Are Things Getting Too Casual?

| Sunday, 26 Nov 2006

Is eliminating cruise ship dress codes just a sign of the times, or a mistake?

For me, one thing that has always distinguished a cruise from a land vacation is the civility and congeniality of my fellow passengers. I like the cruise ship traditions: Being assigned seats in the dining room with perfect strangers (and sometimes requesting larger tables to meet even more perfect strangers); wearing the recommended evening attire, and enjoying the ambiance of passengers dressed in their finery on formal nights; and even presenting gratuities on the final night of the cruise to the staff who have served me so diligently.

Even though I've only been cruising since 1994, it seems I'm becoming a cruise dinosaur. Perhaps I was taken in by cruise line advertising, and reruns of the Love Boat TV show -- I actually believed that cruising is an elegant, fun, yet somewhat sophisticated vacation.

But lately, I've definitely noticed that "the times, they are a-changin'"...

To some extent, the cruise lines themselves have been fooling with my mind. Some are changing the product, adapting it to attract new customers (or as some will claim, reacting to what their passengers tell them they want).

Princess Cruise Lines has its new "Personal Choice Dining Program" and Norwegian Cruise Line has "Freestyle Cruising." They are trying to offer their passengers less structured environments and more dining choices. But it seems to me that in some ways they are confusing the cruising public.

Princess, for example, hasn't done a great job of explaining just what "Personal Choice" means. "Personal Choice," by Princess' definition, means you can dine at any time you please during normal operating hours of the designated dining rooms. You can dine with whomever you want, when you want, their advertising states.

The confusion arises over dress codes. Many people who choose "Personal Choice" on Princess believe they don't need to observe the evening's suggested dress code. However, this is not the case. Princess' suggested dress code applies in all dining rooms on Princess ships. "Personal Choice" thus applies to dining times and locations, but not to evening dress.

I believe many cruisers confuse "Personal Choice" with NCL's "Freestyle Cruising," where diners also can choose to eat when they want, and with whom they want. However, on NCL there are no suggested dress codes; formal nights are designated "formal wear optional."

With all this Personal/Freestyle stuff becoming such a trend in the cruise industry, I find myself reacting like an old fuddy-duddy.

As I sit at my keyboard, I'm ordering a custom-made asbestos suit (replete with antlers), preparing for the firestorm of objections I'm sure to face from the Me Generation of cruisers for the following comments. But I believe there's some merit to discussing issues that are probably the result of, or reason for, all this "Choice" stuff -- issues direct from the resurgence of the ME Generation.

How many times have you recently heard someone say:

"I paid for this cruise, and no is going to tell me... - how to dress - how to behave - how my children should behave - who to tip - how much to tip - I can't bring alcohol onboard with me - I can't save deck chairs by the pool - I can't save seats in the showroom - I can't smoke where I want - I can't tell people to quit smoking where I am - I can't dine when it's convenient for me - I can't leave the ship anytime I please on debarkation day," ...And a myriad of others I've surely forgotten.

The cruise lines' eagerness to adapt to the 'Me Generation's' self-proclaimed "rights of vacationing" is eroding what I believe sets a cruise vacation apart from other vacation styles.

I accept the fact that many people like this new direction. Many cruise lines now are trying harder to meet customers' demands.

My objections come because many of the 'Me Generation' members are sailing on ships that still maintain some suggested rules of behavior. The problem is that they are bringing their "rights of vacationing" with them. And the cruise lines are aiding and abetting their attitude by not enforcing their own suggested rules of behavior. In short, they are trying to be everything to everybody.

Even though I am somewhat feeble minded, I believe if the cruise lines took a firmer stand in establishing their identities, the lines of distinction between the types of cruise products they offer wouldn't be so blurred. And cruise consumers could more easily identify the products that meet their own needs.

And then, just maybe, this old fuddy-duddy wouldn't end up sitting in the casino in his tuxedo next to the fellow in the gym shorts and tank top.

** Where do you stand on this topic? Share your opinions here... Cruise Gripes.

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