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The Healing Power of Cruising



When cruising solo, one of my very favorite things to do is sit at a bar and talk to total strangers over drinks. Two people who don’t know each other and, in all likelihood, will never see one another again, tend to find it incredibly easy to be open and honest… especially after a few adult beverages. And it was on just such a night, sitting at a bar named Maltings on the Norwegian Breakaway’s Waterfront, that I had a conversation which has been on my mind quite a bit in recent days.

Here Comes Trouble

Sitting at the bar, I began talking to a very nice young woman with a thick Southern accent who worked as a Special Education teacher. It’s a field I greatly admire — knowing I’d never have the patience required — and she was sharing some very funny stories about her experiences. Every now and again, she’d look down the bar to check on her husband, telling me in her adorably thick drawl, “Y’all have no idea what a handful he can be!” Before long, he came over to join us… and that’s when things got interesting.

To say that her husband was a big man would be an understatement. Tall and thickly built with a bristly beard and a baseball cap, I’d soon learn that the boisterous guy was a self-proclaimed redneck, making him pretty much my polar opposite in every single regard except one: We’d both been drinking long enough that we were pleasantly buzzed. And when, two minutes into our conversation, he intoned, “Lemme ask you somethin’… who did you vote for?” I could actually see his wife tense up.

Read More: 7 Things About Cruising That Never Get Old

This was only a few short weeks after the election, and to be honest, I’d spent the entire cruise doing everything in my power to avoid talking politics. The incredibly ugly election cycle had taken its toll on us as a country, and it was something I’d desperately needed to escape. But it was pretty clear that this conversation was going to happen one way or the other, so I plunged in, perhaps emboldened by the bourbon.

A Meeting Of The Minds

What followed was nearly two hours of conversation between a right-leaning Southern conservative and a left-leaning New York liberal… both buzzed, and each pretty passionate about their wildly disparate beliefs. These were two people who likely would never have met on land, and who certainly would not have been having this conversation. Yet as we drank and talked and, perhaps most importantly, listened, we actually formed a weird, one-night only bond. It’s safe to say that neither of us changed the other’s mind in the slightest, but we also didn’t yell at or disrespect one another.

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Watching this all unfold was his wife, who’d clearly feared, and with seemingly good reason, that this was not going to end well. Ordering one final round of drinks as the bar prepared to close, she lifted her glass and proposed a toast. “Maybe,” she said, “all future political debates should be held on cruise ships, late at night, over cocktails.”

Cruising Comes Full Circle

This week, as our country once again found itself focused on the things that divided us, I thought about that night on the Breakaway. I thought about all the conversations I’ve had with all the strangers I’ve met in all the bars on all the ships that I’ve sailed over the past few years, be it Boleros aboard the Anthem of the Seas or the RedFrog Pub on the Carnival Sunshine.

photo courtesy of Carnival

People from all walks of life, most of whom I had little in common with and would never see again. And yet, whether because of the ocean air or the flowing cocktails or the fact that it’s hard to get worked up about things when you’re on vacation, we made conversation, we laughed, we shared a good time. In those situations, it’s not about seeing past one another’s differences, it’s about being in that idealized state where you don’t actually notice one another’s differences, because they simply don’t matter.

Anthem of the Seas leaving Boston on Saturday, 8/27/2016 photo: Richard MacGregory

Maybe my one-night-only friend’s wife was right in her conclusion, but on a scale she couldn’t even imagine. When I was a kid, there was an ad in which people from around the world came together to sing about how buying each other a Coca-Cola might pave the way toward global harmony. Maybe now, with the world’s troubles being — or at least seeming — so much bigger than they were back then, a Coke just won’t cut it anymore. Maybe now, we need to spike that soda with a little rum and stick an umbrella in it and enjoy it while sailing in a cruise ship.

Maybe, just maybe, that’s the one place where we really can all get along.



How Cruising Keeps Us Young



The 80s music was thumping, the lights were flashing, and, as instructed by the cruise director and his staff, folks were waving their hands in the air as if they just didn’t care. Among them was Marjorie, who was celebrating her 86th birthday dancing the night away at Spice H20 aboard the Norwegian Breakaway.

