Me, take a cruise? Never!


We were tendered off the ship to the island of Santorini

What most people refer to as a cruise, I stubbornly call a ‘boat ride’. Why? Well, a couple of years ago I would have scoffed at the thought of taking a cruise. I mean, what would a self-respecting independent traveller like me be doing on one of those floating cities, having his every need taken care of, leaving no room for imagination, decision-making or risk-taking? The only experience I’d previously had of cruises, and the kind of people who go on cruises, was in Central America (Belize, to be precise) when, one day, I suddenly found my private space invaded by ludicrously fat and pampered Americans, who had been tendered ashore and were being expensively transported from one sight-seeing venue to another, during the few hours they had available. I looked on them with pity. Their lives were inexorably bounded by the luxurious buffers that life on an expensive cruise liner imposed on them.

So, the question remains, what was I doing on a ship that carried three times the population of my own village, servedCIMG9521 food continuously throughout the day, provided rivers of drink of every description, and attempted to fill every fun-seeking gap in the lives of over 3,500 passengers? The simple answer was: the destinations. I simply can’t get to all these places in one lifetime on a bike! Nor can we do enough city-breaks or short trips to satisfy the curiosity.

In the space of a week, sailing out of Venice, we discovered the beauty and tragic WW2 circumstances of Bari (SE Italy), the fascinating history of Olympia, the monumental splendour of Athens, the volcanic beauty of Santorini, the imposing Old Fort of Corfu Town, the stunning visuals of Dubrovnik as we circumnavigated the whole historic centre along the fortified walls. Then, to begin and end the journey with stopovers in Venice……..well, the decision to take the ‘boat ride’ became a no-brainer, and the cost was no more than the average hotel holiday on a resort.

However, the people who take cruises (and some take several each year) can be very ‘special’. From the ladies who dedicate every onboard, and onshore, moment to jewelry shopping, to the hardened sun-loungers who bemoan the disappearance of the sun;  from addicted gamblers to addicted drinkers; from nicotine junkies who occupy the same chair in smoker’s corner throughout, to the ‘cruising bores’ who will not be seen in the same outfit two days running.

Bridge of sighs in Venice

Bridge of sighs in Venice

But amongst the crowds, you do come across a few like-minded souls, who don’t bore you with the details of all their past cruises, comparing the pros and cons of each of the cruise companies; you will chance by people who share some common values, and who make great company at table. I even met a fellow cyclist at lunch (well, he was a triathlete). We spoke French together and I sat back in amazement as he consumed three plates of pasta, preceded by soup and followed by desert.

And when you step off the ship to spend the day onshore, you will fall into the company of other DIYers, who are prepared to walk into town or catch a local bus, and are happy to eschew the fully escorted tours that hardly give you time to set foot on land.


About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on November 29, 2013, in Eastern Mediterranean and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Great read. I had the exact same experience, earlier this year; after thoroughly convincing myself that there would be no way that I’d ever subjugate myself to being penned up on a floating buffet line for seven days, I gave into my wife’s wishes for a post-graduate Caribbean getaway, and had an absolute ruckus of a time.

    I’ll definitely be weighing the Mediterranean option for next year, I think.

    • Ah Mel…..I see there might be another convert! My SOP for self-preservation when on board is: avoid the crowded areas, especially the self-service buffet restaurant and the jewelry selling arcade; keep well away from smokers’ corner; keep a distance from the noisy animation-team led games; and eschew most (or all) of the organised tours. In other words, seek out our own private space!
      Even on a 3000-4000 passenger liner, you can always find some hidden corners.

      • Frank, one of my absolute favorite things was exploring the ship during the “off-hours” of the evening: one of the best parts about a format wherein most folks are either sweet and snow-haired or working within the confines of the kids’ waking hours is that the turn-in time generally seems to situate itself around ten PM at night… moping around the deck and finding a lone bartender quietly reading a Sudoku book at half-past one in the morning goes up there with one of THE most surreal moments I’ve ever experienced.

        Also, I had a legitimate blast getting to know our tour guides, and the locals: our gal in Roatan remarked that she was surprised at how much we wanted to know about her, since–as she put it–most folks “show up, listen to some of what I have to say, then forget to tip.” As with so many things, it’s what you’re willing to make it!

      • I think the Italian Costa ships either have a different routine, or the clientele were quite different: people up till the small hours, drinking, gambling, being entertained. Our dining room sitting in the evening didn’t even finish till after 10.30pm… getting up for an early start to go onshore was not always an easy prospect.

      • Interesting! Ours was your standard, off-the-shelf shoulder-season Western Caribbean excursion from Princess: tons of snowbirds and families, and a very mellow atmosphere in the evenings.

        The days were, of course, as you described them: sustained insanity, on the main decks. I really enjoyed spending those hours listing about our balcony or perusing the offerings in the ship’s library (Which I did NOT think they’d have)…

  2. Sheila Cakebread

    So Frank, would you take another cruise? We, like you, had not considered ourselves the sort of people who go on cruises, preferring to tow our caravan around France or travel independently around Canada & New Zealand. But we are trying our first cruise in February, again like you, because of the destinations – from Hong Kong to Singapore, with stops in Vietnam & Thailand. I have some reservations & your description of the ‘special’ people who go on cruises, succinctly covers some of them. As we have never travelled in S.E. Asia before, I have booked excursions, despite a dislike of being ‘herded about’. So watch this space, it could be a once only experience or like many others we could become hooked!

    • Great to hear you are ‘having a go’ Sheila. What you’ve never experienced, you will never understand. I can foresee us doing another cruise, but definitely not for the ‘cruising experience’ (which is little more than being in a floating hotel). I am sure future experiences will always be destination-led.
      I look forward to reading your impressions.

  3. I have sworn that I will never be one of those tourists who tag along behind a flag or who have to wear a name-tag. I have also said I will never go on a cruise but your experience leads me to believe that perhaps I will one day. It sounds as though you got value for money.

    • Heather, ‘value for money’ was certainly a key ingredient. If you can keep a tight hold of the credit card during the cruise, it can be an amazingly cheap and convenient way of getting to some very exciting places. You just have to learn to ‘manage’ those aspects you don’t like, and if you want to be totally independent onshore, don’t entertain any of the expensive organised tours. Either walk or catch local transport.

  4. My parents are ardent cruise fans. They enjoy them because they give them both exactly what they want – my dad, to satisfy his curiosity and wanderlust by being able to visit lots of different places, and my mum, to be able to relax and unwind, and not have to pack and unpack multiple times to visit all those different places. I’m afraid, though, that they might belong to that group of cruise bores you mentioned – my dad even blogs about cruises (look up ‘Tom’s Cruise Blog’)

    • Jude, I don’t mean to cast aspersions on either of your parents for being cruise fans. If your Dad blogs about it, he will be singular amongst cruise fans, because he will analyse and assess his experiences, and will be ranked amongst the category of ‘thinking cruisers’. The ‘bores’ are only interested in trivial detail: eg. the value of the deal, the quality of the food/entertainment/bingo/gambling, the number of hours they can spend sunning themselves on deck………etc
      You will know there are cruisers who never leave the ship, or if they do, it’s to take a 30 minute walk along the quay. Having said all of that, we met some fantastic people, some of whom shared our table for the evening meals.

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