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Monday, July 27, 2009

CRUISING


I went on an ocean cruise last month. My wife and I have been taking cruises since we were married in the early 1980's and have sailed on various lines in different locales. I know a lot of people will argue with me on this, but I find most of the cruise lines to be fundamentally the same in terms of operation. Maybe it's because all of the major lines are now owned by Carnival Corporation & plc under the tutelage of Micky Arison in Miami.

The people on board are interesting; both the crew and the passengers. The crew works hard and are hospitable (those that speak English, and even those who do not). Passengers are an interesting mix though, you have your basic blowhards who are trying to impress others, the health freaks, retirees who wander aimlessly and get in your way, the rednecks on their first cruise, young people who haven't yet learned shipboard etiquette, and people you generally want to avoid like the plague. I don't think the Vanderbilts or Rockefellers cruise anymore. I guess someone in Carnival's sales department finally figured out there is more money to be made from the middle class.

Over the years I have come to admire the cruise lines as a brilliant marketing machine. Actually cruising is only a portion of their business. They also maintain incestuous relationships with all of the local merchants and hotels you encounter on your voyage; they either own them outright or extort advertising money from them. Then, of course, they nickle/dime you to death on everything: drinks, Internet access, cell phone contact, etc. When you are cruising, you learn quickly that nothing is free.

Waiters and cabin stewards do a first class job. Most are from overseas (e.g., the Philippines, Brazil, etc.), and they can teach their American counterparts a thing or two when it comes to service. However, I tend to look at a ship as an eating/colon cleaning machine. Food is everywhere and you are treated to some truly remarkable dishes, both in terms of quantity and quality. I don't think anyone has ever disembarked from a ship without tucking away a few pounds.

This all means you spend a lot of time in the bathroom, which has been remodeled over the years. The toilet is now particularly effective and strong. The first time I flushed it I thought it was going to suck the family jewels down the drain. Very scary.

The showers are functional and have lots of hot water, but it can be very awkward taking a shower while the ship is rolling on the high seas. The shower curtains are made of cling wrap which acts like a magnet enveloping your body. Between the shower curtain and the rolling of the ship, I felt like a mummy surfing on the high seas. Note to Carnival: somebody look into redesigning the showers.

For entertainment there are nightclub acts and Las Vegas-style musical reviews. I realize the ship's cast tries hard, but it's nowhere near the caliber of Las Vegas (or Las Cruces for that matter). If you're a recognizable entertainer and you've been asked to perform on a cruise ship, it's time to fire your agent as it means your career is flickering out. Not to worry though, they always need help in the galley.

The casino has always been a favorite of mine and the cruise lines do a competent job with the little space they are afforded. I love a game of craps or baccarat, but these are limited on ships. Often there is but one craps table and baccarat tables are particularly scarce. There is a lot of blackjack tables as well as roulette, and a table for Texas hold'em poker, not to mention the many slot machines on board. Unlike Vegas though, you have to pay for your drinks which, frankly, surprises me.

If you are a smoker, you would think that a cruise ship would be a wonderful place to kick back and enjoy yourself. Regrettably, this is not the case as smoking is confined to very few secluded places, kind of like being sentenced to a Gulag. Before embarking on our latest voyage I learned there was a comfortable cigar room on board. The prospect of this appealed to me as I enjoy a good cigar. However, when I finally found the room, which truly looked great, it was crammed full of cigarette smokers who had nowhere else to go. Believe it or not, cigar and cigarette smoking does not mix, which quickly killed the cigar room for me.

One of the nice things about cruising is that you tend to lose track of time and dates as you are often preoccupied by a good book, a shore excursion, relaxing on deck, the health club, or whatever. Cruising can be an excellent distraction from the rigors of life, assuming you can forget about your laptop and cell phone for a while. After being pampered for a week, you feel refreshed and ready to go back to work. The only down side to cruising though is when it's over, it's time to start another diet.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For a listing of Tim's Pet Peeves, click HERE.

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Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.