Most of us agree cruises are appealing because they're so convenient, offer so many things to do and take us to exciting places. But for me, it's more than the ease of unpacking once and having lots of restaurants, entertainment, and recreation under one seagoing roof. I'm drawn to the cruise experience for other, more touchy-feely reasons too. Here's what keeps me coming back for more.
1. The Trip Back
Sure, cruises are more casual and carefree than ever in many ways, but the cruise experience still does offer vestiges of a more elegant and refined era. Officers still look super smart in their crisp white or black uniforms. The captain is still commander of the ship and almost godlike when he walks the decks and nods hello to passengers. I get all sentimental when I hear a big band playing oldies in a lounge. The warm fuzzies hit when I'm sitting in a darkened theater, enjoying the pleasant buzz from wine at dinner, as a troupe of singers and dancers do Cole Porter and Steven Sondheim classics. It's all against the backdrop of those wooden decks and polished railings and that haunting ship's horn ... sigh.
2. The Togetherness
I love vacationing with my young sons and having the opportunity to spend some quality time with them. But I also love the hours when they're happily camped out in the ship's playroom while I'm nearby unwinding with a massage in the spa, a work-out in the gym, or stint at a wine tasting seminar. The best part: when we go our separate ways for a few hours, I can relax knowing my boys are having fun just a few decks away.
3. The Approach
There are certain places best appreciated by a water approach -- take, for instance, the Greek Isle of Santorini; or Sydney, Australia; or New York City. The iconic landscape of these places, and other ports like Rio de Janeiro; Valletta, Malta; and Bora Bora are absolutely stunning when you view them from the decks of a cruise on a slow glide towards the pier.
4. The People Watching
Since my first cruise in 1993, I've always appreciated the prime people-watching opportunities. My nightly routine goes like this: Find a comfy bar stool in the middle of the hubbub, an hour or so before the dinner rush. Here's when you realize what a melting pot the megaships really are. You see all kinds, from schlumpy couples in matching Hawaiian shirts strolling hand-in-hand, to hip families dressed in black, and showy botoxed types decked out in their big carats and flashy logos. It's great fun (and so is eavesdropping!)
5. The Mother Ship
After a satisfying day doing something totally cool and exhausting -- like climbing the narrow spires of Antonio Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, or hopping on a six-seater pontoon plane for a totally breathtaking, white-knuckle ride over glaciers and snowy peaks in Alaska -- coming back to the ship is like coming home to a cozy nest with a doting mother. A place to unwind and regroup and reboot. Your cabin's all made up, the bathroom's stocked with fresh towels, and a cool drink and a tasty dinner are just a few decks away.