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The Social Life While Cruising

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While it’s not likely the primary reason people choose to cruise, the social life you encounter once at sea probably has a lot to do with your enjoyment of the cruise… though it may not immediately come to mind as being all that significant.

When reading reader reviews of their cruises, the most often areas they report on are food, service, accommodations, and scheduled shipboard entertainment. There’s no question these are important factors affecting your over-all cruise experience.

Many people also devote significant portions of their reviews and reports to ports of call and shore excursions; valuable information to those who are on cruise ships as travelers, who see a cruise ship as a convenient method of visiting and touring a variety of different places and cultures in one trip.

The social aspects of the cruise experience seem to often be left out. But I believe this is one area that is growing in significance as a reason people choose to cruise, and even why they choose one cruise line over another.

One just has to look at the incredible growth of Social Networking sites on the Internet, to see that it’s becoming a world where people want to be in touch with others. I’m by no means any type of expert, nor have I done any research into the success of these types of sites. Perhaps people in urban areas are feeling more isolated from other people, even when living in large cities, because of the time consumed at their jobs, or because their “social circles” have become more limited by the demands of their every day lives.

The old means of meeting new people do seem to be require more concerted effort. While, via the Internet, it’s relatively simple to sit in the comfort zone of your own home, and meet people from around the globe.

Whatever the reasons, I think the Social Networking system has also invaded the world of cruising. One just has to look at the cruise related web-sites to see how prominent roll calls for particular sailings have become. People are trying to get in touch with other cruisemates prior to their cruise, and getting to know each other before they sail, and before they sail arranging to meet onboard. All an effort to make their cruises a more social experience.

The cruise lines themselves are now very much encouraging this early social networking, with areas within their own web sites, such as Carnival Connections, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Meet and Greets, as well as employee written Blogs, encouraging people to have conversations, and discussions, with the employees as well as each other.
Most of the new mass market ships are large, carrying anywhere from 1500 – 3600 passengers, so it’s not that simple to simply go onboard and make new friends. On those ships, it seems to be getting quite rare to find people who aren’t traveling with other friends, or participants in some sort of group cruise.
It’s not uncommon at all to find various affinity groups when you cruise. Those who are cruising totally solo, or as single couples, are seemingly becoming more rare.

These days when you look in a ship’s daily bulletin it’s much more common than it used to be to find various organized meetings for affinity groups as well; Veterans gatherings, Friends of Dorothy, Internet Connections, etc. The purpose of all of them is to create an opportunity for people to meet and socialize.

Personally I don’t think it’s all that difficult to meet people on any ship, if you’re at all outgoing. You can meet in the lounges, discos, bingos, on ship’s tours, etc. However on the mega-ships it’s much more difficult to accidentally meet them again, unless you just happen to be visiting the same lounge or whatever again.
And with today’s trend to various adaptations of open seating dining, and away from traditional assigned dining tables, it makes it even more unlikely you’ll see a lot of new people you’ve met again, unless you take the initiative to make arrangements to do so. In fact, on some of the large ships I’ve sailed on, I can think of many people I’ve met, and then never saw them again during the entire cruise.

I recently cruised on the luxury brand, Silversea Cruise Line, and one of the things which impressed me most was the system they’ve set in place that by design encourages social networking on a daily basis; and somewhat surprisingly it revolves around their dining room.

If you’re traveling with others, or have met people you want to dine with, you’re certainly able to do that easily. However, if you enter the dining room on your own, or as a couple, you are encouraged to join others at a table for dinner.

On previous cruises with other lines, if we entered as a couple, the system dictated that we were automatically seated at a table for two, unless we specifically asked to join others. On Silversea, the reverse was true; you would have to request a table for two, otherwise you’d automatically be seated at a “joined table”.

For Mrs. Kuki and I, traveling without friends or family, this system worked perfectly. And as a result we met so many interesting people, who under other circumstances we may have not even talked to.

By it’s very nature I believe dinner to be a very a social event; just think of how  often when you get together with friends at home, you go out to dinner, or alternately have friends in for dinner.

The seemingly insignificant system of having “joined tables” encourages that type of dining experience on board the ship.

Admittedly, on a ship such as the Silver Shadow, carrying a maximum of 382 passengers, it’s going to be easier to run into the people you’ve dined with again, than on Mega-ships. However, I do think the basic system of “joined tables” could adapt well even to those ships, to improve the sociability of the dining experience.

It would only require the cruise lines which offer the -open seating, any time, my time dining systems- to show more initiative in placing passengers at “joined tables” first, unless they request tables for 2.

If you’re on a cruise offering some variation of “open seating dining“, and not traveling with other friends or families members, would you prefer to be seated with new people each night, or would you prefer to be seated at a table for two automatically? Or do you try and stick to ships offering only traditional assigned dining times and tables?

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Comments

Comment from Rita
Time March 11, 2009 at 9:48 am

For me, the social aspect is very important to my cruise experience, especially when I cruise solo. Originally that’s all I did. My friends at home were not cruisers and had no desire to be. So, if I wanted to take cruises, I had to take them totally on my own. But I always seemed to meet people onboard, usually at a “Meet and Greet” for internet cruisers and then around the ship. Today, while I still board the ship as a solo, I do have some regular friends (who live across the country from me) who I sail with almost exclusively now.

