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Chapter 4 The cruise experience.

After reading this chapter, you'll be able to

* Describe what occurs before a passenger actually sails

* Explain dining patterns and options

* Relate what typically takes place on a day at sea and a day in port

If only we could take you on a cruise, right now! So much of what this book covers would become apparent, immediately, in a direct and compelling way.

But, sorry. We don't have that luxury. So let's take an imaginary, first-time cruise vacation, instead. Let's say it's to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. If you've never been on a cruise, much of this will be fresh and new. If you're a cruise veteran, our imaginary trip will bring back pleasant memories. Remember: It portrays a typical cruise. (About half of all cruises are to the Bahamas and the Caribbean.) All sorts of variations--both minor and major--are possible on the scenario that you're about to read.

Before You Buy

If you're typical, you almost surely found out about cruising from ads, commercials, or a friend. Your interest ignited, you perhaps did some preliminary research on the Internet and probably then contacted a travel agent. This is, after all, an important decision--the kind that requires the insight, analysis, and opinions of someone who knows cruising well. (To see how far in advance cruise clients plan their vacation, see Figure 4-1.) You may even have approached the travel agent with only vague ideas of your travel plans and the agent brought up the idea of a cruise.

The travel agent asks you a series of questions to discover your needs. He or she understands that many types of cruises are available, and, to be satisfied, it's critical that you travel on the ship, itinerary, and line that's right for you. The recommendation of a Caribbean cruise sounds great. "Go ahead. Let's do it," you say. You give your deposit, with the balance due later. (This whole process will be explored in detail in Chapter 9.)

A few weeks before departure, your travel agent calls. Your cruise documents have arrived. You pick them up. You'll find some or all of the following in the documents folder:

* An invoice, confirmation, ticket, or voucher that verifies you're on the trip, probably also listing such information as embarkation date and hours, pier location, cabin number, which dining room seating you have, your booking ID number, and the terms and conditions of your voyage

* A booklet summarizing important information on such topics as dress requirements, onboard credit policies, and what clothes to bring

* A list of the documents you'll need (e.g., passport)

* An identification button

* A document on tuxedo rentals

* A gift order form (e.g., for champagne available in your cabin upon arrival)

* Color-coded luggage tags (usually two for each person)

* Immigration and customs forms, if needed

* An explanation/sign-up form for travel insurance (not necessary if you've already purchased insurance from your travel agent)

* An itinerary

* Air tickets and hotel information (if arranged through the cruise line)

* Embarkation port information (the cruise line or your travel agent may also have given you a map of your embarkation port)

* A leaflet on how ship-to-shore communication works, which may also list important telephone and fax numbers (make a copy of this document for friends or family in case there's an emergency back home)

* A list of shore excursions and how to sign up for them

* A card that will serve as your identification throughout the trip in order to charge things, to get on the ship, etc. (you might not get this card until you get to the ship)

On the Way to Your Cruise

On the day of your cruise, you fly to Miami. (If you live in or near Miami, you can drive to the port.) You could have flown in a day or two before to take advantage of a pre-cruise package. However, you've visited the Miami area several times, so you passed on that option.

Since the flight was booked through the cruise line, a company representative meets you at the airline terminal, along with others bound for the same ship. (If you had booked your flight separately, no meet-and-greet person from the cruise line would be there for you, and the cruise line transfer service wouldn't be part of your package. You could, however, purchase a transfer from the cruise line.)

With your fellow passengers, you board a motorcoach for the transfer to the port of Miami. Your luggage is placed in the bus, too, or on another vehicle. You probably won't see it again until you get to your stateroom. The cruise line will take care of everything. It's the first of many hassle-saving benefits of a cruise.

Your bus arrives at the port terminal. Embarkation began at 2 P.M. and it's now 3:30 P.M. So you check in with a cruise line representative, who reviews your documents, takes your credit card imprint to cover onboard charges, and gives you any materials you need. (This is the equivalent of checking in at a hotel front desk.) You then usually pass through some sort of security procedure and carry-on luggage screening, similar to those at airports. You make your way up the gangway--the walkway that connects the ship with the dock. Perhaps the ship's photographer takes your picture. It will be the first of many photo opportunities. (The pictures will be available for your inspection and purchase later, if you like, at the ship's photo gallery or via a computer screen.)

As you enter the ship, you pass through another security screening checkpoint. As you enter, several smiling ship's staff members greet you. A trio of musicians may be playing, too. You're finally finding out what others have told you: Once you're on a cruise ship, boredom is left behind on the dock.

