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The Worst Cruise Impressions

Written by: Paul Motter

Where are you most likely to see the worst possible impressions ever about cruise ships? Only movies, television series and major newspapers.

My wife and I were watching the silly Pixar movie WALL-E recently. In the plot the planet earth can no longer sustain any kind of life. Our eyes were glazed over from this cartoon that doesn’t even have any dialogue for the first hour, when suddenly it put us on space ship. I mean a cruise ship. I mean a space cruise ship. That’s right, it turns out the plot of this movie includes the last of humanity surviving an ecological crisis while they were away on a space cruise.

Listen, if you ever want to get discouraged about cruise people just watch this movie. You will never see us exactly the same way again. The “people” have morphed into spaceblobs – nothing more than gelatinous, amorphous water balloons with hair and faces.

wall e captain The Worst Cruise Impressions

They live in anti-gravity Lazyboy recliners that shuttle them past the swimming pool and straight to the buffet lines. Any food they want they can summon from service robots as long as they can literally lift a finger and hit their call button. At night, robots roll them from the chair to a bed.

It is hard to describe how horrible these cartoon human balloons look – like an adult Pebbles Flintstone on a tapioca diet. The have no necks, and every scene shows a soda straw or pizza in their mouth. The pizza is lifted up to their lips by a robot arm, because lifting is more than they can muster. Above is the captain, something of a “hero figure” for the movie.

It is horrifying to think anyone envisions “us” that way. Although it is mentioned that lack of gravity causes bone disintegration, that explanation comes far too late in the script.

Just today I read an article from the Washington Post with the title, “Despite inherent cheesiness, cruises are cheap last-minute getaways.” What can I say? Just yesterday I wrote an article about last minute cruise bargains being a MYTH. The fact is that the best prices on summer Alaska cruises, for example, were here last March, not at the last minute.

Ironically, along with the snobbery of this article comes a good dose of misinformation about the best time to book a cruise. Too busy congratulating himself for finding a “great last minute bargain” on his Carnival cruise out of New York, he completely misses how every source he quotes in his article obviously told him there is no such thing as a last minute cruise bargain. All of his quotes say the same thing I did – book at least 90 days out, not at the last minute.

So, like WALL-E, he is compelled to paint the picture of cruises as “cheesy” by using phrases like “the epic hokiness that is cruising,” and nevermind the fact that he obviously enjoyed himself. Oh, the irony of a major authoritative source like the Washington Post making epicly nitwit conclusions like “With proper preparation, just days from now you, too, could find yourself love-hating a five-night cruise that costs just $600.” In my “myths” article I describe how todays last-minute $600 Alaska cruise was as low as $249 a few months ago. But don’t let facts get in the way of the author’s self-bestowed congratulations. I don’t mind that he thinks an average deal is a bargain, but I do resent him giving bad advice to people when as a “travel reporter” he should know better.

It isn’t my job to right every ridiculous conclusion I see about cruising in print. That job belongs to CLIA – the cruise industry marketing alliance. If a muckety reporter wants to paint cruises as cheesy that’s OK. I just wish consumers were smarter than to buy into everything the media says. Unfortunately, there are still certain sources everyone believes. Even the Pixar people believe the Washington Post.

A few nights ago we were watching the Showtime series Dexter. In the show a Miami District Attorney describes a case where a guy just killed his third wife and dumped her off of a cruise ship. “There were witnesses who saw him on deck, but I can’t touch it for jurisdictional reasons.” That much is accurate, crimes at sea go to the FBI.

But who has time for the FBI? Not our hero, Dexter, who tracks the guy down on yet another cruise ship. In the next scene we see Dexter in the perpetrator’s stateroom, “serving up justice” with a carving knife. He kills the man, dismembers the body and then throws legs, arms and the head, each individually wrapped in garbage bags and duct tape, through a porthole and presumably over the side of the ship. Just your average cruise experience – courtesy of Hollywood.

Oh, we’ve come a long way since the Love Boat – haven’t we? In fact you can almost trace the decline of cruise movies:

Poseidon Adventure – we all know this story of a cruise ship disaster. It is actually fairly believable outside of a few stereotypes. One of the better ship movies – even the remake.

Titanic – it is SO important to point out that it is one of the most historically accurate movies ever made. Even some of the dialogue in the movie is authentic, taken from real survivor accounts. The few gunshots onboard actually happened (but no one was hit , let alone murdered in the movie). This movie shows passenger vessels in their true glory, everything there is to like about an ocean liner – except the sinking, of course.

Out to Sea. This comic romp with Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon was obviously meant to appeal to the over-60′s single ladies who actually are a pretty common demographic on upscale cruises. It’s all in good fun, not too bad. Walter and Jack play “dance hosts” onboard – those Arthur Murray graduates that cruise ships often give free cruises to as long as they dance with the ladies into the wee hours every night.

