Sunday, February 20, 2011

Burned out on this inexpensive, effortless and mostly interesting travel option

It took 10 trips in eight years, but I'm temporarily burned out on cruising.

Part of the problem is that cruise lines, like every other business, have been trimming some of the frills to remain profitable during a down economy. Whether because of concerns over crime or for other reasons, our last stop in Puerto Vallarta was six hours shorter than the first time we went, even though the cruise itineraries were otherwise the same. The food and entertainment have become increasingly more pedestrian and the up charges more common.

Of course, the fascination with cruising can wear off after the first half-dozen trips or so. The ships are all lovely, the experience almost always pleasant. I want something else.

The last straw was our most recent Mexican Riviera trip, which was pleasant and relaxing in nearly every way. It was our fourth cruise on Norwegian, and they've all been fine. I do, however, have gripes:

1. The only place to smoke a cigar on the boat is the most inhospitable place imaginable outside on the 13th deck. Really?

2. The performers for the nightly variety show were talented and all, but you can only milk so much over seven nights. Clearly, this is an area where corners have been cut.

3. It used to be that the dining room food was a cut above the average mainland restaurant. It's slipped to a cut below.

4. The port stops were unnecessarily short. Riding on the boat is fine, but we travel to see stuff.

So, it's time for a break from cruising. Here's a completely unfair, biased, possibly inaccurate and overly simplistic review of our experience on six cruise lines. For any cruise lines CEOs reading this, I will gladly change my negative review in return for a free trip.

Norwegian (four cruises): Ships are generally clean, well-run, easy to get around and NCL has a good selection of trips out of southern California. We like the freestyle idea with no set time for meals, though the food in the dining room is so average that we spend extra money a time or two on the "upgraded" restaurants. Overall score: B+.

Royal Caribbean (two cruises): Our favorite line, by a long margin. Beautiful boats, great staff, above-average food and top-notch entertainment. Our Royal Caribbean trip to Mexico is my second-favorite cruise ever. Overall score: A.

Celebrity (one cruise): My all-time favorite trip of any kind; the ports of call were Cozumel, Costa Maya, Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica and Grand Cayman. A very rough day in 18-foot seas across the Caribbean left Kathleen down for the count, but she recovered when the seas calmed. Beautiful ship, fantastic itinerary, great crew and staff. Overall score: A-.

Holland America (one cruise): Skews "old", as they say. Average age was about 70 and the musical selections seemed older still. Designed for people who want a traditional cruising experience, complete with music from the Titanic. Overall score: C+.

Carnival (one cruise): We were pleasantly surprised by the ship (better than the Norwegian ships we've been on) and the trip was made spectacularly fun by the 50-plus members of the Wilder clan that came along for the ride. All in all, a better experience than we'd expected from the party cruise line. Overall score: B+.

Princess (one cruise): Our only really bad experience cruising, made perplexing by that fact that most people rave about Princess. It was the last Alaska cruise of the season and a lot of the staff was heading home afterward. It showed. Unpleasant, unhelpful, downright cranky, and they pushed too hard to sell us stuff. To be fair, the entertainment on this ship was great. You can't screw up Alaska, which was spectacular, but overall the ship experience was bad. To top it off, Kathleen caught the Norwalk virus and was violently sick the last two days of the cruise. (Note to Princess CEO: This is your cue that I can be bought off.) Overall score D+.

I reckon we'll return to cruising at some point, but our next winter break will likely include a lot car and grandbaby time with some stays at beach motels. See you on the road.

1 comment:

  1. You have some fantastic reviews about all your cruise experience. Very Interesting!
    Cruise Pictures