Onboard the Ship

You now find your way to your stateroom, escorted by a crew member. The stateroom door is open. You settle in and review any in-room literature, such as the daily activities log, to find out what happens next. (See Figure 4-2.) Some cruise lines even provide daily "children-only" activities logs in addition to the regular one. You're eager to explore the ship, too, maybe stopping by the dining room to confirm your seating. You also may go to the purser's desk to register your credit card, since you didn't do so at the port. Most ships today operate on a "cashless" basis. You sign to your account all onboard expenses not included in the cruise price. On the last day, they'll be charged to your credit card.

Upon return to your stateroom, you find that your luggage has arrived. At this time your cabin steward--the person who maintains your stateroom--introduces himself or herself to you. You sense already that the level of service on a ship exceeds what hotels provide. The last time you stayed at a hotel, was the maid there to say hello?


On every ship, a lifeboat drill must take place within 24 hours of departure. It often happens before you even set sail. You knew it was going to happen: The ship's activities log gave you the time and details. Now a public address announcement reminds you it's about to occur. You put on the orange life vest you found in your stateroom--fumble with are better words. Like most people, you have to figure out how it goes on. (Of course, that's the point!) You then report to the lifeboat station that was preassigned to you. The ship's crew members inspect you and your fellow passengers, check to make sure everyone is there, explain procedures, then dismiss you. It's back to your stateroom to prepare for the upcoming festivities.


A ship's departure is one of the most energetic moments on a cruise. You notice it's 6 P.M.--departure time--so you head for the pool deck, where a Caribbean steel drum band performs, staff members serve you tropical beverages with hors d'oeuvres, and everyone watches as the ship dramatically glides from its dock. The sky is blue, the breeze is warm and wonderful, and the sense of fun and excitement is everywhere.

After enjoying some activities, you return to your stateroom. A cocktail reception is next. But the big departure-day event is your first dinner at sea.

When you booked your cruise, your travel agent asked you which "seating" you wanted for the voyage. First seating is the earlier of two meal times (e.g., 6:30 P.M.); second seating is the later one (e.g., 8:30 P.M.). You opted for first. The maitre d' escorts you to your assigned table--it happens to be a table for eight. There you meet your companions for this meal and for subsequent dining room meals. They certainly seem congenial. (For other dining formats, see Figure 4-3.)

Your table captain, waiter, and other dining staff introduce themselves. You order wine. (This cost isn't included in the cruise price.) The waiter presents the menu. It's extensive. And there will be a different menu at each meal. (For a sample, see Figure 4-4.) You order the lobster. Each course is served with a flourish. Yes, you can get used to this.

Dinner on most ships is followed by entertainment in the main showroom. Tonight it's a Las Vegas-style revue. And there are plenty of choices, now or later: a drink at the lounge, a little shopping perhaps, a try at the casino slot machines. And this is only the first night....

FIGURE 4-3 Dining formats

The traditional first seating/second seating dinner format at
tables assigned for the entire cruise still predominates. But
others are becoming increasingly common. Smaller ships may have
only one seating. Some have open seating--passengers sit where they
wish during extended times, much like a restaurant. One cruise line
has three dining rooms, each themed uniquely. Guests eat in a
different one each night, but with the same fellow guests, at a
similarly placed table, with the same waiters. Passengers, though,
have other choices. Most ships today also feature alternate dining
facilities, like pizzerias and Lido-deck buffets, which offer
extended hours and open seating. Many larger ships have multiple
specialty restaurants, which require reservations (passengers book
them when they board the ship or as the cruise progresses). And
there's always room service.


A Day at Sea

Basically, cruise days come in two varieties: days at sea and days in port. Except when a ship is doing an ocean crossing, days in port far outnumber days at sea. Let's assume, though, that your first full day is at sea.

Your wake-up call--which you set up the night before--reminds you it's time to get going. A condensed, faxed news summary was slid under your door overnight. You read it to catch up on what's going on in the world (which seems so far removed).

Breakfast may be on the Lido deck or in the main dining room. It's your choice. In either place, there's almost too much to choose from. The cuisine quality, you note, is high, the presentation refined. Seating this time is open. (Assigned seating usually applies only to dinner in the main dining room.) You decide that tomorrow you'll order room service and have breakfast in bed instead.

What to do now? Again, the choices seem endless. You attend an orientation lecture that explains all you need to know about this cruise. (You could also watch it via your in-room TV.) You then decide that you want to read a book and work on a tan. So you change and head for the pool.

Before you know it, it's time for lunch! You opt again for the Lido cafe and its seemingly endless buffet. You feel guilty. So much food! It's time to burn off some of those calories, so you jog for about 20 minutes on a track that encircles the ship, finishing off with a workout at the health club. Next door, an aerobics class is going through the paces. You remind yourself to do that tomorrow.


