Misinformation, Myths and Magic (part 2)

| Wednesday, 05 Mar. 2003

Kuki ruminates on cruise research, rumors and romance.

More Cruising Myths Other cruise myths have to do with food. There's little doubt that dining is an integral factor in the cruise experience. That's probably because, except for the growing trend towards alternative restaurants (with a per-person surcharge), most food on a cruise vacation is included in the cost.

The myth still exists that going on a cruise means a non-stop "eatfest," where filet mignon, Maine lobster, and shrimps the size of Rhode Island are available 24/7.

Most of us regret that doesn't reflect the facts. Since the 1990s, as the cruise lines began their massive new build programs that continue to this day, the mass market lines have added larger and larger ships for their economies of scale -- spreading the costs of the product among a great number of passengers. It is understandable that the large numbers of passengers would make them less able to deliver gourmet quality meals. There are massive logistical problems in providing that type of cuisine to that many people at one time, even if they wanted to and budget was no obstacle.

Having been in the restaurant business, I can tell you that when we accepted a group booking for the entire restaurant, where everyone arrives for dinner at the same time, it was impossible to supply the same quality of product as we did in our normal mode of operation.

The fact that the cruise lines can produce a product as good as they do, considering the circumstances of their operations, is very impressive. And unlike land-based restaurants, cruise passengers can send something back to the kitchen for an alternate selection, simply because they don't care for the taste. Also unlike land-based restaurants, passengers can order multiple entrees, and are not required to pay extra.

It is no myth that if you were at home and eating three meals a day in restaurants for the length of a cruise, at the same level of quality you receive on a ship, the costs would be higher than the entire cost of your cruise.

Another group of myths has to do with cruise ship staterooms. The largest myth probably comes from the cruise lines' own brochures, describing their cabins' ultra-luxurious surroundings and amenities, and displaying photos taken with fish-eye lens to make them appear much larger than they are.

There is a trend in the newly built ships to make cabins more spacious. But do your research: On some older ships, you might be shocked to find your "luxurious stateroom" is all of 125 sq. ft., including the space for the bathroom and closet. That's closer to the size of a bedroom in an average home than at a luxury resort.

Cruise line ads often feature shots of a couple in posh bathrobes being served breakfast on their spacious-looking private balcony. But unless you have booked one of the top suites, many verandah cabins have a balcony with two chairs and a small table barely large enough to hold a tray, so breakfast on the balcony means sitting with your plate in your lap. There's nothing wrong with that, and I have personally enjoyed many breakfasts doing just that. But it certainly doesn't fit the image you see in the cruise line's commercials.

Other cruise ship myths involve pricing. There's a troubling line of thought that claims it is less expensive to book a cruise directly with the cruise line than with a travel agent. The fact is the cruise lines pay the travel agent a commission out of the cruise fare, and that does NOT raise the cost to the purchaser.

If the cruise lines were willing to discount the cruise fare to a direct booker by the amount of commission they pay the travel agent, it would certainly reduce the cost. But they don't, so there's no savings by buying direct. The only case where a travel agent could cost more is using them to book your airfares. Unlike the cruise lines, airlines no longer pay commissions to travel agents, so they do charge a fee for booking air tickets -- though if you book a cruise with them, agents might waive that service fee.

Most often -- even with recent changes by some cruise lines that prevent travel agents from discounting the cost of cruises -- you can save money, or at least get added amenities such as onboard credits, free travel insurance, or complimentary pre-cruise hotel rooms.

Another factor to consider is what happens if you encounter problems with your booking, or on the ship. If you've booked directly with the cruise line and issues arise, the person you've booked with works for the cruise line, and thus is not in a position to work as your advocate in resolving those issues. A good travel agent is invaluable when things go awry, and problems need to be resolved. That's when I want my travel agent to represent me and pressure the cruise line to resolve and remedy the issues.

Magic Anyone who's ever taken a cruise knows the indefinable moments onboard that make a cruise vacation magical. That's why, unlike any other vacation, when you enter a cruise terminal to check in and prepare to cross the gangway you can feel the anticipation, excitement, and energy of the waiting passengers.

No doubt every past passenger has his own stories and memories of magical moments on their cruises.

There's magic in spending a week in the confined space of your cabin with your loved ones, and finding that before you leave the ship you've re-established the glue that bonds you.

There's magic when you share time onboard with family members and friends within the relatively small space of a ship. As opposed to land vacations, ships supply a more intimate surrounding; though you may do different things onboard, you're still together enjoying the time you have with each other.

There's magic in having your "room" move around the world between ports of call, enabling you to enjoy the travel time, as opposed to packing, unpacking, and moving by rail, airplane, or ground transport, from one stop to the next.

And even though there's often limited time in the ports you visit, there's magic in spending a few hours exploring a variety of nations and cultures. It's like sampling numerous appetizers for the variety of tastes, rather than eating a full meal.

There's magic in the historical romance attached to sailing the world's oceans that has been shared for generations in poetry and prose. On a cruise ship, you can at once witness the strength of mother nature in the rolling waves of the ocean, combined with the peace and tranquility of a moonlit star-filled sky.

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