decided to continue to cruise together after their spouses had passed away. Fasinating conversation, one had been a flight surgeon in WWII, while his partner had been a jet pilot. I ended up having dinner with a couple of very nice people during the course of the week.
The only down side to free style dining that I see, is if people only want to sit by themselves. Those people should be forced to dine with others. They will end up having a much more enjoyable ( or somethimes not) experience and maybe even make a friend or two.

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Posted by: International Tour Operators Delhi | April 23, 2008 7:24 AM

I began cruising as a teen and am so delighted that I was able to visit Cuba, before it became a "no-no." I don't enjoy it nearly as much now on the mega ships. I continue to stay in touch with people I met years ago, but now, one is lucky to see the same person, two days in a row on deck. On cruises of yesteryear, a decorative table was on display, in the dining room daily, with cleverly carved gourds, etc., now people rave about one set up outside of the dining room for one day, while snapping pictures. I've sailed on the QE II and the QM II and expect to sail on the new, Queen Victoria. The British staff on them are the least friendly and with waiters from every imaginable country. Some speaka da English well, some don't understanda too well.

Posted by: Diane | May 8, 2008 8:03 AM

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