Carry on cruis­ing

Ship is the new hip but a bit of bluff is needed for pas­sen­gers to main­tain the im­age of a cool voy­ager, re­ports Rob In­gram Be par­tic­u­larly vig­i­lant of the pic­ture win­dow cabin, as some will have a full-size vista of the lifeboat hang­ing out­side

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

ELL, who would have be­lieved it? Cruis­ing is the new Noosa. More peo­ple than ever are tak­ing a gang­way to their va­ca­tion nir­vana, and the spike in cruise busi­ness is be­ing cred­ited to a big in­crease in cruise first-timers.

More op­tions in des­ti­na­tions and din­ing, ac­tiv­i­ties and ac­com­mo­da­tion are chang­ing the de­mo­graph­ics, and the im­age of the cruise passenger from se­nior’s card to savvy. Sud­denly, the ship is hip.

More than ever, the cruise in­dus­try is tar­get­ing those who haven’t cruised be­fore. But while they may be the flavour of the month, rook­ies are still at the mercy of the reg­u­lar cruise sus­pects. Few things are more galling for Tris­tan and Ta­mara, who have joined their first cruise for the cul­tural en­hance­ment pro­gram, than to find that Norm and Narelle, who are there for the bingo, have gazumped them for the best din­ner sit­ting.

This Bluffers’ Guide To Cruis­ing will en­deav­our to equip the rookie with a lit­tle of the ar­ti­fice and crafti­ness nec­es­sary to go cruis­ing without be­ing all at sea. Choose the cruise: Be­ing in Sao Paulo on your birth­day isn’t a good enough rea­son to sign up for any old cruise. Check it out thor­oughly, and re­mem­ber that the cruise in­dus­try can be very cute and coy with its eu­phemisms. When you no­tice that all the guys at the bar are gaily or­der­ing foam­ing cock­tails while the girls favour steins of draught beer, it might be­gin to dawn on you that the Broad­minded Cruise you booked is code for gay and les­bian.

And if you’re the only one to dress for din­ner (in any­thing) you’ll re­alise a No Pock­ets Cruise means cloth­ing op­tional. It can get worse. Even some of the most sought af­ter cruise ships oc­ca­sion­ally do a geek cruise — es­o­ter­i­cally dubbed Linux Lu­nacy or some such — which is pop­u­lated by hir­sute be­ings from Mid­dle-earth at­tracted by the thrill of work­shops on Dig­i­tal Foren­sics Us­ing Open Source Tools. Avoid large ta­bles of them at din­ner. The Booker Sur­prise: Book early or late. Book six months out and you can score early-bird dis­counts of up to 40 per cent, of­fered to get a bit of sales mo­men­tum go­ing. You’ll also get the widest se­lec­tion of cabin ac­com­mo­da­tion. Fares then be­come more ex­pen­sive un­til a week or two be­fore the sail­ing date when there’ll be a sale of un­sold cabins. Less choice though, and you’ll miss out on early-pur­chase air fares if you need to make con­nec­tions. Cabin fever: It helps to recog­nise cruise ship cabins tend to be smaller than ho­tel rooms, and to re­mem­ber that the en­tire ship and its deck space are there for your leisure and so­cial in­ter­ac­tion.

With this in mind, you may save your­self the ex­tra cost of a ve­randa or bal­cony cabin and spend it on a mean­ing­ful sou­venir from a favourite des­ti­na­tion: per­haps that unique ar­madillo breast­plate of a Nicara- guan colo­nial free­dom fighter. Be par­tic­u­larly vig­i­lant of the pic­ture win­dow cabin, as some will have a full-size vista of the lifeboat hang­ing out­side.

Use terms such as ‘‘ ob­structed-view cabins’’ in your ques­tion­ing to make sure you’re not taken for a rookie. Don’t, how­ever, over­re­act like the hon­ey­moon cou­ple who phoned guest re­la­tions as soon as they reached their cabin to com­plain that they had paid for ac­com­mo­da­tion with a view but could see only the sheds on the wharf.

Some pas­sen­gers prone to sea­sick­ness pre­fer cabins on lower decks near the mid­dle of the ship. Din­ing-room dys­pep­sia: Menus cre­ated by celebrity chefs, and more ca­sual and flex­i­ble din­ing venues, have rev­o­lu­tionised ship­board din­ing on many high-pro­file cruise lin­ers. But oth­ers still have as­signed ta­bles for two or three din­ing sit­tings, and this is where the rookie can suf­fer heart­burn.