Down now to your stateroom. It's already been spiffed up by your cabin steward. You shower, change, then attend a "port talk" that will prepare you for tomorrow's stop at St. Thomas. The cruise director describes St. Thomas, the shore excursions (port-based tours) available, and what you might wish to buy while there. The cruise line even gives you a list of approved shops. If you buy from one of these, you'll get a discount and a guarantee that if anything goes wrong, the cruise line will help resolve the problem. You decide to sign up for one of the shore excursions. Then back to your stateroom for a snooze--it's been freshened up again by your steward. How does he know when you come and go? It's one of the great mysteries of the cruise experience.

Tonight it's formal night. You dress well, head for the dining room's first seating and dine by candlelight. Then it's off to see a spectacular magic show, followed by a few drinks with newly made friends. And some people think a cruise is boring!

A Day in Port

You're up early. The ship docks at Charlotte Amalie, the capital city, at 8 A.M. You want to take the 9 A.M. shore excursion--a two-hour tour of St. Thomas. (See Figure 4-5 for an example of the possible shore excursions in St. Thomas.) You spend the afternoon strolling Main Street to do some shopping. Then it's back to the ship for--yes--dinner. But this time you're a bit tired from all that sun. You decide to have dinner in your stateroom, selecting from the room service menu. You feel reenergized, so you head down to the ship's theater to watch a movie. Then you realize: There's a midnight buffet tonight! And it's a grand one, too. You sample a few things as a late snack, then return to your stateroom. The sound of the sea outside lulls you into a perfect night's rest.
FIGURE 4-5 St. Thomas shore excursion options
Source: Royal Caribbean International

* St. Thomas Scenic Island Drive

* Planet Aqua--Above and Below

* Discover Scuba Diving

* Scuba Dive with Equipment

* Scuba Dive without Equipment

* Atlantis Submarine

* Kon-Tiki Party Tour

* Catamaran Sailing & Snorkeling Tour

* Skyride to Paradise Point

* St. John Eco Hike

* Magen's Bay & Coral World

* Scenic St. John Sea & Snorkel

* Kayak Marine Sanctuary Tour

* Historic Walking Tour & Shopping

* BOB Underwater Adventure

* Mahogany Run Golf Course

* Nature Conservancy Tropical Discovery Hike

* Island Drive & Coral World

* St. Thomas Sightseeing Tour

* St. John Island Tour

* St. John Beach Tour

* Buck Island Sailing & Snorkeling Tour

* Captain Nautica's Power Raft Snorkeling Tour

* The Wild Thing Snorkeling & Coastline Adventure

* Turtle Cove Sailing & Snorkeling

* Turtle Cove Snuba Adventure

* Parasail

* St. Thomas Helicopter tour

* Water Island Bike Trip

* Magen's Bay Beach Getaway

The Last Night and the Following Day

After several more ports, countless events, and some genuinely memorable meals (during one, the waiters--dressed in red, white, and blue--marched out to a tune of John Philip Sousa while carrying Baked Alaska lit with sparklers), it's time for your great vacation to draw to a close. Dinner, a pleasant show, and back to the stateroom to do some packing. As per directions, you keep a few overnight things with you and put all the rest in your luggage. You place the suitcase outside your stateroom door. A staff member will pick it up and store it for the night.

You've already left a gratuity for your cabin steward and presented your table staff with tips, too. The cruise line gives a guideline for what those gratuities generally are. (See Figure 4-6 for an example.)

You fill out a customs form and a comment card. (See Figure 4-7.) You then settle your outstanding bills at the purser's office.

The next day there's an early breakfast. You head with your overnight things to a public area, where you await the announcement of your turn to disembark (exit the ship). As with most events on a ship, disembarkation runs like clockwork. Luggage tags are color coded. Twenty percent of the passengers have red tags, 20% yellow, and so forth. Each color is called sequentially. (A few cruise lines allow passengers, in most cases, to disembark at their leisure.) You leave the ship, claim your luggage (it's in one big room), go through immigration and customs, and board your motorcoach to Miami International Airport. Your cruise has been all you had hoped for, and more. And the only thought going through your mind is this: "Why didn't I do this sooner?"

Miscellaneous Thoughts

Yes, that's the typical cruise vacation experience. But as we've noted all along, all manner of variations are possible. Small ships may offer a more intimate experience, with only a few, well-selected options. Cruises on sailing ships, ferrylike vessels, riverboats, and barges will certainly stray from the scenario we've portrayed. So, too, will cruises that strongly emphasize education, adventure, or exploration.
FIGURE 4-6 Tipping guidelines
Source: Celebrity Cruises

Suggested guidelines for offering gratuities (per person per day):

Restaurant Service
Waiter: $3.50
Assistant Waiter: $2.00
Maitre d': $.75

Stateroom Service
Butler (Suites Only): $3.50
Stateroom Attendant $3.50
Chief Housekeeper $.50



The cruise scenario we've described was flawless. But nothing is ever entirely perfect. Sometimes a few things do go wrong. Yet on a cruise, these glitches are rare.