Boat Trip. This one stars Cuba Gooding Jr as a straight guy who mistakenly books himself onto a gay cruise charter. He has to pretend to be gay when he falls in love with female crewmember who apparently has “man issues” and likes him better gay. Stereotypes abound about everything: cruising, gays, gays on cruise ships, ship officers, elevator sex, men, women… If the word slapstick ever applied to a cruise ship comedy – well, enough said.

So, when I read articles by people such as this Washington Post reporter I keep this in mind; Newspapers like the Washington Post have policies against reporters taking free trips, which is why we got an article where a reporter pays bottom dollar for lowest category cabin on a Carnival Cruise and then describes all cruises as “cheesy.” If ever there was argument for sites like CruiseMates and Cruise Critic, and cruise reporters like Gene Sloan from USA Today and Anita Potter from MSNBC this is it.

Even experienced travel journalists often do not “get” cruising. Business travel columnist Joel Widzer once wrote an article about cruising that was so wrong and so awful that soon afterwards he was fired and he soon “disappeared.” Um, nothing nefarious happened, he only died of embarassment (figuratively). Apparently he was on a personal sabbatical from public life and forgot to tell anyone where he was going.

Here is what he said, “Take a cruise? No thanks, not me: Potential of disease, accident, crime enough to keep columnist off high seas.” The truth is that he had never been on a cruise ship in his entire life and was judging them solely by media reports. The media was wrong and hence so was Joel. It cost him his job – as it should have – he was misinformed but claimed the opposite.

Another columnist who also does not accept free travel is Wendy Perrin. She is a very enthusiastic, sincere and likable person with an important role as the consumer travel editor for Conde Nast. But she recently wrote this in an article:

“As someone who … was just in Europe two months ago, sightseeing in Spain, I am here to tell you that (1) even with the weak dollar, there are much cheaper ways to see Europe than on a cruise, and (2) likening the sightseeing experience you get staying in hotels to the sightseeing experience you get on a conventional large-ship seagoing cruise is like comparing apples and kumquats.”

She went on to explain how she had rented a villa in Spain for two weeks which she considered much more “value-oriented” as a way to see Europe. Obviously, she didn’t see much of Europe, she only saw a villa in Spain. In a comment I posted that you could board NCL Jade for the same amount of money and travel from Istanbul to Egypt and then on to Barcelona with several Mediterranean stops in-between.

She responded to me that you have hidden costs on a cruise like tips and shore excursions. True, but tips are not much and tours are not mandatory. You still see far more of Europe than you will from a villa window on the Iberian Peninsula.

Later she wrote an article about the biggest sticker shock she ever had in her life – the cost of a rental car in Spain! Um, you’re not going to see much of Europe, including that villa you rented, without the rental car. Suddenly the value of cruises in Europe seems a lot more apparent than she originally reported. That’s OK Wendy, live and learn. No apology needed, we’re used to being misunderstood.

Bottom line – don’t believe Hollywood, and don’t believe even the average travel press when it comes to cruises. Even experienced travel reporters do not understand cruising the way we do. Only an experienced cruiser can give you true cruise advice.

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Comments

Comment from Mike M
Time July 30, 2009 at 9:19 am

Paul:

I agree that there is a cruise and cruiser stereotype out there and it is often hard to change people’s prejudices and stereotypes about cruising.

The most common misconception I’ve come across is that all you do on a cruise is eat. While there is an abundant amount of food I try to dispel that misconception by pointing out the other things that cruises offer. These are the ports, activities, nightlife, casino, romance and the opportunity to do what you want and are not regimented unless you want to be.

I also point out that there is an abundance of food but you don’t have to eat it and for the most part the quality is much better than you will find almost anywhere.

My son-in-law and I recently cruised the Carnival Pride. He thought that he would need to buy a new “cruise” wardrobe. I quickly corrected him and told him that what he currently had in the way of shorts, t-shirts and casual clothes would be more than adequate. He just needed a sport jacket and tie for formal night. He thought he would need a tuxedo “Hawaiian shirts”, boat shoes and a Panama hat to fit in. {:-)

I do have a “slight” disagreement on “Last Minute Cruises”. I think the myth is more of a “myth-understanding”. I strongly believe that if you closely watch cruise pricing you can pick up a good deal, just after the final payment period, if you are not overly choosy about the ship.

