Cruising

Cruising is an increasingly popular vacation option. The number of those who took a cruise, according to a Cruise Lines International Association study, increased from 13.44 million passengers on 167 ships in 2009 to 16.95 million on 185 ships in 2012. Of these, more than 10 million embarked from U.S. ports, and passengers and crews added $42 billion to the U.S. economy.

Having never been on a cruise, I had no idea what to expect, so with few preconceptions, we packed our bags, flew to Florida, and then drove to the coast. At the hotel, my daughter accompanied me to the front desk where we watched the parking lot flood with police. One officer sprinted from her car into the hotel. Another opened his trunk and extracted a riot gun.

The next morning, two staff members were laughing about the night attendant’s anxiety. He should get a ticket, one said, for summoning the police for a domestic incident. That information hadn’t helped our arrival when we were also hungry and tired, which didn’t help, but the morning sunrise on the beach did.

Then we had a quick breakfast, took showers, and drove to the car rental facility. The line for the shuttle bus to the ship snaked past the door, around the corner, and across the parking lot. We learned, while sweating in this long line, that the rest of our group was already aboard the ship and enjoying a buffet.

Although the ship shuttle line was interminable, the one for boarding the ship was much faster. We found our group, endured the emergency procedures presentation, and then went to our stateroom.

Upon entering our room, we found tiny bugs crawling on the bathroom wall, which I reported to Guest Services. One ineffective senior supervisor refused to move us to another room, and Housekeeping sent several staff members who, despite our agreement, sprayed the bathroom with an insecticide and then told us to leave for thirty minutes.

Then we found four more bugs the next night, including two near one of our beds. Another Guest Services representative was rude, and two more Housekeeping staff arrived to collect the bugs, which I had saved. The next morning, I stayed on the ship to meet with the Guest Services manager, who quickly established the problem and moved us to another stateroom.

Although it was smaller and needed an additional cot, at least it didn’t have any bugs. We were also assigned VIP status, which allowed us to disembark before the rest of the ship and, in so doing, avoid the worst of the long lines and other hassles of returning to the country.

In the end, we spent five days and four nights — the first two in a buggy stateroom and the last two in a smaller space — on this short cruise. We attended variety and comedy shows and competed in a trivia contest, which we won, and a scavenger hunt, which we didn’t. Most of our meals were eaten in a buffet-style cafeteria, but we had semi-formal dining every evening and went ashore twice.

I initially assumed that, having taken a cruise, I wouldn’t want to do another one. The entertainment and food were excessive yet unsatisfying and often substandard. Although the ship had its own expensive excursions, we only had a few hours to see the sights in each port, which limited our outings to superficial encounters. Also, the additional expenses, including airfare and transportation to and from the ship, were much more than the cost of the cruise itself.

After the end of the summer, I have a somewhat different perspective. Despite these difficulties, I enjoyed the time we had together, especially given that it didn’t require cooking or coordinating, even though we we spent more time floating in the ocean than exploring the ports. As a result, I could choose another cruise, especially a longer one on a bigger boat, if we were celebrating an event, as we did this time, or otherwise hoped to spend some time together.

If, however, we were wanting to see some sights, I’d pass on a cruise in favor of a trip world, which is a much more satisfying way to see the world.

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