Cruise Control

IMG_3834Kish and I are back from a seven-day cruise through the islands of the south Caribbean on the Windstar, the flagship of the Windstar Cruise Line.  While we are still experiencing a bit of the adjustment back to solid ground after a week on a ship, it seems like a good time to reflect a bit on taking a cruise — and how it compares to other forms of travel.

First things first:  Windstar is a very good cruise line that covers all of the basics you expect from a cruise — lots of well-prepared food (and interesting food sculpture, too, as shown below), multiple excursion options, friendly cabin attendants and other staffers, an exercise facility, evening entertainment, and good pours from the bartenders.  The Windstar, however, is a much smaller vessel than the massive floating hotels that you find on other cruise lines that carry thousands of passengers; our ship held only about 130. That significant size difference plays out in multiple ways.

IMG_3993Unlike the huge cruise ships, on the Windstar you feel like you are actually on a ship.  On a windy day you feel the roll of the ocean and you acquire your sea legs — which is why we’re still adjusting to dry land today.  When you are walking on deck you need to be ready to grab hold.  I liked that aspect of the experience very much, because I thought it gave me a sense of what it must have been like to travel on smaller sailing ships in days gone by.

Because the ship is smaller, of course, the entertainment choices and bars are fewer, and there is no “Lido deck” where you can get frozen yogurt and ice cream 24 hours a day.  There was a small casino (which we never used), a small plunge pool and hot tub, and a husband and wife duo that covered multiple musical genres in their shows, but no big pool with drinking contests, no comedy club, and no sports bar.  Some people might find the lack of such options a problem; we enjoyed the more intimate setting.

We also liked the fact that the size of the ship allowed the Windstar to visit little islands that a massive cruise liner could never approach — and, even if it could, that would be overrun by the discharge of hundreds of passengers.  Rather than tying up at the cruise ship terminals at the main ports on the bigger islands, the Windstar moored in little harbors next to places that we never would have seen otherwise, like tiny Mayreau and Bequia.  We were looking for some time away from the rat race, and we found it — as well as a chance to enjoy some beautiful sunsets at sea.

One other thing about cruises is worth remembering, and that is the issue of control.  If you are traveling on your own, you are free to come and go as you please and adjust your itinerary if you choose to do so.  That is not an option on a cruise ship.  You select from a menu of excursion options or can wander through port towns, but you have to be back on the ship by a set time.  Certain types of people like the security of that kind of schedule, and others feel that their freedom is constrained by it.  You may not know exactly how you will react until you try it.

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“Nakation” Aberration

Can it really be true that there is a rise (pun intended) in people taking naked vacations — “nakations,” for short?

Reuters has a story about a new ship launched by Carnival, the Carnival Freedom, that will will cater to the nudists among us.  The ship, which can accommodate more than 2,900 passengers, will offer all of the amenities and activities found on standard Carnival ships, but the voyagers will be naked.  The story notes that the “nude recreation” industry brings in $440 million a year, up 10 percent from 10 years ago, and states that the “nudist lifestyle” is about “enjoying oneself without the social or physical burden of clothing in a non-sexual, family-friendly environment of like-minded people.”

Family-friendly?  Really?  Are parents actually taking children on nudist vacations where the kids will confront hundreds of naked adult strangers?  That just seems incredibly wrong to me, and unfair to the kids — but then, I’m no nudist.

The linked article says the nudist lifestyle involves less stress.  I suppose a naked cruise would at least avoid the stress of trying to decide to what to pack to wear while you are aboard ship.  Other than that, color me skeptical.  I think there would be a lot of stress involved in having to suck in your gut everywhere you go.  On the other hand, perhaps the sight of acres of pulpy naked flesh might ruin a few appetites and thereby discourage the buffet table gorging and late-night sundae bar binges that you see so often on cruises.

Hey, How Was That Vacation?

You are an American who gets two weeks of vacation a year.  You decide, after some consideration, to take a cruise for part of that vacation time.  You’ve seen the commercials that feature attractive, fun-loving singles dancing, drinking, and gambling on a luxury liner that steams serenely through warm, bright blue waters.  That looks pretty good!  Maybe you’ll get a chance to relax, to meet someone and enjoy some high times off the Mexican coast.  A cruise would be a fine way to spend those few, hard-earned vacation days!

The big day comes.  You board the ship, filled with anticipation.  You are ready to cruise, baby!  At first you enjoy the Lido deck, the endless buffets and late-night sundae bar, some gambling, and the drinking games by the pool.

But then, a fire breaks out.  The ship is left powerless and without communication, drifting off the coast of Mexico and rolling sickeningly in the ocean’s swell.  There is no hot food.  Instead of the endless buffet, you are eating Spam and Pop Tarts.  Your cabin is dark and stifling, because the air conditioning isn’t working.  Your toilet, and every other toilet on the ship, is filled, reeking, and inoperable.  You are sweaty and smelly, so foul that you disgust yourself, and your fellow passengers are no different.  The happy-go-lucky, ready-to-party cruisegoers who bounded aboard the ship only days ago are nowhere to be found, and even the brightest cruisewear can’t hide the sullen expressions of the lost souls who aimlessly roam the decks.  The hallways of the ship are filled with barf bags and the decks are redolent of the ripe odor of vomit.  The ship that seemed so bright and big now feels grim and horribly confining.

Finally, though, your ship is rescued and towed to San Diego.  You get off the ship, vowing never to take another cruise.  And then you go back to work, and one of your office friends asks:  “Hey, how was that vacation?”