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[personal profile] tyellas
My thoughts on taking a budget cruise...


I got on this boat because a very, very good friend living in Australia invited me, because I was curious about a cruise, and because I wanted to make it to some Pacific islands at last. I had an idea of what to expect. I'd loaded my Kindle and stocked up on seasickness meds. I didn't get seasick, but I read every last book on my Kindle.

The thing about a cruise ship is that it's a closed system where a society is created. And the society created by P&O on their Antipodean cruise lines is resolutely mainstream.

Courtesy of P&O, boat time was indeed like being trapped in a TV show. The boat, renovated in 2010, looked like a modestly upscale hotel. The boat staff were mostly blandly attractive. The boat entertainments – quizzes, musical song medley performances, cooking demonstrations - seemed carefully calibrated to not discombobulate anyone with an IQ over 100. If your IQ was over 100, attending one of the many, many cocktail workshops would take care of that.

We were encouraged to Have A Good Time! Regardless of whether our actual surroundings called instead for reverent observation. Leaving Sydney harbour, whales cavorted around us. Later, as we were sailing out from Port Vila, the swift, soft tropical dusk came down. Soon the humid air around us was dark velvet veiling the stars. Around the boat’s prow, in the dark water, golden scarves of phosphorescence trailed and broke. And the ship’s sound system heralded us with the ancient tribal rhythms of Joe Jackson. –sigh-

There was a circus team on the cruise, doing adagio and silk ribbon work and fire spinning, performed 4 times in 9 days. All of them had been hired fresh out of Montreal or Colombian circus school. P&O seems to prefer staff with minimal body modifications, by the way – I saw only two tattoos on boat staff. I don't even have any tattoos myself, but I know how unusual this is Down Under nowadays.



We had four meals a day of the finest freezable food money could buy. Was it deliberate that it was mostly high-glycemic, to keep you eager for the carb rush of the next meal? The onboard restaurants were very popular: “I’m here to be waited on!” more than one cruise attendee shrilled. As if it was a heinously degrading task to choose exactly what and how much they wanted to eat from a fifty-foot buffet.

One's fellow cruisers were a cross-section of Antipodean society. Slightly prosperous migrants, sun-baked young bogans looking to party, couples joined at the hip, crabby families, independent travelers with cameras and brains switched on. The 150 boot scootin' line dancers on board as a group were, unexpectedly, uniformly genteel, every last one a tall faded blonde in a pastel ensemble.



Everything I didn’t like on this particular ship was summed up in an announcement over the ship PA on the last day. “I’m your cruise director and I have an important announcement. There is a whale! I repeat! There is a whale!...” Dramatic pause. We stood up from our chairs, ready to bolt to the correct side of the boat, to be reminded that we were at sea. “Of a good time waiting for you in the Marquee tonight!” -sigh-

The things I longed for to make it more interesting – locally sourced fruit and seafood, information about the places we were visiting – seem to be the hallmarks of a five-star cruise.

Would I do it again? Strangely, yes, but on a better boat, with plenty of tipping money to hand, and only with a posse of ten or so friends.

The day we disembarked, running around Sydney, I ate a vivid curry in Newtown that, after the ship's food, tasted like a party in my mouth. Then I went to a burlesque evening that included live performances of the challenging song ouevre of Yma Sumac. I was underdressed for the sleek Sydney crowd, but it was what I needed.

Date: 2011-11-04 10:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] perelleth.livejournal.com
it's everything I imagine you would report. The exaltation of middle-class self-satisfaction? and yet it´s worth it for the sands and the clear wters and the clouds and vegetations and what not! :-)

locally sourced fruit and seafood is really a struggle with the cruise companies. It took us more than five years in the galapagos to build a formal relationship between the cruise companies and local suppliers, and since crisis hit they returned to bring things from cheapest (on the price tag only) inland supermarkets because it was actually social washing -for the largest. THe smaller, (16 to 20 people on board) classier cruises still maintain the local supply chain, thankfully.

It was a bit easier in Cartagena but then, due to the larger amounts of food neeeded large companies took over the local supply and more or less kicked off the local producers we had painfully managed to get inot business with the companies...

Date: 2011-11-06 10:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tyellas.livejournal.com
What a catch-22 about the supply chains for cruise ships!

The exaltation of middle-class self-satisfaction?

Someone asked me, "Whose idea of a great vacation is being waited on?" And it would have been great for my Little Old Lady. She worked hard all her life raising four kids and scrubbing hallways to earn money, and retired on the edge of poverty. The modest luxury, untaxing activities, and restaurant meals would have been a huge treat for her. She would have enjoyed it all without reservation.

Date: 2011-11-07 03:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] oracne.livejournal.com
The LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE boat....

*earworm*

Date: 2011-11-07 08:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tyellas.livejournal.com
I didn't mention the guys on the cruise who were WISHING it was the LOOOOOOVE boat. Who knew so many single guys went cruising?

Date: 2011-11-24 01:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] spes-unica.livejournal.com
That would seem to be traditional... (Sorry, just my association, I wouldn't know about today...)

(It's an interesting read as well as interesting scholarship!)

Date: 2011-11-11 04:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ithilwen.livejournal.com
Your report doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Those large cruise ships have always struck me as floating shopping malls - and while I don't mind visiting the mall for a few hours every now and then, there's just no way I'd want to spend my entire vacation in one. I just don't get the appeal - but then, I like active vacations. Maybe if I enjoyed just lounging about doing nothing, I'd fine a mainstream cruise more appealing.

But I did enjoy that Alaska small-ship cruise I took my parents on back in 2006. The whole dynamic's different when there are only 140 people on the boat, and no scheduled entertainment. I think you'd enjoy a small-ship cruise.

Date: 2011-11-16 12:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tyellas.livejournal.com
I've learned that I, too, like active vacations. A small-ship cruise sounds good!

Date: 2011-11-17 01:07 pm (UTC)
ext_74493: (Default)
From: [identity profile] wildilocks.livejournal.com
I do admit I love lounging and doing nothing - but on my own terms, and with the freedom to bugger off somewhere completely different at a moments' notice should I become terminally bored. Plus I get seasick. So... cruises? Not for me, I think.

Date: 2011-11-18 06:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tyellas.livejournal.com
I get seasick on small boats, but I didn't on the cruise - but others were prostated with seasickness. And yeah, I was ready to gnaw off my own arm to get off the boat at final disembarkation.

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