Din­ing early may mean cut­ting short en­joy­able shore ex­cur­sions for the mael­strom of the fam­ily din­ing cir­cus and a mad­house of cranky kids. It can also mean sit­ting in the mid­dle of a din­ing room peer­ing at a joy­less menu while other pas­sen­gers swan around the Lido Deck with a glass of cham­pagne watch­ing the sky­line of Venice at sun­set slip by.

How­ever, as an early diner, you’ll be brushed up and ready to get the best seats for the cabaret when your cabin stew­ard Ra­mon dances in the Folies cho­rus line. Late din­ers get the worst seats in the show lounge and suf­fer din­ing-room floor staff at the end of their tether, but at least they have been re­stored by a gin and jacuzzi be­fore din­ner. Nom­i­nate the mid­dle sit­ting when there are three, the late when there are two. Looking af­ter your in­ter­ests: There are big changes on the ac­tiv­i­ties agenda. The jolly en­ter­tain­ment of­fi­cer who used to com­pere the bel­lyflop com­pe­ti­tion and the wet T-shirt spec­tac­u­lar is now called the cul­tural en­hance­ment of­fi­cer and in­tro­duces em­i­nent au­thor­i­ties pre­sent­ing lec­tures on 18th-cen­tury Spode un­der­glazes or the mass and den­sity of a comet’s nu­cleus (in re­turn for a free cruise).

At least on some ships, bingo, trivia quizzes, aquaro­bics and line danc­ing still man­age to sur­vive. But if you do your home­work on the ac­tiv­i­ties menu of var­i­ous lin­ers, there’s lit­tle ex­cuse to be bored on a cruise. Some­where there’s one ca­ter­ing to your in­ter­ests: cook­ing demon­stra­tions, wine ap­pre­ci­a­tion classes, dig­i­tal photography, art his­tory. But be se­lec­tive: if you walk with a Zim­mer frame, the ex­treme action climb­ing wall is prob­a­bly not for you. If you like cras­hand-burn ar­cade games, don’t go to the 18th-cen­tury songket-weav­ing lec­ture. Stay­ing afloat fi­nan­cially: Part of cruis­ing’s ap­peal in this eco­nomic cli­mate is that the cost is all in­clu­sive. Or sort of. On check­ing in you’ll be given a cabin door en­try card that will also serve as a charge card through­out the cruise. Maybe it’s the salty sea air but cruis­ers tend to de­velop ter­ri­ble thirsts that can only be quenched by colour­ful al­co­holic bev­er­ages, so there’s that cost to con­sider.

At some point in the voy­age, James Bond fan­tasies could also pro­pel you to­wards the casino, which also has a dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect on your plas­tic. A pho­tog­ra­pher will snap you about 1500 times in the course of the trip and one of the shots will be the nicest. That’s a fur­ther cost, plus a sur­charge for din­ing at the celebrity chef restau­rant and wines at din­ner.

Maybe the agent for­got to men­tion the fuel sur­charge, which can be about $20 a day de­spite that fuel would seem to be fun­da­men­tal to mov­ing a ship about. (Some lines, such as Star Clip­pers, have dropped the sur­charge in re­sponse to the eco­nomic cri­sis.)

Shore ex­cur­sions, guides, shop­ping, sou­venirs, day-to­day ne­ces­si­ties and tips all need to be bud­geted for. As you step away from the check-in desk, a staffer will step for­ward with a wel­come aboard cham­pagne. On some ships it’s com­pli­men­tary. Don’t give the game away: OK, you’re fully equipped to pass as a sea­soned cruiser. Just don’t blow it all with one dumb re­mark. Such as? Like the guy who asks if the ship gen­er­ates all its own elec­tric­ity. He’s usu­ally told to look for the big ex­ten­sion cord at the stern. Like the woman who re­ceives a fi­nal-night in­vi­ta­tion to the cap­tain’s farewell cock­tails and asks why he is leav­ing and where is he go­ing? Like the passenger who asks which el­e­va­tor goes to the front of the ship.

Like the passenger who asks if you gain a day or lose a day when you cross the equa­tor. Like the passenger who wants to know how the en­gines work if they are be­low wa­ter level. Like the passenger who asks what hap­pens to all the un­sold pho­to­graphs at the end of the cruise. Bon voy­age.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Igor Saktor

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