10 Rules of Engagement for Smooth Cruising

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After some 14 cruises on a variety of cruise lines, we’ve made some observations of the behavioural characteristics of cruise ship passengers who everyone likes to have on board – and those who most other passengers would be just as happy to leave behind at a port or toss overboard.

It’s interesting to view cruise ship passengers like any other traveler in general: the best travelers are those who remember that they are not the only people around. We’re getting ready for our next cruise which starts next week so were inspired to pull out the notes we’ve made over the years. If you’ve never cruised before, you might find this informative. If you’ve cruised extensively, you might find it entertaining. In either case, enjoy!

Rule #1: Don’t go around the jogging track the wrong way. Yes, we’re talking to you. There is a reason for the signage indicating the direction of flow.  It’s bit like a skating rink: going the wrong way is just asking for a collision with that serious, lycra-clad runner with the ear phones and the cap over the eyes. And for the rest of us, it’s just annoying.

Rule #2: Never “save” deck chairs. This is considered so rude and annoying that most cruise lines (and resorts) have rules for how long you can leave your chair. Yes, of course, you can leave your chair to go to the bathroom or the bar, but arriving two hours before you plan to use them to “save” chairs for yourself and the half dozen hangers-on who are accompanying you is disrespectful and you just might find your belongings (that single flip flop or book) on a communal sort-of lost-and-found table.

DSC05462.JPGRule #3: Don’t leave your dirty towels on your chair or strewn on the deck when you leave. Yes, the staff will pick them up, but based on the “savers” (see Rule #2 above), many of the rest of us, in an effort to be nice, will not take a chair that has a dirty towel on it unless we have observed its emptiness for at least a half hour. There are bins for the used towels near most doors. Just find one on your way.

Rule #4: Never appear in public in your cruise-line-issued bathrobe (or any other bathrobe for that matter). Good lord. It is not a sun cover-up. Hate us for this if you like, but everyone is entitled to their idiosyncrasies.

Rule #5: Be on time for the entertainment. If the evening show begins at 9 pm, be in your seat, actually sitting down, drink in hand if you like when the lights go down. Why is it that on cruise ships people seem to think that this isn’t real entertainment? Or that the rest of the audience will appreciate you climbing over them after the show has begun? Or that the performers aren’t affected by the commotion in the audience? Most otherwise normal individuals would never come in late to a play or a musical on land. Why do people persist on doing it at sea? The times are sent out in the newsletter each day so there is no excuse for not knowing or planning.

Rule #6: Never miss an opportunity to learn something new. Whether it’s yoga, cooking or the deep background on the history of a port you’re visiting, all cruises offer something. We have honed our culinary skills, learned about the in-depth background of the South Pacific Islands, enjoyed the history of the cruise industry, our son has attended RADA workshops (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts on Cunard), Patty has taken a dance class (well, that wasn’t so successful). Anyway, there is much to be gained.

Rule #7: Do not choose shore excursions for which you lack the physical capabilities. Every shore excursion has a description of the physical requirements. If it requires a lot of walking or hiking and you can’t do that, then don’t go. The cruise lines will sometimes intervene if they have indicated that they will not take wheelchairs, walkers, canes etc., but if you don’t have an obvious problem, you will find yourself slowing down everyone else, and worse not being able to fully enjoy what is offered. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Rule #8:  Don’t monopolize the bar staff. We all do it from time to time: these people are so accommodating and will engage you in conversation at a bar whenever you sit down. However, some of them find it difficult to break away from a conversation – so help them out. There is nothing more annoying than sitting at a bar (without a drink) being unable to get the bartender’s attention because he or she is engaged in a long conversation with another patron. Let’s help each other out.

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Rule #9: Don’t forget to use your headphones if you are planning to listen to music on deck or even on your verandah. Those verandahs are a bit like having a curtain pulled around a hospital bed. It may feel private, but everything that goes on can be heard. Everything. We might not appreciate your hip-hop music, but you might not appreciate our jazz. So we all need to be considerate. By the way, if you choose the verandah to have a rip-roaring fight with your spouse, we’ll hear every word if we happen to be out on our verandah.