“This is something I’d never, ever do at home!” she told me, shouting to be heard over the music. “This is why I cruise!”

How Millennials Changed Cruising And Cruisers

It wasn’t all that long ago that cruising was thought of as where grandma and grandpa went to shuffle between Bingo games and the buffet, occasionally stopping to nap on the promenade deck. But that was before freestyle dining, free-fall waterslides, surf simulators, robotic bartenders and on-board breweries… you know, all the things that have been added by cruise lines in part to broaden their appeal to a younger demographic.

But a funny thing happened along the way to luring those young folks: Some of us rediscovered things we thought we’d left behind… or discovered them for the first time. Cruise ships seem to have the same effect on older folks as do weddings… we go from being those people who would shout “Turn that music down!” at home to tearing up the dance floor until the wee hours of the morning.

Why sleep when you can dance until dawn at the “silent disco” party on Norwegian Bliss?

During a recent sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, I watched a teen who was scared to try the RipCord flight simulator be convinced to give it a go… by watching his grandfather do it first. And just shy of my own 55th birthday, I recently went speeding around the upper deck of the Norwegian Bliss on a go-kart before throwing myself into an intense round of laser tag. (To be fair, I killed more of my own teammates than I did our opponents, but I had a heck of a good time doing it!)

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Without doubt, this is a win/win for the cruise industry: Not only are more people hitting the high seas than ever before, but the average age of passengers has dropped significantly over the past 20 years. Plus, by continuing to offer the amenities expected by old-school cruisers even as they pump up the thrills to attract the younger generations, an ever-increasing number of multi-generational groups are sailing.

The “Something For Everyone” Factor

Taking a break from the dance floor — more, I suspect, for my sake than hers — Marjorie told me that she and her husband had cruised together for over three decades, and that when he passed away, she assumed she would probably stop sailing. But it was actually her granddaughter who, seeing an ad on TV, suggested the whole family should take a vacation together. The more they looked into the idea, the more even disinterested members of the clan came around as they found out just how much there would be to do, even if they didn’t get off the ship.

Thrills such as the SkyRide on Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon are designed to attract new and younger cruisers… but they also wind up appealing to adventurers of all ages! Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line

This cruise, she says, is unlike any she and her husband had taken in the past. “I’m trying to keep up with the young folks,” she says, adding with a laugh, “and I must be doing okay, because I think they went to bed an hour ago!”

This is where I shamefully admit that Marjorie outlasted me, too. Although we crossed paths again several times during the week, including at a whiskey tasting. “I figured what the heck,” she says, raising a glass to toast. “You only live once!”

Have you done things on a cruise ship you probably wouldn’t do at home? Do you believe that cruising helps keep you young? 


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How Cruise Lines Celebrate Earth Day Every Day



As cruisers, there’s little we love more than the ocean. And since oceans cover 71 percent of our planet’s surface, it only makes sense that the cruise lines want to do whatever they can to have a positive impact on both the waterways of the world and the land on which their passengers live. So while people around the world are marking Earth Day, we thought it appropriate to take a moment to acknowledge some of the major moves the cruise industry has made over the past few years to try and help Mother Nature.

  • Changing The Way We Cruise
    Let’s face it: Most of us probably don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about the mechanics of cruising. But the industry as a whole is spending a lot of time and money into ships fueled by Liquefied Nitrogen Gas. In fact, Carnival Cruise Line’s Aida division is about to roll out the first-ever ship to be entirely powered by this more environmentally-friendly fuel source.

The Aida Nova will be the first cruise ship is currently under construction. Rendering by AIDA Cruises 

  • Changing The Way They Operate
    Over the past few months, all of the major cruise lines have announced plans to reduce the amount of single-use plastics… with the help of passengers. Royal Caribbean announced that not only will they be cutting back on items such as straws, but that they will also be looking into other aspects of their business to see how they can make major changes in this area.

Straws will soon be available only by request on most cruise lines… and that’s a good thing.