I do closely watch cruise pricing and the majority of cruises I do are booked three months or less before sailing. I booked the Baltic’s on the Norwegian Jewel, for 12 days, in a balcony cabin for $799. I also booked the Norwegian Jade for 12 days, AC Suite, for $1450. My last two Carnival cruises were $699 for an 8G aft balcony and $899 for a Cat 11 suite. I also did the same for my 14 day South America cruise on Azamara Journey. 14 days for $1299. (BTW: I was able to find reasonable pricing on flights or I would have never done the cruises) There are a number of other cruises I have booked 90 days out or less but these are ones in the last two years. Also, I have yet to have a cruise, other than a CM cruise, where the price did not drop sometime after booking. If I did not closely watch the prices I would not have received a lower price and there were some that dropped after final payment where I was SOL on receiving a price adjustment. The bad part about this is that I would guess that the majority of people who booked the cruise did not know about the price reduction and did not and could not take advantage of it. Contrary to “board lore”, most travel agents do not closely monitor pricing and do not get the lower price for their clients.

The Alaska prices you mentioned were fantastic and yes the prices are now higher. However, the ultra-low prices we saw in April and May were for cruises in May, June and July. All those fantastic $299 (mostly on Princess) were “after” final payment time and the cruise lines were filling the ships. Because of this people booked Alaska cruises and the ships filled up. This also sparked booking for the remaining August and September cruises. These too have now increased and sold out.

The stories about people now walking up to the pier and getting a cabin for $200 are basically stories from 10 years ago or just outright lies. However, if you closely monitor pricing you can get a good deal after final payment.

I can somewhat understand Wendy’s statements. Although I feel that cruising is the best, all around, vacation that you can do there are weak points about cruising. Especially in terms of destinations. There are many times that I wished I could have spent one, two or seven more days in a port but I had to get back to the ship. The only way I was going to be able to do that, in the cruise world, was to book another cruise and spend one or, if I was lucky, two days in that port. Not really an economical alternative.

I agree that you cannot “visit” as many places for the money on a land vacation as you can on a cruise but the weak point with cruising is that often you cannot spend “enough” time in a port to truly appreciate it. One day in Rome isn’t enough to do more than a “drive by” of many sites. How can you really enjoy the ambiance of Las Ramblas and Gaudi architecture and the food of Barcelona in one day? You can taste but you can’t indulge. In all my years of cruising I have coined a phrase that “Cruising is the Poo-Poo platter of travel.” You get a small taste but not a full meal.

While many people may have a distorted view of cruising I do believe that many cruisers have a somewhat distorted view of non-cruise travel. :)

Take care,
Mike

Comment from Paul Motter
Time July 30, 2009 at 9:56 am

Good comment Mike. Please understand that although I may sound like a person who “just has to be right,” that really is not my intention at all. My comments are purely driven by the fact that I think about this stuff so much that I just know it, it isn’t like I am sitting here trying to think of things to say….

My main beef is with travel writers, such as the one from the Wash. Post telling people that waiting for the very last minute is the best way to get a cruise bargain.

As you pointed out some of those Alaska prices were something of “last minute” in that they were maybe only 30 days out, maybe even less, but my point is that those same prices STARTED earlier, in March and April. And as long as price is the same it is generally true that booking earlier gives you a better selection of cabins and usually better airfare.

My concern is to change the widely held idea that the best cruise bargains happen in the last few weeks before a ship sails. That may be true in very rare cases but it is a bad idea to take it as gospel.

As for the limitations of cruising, I can’t help noticing both cities you cited, Rome and Barcelona, are embarkation cities. When our Med cruise left from Rome two years ago we flew in early and stayed in a hotel for three days to really see the citiy. I agree, one day is not enough. But there are ways to cruise Europe and also concentrate on the places you like. We also ended in Venice and spent two extra nights there.

One the other hand – I think a lot of people underestimate the value of cruising in this sense – there are plenty of fantastic places in the world you want to see, but really DON”T need to spend more than a day there:

Ephesus, Santorini, Delos, Athens, Monte Carlo, Portofino, Cyprus, Petra… you get the idea.

They have one major world attraction that is a must-see, but you don’t need more than a day. Even Athens is boring after one full day of the Acropolis and the Plaka. And here is the important point – when it comes to such places there is no more convenient way to see them than a cruise. Can you imagine trying coordinate seeing Ephesus or Santorini in the middle of a car trip through Europe?

I have nothing against land vacations. I totally understand people who want o become immersed in a culture – but when I talk about ways to “see Europe” I don’t even consider renting a villa where you are not going to spread out as an option. You are only “seeing a little European countryside”- not the continent.

The only ways to “see Europe” are

1. car rental/hotels/
2. rail pass/hotels
3. Coach tours/hotels
4. cruise

For convenience and cost factor I will take the cruise, but I will also plan hotel stays at both ends of the cruise when I can.

Had Wendy’s villa been in Switzerland I would have “yes, you can use it as a base and see a lot of Europe from there.” But it was in Spain. I would like to know what other countries she saw from her villa.

