There’s something exciting about a cruise. The movies of the 1930s, showing Henry Fonda dressing up for dinner in a fancy tuxedo and being formally seated at a table with starched tablecloths, are mercifully a thing of the past. Today’s cruise is a glorious, fun-filled trip to anywhere: Bermuda, the Bahamas, Alaska, or just about anywhere there’s water. So just set a port of embarkation , pack a bag and get set for a week, or two weeks, or as little as three days on an incredible adventure. There’s really no need to arrange for a flight to get you there either. Many cruises set out from Miami, but there are countless trips from New York or Boston or Baltimore or Houston – you name it.
Are You a First Time Cruiser?
Let’s say you want to take a 7-day cruise this summer and you live in Philadelphia. There are loads of cruises from New York and Bayonne departing (usually on Saturday) from ships that float down the Hudson River heading for Bermuda or the Bahamas or Canada – and at prices you wouldn’t believe. In this day of the computer, just Google your destination , the length of your scheduled cruise, and the type of cabin you’d like. It’s usually cheaper not to travel alone. Not all cruises are The Love Boat. A lot of ships cater expressly to families.
But if you’re that schoolteacher or office worker that just wants to spend a week or so with somebody from work – or anybody, for that matter – just pack a suitcase with the necessary stuff, make sure that you have your ticket, and ride to the port. Most destinations are pretty liberal about bringing passports. Ask your travel agent. Don’t worry too much about what to bring along either. Folks on the Internet are more than helpful in telling you whether to pack that sweater or extra pair of shoes.
Don’t worry about having forgotten that tube of toothpaste either – your ship is a floating city. Cosmetics, sunglasses, and other sundries are available on board. You’re probably a little nervous about this once-in-a-lifetime excursion. Don’t be. The ship’s crew is anxious to cater to your every need. Most likely they’ll provide you with a bottle of Champagne in your cabin. If you need anything, ASK. That’s what a cruise is all about. Every member of the staff, from the captain on down, realizes the importance of having you as a repeat customer. I took a cruise on Norwegian Gem three years ago and they are continuously emailing me with information about cruise discounts and special offers.
So you’re ready to go. You’ve unpacked your bags, taken part in the obligatory lifeboat drill (a great place to start new friendships) and you’re about to set sail. The first delightful experience, after a couple of cocktails, is dinner. Most ships don’t have first and second sittings anymore, but you probably will need long pants and a jacket for men and a dress or skirt for women. A five-minute talk with your travel agent will answer any questions that you might have about dress codes. Remember! You’re there to have a good time. You might not be permitted to show up for dinner bare-chested and in swimming trunks, but the passenger is almost always king or queen aboard ship.
First thing that impresses everybody is the food. It’s great and it’s unlimited. If you don’t find what you want on the menu, ask for something else. Most of the time, the waiter will be glad to oblige. Every evening, you’ll get to enjoy great salads, rich soups, a delicious entrée, a selection of cheeses, and scrumptious desserts.
The post-dinner activities are always great. There’s always gambling, when you’re not in port, and the shows are terrific. The performers are not second-rate entertainers who couldn’t make it elsewhere in show business. The comedians are hilarious and the shows are spectaculars of which Broadway would be proud. The ship virtually never closes , but you should be tired enough to get to bed around midnight.
Get set for an enormous breakfast. Breakfast meats, any kind of eggs, fruits, fruit drinks, pancakes, coffee that would make Starbucks green with envy, and even early morning Bloody Marys , if you’re so inclined. The ship has all sorts of activities throughout the day: fun and games at the pool, of course, or simply Bingo. Some passengers just prefer to spend the day in the card room playing bridge. To each his own. After all, it’s important that the guests enjoy themselves.
When the ship reaches its destination – Bermuda, Nassau, Mexico – you can leave the air-conditioned comfort of the ship or feel free to make like a tourist on board. The ship’s pool is always open, as are its bars, spas, and gymnasiums. The casino is, of course, closed, since the ship is in port.
One evening, the ship usually treats the passengers to a pizza party. This isn’t standard for every vessel, but it’s a pleasant way for everybody to have a good time, feasting on huge pizzas drenched in tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese and topped with pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, sausage, meatballs, peppers, and even anchovies.
When you get back to your cabin, you can continue being a glutton and order even more food from room service. This is a 24-hour vacation. When you’ve finished your cruise, feel free to take advantage of the duty-free purchases. Cartons of cigarettes are not as popular as they once were, but there’s also a considerable discount on liquor.
There are so many cruises of so many lengths to so many ports, that it would be difficult to even come close to describing a standard cruise. Whether you’re more suited to a ship carrying 4,000 passengers or one with only 200 is a matter of preference. At any rate: Bon Voyage!
By Bob Woolsey
Photo: Jodi Ornstein