Thank you for subscribing!
Got it! Thank you!

Some Reflections—Both Hopeful and Dismal—on the Current State of the Cruise Industry

On Quantum of the Seas
     In the cruise ship world, January, February, and March are "wave season", the period of their heaviest advance sales when phones are ringing off the hook in vast offices of telephone reservationists. And as you'd expect, this has been an unusually successful "wave season" to date. With winter temperatures at unprecedented lows, large numbers of Americans are booking themselves aboard cruise ships heading to the tropics. Several cruise line executives have predicted that more than fifteen million Americans will go on a cruise this year. 
     So is there any space left if you should decide to go on a cruise next week or next month? Surprisingly, there is. So many new ships are currently joining the already-large fleets that cabins are apparently still available for late-winter sailings, especially in the Caribbean. In fact, there would have been a large surplus of available cabins if one particular new ship—the 5,000-passenger Quantum of the Seas—were not heading to Asia, where it will service a large market of Chinese vacationers. (The Quantum of the Seas will soon be replaced, however, by its near-identical sister ship, The Anthem of the Seas, in a few months). 
     I wish I could write that all this giant capacity was dedicated to vacations conducted in the grand traditions of the seas. There once was a time when cruises were a quiet activity in which one lay in a chaise lounge on a top deck and drank in the vastness of the ocean or read an absorbing novel, where good conversations were had with your fellow passengers, and serious lectures were presented to an attentive audience, where visits to the ship's library were a part of the experience. Unfortunately, most of the new ships have been transformed into amusement parks. It is now not unusual to see basketball courts and bumper cars on their top decks, to find lines of middle-aged men waiting to hurtle down a water slide, where loudspeakers blare inescapable rock-and-roll music throughout the ship, and where libraries have been occasionally omitted from the ship's facilities.
     One of the new ships sports a robotic bartender. All of them urge you to spend extra money on your meals by patronizing special-charge ethnic restaurants. The constant policy is to urge passengers to spend, spend, spend.
     There are, of course, a few ships that continue to honor the traditions of the sea. By contrast with the "party ships" of Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean, the dignified Cunard Line continues to cater to the mind in quiet lounges, lecture halls, and the like.  The Holland America line does the same, though to a largely elderly audience. And occupying a middle position—lively entertainment alongside quiet lounges and decks—Celebrity Cruises appeals to young and young-ish couples who haven't yet given up the urge to enjoy thoughtful times.
     Some lines satisfy the needs of families traveling with young children better than others. Royal Caribbean, as one example, has an extensive children's program that also includes group activities for young teenagers. And, of course, Disney does an outstanding job of catering to children of all ages. 
     Have I any further gripes to voice about the current state of cruising? I abominate those phony "private islands" and "private beaches" that many cruise lines now operate in the Caribbean, artificial places to which passengers are taken instead of going to actual port cities where they can interact with real residents of the foreign location. And I'm dismayed by the prices and content of those group land tours that cruise lines urge you to purchase for those days when the ship stops in a port. On my own cruises, I almost always prefer sightseeing on my own two feet, and independently, when the ship makes a port stop.
     But these gripes aside, the cruise lines must be doing something right, at least as measured by their own profit levels. Fifteen million American cruise passengers in one year is a daunting figure.
Photo credit: Royal Caribbean International