When we booked the cruise we are on, we were under the false assumption that repositioning cruises were not all that popular. That could not be farther from the truth. This 23 day cruise has been interesting to say the least. We have learned a lot about the world of cruise fanatics and cruise loyalty.
Onboard this ship are people who love to cruise. I call them serial cruisers. I over heard one women bragging that this was her 83rd cruise. It’s very clear from people we have met that cruising for the majority of these hard-core cruise junkies is all about being on the ship and very little about the destinations. It’s also clear that most the people on the ship are loyal to Royal Caribbean and their frequent cruiser programs. Royal Caribbean family if you will.
Eighty Three cruises? No thanks. I enjoy cruising but only every few years and certainly never feel like I can really get to know a destination with only 8 hours in port. But on this cruise I am clearly in the minority – in more ways than one. I frequently mention how often Arne and I find we are older than other travelers meet. Not on this ship. Not even close.
It’s been 26 years since I took my first cruise, a Caribbean seven-day cruise out of Puerto Rico. I’ve now done a total of nine cruises, nowhere near
the number of some of the people onboard with us on the Explorer of the Seas. But averaging one cruise every three years I have seen some very clear changes in the industry of cruising since that first one long ago. Not only has the industry of cruising changed, but cruising has changed the world. Places like Venice Italy, Dubrovnik Croatia and Juneau Alaska now scramble to deal with the influx of visitors and the changes, often negative, that cruise ships and cruise passengers can cause.
From a guests perspective, I have observed the following significant changes in 26 years;
Service on board – my first cruise was a dream because of the phenomenal service we received from every staff person onboard but most especially from our room steward and our dining room wait staff.
Today the staff on board the mega cruise ships are great, but they are clearly overworked and the service is good, often very good, but never to the level of that first cruise I took those many years ago. It’s clear the service staff is responsible for more guests now than back then, but also some of the lower level of service might be as a result of the pre-paid gratuity. Our early cruises were back in the day when you handed cash to your wait staff and your room steward at the end of the cruise. Your choice of gratuity was dependent on the service they provided. Today, most cruises (most but not all) do a prepaid 18% gratuity when you sign up for your cruise. Of course the staff knows this.
Little things have changed in the dining room to create less work for the staff at the expense of the guest. They used to come around to the table with your salad dressing choices and spoon it directly on your salad for you. Now you take what they give you. There used to be a wine steward who would come around and discuss wine choices with you and regions and styles of wine. On this cruise we are on there has not been a wine steward anywhere in sight.
Once upon a time the midnight buffet was a highlight of your day and usually included a spectacular ice sculpture. Since the ships now all have a full-time buffet in addition to the regular dining room, the midnight buffet has disappeared and along with it the entertaining spectacle it always was.
Back in the day the cruise line did not nickel and dime you for every little thing. Today a cup of coffee is free, but not an espresso or a latte. You also no longer get soda for free. It used to be only alcohol was extra. No longer. In fact you used to enjoy a lobster dinner one night on each cruise but today it’s an extra $35 if you want lobster. Today you pay extra for “speciality dinning” and even room service has a service charge. We used to order room service breakfast and enjoy it on our balcony. But anything “cooked” is a charge so the only breakfast you can get from room service for free is cereal and fruit and coffee.
Today you have to sign away your first-born before you can get a pool towel, and if it’s not returned by the end of the cruise you will be charged $25 per towel.
Shore excursions have always been expensive and we avoid doing them most of the time. The cost has risen extensively over the years and rarely does the cost equal the value.
On our first few cruises there wasn’t even a spa or a gym. I remember running or walking on the promenade deck as exercise. Today you aren’t allowed to run on the promenade deck because it will make noise in the rooms below. The new ships have a running track, but it’s nine laps for one mile so you feel a bit like a hamster. On our first cruise I remember doing morning aerobics class in the dining room and they just pushed the tables and chairs out-of-the-way. On our first few cruises there was a ‘beauty parlor” but no spa. Today the spa and fitness center make big bucks for the cruise lines and there is a constant push to buy products that will change your skin, your fitness and your life – at exorbitant prices of course. In fact this is the first cruise we have been on where we had to pay for certain fitness classes. Some classes are free still, but the very popular spinning class and yoga class will cost $12.
Twenty-six years ago our first cruise was on a smaller ship than the one we are on now (3500 passengers) and there was only one dinner seating. You also had a lunch and breakfast seating. Today most of the time the dining room is closed for breakfast and lunch except on at sea days and you take your breakfast and lunch in the buffet. I remember on one cruise there was a special evening with a midnight buffet served in the ships galley. It was a wonderful way to see the sparkling clean kitchen and how the crew prepares so much food for so many guests for so many days.
In fact, on several early cruises we took “behind the scenes” tours of the galley and the bridge. Today it will cost you $89 to take the two-hour tour and see the inner workings of the Explorer of the Sea.
Long before we ever did our first cruise we were in the Bahamas in 1982. Our friends who had just gotten married were on a cruise and in port so we hooked up and actually went on board as guests to see the ship. That would never happen today. The ships are very tight with security and just like at the airport you are screened and your bags are scanned each and every time you leave or come back on board. There are absolutely no guests. In addition the cruise lines now make a big push about cleanliness, sanitation and hand washing in an effort to eliminate the dreaded norovirus and other fast spreading viruses on a ship with so many people.
Today’s ships are spectacular floating cities and many serial cruisers are more interested in what ship they are on and not the destination. We have met many people who don’t even get off the ship in port. They love cruising and being on board more than the ports of call.
These floating cities today have wonderful entertainment staff who make sure there is something for you to do every minute of every day. If that is what you want. Throughout the ship there are bars and music, bingo and trivia, lectures and movies, dancing and pool games and of course the nightly entertainment. They nightly entertainment has improved tremendously over our years of cruising. On our very first cruise there was no theater. Instead there was a nightly show in the lounge. The entertainment was very old-fashioned and for Arne and I (in our early thirties) laughable. I remember one night was a harmonica player. Seriously.
Today the big ships with their big theaters put on big show, with outstanding singers, dancers, costumes and sets. Royal Caribbean still maintains a live orchestra as part of the shows (few other cruise lines do). In addition our cruise has included a visiting performers who presented a fabulous program of “Queen” songs, a vocalist from Australia, an impressionist from the UK, as well as a pianist, a comedian and a hypnotist. All professional and very entertaining. And there isn’t is an ice rink on board with its in cast and performances. Amazing Such an improvement over the old days. Now if the cruise lines start charging for guests to enjoy the shows then I will probably give up cruising all together.
Still on average, cruising is a very inexpensive way to travel. This 23 day cruise works out to be around $130 per person per day. That is $30 per person over our daily budget goal, but we can justify because of other places we have traveled where we were way under budget. It’s easy to see why so many people choose to only travel this way; unpack once, everything is done for you, relatively safe and definitely all the comforts of home. I suspect we will cruise again (in fact going with Arne’s Mom on the Panama Canal next year) but it will never be the only way we travel. There are just too many off the beaten track places to see, and you can’t possibly see them from a ship. But to each his own.
We have enjoyed our time aboard the Explorer of the Sea. Now it’s time to enjoy being back in the USA.