While unpleasant fellow travelers and vacationers often stick out in memory, I do firmly believe that most people are decent. While travel can be stress-inducing, bad behavior is fortunately an exception. The five percent jerk factor, while not scientific, is a pretty good metric.
And then there are cruise ship deck chairs.
It’s not just these ships that hold 5,000 people and that deck chairs always seem to be in short supply. Realistically there’s no reason for a ship to have enough chairs to allow everyone aboard to sunbathe simultaneously.
Some people avoid the sun because of skin cancer dangers or personal preference. Others don’t even like the sun. Plus, most ships, even the older ones without bells and whistles, have plenty of indoor activities, including, of course, eating. The newer ships, as well, have an increasing number of balcony cabins, where guests may have their own private chairs.
So, one would think, finding a chair in the sun should be an relatively simple task, right? Not exactly.
On a recent Celebrity cruise, I noticed that the ship has posted signs stating clearly that deck chairs may be “saved” or “held” with personal belongings on them for no more than 30 minutes. After that time, pool butlers would “store” these belongings for guests. That seemed reasonable to me.
Then you get out on deck. As most cruisers have learned, after about 10 a.m., open deck chairs are few and far between. On average, only about half of those chairs have bodies in them. The one day I decided to spend a few hours outdoors (with a book and SPF 30 sunscreen). At 10 I snagged a single chair next to a row of three occupied deck chairs secured only by sandals, towels and books.
At noon, not only were there no bodies on the chairs, I hadn’t even so much as seen a human near one. Although plenty of people had passed by clearly looking for a spot in the sun. When a mother with two pre-teen daughters approached looking particularly frustrated, I told her that whoever had put the things down was four times past the 30 minute rule.
So she asked a pool attendant and he headed over to help her claim the chairs. Immediately, two women who had been reclining several chairs away raced over, one flinging herself on a chair so hard it bounced.
She angrily said, “These chairs are ours.”
The attendant had noticed them moving and politely said, “Ma’am, you have chairs,” pointing to where they were sitting.
The angry woman said, “These are saved for our friends.”
Things went downhill from there, although no punches were thrown. Finally, a security guard pointed out that this wasn’t acceptable they could be evicted from all of the deck chairs. So, the two went back to where they were sitting, glaring the entire time. The mother with the daughters, on the other hand, was thrilled.
I’d like to say this was an isolated incident limited to this cruise, but I personally can’t remember a cruise where saving chairs didn’t become an issue.
A couple years ago several security guards were called when a young lawyer on his honeymoon finally became enraged at a woman who shooed two children away from two of “her seats” at 1 p.m. (Her claim, her sons slept late and she wanted to make sure they could be near her. And no, 1 p.m. is not a misprint.)
The young man told me he and his wife were out every morning at 8 a.m. and it was the same every day. He had finally decided that “justice should be served.”
Many deck-chair hoarders aren’t even noticed. Unless someone’s actually sitting next to empty chairs for a while, it’s hard to tell which chairs really are being used occasionally and which are just “claimed.”
In fact, even vacationers who repeatedly wander the decks looking for a good place to sit may have no way of knowing if a particular chair has been used since they last looked, unless they enlist their fellow cruisers to keep a lookout.
Cruise lines are increasingly aware of the issue, and most of them are trying to institute policies such as the 30-minute rule to ensure fairness. But it’s a tough problem.
I don’t fault folks who save a seat for 35, or even 45 minutes while they eat lunch. But there is something irritating about the cruise experience where a surprising number of people decide chairs are theirs for the day.
At some land-based resorts, guests can rent cabanas or chairs by the day. Generally cruise ships have not adopted that policy. In a world where travelers are increasingly being charged for things that used to be free, the idea of renting deck chairs has to be both a boon as a potential revenue source and a worry for cruise lines who don’t want to push their customers to competitors.
If any Consumer Traveler readers have particularly good stories from the deck-chair wars, or suggestions to improve the situation, please add them in comments. Teaching people good manners is a nice thought, but then there is the little matter of making sure those same people don’t leave home without them.