Has Cruising become too comfortable?

“Cruising represents a safe and comfortable means of visiting the world”. 

The above is a reasonable statement. However, in the interest of promoting some controversy, I will suggest that this statement not only highlights one of the positive aspects about cruising, it could be viewed as a negative statement. Let me explain: I think cruising can sometimes be ‘too comfortable’.

Although I love cruising, just occasionally I feel that I am a little too insulated from the outside world and the local cultures, when I’m on-board a cruise ship.

It is worth noting that most cruise ships themselves are very multi-cultural, in terms of the crew and sometimes the passengers, however a ship is still very much it’s own ‘world’. In fact many of today’s mega-ships are so big that they are no longer just a ‘means of transportation’, they have become the ‘destination’.

While I mean no disrespect to our American friends, there is the widespread opinion that American’s are particularly nervous travellers abroad. If this is true, it may help explain why the US cruise industry is the world’s largest and is dominating the world.

On the other hand maybe it is the fact that American’s particularly enjoy the luxury and creature comforts offered by cruise ships, which can be superior to land based resorts. Both these factors probably contribute to the rise of cruising and the rise of mega-ships.

The Ports of Call

Cruise passengers can visit numerous countries by cruise ship and even some formerly remote parts of the world, such as Alaska and Antarctica. In the case of American ships, this is often done while being surrounded by their fellow countrymen, in the air-conditioned lap of luxury, eating prime-rib or lobster tail and then watching a Broadway show. Even the currency on-board these ship is often the US dollar.

this on eboots

Broadway Show (Courtesy NCL)

Once in a port, passengers can opt to take an excursion around the island or city. The excursion may only make a few stops, for a very limited time, and these are often at an approved ‘tourist’ locations. In some cases these may well be a a museum or a reconstruction of a  ‘traditional local village’ complete with locals pretending to be figures from the past – how surreal is that? When these highly chaperoned passengers eventually return back to the ship, they probably think that they have sampled authentic local culture.

Of course some passengers don’t even get off the ship in the ports, preferring to enjoy the on-board facilities rather that  ‘reality’ of life ashore. I must be honest, I’ve been to some Caribbean ports of call where there was more to see and do on-board the ship, than shore-side. The ships food was better and the on-board environment felt safer.

The On-board experience

Many of RCI’s and MSC’s mega-ships have a virtual street running down the heart of the ship, which is complete with shops and cafes. Many of the public rooms are inward facing rather than focusing on Mother Nature outside.

Even if the ‘nervous traveller’ theory is overstating the case, it is a fact that an increasing number of American’s and other nationalities enjoy visiting the world on-board a floating ‘slice’ of America, a mega-ship. In fact these slices are increasingly growing bigger, year by year.

Today’s giant ships are floating hotels with a resorts attached. They are ‘cities at sea’.

When multiple big ships arrive at a port of call, in some cases they can actually double the population of the local town.

Just look at NCL’s ‘Pride of America’ cruise ship. She permanently cruises Hawaiian waters. Not only is her name extremely patriotic, her interiors mirror famous American Landmarks such as the ‘Capitol Atrium’, ‘Napa Wine Bar’ and the ‘Hollywood Theatre’. She also has a largely American crew. She truly is American ‘sovereign territory’.

Pride of America refurbishment 2016

Reception: NCL’s ‘Pride Of America

If you are not convinced about my ‘city at sea’ analogy, let’s take a quick look at Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, one of the world’s bigger ships. She has a Theatre (which is bigger than most London Theatres), swimming pools, a hairdressers, fitness centre, beauty therapy centre, library, shops, a medical centre, dog kennels, a kindergarten, a cinema/planetarium, pub and an education centre, where you can learn IT amongst other subjects. She also has her own on-board police force (security staff) that can confine unruly passengers to their cabins. The medical centre probably has its own morgue too, although Cunard obviously don’t advertise this facility.

You can even get married on-board many modern ships, in their own wedding chapels. Burial at sea is not yet available, but I am sure it will be if you give it enough time. The new generation of mega-ships such as the ‘Oasis‘ class, ships will  carry a mind-blowing 6,000+ passengers.

It’s ironic how some newer ship names conjure up images of the brave nautical explorers of the past, such as ‘Navigator of the Seas’ and ‘Explorer of the seas’. I bet Christopher Columbus would have been very envious of such breath-taking vessels and levels of comfort. However these floating hotels could not be further removed from exploration vessels.

I find it quite sad that an increasing number of American’s are  cruising in European waters on American style ships. Why don’t they pick P&O, Fred Olsen, Saga, Thomson or Costa or MSC etc. and at least absorb a little bit more of the British or European culture that is offered on-board. I personally enjoy cruising in American waters on an American ship.

Of course it is not just American’s who cruise. Cruising is increasingly appealing to us British, Europeans and other nationalities too. We are all guilty of increasingly enjoying ‘soft adventure’, as they say in the industry. After all P&O ships are a floating slice of Britain and Costa a floating slice of Italy. There is nothing wrong with wanting a safe and comfortable holiday environment, but let’s not forget that there are other reasons to cruise too. Many passengers may simply enjoy the convenience of all-inclusive food and entertainment. Others may simply enjoy being at sea. Some passengers are  adventurous enough to opt to do their own thing in port and avoid the organised excursions like the plague.

In Conclusion

The facilities available on-board modern cruise ships are more extensive than ever. It doesn’t matter if you are a nervous type or a brave explorer; the great thing about cruising is that we can each enjoy the experience in a different ways and for different reasons.

However, I personally prefer not to get “too comfortable”.

Malcolm Oliver

RCI’s Oasis class ships are still the biggest floating slice of America at sea:

Oasis review: HERE

One Response to “Has Cruising become too comfortable?”

  1. Tom Burke Says:

    I agree, Malcolm. We still enjoy cruising because it is a very relaxing holiday, but we’ve started to be more selective. For example, this year’s cruise to Iceland and the Faroe Islands was picked because the destinations were places that we would be unlikely to visit any other way.

    We’ve also done some other holidays, both together and separately, where we have tried to mingle with the locals – to some extent at least. There have been three trips to the USA in which we’ve stayed at B&Bs (and AirBNB) and not just large international hotels, and when on a solo trip to Singapore and Malaysia last year I made some effort to do ordinary things – travel by public transport, eat at local restaurants, and so on.

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