Whenever I embark on a cruise, I check the various websites claiming to give the latest and top tips on ships and how to best get along while sharing a boat with 2,000 other people. They’re sometimes useful and nearly always redundant … pack your suntan lotion, roll your shirts, spend a lot of time on deck, yada, yada, yada. I don’t intend to create my own website, but if I did.
1. It may be called a “cruise,” but more properly defined it’s a “walk.” You will walk. Nothing on a cruise ship is anywhere near anything else on a cruise ship. The distance from the dining room to your room is approximately the same as trekking from Woodson to Murrayville. Before you embark on a cruise, you should have a serious sit-down talk with your feet. “Guys, are you ready for this? You’re the same two feet who always encourage me to find the closest parking place at ShopKo, so are you sure you’re up to a week of cross-country cruising?”
2. When you finish chatting with your feet, have a little talk with your tummy. You’ve spent the last year settling for an English muffin in the morning, a sandwich for lunch, and whatever’s in the fridge for supper. Are you sure you’re ready for salsa omelets at daybreak, a Thai buffet for lunch, then a three-course cornucopia of calories for supper? My advice: ease yourself into the exotic foods routine. The foie gras and steak tartare may look enticing on the evening menu, but a gently rocking cruise ship may be enough adventure for your intestinal tract. It’s hard to see the sights of Alaskan glaciers or Caribbean palm trees from your cabin’s commode.
3. Do everything you can to travel with good people. While your definition of “good” may differ a bit from mine, I’m speaking of folks who are adaptable, who know how to go with the flow and who know how to flex if the situation demands it. The old definition of “the ugly American” still holds true, but now it’s expanded to other nationalities, as well, and hoards of travelers still want to travel around the world while insisting that the world be just like home. Planes will depart late, it will rain in Juneau and the bathrooms on Carnival Cruise Lines will occasionally clog up. Travel with people who can endure delays without complaint, who pack raincoats and who don’t mind tinkling in the cabin next door.
4. Pace yourself. I’ve seen travelers who party so heartily during their first two days at sea that they’re in an ocean of trouble for the rest of the trip. You can’t see any whales while lying sick on your bunk, and the Mediterranean isn’t viewable from the ship’s infirmary.
5. Wherever the ship docks, get off. You booked this trip to see the coast of Maine or the Rheine Valley, not inside of the casino.
6. We are Midwesterners and as residents of one of the most caring sections of our nation, it can be hard to have someone wait upon us, make our beds, put the napkin in our laps and spritz us with Purell hand sanitizer every few steps. I’ve known cruisers who’ve had a great trouble enjoying themselves on a cruise while being pampered hand and foot by employees from the Second and Third World. This is admirable, but it’s a fact. My advice: do everything you can to get to know the folks who are indulging you in such luxury. Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness … broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one’s lifetime.” Amen, Mark.
7. Pack your bags for a vacation, not Armageddon. It rains two inches a year in Death Valley, but my dear uber-prepared mother packed those little plastic raincoats when we visited. She said, “Sure, it only rains once a year, but it’d be just our luck.” Aside from the fact that you don’t need all that stuff, your ship’s cabin won’t hold more than seven pairs of socks.
8. Bring your phone if you must, but keep it in your suitcase. And if you are cyber-addicted, then please stay away from me.
9. Take some social chances and start conversations with those in the buffet line, the tour bus and the evening show audience. Chances are they’re anxious to chat.