This article appeared in FoxNews, but it had been edited for the sake of humor & brevity. Some things sound different when you get the full story, so here is the full version of this article - with in depth explanations.
The classic ocean liners like the Queen Mary had many wonderful cultural traditions like “high tea,” which are still alive and well on modern cruise ships. But as cruising has rapidly evolved into a family vacation to rival Las Vegas or Disney, now is the time to change many of those outdated old-time traditions.
To be clear, while the onboard experience has been modernized in many ways on most cruise ships already, take Norwegian Cruise Line’s “Free-style-Cruising,” for example, in that process a few lingering traditions have been “morphed by modernization” into procedures that are now just plain awkward. Here is my list of the Top 10 most annoying cruise ship traditions.
1. Embarkation Photos
There have been ship photographers since the invention of the flash pot, but now everyone has a smart-phone with a 15-megapixel camera. So, it is time to end at least one mandatory cruise picture; the “Embarkation Photo.” When you are trying to board 4000 people, asking every single one to stop, drop their stuff and get in front of a fake beach backdrop to smile for the camera means a massive logjam that just doesn’t have to happen. Anyway, when I have just flown 10 hours and have a bad case of “pillow-head” the last thing I want is a souvenir picture.
2. Lifeboat Drill
Airplane safety talks are important, but painless. Can you imagine if they lasted 45 minutes? Lifeboat drills are equally serious and for our own safety, but cruise ship passengers get the full drill, just like we had in grade school, on every cruise. We have to retrieve our own life jackets from staterooms and carry them down several stairways (no elevators allowed) through a crowd of possibly thousands of other guests, all to reach the same deck space where my life boat “would be located if this was a real emergency.”
Add in a little subtle humiliation when you are required to put on the life jacket, over your head, and run a crotch-compressing strap between your legs and then “locate your whistle.”
3. Early Morning Disembarkation
The worst part of any cruise is leaving the ship. Most cruise ships ask you to vacate your stateroom by 8:00 a.m. But that doesn’t means they are ready to let you off the ship. New Homeland Security laws require every passenger to see a Customs and Border Control officer upon return. With 4000 people this takes time, and I have been on a few cruises where these officers were not even ready until 9:30.
Even Motel 6 gives guests until noon! Can’t we push our morning schedule back so people can wake up to a normal breakfast with coffee and have time to answer email and catch up on local news? Let them leave at their leisure and catch later flights.
I know the ship has to board 4000 new passengers later the same day, so push that back too. That way I could catch a later flight on my way in or drive from farther away and still make the ship the same day.
4. Formal Dress Codes
20 years ago the dress code for “formal night” was mandatory. Ten years ago they became “suggested” and today they are “optional for those who care.” I still like dressing to the nines if I have a good reason, but the ships don’t really give me that. All I get is a notice in the daily program that the night is “formal optional.” But when I wear my tux I don’t want to mix with people in denim – and they don’t want to mix with me.
Formal is more than clothes, it implies an event, so how about an event worthy of my formal dress that is fully optional; but only the appropriately dressed can attend? Give us an exclusive dining room with late night ballroom dancing so we can celebrate our anniversaries and birthdays.
5. Singing Waiters
Any cruise ship crewmember might come from one of 60 or more different nations, but all must speak English. These are good, hard-working people, but their English skills and accents vary greatly. Most cruise lines still asked them to sing for the dining room guests. If it wasn’t for melody you would never know "Habbee Birzay ahtu Zhu" means “Happy Birthday to You.”
Another dining room song tradition is “God Bless America (land that I love)” the night before the cruise repatriates. The intentions are good, but that song is meant to be sung by Americans, not foreign national. They love their own homelands. So, let’s not ask them to sing that particular song.
6. Optional Tipping
For decades cruise tipping meant stuffing cash in envelopes for your waiter, busboy, room steward and maybe the Maitre D’. That was a ridiculous idea since cruise ships are cashless. The only place to get cash for tips on tip night was the casino.
Today you can just charge your tips to your shipboard account so they go on your credit card – a good change, but here is the problem. Tips remain optional, so unfortunately some people ask to have them removed from their bills. This actually drives up cruise costs for the rest of us.
It’s time for all cruise lines to go “gratuities included” (yes, I know the cruise price will go up). And in exchange, the cruise lines should do away with the ridiculous charge slips with a line to “add an optional gratuity.” When every drink I order already has an 18% service charge added, asking me to write in an “additional tip” as if 18% is not enough is impudent. Note to cruise lines: such practices turn off more people than the small amount of extra money they might pull in.
7. Tipping for Room Service
Room service is complimentary on cruise ships, so tipping for room service is a tradition that never should have started. But it was passengers who started it by giving cash tips, something not even really allowed on a cruise ship. But within a few years it was so common the cruise lines started giving room service waiters “charge slips” for passengers to sign for room service. They showed “no charge,” but they had that line to “add an optional tip.”
The last thing I want with my morning coffee is someone staring at my "bed-head" as I sign a service charge slip that says “no charge.” But even though I disagree with this practice, it has become so expected that I now write in a tip.
But if room service waiters deserve a gratuity, I say just add a reasonable service charge to my account like you do for everything else, and please stop asking me to sign that slip.
Baby boomers see bingo as a game for blue-haired ladies in senior living centers. Cruise lines, you can keep it - just keep it quiet. I don’t want to hear about it on your web site or in promotional flyers.
9. The Baked Alaska Parade
Another “dining room production” originally conceived to generate more tips back in the “cash tip” days, the entire team of waiters, busboys, dishwashers and finally the chef, come out and wave to the room. It is fun, but most of us have “been there, done that” now and it’s also a drain on the staff. So now that all the tips are being charged to shipboard accounts, it’s time to let Baked Alaska Night walk towards the light.
10. Bargain Shopping Day
Everyone now knows that cruise ship gift shops save their best sales prices for the last day, often with tables spilling into the hallways creating traffic jams. I say make every day "bargain day" – because you never know when a person might feel like buying. And please stop selling “gold by the inch.”