But, you are right … there aren’t that many solo cruisers on ships these days and that makes it very, very difficult to just go onboard, without the benefit of any internet social networking in advance, and have a great cruise experience. Sadly (from the solo cruiser’s point of view) most people tend to stay within their own groups. They get onboard as a family and want to spend their time together. They are really not interested in meeting new people. For them, the cruise is an opportunity to bond together as a family … a family they may not see much of at home due to crazy schedules and whatnot.

The smaller ships make meeting others easier … and that’s why I prefer Holland America as my cruise line of choice. Unless I were sailing with an affinity group, I doubt I’d ever go on a Carnival or RCL cruise. The ships are just too big for me and I would literally get lost in the crowd as a solo. Holland America’s ships (especially the non-Vista ships) are small enough, and frequented by enough solos (especially on longer sailings) that the solo cruiser has no trouble meeting others. Even with their new “As You Wish Dining” program (flexible dining), solos aren’t left out in the cold. Unless you make prior reservations for a table exclusively for your group, you are going to be seated at a joined table … and that’s a nice thing because it lets you meet others. Then, if you don’t like those people, at least you’re not stuck dining with them every night as you would be with traditional dining. If you do like them, you could always arrange to meet outside the dining room on subsequent nights in order to be seated together again … or call in advance and arrange your own table.

To me the social aspect is what cruising is all about. I go on vacations to meet new people. I have the people at home year-round to do things with. When I cruise I like to do things with people I don’t get to see year-round. Cruising gives me this opportunity whereas I doubt there are any land-based vacations that would do the same. Can you imagine going to Walt Disney World as a solo, expecting to meet others? It simply wouldn’t happen. People are with their families and friends and spend all of their time exclusively with them. At least on a cruise ship there are always some solos … or even couples … who are interested in meeting others. And, that’s a good thing … and it’s why I cruise exclusively for vacations now.

Comment from Marc
Time March 11, 2009 at 11:40 am

I truly enjoy open dining as a way to meet new people and enjoy with people that you have already met. If not travelling with friends and/or family, we sometimes will ask to be placed at a larger table; we have made great friends this way. However, open dining is even better when you know many people; either people known before the cruise or ones that you have met onboard. Having different dinner partners every night is great. We have had many great conversations over dinner that have lasted long after the dining room has emptied. Even as a solo traveller, I would prefer open dining as you can have many different dinner partners instead of being stuck with just one table.

Comment from RayB
Time March 11, 2009 at 11:41 am

I like the idea that SilverSeas have in assigning you to a joined table. As we sail on all the other ships we always asked that we be taken to a joined table. I know it is not to hep to sit down and then the conversations starts. “Have you cruised often”. When this happens we always have to tell our story over and over again. It get old but somebodies got to do it.

We meet and socialize in many ways and places. Sitting next or near cruisers on the Promanade deck. We try to open up and try to start conversations. Many topics are available to start with. Sitting next to people in the show launge is very good place to introduce yourself. Then meeting and joining in on a Trivia Game. We have done this many times and mostly have made permanent friends. Many more places are available.

It is hard for us meet people that we do not wish to socialize with. We love them all. Its in our jenes.

Comment from Kuki
Time March 11, 2009 at 11:48 am

Rita… I didn’t know HAL also adopted this system for their “As You Wish Dining”. Good on them.

Comment from Kuki
Time March 11, 2009 at 11:54 am

Marc.. the “open seating” is a part of what I was talking about. But, more importantly in my view, is the cruise line taking the initiative of creating “joined tables”, rather than wait for the passenger to request it.

If you’re traveling with friends or family it really makes no difference, you’ll likely dine together. It’s the “stragglers” that most benefit, but I think it makes a difference to those not traveling with anyone (either singles or couples).

My best example, as reported in my Silverse Virtual Cruise Report, was the two couples who were friends, traveling together… yet they split up at dinner to dine with and meet new people, separately.

Comment from Mike Lawson
Time March 11, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Kuki, I agree with you dinner is one key element of a great cruise. Visiting with people at dinner has always been an important part of our cruise experience. One of the reasons we like a fixed dining time with the same group of people is that it allows you to get to know the people and share daily experiences. If you are on a smaller ship the open seating approach might work, but on the larger ships I think it would be a problem. Meeting new people every night I doubt you every get past that first night hello business. I would be willing to try a new approach if it improved the socialization process. A this point I always ask for a large table and fixed seating time. Mike

Comment from Mike M
Time March 18, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Kuki,

One of the reasons I like an open seating type of cruise is the ability to socialize with people and the ability to not socialize if you wish.

There are times that my wife and I love to socialize but there are many times we want an evening to ourselves. After 26 years we still enjoy each others company and always have something to talk about.

I love group cruises and the socialization and but I also love just a cruise for us.

Take care,
Mike

Comment from ERNIE C
Time March 20, 2009 at 1:31 pm

After 6 cruises we are going on the Emeril Princess next month. I am looking forward to the “open seating” with a table for 2. Like Mike M this second honeymoon is a time for just the two of us. Really not interested in “meeting” new people on this trip.

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