And yes, I think it is an important point because most people only get to Europe once or twice in their lives. If I were Wendy Perrin, consumer writer for a major travel magazine I would not say “cruise lines are lying when they say cruise are good value way to see Europe.” Point out the good and bad points of a cruise, but why invoke negative criticism of an entire industry and imply it is not a good value vacation?

Then she says “comparing cruises to vacations with hotel stays is like apples to kumquats.”

I don’t see a big difference as long as the cruise ship docks near city, which they do in the vast majority of cases (or they provide transportation). I have had GREAT European vacations on cruise ships where I saw every site a person in a hotel would have seen. But you also have to do some planning.

The people who take a cruise and complain that they didn;t get to see a place probably skimped on tours or else didn’t plan to find train stations and the like.

Comment from badknees
Time August 1, 2009 at 5:53 pm

I see both sides of this issue. We have often talked of doing something like an “Untour”where you stay in or near a city, you can pick your place, and be able to explore it at leisure.
There are representatives near to help with ideas and any problems.
We have spent a few days at a hotel in Paris a few times and were more able to find out more and more about the city. The hotel however gets expensive. A week would wonderful.
The thing about a cruise is being able to get these magnificent “appetizers” of a country or city and maybe get to go back later to indulge in the “full 7 course meal”.
I know that when one likes to travel that watching scenes on a television show can cause you to start drooling but having actually seen a place takes your breath away. You resolve to come back and take more time.
There are several people I know who would never take off on their own to visit other countries if they couldn’t do it on a ship. Cruise people generally take very good care of you as do the excursion people. You don’t have to be afraid you will get lost or taken advantage of.
That is very meaningful to many. After awhile they may even get a little more bold and go somewhere besides the Caribbean. That is a safe and fun trip.
When you decide to visit a city on your own you have to decide what to do all of the time. It can be daunting unless you have done your homework and know the language a little.
My husband was one who always thought that cruising would be boring but after I talked him into an anniversary cruise he was hooked. We are close to Mobile and booked a short cruise to Mexico in May for just a quick getaway. We ended up in Key West instead, during the swineflu quarentine, and still enjoyed it. We had wanted to spend more time there since we had stopped there a couple of years ago and wished we’d had more time.
Cruising is wonderful. Unless you want them there is no phone calls, no internet, no e-mail, no meals to prepare, no beds to make and no obligations unless you decide to make them. Eat in your room. Hang out on the balcony or do what else there is to do on the ship. I could live there.

Comment from Murray Patterson
Time August 23, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Hi Just thought I would gte in here as a Cruise agent based in New Zealand. One thing being overlooked here is that some of us like to cruising to enjoy the ship and facilities and the ports of call are just an added extra. I must admit that doing cities is good but it really is better getting back onto my floating resort where the real holiday is

Comment from drummergirl
Time May 6, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Paul, I respectfully disagree with your impression of “WALL-E”. It wasn’t a “cruise ship movie”; it was about a love affair between two robots and humans’ eventual decline into dependency on technology fueled by years of laziness. Humanity ended up on a “ship” which could just as easily have been a king-sized Enterprise.

One need not look far to see the effects of said triggers on land-bound humans in the present day. Pixar happened to choose a completely tech-driven, functional vessel to transport humanity that happened to resemble a cruise ship.

i recommend watching the movie again without such a critical eye. The true message of the film was apparently lost the first time.

Best regards.

Comment from Paul Motter
Time May 6, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Drummergorl – that is a sweeet thought – but that IS a cruise ship – the have ship uniforms on and they call it a “cruise.” Look at the picture of the captain above.

Comment from drummergirl
Time May 7, 2010 at 5:12 am

Hi Paul,
I’m not disputing its being a cruise ship; it is simply not a “cruise ship movie”.

“WALL-E” is a brilliant work of art, direction and music. One need not dispute merit of the Oscar nominations for a feature that simply includes a beautiful cruise ship as a mode of escape from man’s centuries-old treatment of the earth. It is also about overriding convention (“Directives”) in favor of finding true love and connection with others. This opposes remaining nose-to-screen and moving hardly a muscle one’s entire life as the humans had for hundreds of years. The robots were more “human” than the people themselves.

The absence of dialogue in no way indicates the movie is somehow lacking. For nonstop action and speech, one might instead try “Rambo” or “Dude, Where’s My Car”.

The Axiom is a fine example of the effort and work it takes to run such a vessel. Pixar seems to point out the merit of cruise ships for vacation and leisure. It is the lazy human residents who orchestrated their own fate, their comfortable surroundings courtesy of “Buy N Large.”

All I am saying here is that dismissing this film as “silly” is short-sighted.

Thank you for your reply.

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