Compulsive Cruisers
Addicted to Sea Life

The cruise of a lifetime takes on new meaning. (A.Shepherd./ABCNEWS.com)
By Christopher Elliott
Special to ABCNEWS.com

He knows every inch of every ship in the fleet. He has logged 1,110 days at sea on 114 tours, including a few dozen trips through the Panama Canal and a couple of global crossings. And Chuck Wideen is not in the Navy.
     “I like cruising,” the Las Vegas retiree says. “I mean, I really like it. You board the ship, you unpack,and there's nothing left to do. Everything else is taken care of.”
     Wideen, who began vacationing at sea in 1977 and has taken an average of five trips a year on Princess Cruises ships, has developed a bit of a cruising habit. And he's not alone.

Repeat Cruisers on the Rise
The number of repeat cruisers is rising, according to the Cruise Lines International Association. More than half the passengers on a given cruise are not first-timers, and that percentage is steadily growing.
     A record 6 million North Americans will shell out $1,000 plus to cruise this year, according to the CLIA, and 7 million are expected to go to sea next year. From 1980 to 1998, the business has averaged an impressive 7.9 percent growth rate.
     Indeed, some cruise enthusiasts spend more time on the water than on land. Consider the story of Rosemary Roberts, the California retiree who was about to be put in a rest home by her family. “Instead, she boarded a Royal Viking Line ship and found that she liked it so much, she stayed,” says Anne Campbell, editor of the online cruise magazine Cruisemates.com. “They carried her off the ship more than a decade later, at age 89.”
     Stories like Roberts' and Wideen's come as no surprise to Bridget Ann Serchak, who speaks for the International Council of Cruise Lines in Washington. “Cruises are a one-stop vacation, and the infrastructure is designed to give you as much peace of mind as possible,” she says.
     Todd Elliott, vice president for Orlando, Fla.-based travel agency Cruises Only, acknowledges that the ships are addictive. “There's a huge repeat ratio,” he says. “Even though the industry has gotten a lot of bad press about security, cruising has got to be the most convenient and safe way to travel. The cases of rape are few and far between. If someone dies, it's because they're old and they maybe have a heart attack.”

Escape at Sea?
But psychologist Judy Rosenberg doesn't see it that way. She thinks compulsive cruising, if taken to an unhealthy extreme, may be harmful to travelers. “A cruise meets all of our narcissistic needs,” she says. “You can have instant friends, instant service and instant sex. Is it destructive? Not necessarily. But you aren't dealing with the problem that is causing you to cruise all the time.”
     Rosenberg says she believes passengers who take repeat trips, or who never leave the ship, are doing so because they haven't coped with a traumatic event in their lives — a death of a child or a spouse, or a divorce. It isn't that they like to cruise as much that the trip helps them avoid reality, “like leaving the planet.” Eventually, they have to come back to the here and now.
     The die-hards may dispute her take on compulsive cruisers. And goodness knows, there are plenty of cruisaholics out there. When I last wrote about the perils of a floating vacation this summer, I got flooded with e-mails from cruise addicts who were angry at my suggestions that the all-you-can-eat buffets were stocked with starchy food, or my insinuations about lecherous crew members.
     This flaming event led me to develop another theory: That cruising has become a religion, complete with its own temples (cruise ships), prophets (cruise agents), and scripture (ABC's enduring The Love Boat). The folks who were shooting angry e-mails to me were, in fact, accusing me of blasphemy — how dare I criticize their faith?
     I don't want to go overboard with my analogy, but suffice it to say that there are some of you out there, dear readers, who are lost at sea.

Christopher Elliott, a k a The Crabby Traveler, is a writer based in Annapolis, Maryland. His column appears on Tuesdays.