you’ve been hiding in a cave in the Afghan foothills for the past
year it’s obvious that it’s been very rough waters indeed for the
cruising industry in these turbulent economic times.
It’s a mess:
Billionaires drop a billion or two, and just plain folks watch their
retirement shrink before their very eyes. Since the latter are
precisely the folks who form the cruising base, adjustments have to be
made to right the ship.
And therein lies
an opportunity for the rest of us. Cruising is getting
cheaper, standards higher and life at sea more comfortable by the
If you choose
carefully you can have a luxurious week or two at sea for little more
than it would cost you to stay home, cook three meals a day, and go
out for an occasional evening’s entertainment—and you won’t have
to pay valet parking!
The other day my
wife and I bought a one-week cruise on the Norwegian Star out of San
Pedro, California, down to the Mexican Riviera—not something we
would normally rush to do but we were ready for a break and didn’t
want the hassle of flying. (When did airports turn into refugee
depots and planes become cattle trucks?) And we found a price we
simply could not refuse. It cost us just over $500 each. (If you book
at the last minute you can do even better).
For us there was
the joy of driving the 80 miles from our from Ventura
County home to the port. Most out-of-towners arriving at Los
Angeles Airport have a 25-minute trip to the departure port.
For the Saturday
to Saturday trip even the freeway was lighter than usual. We
parked our car next to the dock (more about that later) and walked
less than 100 yards to board the ship.
There were 2,300
passengers ranging from retired folk to large families. And the
first night one of the two dining rooms was jammed—with kids dozing
on the floor leading to the rather grand and formal Versailles room.
Groans all round. Not a good sign. Was this what we had signed
on for—a kind of free for all down market holiday camp!
But once we got
our own timetable sorted out, we ate a little later, avoiding the
crowds, and were able to dine in comfort, even elegance, every night.
The on demand
"free style" dining means you eat when you want, where you
want, with whom you want, or simply by yourselves—at either of the
public dining rooms. We mainly chose the Versaille for dinner because
once the families cleared out, it was quiet, with elegant
The menu is wide
ranging and diverse. The wine list (quite reasonable) was a good one,
and a couple of nights we popped into the martini bar before dinner.
We never had a
disappointing meal. The service was literally superb. The
staff, from just about every corner of the globe, were delightful. In
their manners and dress they looked as if they should be the guests
being served by the frequently sloppily turned out passengers.
This isn’t the
Queen Mary III, but would it be asking too much for guests not to come
to dinner looking like they were getting ready to swab the decks?
And then there
are the extras. In the seven restaurants you pay a small cover charge,
anywhere from $12 to $30 a person for a dining experience that
compares with any fine restaurant anywhere.
The Star offered
a superb French Bistro, an elegant New York style steakhouse, an Asian
fusion restaurant with everything from sushi to Indonesian, Malaysian
and Thai fare, an Italian Trattoria and an upscale cutting edge modern
cuisine restaurant with a jazz décor and flare.
group of passengers came from all over, from Asia to South America,
from Europe to Ventura County.
We booked with
Ms. Jeremy Hayes,
Cruise Experts: 888.804.2784
We used the gym
most days—sampled a few of the spa treatments and enjoyed the quiet
of the Asian themed meditation lounges.
ports, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, were quieter than
usual which was great for bargain shopping and sampling local dishes.
There was plenty of time for disembarking and we didn’t have to rush
There is only
one problem that became something of an irritant. The cruise lines are
feeling the pinch. And how.
So they spend an
inordinate amount of time pushing sales of rubbishy jewelry, cut
rate watches, alleged tax free alcohol—a trip to Trader Joe’s
will get you much better liquor bargains—art auctions and dry land
Now a few tips:
Do pay a little extra for a balcony. It is a wonderful place to sit
with a cocktail watching the arrival in and departure from ports of
call. And it provides a nice retreat with a book or a snack when the
sea of humanity becomes too much.
By all means
take in the many and varied live entertainment provided. In our case
the dancers in the big production shows were excellent, some of the
specialty performers were world class, and if the entertainment
director’s cockney accent—a poor man’s Ricky Gervais—was
driving us crazy by cruise’s end, we’re sure some of
the passengers found it charming.
downer: We arrived back in San Pedro at 9 a.m., well fed and
rested. Walked to our car—and then were trapped in a
horrendous 90-minute traffic jam in the parking lot.
It seemed the
L.A.-based parking company (Parking Concepts Inc.) had only one person
manning the three exits. Some friends missed their plane
connections, and the parking incompetence brought back much of the
stress we had dumped on our cruise. But who said life is perfect?