My parents used to take my two siblings and me on holidays to various countries. Perhaps that was where I got my travel bug. In any case, these family holidays stopped at around the time that I moved away from home and began having my own adventures. That is, until now. I have just returned from a weeklong Mediterranean cruise with my whole family: mum, dad, sister, brother, brother-in-law and four nieces!
A cynical introduction to cruises
The cruise ship is naturally the star of the show, and she is one enormous prima donna. Think of her as a floating city. One thousand people work there, serving between three and five thousand passengers. The ship’s interior design is luxurious, but it is undercut by streaks of utter kitsch. Mostly, this comes from the passengers themselves, but there are parts of the service that are unbearably kitschy, such as lounge music that would not sound out-of-place in a German elevator and gym instructors, dressed in funny costumes, leading mass-exercise workouts on deck to the sound of YMCA. (See the video at the bottom of the post.)
Every day follows the same pattern. You eat a hearty breakfast followed by a short spell on the sun deck. You then eat an enormous lunch followed by time on land wherever the ship moored that day. You come back to the boat for a seven-course dinner after which you have a few drinks in one of the bars to kill time before the nightly show in the theatre. Finally, you walk up to the cafeteria for a midnight buffet before passing out in bed out of cheer over-consumption.
Cruises are travel for the rich and lazy. The toughest decision you will make on a cruise is whether to have the duck or the fish for dinner. The people who enjoy cruises are pensioners and middle-class families with small children. Everybody else will soon eye up the lifeboats as a possible escape route.
The good thing about cruises
The best thing about cruises is that you see many places without having to do any work. You go to sleep and wake up at your next destination. There is no time wasted packing, unpacking, checking in and checking out etc. The downside is that you only get a few hours in each place. Then again, many of the places covered by cruises are only superficially interesting anyway, so the short excursions are perfect.
Cruises are also well designed for spending time with your family. The ship is an entirely problem free and somewhat sterile environment where you can entirely focus on the people with whom you travel. Be warned though; you will spend countless eons at the dinner table with these people during the never-ending parade of excuses to eat, so be sure you like your company and prepare some conversation material!
What to do on board
Even if food is not a hobby of yours, there will be other things to keep you entertained. The ship has for example a casino, an art gallery, shuffle board pitch, disco, card room, a pool, two jacuzzi, a gym, a sun deck and several bars and cafes where you can burn the hours until the next time that the overzealous dinner bell chimes.
The ship also has a theatre with nightly shows. Each show is different, but there is only one cast and soon they become hard to distinguish. They follow a simple ‘family friendly’ format. There are some silly bits for the kids, some dancing for the mums and some big breasted, long-legged and scantily clad women for the dads. There are also circus acts thrown into the mix. The dancing was of mixed quality, the singing was poor but the circus acts were surprisingly good.
Did I mention the food?
On a cruise, food is religion. Don’t even think about dieting, for you will be named ‘heretic’ and forced to walk the plank.
The breakfast, lunch and dinner menus have sections for appetizers, salads, pasta or risotto starters, soups, main courses and desserts. You pick one of each while you eat the three pieces of bread served with this insane menu. Eighteen courses of food a day is clearly not enough, so there is also afternoon tea and a midnight buffet. Sure, one could see sense and stop eating when no longer hungry, but the food is too good!
This frantic food frenzy culminated one night in a display of utter madness commonly affiliated with blood cults. We had finished the main course when the lights suddenly dimmed. Strange music, like a mix of some gothic, religious hymn and an opera by Wagner, flooded the room. At that moment, the multitude of waiters marched out of the kitchen, each carrying forth a burning Baked Alaska. The desserts were paraded up and down the restaurant as if they were the idols of a primitive pagan religion. As the music reached its crescendo –a choir singing ‘Hallelujah’ repeatedly– the chefs emerged from the kitchens. A compere (Where did he come from?) named each chef to the confused applause of the stunned guests before this bizarre rite ended in the cutting of the Baked Alaskas. The only thing missing was someone speaking in tongues and the healing of a lame passenger by the head chef.
It probably comes as a surprise after reading this post, but I did enjoy the cruise. Yes, there are things about cruises that go against the way I prefer to travel, but that didn’t matter. I enjoyed spending time with my wonderful family, no matter how stressful it is to watch four kids flailing their arms wildly around a dinner table full of wine glasses.
The obvious omission of this post is a description of the places we saw along cruise. I will cover that in the next post. Stay tuned.