  • Finding Creative Ways To Recycle
    Proving the environment isn’t something cruise lines are only now thinking about, we reported back in 2015 on the fact that Disney Cruise Line was donating its used cooking oil — we’re talking tens of thousands of gallons — to the Bahamas Waste Management organization so that they can in turn use it to fuel some of their vehicles!
  • Encouraging Passengers To Do Their Part
    Most cruise lines offer their passengers the option to get more than one use out of their bathroom towels. And while this might seem like a rather insignificant move, it actually can have a pretty huge impact. After all, if even 100 passengers on each ship opt to get more use out of their towels, think about how many items that takes out of the laundry stream over the course of a year, thus conserving a whole lot of water!
  • Making Decisions That Aren’t Always Popular
    Not every way in which the cruise lines help the environment is always a big hit with every passenger. To this day, Carnival still gets complaints from people who didn’t approve of the decision to remove table cloths from the Main Dining Rooms during most meal services. But again, the number of items taken out of the laundry cycle (and the amount of water and energy conserved as a result) is downright staggering when looked at over the course of a year.

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    The amount of laundry processed by a cruise ship each day is staggering.

  •  Making Recycling A Priority
    Most cruise lines do everything in their power to separate garbage. On some ships, food scraps are ground up and turned into fish food. On others, room stewards sift through garbage to try and separate recyclable items.
  •  Being A Part Of The Global Community
    Over the years, cruise lines have thrown their financial and even political support behind numerous charitable organizations including the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy, making it clear that they care not only about the environments populated by their passengers, but the many creatures with whom we share the planet.


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Cruiser Suggests Removing Gratuity To Send Message



Upset that a cruise during which she hoped to relax was disturbed by construction taking place on the ship, a disgruntled passenger took to a message board to vent. It was the type of complaint that pops up from time to time on cruise-related message boards, claiming that a significant number of passengers had complained to guest services about their restful vacation being disrupted by the work being done. And like clockwork, one of the people responding to the original posting offered a suggestion which is made far too often.

“When things like this happen,” he suggested, “everyone should go to guest services and remove the daily gratuities. That will send a powerful message to the cruise line!”

Nassau Bahamas

Except, of course, that it wouldn’t. And worse, it would be punishing the wrong people. Think of it this way: If you go to a restaurant and the waitress works her butt off to give you the best service possible, but the food isn’t very good… should your server be punished via a lousy tip? Or would it make more sense to speak to a manager regarding the chef who prepared the food?

Still not convinced? Imagine it was your child working in that restaurant, doing an absolutely top-notch job and yet being stiffed on tips because the chef prepared bad food.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Guide To Cruise Tipping

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The daily gratuities charged by most cruise lines are a subject of much debate. Personally, I’ve long advocated that the charge should be rolled directly into the price of the cruise (which would also cut back on the inevitable outcry which arises each time they are raised). I also think there should be no circumstances under which they can be removed.

“But what if the service is bad?” some will ask.

“Doesn’t matter,” I will respond. Because even if you do come across a few bad apples during the course of your cruise, the vast majority of the crew members — including many you will never see, let alone acknowledge — work hard to make sure you have the best possible vacation.

“I remove the gratuities,” some will say, “and then individually reward those who provide me with good service.” Again, I will remind them of all the people who work hard behind the scenes and who will never be on the receiving end of their magnanimous dispensing of individual tips.

Personally, I can think of nothing that could ever justify my removing the daily gratuities charge from my bill. Beyond that, however, the notion of removing the tips of hard-working individuals as a way to “send a message” to their bosses is incomprehensible to me.

Want to send a message to the corporate offices? Write a letter. Send an E-mail. Heck, take your business to another cruise line and then write a letter letting the one you’ve left behind exactly why you decided to do so. If you truly believe that money talks, then surely the loss of a loyal customer is going to speak far louder than would the comparative pittance that is the daily gratuity charge.

Under what circumstances would — or have — you removed the daily gratuity fee? Do you think the cruise lines should simply roll the fee into the overall cost of the cruise? 

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