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There are a lot of catchphrases that get tossed around the cruise world. "Luxury" is one. "Adventure" is another. And then there's "Romance." But how much of their meaning do those words retain in the real world, and how much are they just gauzy marketing-speak? Frommer's resident cruise experts discuss the "Romance" question...

Matt: What's romance on a cruise ship, really? Is it like the Love Boat, with beautiful strangers hooking up on the Mexican Riviera? Is it that cute old couple holding hands on the promenade deck, watching the sunset? Or is it that woman I heard in the "Newlywed Game" contest a few years back, who, when asked about the strangest place she and her husband had ever "done it," answered, blushing, "Uh, behind the pool bar last night, after they closed?"

Heidi: Oh yuck! Remind me to skip the bar snacks from now on. Jeez. The top spot I've heard about for late-night trysts is the lifeboats -- though you'd have to be Catwoman to climb into one.

Matt: I remember being in port one day and looking across at a Carnival ship docked alongside. Two people were on their balcony and they obviously thought the glass partition was opaque. It wasn't. Let this be a warning to readers.

Heidi: Hey, how'd we get on this topic, anyway? I thought we were going to talk about romance: candlelit dinners, slow dances, and moonlight strolls on deck -- that kind of thing.

Matt: I'll bet you like walking in the rain too, don't you.

Heidi: We live in Singapore now. It's the only way to keep cool. Anyway, can we get back to soft and cuddly already? My hubby Arun and I have shared our most romantic dinners at sea. There was an excellent six-course French meal on Silversea's Silver Shadow a few years back. The lights were low, service was perfect, fine wines were flowing, and we shared a table for two -- easy to snag on a small ultra-luxe ship, but next to impossible on a mega. The only thing better than the food was the itinerary, Rome to Nice. Then there was that dreamy deck party on Windstar's cozy Wind Star as we pulled out of Mykonos under a starry sky. Shrimp, lobster, the wind in our hair...it was sublime. Like most small ships: nice and intimate.

Matt: You had shrimp and lobster in your hair? Oh, wait, I get it. But I'm with ya' on the small ships. They definitely win in the romance department -- especially the small ships with sails. Star Clippers are right up there too, with the European vibe they've got going. Sea Cloud too. Most people haven't heard of them, but Sea Cloud I is just plain movie-star romantic, with all that history as E. F. Hutton and Marjorie Merriweather Post's private yacht, back in the 1930s. Of course, they split up...

Heidi: Yep, and she got the ship.

Matt: Wonder if they had a pre-nup? Anyway, I don't want to short-shrift the megaships too much. I mean, some of them are totally romantic -- though often you have to pay extra to get the goods. On Princess's ships you can have a dedicated waiter serve dinner on your private balcony, with champagne, a white tablecloth, and fine place settings. It costs a hundred bucks, but what's money when it comes to amour?

Heidi: That's what the cruise lines are hoping, with the bazillion packages they offer to sweeten the romance...and their bottom line. Weeks or months before your cruise you can pre-order all sorts of cute extras that'll be waiting in your cabin when you board, from roses, chocolate, and champagne to monogrammed his-and-hers bathrobes. 'Course, there's also tacky stuff like keepsake picture frames. "Keepsake" -- whatever that means.

Matt: Sometimes the romance is just part of the experience, though, whether it's on a small sailing ship or a big ocean liner like Queen Mary 2.

Heidi: That "old ocean liner" feeling is about the most romantic thing in the world. That amazing art deco Chart Room lounge on QM2, for instance. It's like stepping into a Fred Astaire movie. Some of the other megaships have that kind of ocean liner style too. There's Singapore Sling's piano bar on Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas and her sister ships -- all dim lights, dark woods, and cozy couchettes. It's the perfect place for cocktails and dancing with that special someone. And don't forget Celebrity's Millennium and her sisters, with those incredible alternative restaurants. I mean, how can you beat dining in a room that mimics the great old liners, right down to 1920s music and menus, white-glove service, and even some furnishings from the Titanic's sister ship?

Matt: That does cost extra, of course.

Heidi: You're going to complain about $30 for a meal like that? You probably spent more on Mexican take-out last week.

Matt: Sure, sure, make fun.

Heidi: What I mean is, you'd pay a fortune for that experience if you had it on land. And I love having the opportunity to get all decked out. Still, much as I can get into the mega-ship experience, I'm a sucker for small ships that sneak into cozy harbors, places like the British Virgin Islands and the Grenadines. Remember that cruise we took a few years back on Windjammer Barefoot Cruises' Legacy? There was that frisky group who kept crawling out into the bowsprit net with bottles of champagne? And that other night when we stayed late off Jost Van Dyke and half the ship tendered in to Foxy's?

Matt: How could I forget? I had a wicked crush on that married woman with the big eyes.

Heidi: Those Windjammer ships were pretty intoxicating. Too bad the line folded like a tent. Who's gonna take their place? Who's going to offer singles cruises? Nudist cruises? Erotic tart-eating contests?

Matt: So far, nobody. Too many real businesspeople in the cruise biz. Nobody wants to start a company that runs by the skin of its teeth. Go figure. I mean, there are still sailing ships like Canadian Sailing Expeditions' Caledonia, and the Maine Windjammer ships, but they're more about hiking and whale-watching than flying the freak flag.

Heidi: Sigh. So where do you go to get wild and crazy? Even Carnival is all civilized these days.

Matt: Blame Dick Cheney. Nobody wants to act too wild: They all think they're being spied on.

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