It may well be that America's infatuation with the ocean cruise is beginning to wane a bit. Recent studies show a fair amount of worry about the safety of cruising. People are concerned about the fairly frequent outbreaks of the noro virus on cruises. They react badly to the reports of robberies suffered by cruise passengers when they tour outlying areas of islands and encounter local bandits. They are shocked to learn of the low wages given to cruiseline personnel (as little as $50 a month, meaning that cruise waiters and cabin attendants must rely on tips for anything resembling a decent income). And, of course, they have learned about the occasional breakdown of propulsion equipment on giant cruiseships, causing the premature termination of several cruises.
In a blog of two days ago, I added my own "two bits" by deploring the loud and raucous atmosphere that now frequently prevails on the larger, popularly-priced cruises, the ones made by ships transporting as many as 4,000 to 6,000 passengers at a time. I suggested that it was no longer possible for thoughtful Americans to enjoy the traditional pleasures of a cruise on these humongous and boisterous vessels, and I expressed the unfortunate conclusion that it was probably necessaary to upgrade to a more expensive and smaller ship if you were genuinely anxious to enjoy the quiet and relaxing pleasures of a traditional cruise.
What else can you do to offset the negative aspects of cruising?
Well, first, you must select cruises whose port stops are at actual island cities, and not on the "private beaches" that some cruiselines have erected to reap additional spending by their passengers. You must avoid the disagreeable and overpriced motorcoach tours that cruiselines offer at port stops; you should search out the independent tour companies--CruisingExcursions.com, ShoreTrips.com, PortPromotions.com, PortCompass.com--that operate port excursions for half the price, and use smaller vehicles (12 persons maximum) to boot. You should study their literature, and perhaps make advance reservations for their services. Or, you might search out other people on a cruise who are willing to share the cost of a taxi on a tour that you operate yourself!
To offset the higher cost of booking a premium cruiseship (and thus enjoying a better cruise), you must be sensitively aware that almost all cruiseships seek to extract additional onboard expenditures from their passengers. Specialty restaurants are priced at very high levels; soft drinks are exorbitant in cost (though fruit juices are often served free), the port excursions--as noted above--are expensive and empty of content (you are better off sightseeing on your own), internet charges for using your laptop at sea are sky high (free yourself from that need to exchange e-mails with the folks back home), and numerous other extra fees should also be avoided. The relaxed but frugal cruise passenger can enjoy a perfectly satisfying cruise without becoming an anxious shopper for extra privileges and toys.
It is entirely possible that cruising may account for fewer vacations in the years ahead. Already, various cruiselines have announced that they have transferred or placed some of their newest ships into Shanghai or other Chinese port cities to take advantage of the enormous cruise business that the gigantic population of China may support. Other ships are being stationed in British port cities to appeal to a European audience. There's hope that to attract a continuing patronage of their ships by Americans, the cruiselines may show a bit less greed and more of a gentle attitude towards their customers.