Rule #10: Watch your time and barring an actual accident or other uncontrollable event or natural disaster, return to the ship at least a half an hour before it is scheduled to sail out of a port. There are many stories floating around the travel blog world about cruisers left behind or cruise ships waiting. And yes, if you take a cruise-line shore excursion and the group is late returning, they will probably wait if it’s not too long.

Remember that you are not the only person on board, but if you have a problem, you will get a lot more support and empathy from others if you haven’t been that idiot everyone recognizes as such.

Okay, that’s our list. We have never been on a cruise where all of these rules were ignored – but we have been on enough such trips to have seen all of them at one time or another. We just try on every trip to avoid being that cruiser!

Dressing for travel: A superficial consideration, or meaningful message?

How we dress when we travel is either a pointless consideration of the vain and frivolous among us, or it’s an important visual message that often conveys much more than we had planned. Discerning travelers know the answer: it is a significant factor in how travelers are perceived abroad.  It is also, however – and perhaps even more important in some venues – a powerful influence on how travelers behave.

The web is full of articles on how to dress for a long flight, things you should never wear when traveling abroad (usually these are directed toward Americans), do’s and don’t’s of travel dressing, and what seems to be the most searched for type of travel dress piece: how to dress for a cruise. We would suggest that when people search for articles on how to dress for travel in general and cruises in particular, they want to know how to feel comfortable – both physically and psychologically.  People who search for these answers care – as do we.

Throughout our years of travel via plane, train, car, ship, and on foot, we have observed that dressing is important in the following travel situations:

During airline travel: First, you need to be comfortable, but that doesn’t mean that you need to look like you just crawled out of bed with a hangover. Looking like you care often has the same effect on other people: they might just care about you should you run into difficulty. You can proclaim the superficiality of taking care when you travel, but there is ample evidence to support the contention that looking your best often helps to be treated well – like it or lump it. There is another important dressing guideline for air travel: dressing for the inevitable security check. We were once rushing through security to make a connection between Canada and the US onward and found ourselves in the security line behind a parent and teen-aged son. Said teen-aged son had clearly not received the memo about what a security screen would entail. He had layers upon layers of clothes that all had to be removed one at a time after going through the metal detector and back out of the metal detector. He had several chains around his neck, a chain holding his wallet to his trousers, and on and on. Not a pretty sight in any event, and we were purple with fury.

Touring cities: When we tour cities, we walk. That means footwear is our prime consideration, but it is not the only one. We prefer that our attire not scream “tourist”; this means that our footwear does not under any circumstances consist of white sneakers. Given the plethora of really lovely choices of walking shoes these days, it is puzzling to us how many people continue to wear these monstrosities. If you can afford to travel, you can afford a good-looking pair of walking shoes. As for clothing, it ought to be dictated by the weather and local customs. If you’re visiting Istanbul, for example, regardless of how hot it is, if you want to visit a mosque, you’re going to have to be respectful and dress the part. Check with the local tourist authorities for specifics so that you aren’t surprised by the posted signage. Women visiting conservative cities should always have a scarf in a handbag or around a neck for use as a head and shoulder cover.

On a cruise: When cruising, clothing needs to be dictated by itinerary

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Touring Olympia

(for example, people on South Pacific cruises dress differently than on Mediterranean cruises), weather and your choice of cruise line (Carnival cruises has a decidedly different expectation of how one will dress than does Seabourn, for example) – they all have differing levels of casual and formal requirements. For example, we’ve cruised on a number of lines that still have formal nights as well as a few that have gone upscale casual or what they call country-club. Oceania comes immediately to mind and we’ll be going country-club casual for the upcoming Caribbean venture, but we need to mindful that this means cocktail dresses on most evenings! (We can’t comment on the cruises that let people into the dining room in T-shirts and ball caps – we don’t even want to be near those dining rooms. Not our style.)

Dining out: Oh how we wish that dining out was still considered to be a treat to be cherished and prepared for by dressing a bit better than one might at one’s own kitchen table. Of course, it matters what kind of restaurant you’re going to be choosing – fast-food outlets are not restaurants. Wear what you want there! No one will bat an eye. But even if you don’t really care what you wear, it might be fun to see dining out as an actual occasion when you’re traveling. Stepping it up a bit can be entertaining, and at the risk of repeating ourselves, you’ll be treated better. You can protest this as much as you want, but it’s a fact of life. For many people – including maître d’s – dressing up a bit is a sign of respect for self and others.

