Monday, 31 March 2014

Reflections on cruising

Having had a chance to reflect for a day or so, perhaps some reflections on cruising might not be out of place.    It's supposed to be relaxing because you don't have to do anything.   But there are so many things that you can do, you find yourself organising your day around meals, shows, excursions and so on.   In the end, it's quite a mental effort to “do nothing”. 

Many of our fellow-cruisers were obviously into a routine.   In particular, it's important not to be in the passage way linking the dining rooms with the rear show venue at change-over time between the first and second dinner sittings, because the diners from the first dinner seating head straight for their post-dinner show, meeting the diners from the late dinner seating heading to eat after their pre-dinner show!   It sometimes turns into the clash of walking frames.    Of course, these assert priority over able-bodied people, but when two of them meet head-on, the situation is a bit more complicated.
String quartet

I was impressed by the shows on board.    They were quite varied and were all very good, with some of them being excellent.   On top of this, there's a whole range of “nooks and crannies” where can drink and “hang out”, often with live music (a pianist, a string quartet, a duo consisting of a keyboard player and guitarist, a DJ....and perhaps others that I didn't come across).     

The acts for the some shows often come on for just a few nights, so there's always something new (although there are usually about three performances of each show to cater for the numbers).  There's an 11 member singing/dancing group who are in board the whole time but who do a wide variety of performances (with quite complicated sets and lighting), as well as a band.....and so it goes on.   There are also talks (for example, on upcoming ports) as well as games such as bingo and trivia which seem to have their own followers.

There are a number of swimming pools and hot tubs, as well as numerous sun-lounges.   However, the climate in the area that this cruise covered often doesn't encourage lying in the sun!   There was also a basket-ball hoop, open- air movies, an attempt at a library, an internet room (expensive)....and so it goes on.
I was impressed that Princess still had interesting new experiences in store for us on the last two sea days (such as the tour of the galley and passenger and crew talent shows), although the last sea day was quieter.

Then there's the food.   Keeping everyone fed and watered is a demanding activity, and certainly lots of staff are devoted to this (sometimes, it seems, to the extent that they're falling over each other - yet the bar/specialty coffee service was often fairly ordinary).  There are a variety of eating places.   We had all our evening meals in one of the main dining rooms at a fixed time (where we were allocated - in line with our request - to a table of 8)   Having the same group on our table was one of the real highlights, and it was good to catch up the days activities from different perspectives.   Two of the 13 nights were "formal nights" (basically, suit and tie for men).  You can also have breakfast and lunch in the main dining rooms (with menus and waiter service).  But if you don't want to eat in the main dining rooms, there was also the buffet (often crowded for breakfast and lunch), a pizza place, a burger bar and what's called a “specialty” restaurant ($25 extra per head, but we didn't bother).   One morning a “champagne breakfast” was offered (on your balcony, if you had one – which we didn’t!) …at $41 per couple.

Champagne "fountain" - photos available for purchase!
I don't think anything ever happens spontaneously.  I strongly suspect that just about all the entertainment and food is presented accordingly to carefully prepared scripts from Princess headquarters.  And there are lots of opportunities to spend money!   These include the casino, photos (numerous), drinks, specialty coffees and of course beauty treatments and excursions (both at the top end of the price rage).

Our fellow-cruisers included a significant number of addictees!    Apparently over 900 of the nearly 2000 passengers on board had previously undertaken at least one cruise with Princess (and possibly there were others who had cruised with other lines).   Mention was made of the passenger on board with the highest number of cruise nights with this cruise line - 841!

 Amongst those who wore lanyards with their room keys attached, there are many with key cards of various colours. I now know that there is a pecking order, but as a first-time ocean cruiser, our colour was at the bottom of the heap (so I didn't wear a lanyard)!   The passengers were overwhelmingly Australian (a lot from Victoria), which is hardly surprising given that the journey is a round trip from Melbourne.   However, there were other nationalities on board including New Zealanders, who do an Auckland-based round trip and just a few from places such as Malta, the USA, one couple from Laos (who now live in Melbourne) and even Taiwan.     There were quite a few groups where the middle aged couple travelled with their (senior) parents.   The atmosphere could perhaps be described as "middle Australian".
Overall, the cruise was satisfactory and as I had done my research,  it was in line with my expectations.   In fact, I had braced myself for disruptions, such as missed ports, due to the weather.  We were fortunate that nothing like this occurred.   However, as a long-time independent traveller, I didn't expect to be converted to a “cruise junkie”, and I wasn't.   Hence, I won't be rushing to book another one.  Be that as it may, it's obviously an excellent mode of travel for those people who want a "no hassle" experience.

The Captain at Captain's drinks party.
A further post setting out some more details as well as responses to some of my pre-cruise questions that weren't clear to me before departing will follow.

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