A few miscellaneous bits of information about the cruise experience:

* In a few cases, an itinerary may feature only a half-day in port (e.g., 7 A.M. to 1 P.M.), with the rest of the day at sea.

* When ships are in exotic or adventurous places, such as Antarctica, you may have to take zodiac boats to go ashore. (A zodiac is a large rubber boat.) In other places, a ship may be too large or have too deep a draft to tie up to the dock. The ship will instead anchor offshore. Small boats, called tenders, will ferry passengers between port and ship.

* On most cruises, you can dine far more than three times a day. In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there may be snacks or afternoon tea served between meals and a buffet at midnight.

* A spa or lean and light menu often refers to a low-calorie, low-fat dining alternative. Since so many passengers now watch what they eat, such healthy choices are becoming more common. The CLIA Cruise Manual contains a grid that summarizes each member line's special menu offerings. (See Figure 4-8.)

* "Themes" add an interesting spin to some cruises. A certain departure might focus on, say, basketball, with current and former basketball stars onboard. They mingle with guests, sign autographs, and teach volunteers how to improve their foul shooting. Other possible themes: jazz, filmmaking, finance, murder mysteries, and eclipse watching.

* Shore excursions are rarely included in the cruise price. It's not necessary to book a shore excursion through the cruise line, either. You can buy one from a shoreside company, rent a car, stroll around, or do just about anything you please. But remember: If the cruise line-sponsored shore excursion is late getting back, the ship will almost surely wait. If you're on your own and you return late, though, you may have to wave good-bye to your fellow passengers as they sail off into the horizon.

* It's not unusual for a ship's officer to occasionally join passengers at their table. The most prestigious table to sit at, of course, is the captain's table (though this custom is becoming somewhat passe).

* In some cases, room service or dining at a special alternate venue requires a modest extra charge.

* Once all passengers have left the ship, staff rapidly prepare the vessel for the next cruise and its passengers. Amazingly, they often can "turn around" the ship within a matter of hours.

* Traditionally, passengers give cash gratuities to their dining and stateroom crew on the last evening of the cruise. (On very long cruises, tipping may occur several times during the itinerary.) Increasingly, though, at many cruise lines, passengers may charge to their onboard account gratuities covering all service staff (some lines charge these tips to the passenger's cruise bill automatically). Some cruise lines allow passengers to prepay gratuities along with their cruise fare. A few upscale cruise lines have a "tipping not required" policy, which means that the guest need not feel obligated to tip. (Most do anyway.)

* Can a cruise be canceled? Yes, though it's rare. Among the possible reasons: mechanical problems on the ship, dangerous weather at the port (e.g., a hurricane), or the failure of a shipbuilding facility to deliver a new ship on time. Invariably, the cruise line will make every effort to reassign passengers to a later cruise or provide a credit toward a future sailing.

* Are itineraries ever changed at the last minute? It can happen, either because of, say, weather conditions or political turmoil. Cruise lines are adept at making quick adjustments, substituting certain ports for others.

Passenger questions

Yes, passengers really have asked the following:

* How will we know which photos are ours?

* Will trapshooting be held outside?

* Does the crew sleep onboard?

* (To the waiter) Is the fish caught each day by the crew?

* (To the featured entertainer) Do you hope to go into show business
  some day?

* Do these stairs go up as well as down?

* How far are we above sea level?

* Is there water all around the island?

* What do you do with the ice carvings after they melt?

* Why does the ship rock only when we are at sea?

* Does the ship generate its own electricity?

* Does the elevator go to the front of the ship?

* Will I get wet if I go snorkeling?

* What time is the midnight buffet?

Questions for Discussion

1. Name at least six items that make up the cruise documents sent to a client before he or she leaves.

2. Outline briefly what happens on the first night of a cruise.

3. You're on a day at sea. What would you probably do? Name at least 10 activities.

4. What goes on during the last evening of the cruise and the following day?


Obtain a cruise brochure. (It should be a different one from the brochure you used in Chapter 1.) After reading it carefully, describe below how the cruise and line you chose might offer cruise experiences that are different from the one given in this chapter. For example, does it have open-seating meals? Is there a casino? Look carefully for clues to what does--and doesn't--go on.

Marc Mancini, Ph.D.

Professor of Travel

West Los Angeles College
FIGURE 4-1 Planning ahead for a cruise


Less than one month              5%
Between one and three months    21%
Between four and six month      39%
Between six and twelve months   28%
More than one year               7%

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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Author:Mancini, Marc
Publication:Cruising, A Guide to the Cruise Line Industry, 2nd ed.
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Previous Article:Chapter 3 The anatomy of a cruise ship.
Next Article:Chapter 5 Who's who in cruising.

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