At the theatre: We’ve observed that the theatre is not what it used to

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Going to the ballet during the summer season in Monte Carlo

be. Just last week we attended a big musical in downtown Toronto at the Ed Mirvish Theatre and we felt as if we had wandered into the economy section of a cut-rate airline. The truth is that in some parts of the world you’ll actually feel out of place if you don’t dress up a bit – and note that ballets and operas tend to have a more dressed-up audience. We noticed this in London and Sydney at the Opera House in particular. Don’t leave them off your travel lists, though; attending theatre performances in foreign cities is a real pleasure.

Obviously, you can wear whatever you want. We have noticed, however, that some people do care how they dress in general and while traveling in particular. If all of this sounds as if you will have to lug multiple suitcases, you won’t. We travel with one suitcase each regardless of the length of the trip –a weekend, one week, five weeks – it matters not. One suitcase. (It will probably be very small for a weekend!).

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Touring Rome

New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ringing in the new year away from home

happy new yearWe’re staying home this year for New Year’s. We’ll happily dine at ‘Blu’, one of our favourite Toronto restaurants, then crack open a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, our favourite champagne when we get home around midnight. We’ll probably reminisce about this past year (and why we didn’t travel/blog as much – we moved) and then think about what the year ahead might bring (traveling to begin in precisely two weeks). But we’ll also pull out photos of two of our most memorable new year’s away from home. Just a couple of years ago we spent two very memorable first night celebrations in the one place in the world where they really know how to party with sophistication and elegance: Monaco.

The day begins with a visit to the local Carrefour. A gigantic grocery store that rivals Wal-Mart for its variety and Whole Foods for its quality, the place is a zoo at the best of times, but New Year’s Eve is special. We begin (and it has to be said, end) at the extensive wine section. The sheer array of French wines that begin at about 3 euros a bottle and go upward from there is dizzying. The problem is that we have rarely had a bottle from Carrefour hat we didn’t like. So how to choose from among all of these unknown bottles?

Our usual tactic involves stealth observation. Watching the men and women going up and down the aisle filling their baskets and carts to the brim with bottle after bottle is the best place to begin. Then we get a bit more discerning.

We look at how many bottles of each kind of bubbly make their way into how many baskets. Then we watch the individual purchasers. Are they old enough to have experienced a bottle or two? Is the twist of their scarves just stylish enough to imply a bit of je ne sais quoi? Are they assured enough of their choices that there is no waffling? When all systems are go, we swoop in and choose the right bottle of champagne – and make no mistake, it is always right. But then where to drink it? We’re getting to that.

The day is young so we’re inclined to wander a bit through the Monte Carlo Christmas market where we’ll indulge in the decadence of a glass of quality champagne outdoors from a plastic flute. We’ll watch the skaters take a turn around the temporary rink on the MC waterfront, as ludicrous as that seems.

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Casino Square in Monte Carlo makes a magical scene dressed for the Christmas season.

Then we head back to the hotel to get dressed. We’re going to the ballet this evening. We don our finery and make our way to the Grimaldi Forum with what appears to be the majority of the Monagasques themselves.  Situated on the shore of the Mediterranean, the building is actually built right into the Med with the main performance space where we’ll see Les Ballets de Monte Carlo dazzle their home crowd below sea level. Down, down, down, three very long escalators to reach the entrance to the orchestra seating. We sip more champagne while we people watch.  Can there be a more decadent place to people watch than MC?

We spot Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, D & G, Hermes, all milling around the bar dangling from shoulders and elbows. Then the bell chimes three times – five minutes to curtain time. As we take our seats Patty puts her handbag on the hook on the back of the seat in front of her. Such a thoughtful touch: the designers must have thought of all those expensive handbags that would grace their auditorium through the years. We then glance surreptitiously toward the royal box to see if Princess Caroline might be gracing New Year’s Eve with her presence since she is, after all, the president of the ballet company. Then the curtain rises, the orchestra begins, and we’re transported into the rarefied world of the ballet thanks to our son the dancer who is sharing the stage with his colleagues.

The ballet is over at 11:30, and all of us spill out into the Mediterranean night that is lit with hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights. We make our way up the hill to the casino square where side by side with the palm trees lit for the season are 50-foot high fir trees brought in and decorated so that the lights change colors. We are transported along with the crowd.

