Ms. Get Up & Go was embarking on a new adventure. Had it simply involved only hotels, I might have bitten the bullet and done it myself. But, we were taking to the seas and cruises aren’t my thing – or so I didn’t think. Perhaps I’d grown up watching too many episodes of the television series, “The Love Boat.”
This trip entailed traveling with a very dear older friend who has some mobility issues. There was no way we were going to be climbing aboard camels or surveying the countryside in hot air balloons. Since adventure travel was out so, we decided to take a cruise, but were overwhelmed by the choices. I’d read about The Royal Caribbean’s biggest new ship, The Allure of the Seas, that accommodates 5,400 passengers, and immediately nixed it. No matter what it offered, I’d spend the entire trip trying to find the cabin.
I surfed the cruise sites and to be honest, I became increasingly confused. It’s hard to read between the lines, the print and the copywriters’ accolades. What is included in the fare was the least of my concerns because I expected to be nickeled and dimed in today’s travel environment. To complicate matters, I kept reading about all of the deep-discounted cruises and started wondering. How could you live for less on a ship than if you never left home?
The idea of fighting over where and where to eat dinner plus deck chairs isn’t my cup of tea. Before we decided on the cruise line, I already had the feeling, “Stop this boat, I want to get off.”
Having come to the conclusion that people shouldn’t take out their own appendix, it was time to consult someone who knew the ins and outs of cruise vacations and could negotiate the best price — plus get us to our destination and back — which might have been a challenge during this past December’s weather nightmares. Not to mention, we were flying during the time when North Korea was flexing its military muscles.
“Hello Susan,” at Imperial American Express Travel Services. We were quickly labeled her “PITAs” (pain in the derrière clients) because of the number of emails generated. Rather — I. We had to give her some criteria. Toby (my friend) and I were pretty flexible. We could go anywhere as long as it would be an experience. Our dates weren’t set in stone. Nor were the number of days we wanted to be aboard.
Ultimately, we opted for South-East Asia since we both love that part of the world and had traveled there twice together. We wanted to return there before it becomes the world of Buddhist and Hindu temples and casinos.
But which ship? It couldn’t be too big because we didn’t want to have to board tenders to get into ports. We didn’t want to be on a cruise with lots of children, or one that required dressing in our finest for dinner each night. Two single women can present a challenge. On the plus side, splitting the cost of a cabin helps when you’re signing up and on for an expensive cruise.
A main selling point of cruises is you don’t have to get up and go each and every second. Nor do you have to pack and unpack each day. If you’re tired and need to relax, it may be precisely what the doctor ordered.
I was in Washington, DC, and Toby was in NY. Since we wanted to fly half way around the world together, we met at Kennedy and flew to Seoul on Asiana Airlines before heading to Hong Kong, where we boarded The Seabourn Pride. If you’re a cruise aficionado, this is among the “best” of the small cruise ships. Crew members know your name the minute you board (O.K., they have cheat sheets with your photos – but still) and immediately make you feel as if you’re part of the Seabourn family.
How they’re able to turn around a ship in a matter of hours and start the performance again, where they make the newly boarded guests feel as if they’re “old friends,” will remain a mystery to me. To be truthful, names are my downfall even though I remember faces.
The ship holds just over 200 passengers and is small enough to anchor places larger vessels can’t. Sound good? It was.
In addition, everything, with the exception of land excursions, the spa, beauty appointments and some especially expensive wines, (including tips) is included in the price. As a result, there aren’t any nasty surprises and major credit card bills when disembarking.
Are there negatives? Hate to sound like a complainer, but the answer is yes. One is when a ship isn’t able to dock near a destination, which might be on your “to see” list. This was the case when we made our first stop in Vietnam. There was a land excursion to Hanoi but there was no way it was worth the effort to get there and back and see anything, since we were in port for only one day. We opted out of spending eight hours in a van to be able to see the city for only a few hours. Off I went to a nearby beach area where I located a cyber-cafe and some sea pearls.
Not only do I love Hanoi’s architecture but its history is so rich that if I hadn’t spent five days there last year, I would have been one unhappy camper if I’d only been there for a fast and easy tour.
After doing some research, I realized it would have been substantially less expensive if we’d booked a local tour company, and specifically designed trips that pleased us and hadn’t been subjected to waiting for others or had to endure “shopping opportunities.” I’ve taken enough tours in developing countries that I’ve learned that when you stop at a workshop where the guide steers you, more than the vendor has his or her hand out. If I go with a native, I have the driver/guide negotiate with the proviso we split the savings.
Cruising on a first rate ship offers so many advantages and I spent a lot of time polling the other passengers about their criteria when booking cruises. I was amazed by the answers that varied from soup to nuts. Some people are company-loyal while others go according to the destination. Other people choose a ship because of the food, wine and selection of liquor and are cruising to cruise and the hell with the destination.
By the end of the two-week cruise, I felt as if I could write an article about the different cruise lines, what they offer and not, why someone prefers one over another and more. And I discovered an amazing new fact — some people never leave the ship.
As one passenger said, “You must be a journalist or doing a market study for a competitive cruise company.” I’ll admit to the former. Since my return, I’ve been looking at cruise brochures and have come to the conclusion some trips are for me while others definitely aren’t.
The main thing is I learned was a lot about myself and that there are some topics that one should not to be discussed. In addition, by no means, does everyone like France. Let’s not go there. It’s not good for my blood pressure.
Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.