Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Is a fun cruise in your future? Read this first


Endless hallways


When I was a kid, our family had a Vista Cruiser station wagon.  I didn’t really like that land yacht but it did fit everyone in the family in that car.  Now I am thinking it was kind of prophetic that I should be on the Carnival Vista, their largest at the moment ship, cruising.  I’m not expert but I can tell you a few things about Carnival cruising since I’ve been on several of them on various sized vessels.

Carnival seems to be channeling “Jaws,” thinking they need bigger and bigger boats.  I hate to burst their bubble but bigger is not a plus on a cruise ship. I guess you have to think like their executives, however, the more people they can squeeze on a boat, the more money they make.

Size, it seems matters.  I’ve been on smaller boats and had a great time.  We got to see and do a lot on the smaller ships.  We saw shows, ate, drank, and played in the casino.  On the Vista, we didn’t do much of that at all.  We never got into one comedy show and the only variety show we were able to get into, we had a great view of a very shiny pole.  The Vista holds about 4,000 passengers and lines are as long as the football field length hallways.

So don’t be surprised if the last day of the cruise arrives and you have yet to experience the fun they are always touting, unless, of course, you consider waiting in lines fun.  There are infinite lines, lines,  everywhere lines.  The shows that you can actually get into are basically glorified infomercials, selling something.

And if you are a repeat cruiser and have been there, done that excursion, don’t bother staying on the boat.  There will be nothing to do, unless you want to get in the pool. And honestly, it is the best time to get in the pool since it won’t be crowded. If you want to spend some money you can always visit the spa.

When it comes to food, be prepared for yet again endless lines.  If you like the buffets you may not be able to see the end of the line without a pair of binoculars.  For example, at breakfast, we waited in line while people behind poked us with the tough like plates.  And when we finally got our food we had to walk around holding the plate till we found a place to park it before dinner.  Fortunately for me, I never cared for buffets.  The restaurant is a better bet as long as you can make it by their hours of operation.  On port days, better not sleep in.

Now, as we all know there is a lot of drinking on these boats.  They don’t call them fun ships for nothing.  The bathrooms are kind of wonky.  You may find the ladies room and think that the men’s room would be in pretty much the same vicinity, but you are wrong. I came across many a man confused, and bewildered, wandering around looking for the men’s room.

When the boat is at sea the pools as so full of people you may need a crowbar to shimmy yourself a spot.  There wasn’t a kiddie pool anywhere that I know of so kids were jumping and splashing into a crowd.  And I’ve yet to see anyone leave their drinks on the trays around the pool to find a bathroom.  And with all that drinking…see where I’m going here?  I’m kind of wondering if getting in that pool isn’t that different from sitting in a giant toilet bowl.

When you are a repeat cruiser they supposedly give you extra benefits.  Since I’ve been on six cruises, they gave us two free bottles of water and a drink coupon on the last day.  September is my birthday month and on my last cruise with my birthday two weeks away, they gave me a $50 certificate to the spa and a bottle of wine.  Nice touch.  This year, same time, different boat, yup, you guessed it I got Zippo.  And I don’t’ mean the lighter.

Finally, I don’t want to sound like a total negative Nancy buzz kill.  There are some pluses.  Aren’t there always a few pluses?  I have to say it was easier to get on the boat this time, without so much red tape.  The photos are no longer posted willy-nilly on bulletin boards but digitally presented on large screens.  And you can find it easily with a touch of a button in the photo section or on your cell phone.  All of that certainly saves paper.  So you did your part for the environment by saving a few trees.  You can do a lot on your cell phone, buy photos, order excursions and see what is going on at any specific moment.

They have a pretty nice IMAX theater on board showing current movies, for an additional fee of course.  If you want popcorn, however, you will be eating it out of a prepackaged little bag.  No popcorn smell to entice you and make you feel like you are really in a theater.

The food is much better on this boat than some of the boats I’ve been on.  Don’t get me wrong, on my first cruise several years ago the food was awesome.  Then it kind of went mediocre.  Now it’s pretty awesome again in the restaurants. 

That’s it for the pluses…Technology may have helped to get all the people on the boat easily, but leaving is quite another story.  Chaos is too kind a word.  We stood on a stairwell for quite some time inching along.  It seems that Carnival while getting 4,000 people off the boat are also in the process of loading 4,000 people on for the next cruise.  It feels kind of like, “hey we got your money, now get off.”  We were thankful that we didn’t check our luggage but hand carried because after waiting in this endless line we were herded into a big warehouse where the luggage was laying everywhere akin to a giant Easter egg hunt. 

To sum it all up, Carnival needs to get back to what made them fun.  They need to re-visit the little things that made people feel special and kept them re-booking new cruises.  On the large boats, they need to have more shows and things to do so that everyone and not just those who stand in line an hour before, can participate.

If there are inches between people in the pools and one has to shimmy into the water, maybe, just maybe, they need more pools.  Carnival is boasting that they are ready to unveil even larger boats than the Vista next year.  McDonald'snalds canceled the supersize and I think that Carnival should consider following suit.  Then again more people, means more money.  I still think that cruises are great value for a vacation, but should I cruise again, it will be only on the smaller boats.  And I think 6 cruises behind me it may be the time to try a different cruise line.


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