Once in the square which is already shoulder-to-shoulder full of well-dressed revelers, we get into the spirit of the night. The countdown begins. “Dix-neuf-huit-sept…deux-un! Bonne année!” And the corks begin flying! Pop! Pop! Pop! Then splash! As the champagne is poured from bottle to plastic flutes as everyone wishes anyone around a happy new year.

Coming as we do from North America, the very fact that it is perfectly acceptable for this crowd to pop their champagne corks in this very public place and enjoy a sip of New Year’s bubbly makes us just a bit giddy. We are delighted and know that it will be a good year, indeed.

Happy New Year to all our readers. We promise that we’ll resume our story telling in 2016.

[If you are a long-time reader and think you may have read about this New Year’s adventure before, you have. Much of this post is excerpted from our New Year’s post from 2012. But we still think it’s a great story. Hope you do too.]

A cruise ship medevac: Not the usual travel experience

DSC07319Travel for us is about experiences.  Sometimes it’s the places we visit; sometimes the people we meet.  Other times it’s the food we eat or the wine we drink.  All of these form the experiences of the discerning traveler.  But sometimes, experiences are unexpected and not related at all to where you’re visiting.  A few months ago, while aboard the Oceania cruise ship Nautica, we witnessed a helicopter medevac as we sailed the Mediterranean off the coast of Greece.  And our thought was this: It could have been anyone of us.

It all started a few hours earlier as we sailed peacefully on our way from Malta toward Crete.  We had noted only peripherally (as you do when you’re enjoying the only day at sea in an itinerary-rich cruise) that the ship seemed to have sped up.  The onscreen information that continually streamed on a television channel from the bridge confirmed this suspicion, and we had also slightly altered our course.  We thought little of it.

Half an hour later the Captain took to the public address system to tell us that we had indeed altered our course so that we could get closer to mainland Greece in an effort to meet a helicopter from the Greek Coast Guard that would effect an evacuation at sea of a passenger who had fallen ill.  As we all know, cruise ships have well-equipped infirmaries, but there are some illnesses that require more than can be provided by these facilities, and by the single physician and nurse aboard.  This was evidently one of those occasions. And wouldn’t you know it?  It happened on the only day we weren’t in a port!

Evidently these kinds of thing happen more often than we might think – although in some fourteen cruises, we had never observed one.

An hour or so after the Captain’s address, we saw the helicopter approaching the ship.  The Captain had requested that everyone stay off the open decks for safety reasons – and we can only imagine that it would be an extra burden to the passenger and his wife to have onlookers curiously peering at them close-up.  Although some of the newer and much larger cruise ships these days have helipads, most don’t, requiring the helicopter to hover for a half an hour or more – as long as it takes to send down an emergency medical technician, secure the patient to the stretcher, hoist the patient up to the chopper, then hoist the technician and the passenger’s wife into the hovering beast.

Those of us with verandahs in the aft of ship had a view of the entire operation from beginning to end.  We were impressed with the efficiency of it all, and the coordination it took to get such an international rescue underway so quickly.  We were just happy that it wasn’t one of us.

Several days later, we happened upon the ship’s doctor on an elevator and Art, who in his past has actually done a stint as a ship’s doctor, enquired about the outcome of the medevac. The doctor said that the patient had evidently had a stroke and the medevac was successful.

Consumer Reports covered the subject of medical care at sea in a blog post last year.  Among the seven things they suggest you need to know are the following:

  1. The medical facilities at sea are not the same as your local hospital with respect to either equipment or staff.
  2. Medical care at sea is expensive. Be prepared for sticker shock, as they say.
  3. If a ship is 500 or more miles away from shore, “it’s unlikely the Coast Guard will respond.”[1]

As discerning travelers, we are always aware that these kinds of things can happen.  We try to minimize it by being healthy when we leave, and taking a few precautions while we’re away (such as hand-washing, staying away from buffets etc.).  Unexpected things do happen, though. We never leave home without travel medical insurance.  And we are always sure to read the fine print!

We’d like to share with you the video we took of the medevac.   Travel often and stay well!

 

[1] http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/04/7-things-you-need-to-know-about-medical-care-on-cruise-ships/index.htm