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Cruising anyone.........?

I was flicking through a newspaper, the other day, when an advertisement for a cruise caught my eye. Oh hell, let’s get a bit closer to the truth. I was flicking through a cruise brochure the other day – I think it was called ‘The Daily Express’ – when, interestingly, I discovered a small news item.  This news  was neatly sandwiched between ‘Idyllic 14 day Caribbean Cruise Adventure’, and ‘Romantic 10 day Reunion Cruise to the Greek Islands’. Both cruises were available for ‘from less than £100 per person per day’.  I was invited to find this price ‘amazing’.

So, I sat back in my chair, and tried to be amazed. I carefully re-read the advertisement, and to be fair, I was eventually amazed, for reasons I shall explain. For a start, that amazing price is only available if the ‘person’ in the ‘per person’ description is, in fact, part of a couple. As in two ‘persons’. Thus, in reality, £200 per couple, per day. Then, I discovered that this price applied only to the booking of something called an ‘inside twin’ cabin. This, apparently, will be rather more than averagely small, and have no windows. It will have no windows, because it is buried somewhere in the bowels of the ship, and if it had a window, all you would see would be the intimate workings of the ship’s main propeller shaft, which will be eighteen inches away. When I say more than averagely small, I do, in fact, mean tiny. It will offer the breadth of living space that many would find unacceptable, including those processed by the criminal justice system. If offered to the average prisoner, he/she would be off to the European Court of Human Rights in a flash, citing ‘far too small’, ‘no natural daylight’ and, ‘moves up and down, and side to side, in bad weather’. And he/she would win.

In the world of cruising, there is a considerable premium to be paid for personal space. You can get a larger cabin, and even a cabin with a window.  But it will cost you far more than £100 per person per night. Or, £200 per two persons per night. If you are seriously claustrophobic, you can take your kids out of public school, and invest the money in something called a suite. This, of course, will cost you a fortune, but it will have the benefit of, probably two, windows. It will be slightly bigger than your hallway at home, but at least you will be able to walk around the bed without banging your hip on the door handle, or stubbing your toe on the shower cubicle. Unless you take particularly big strides, of course.

OK, so you are not going to spend all of your time in your cabin. There must be an attractive side to cruising. Maybe it is the exotic destinations? Perhaps. But then, and I don’t know if you have noticed, but ships do have a tendency to dock in ports. And one feature that identifies ports, throughout the world, is the amount of vertical engineering on view. Mainly cranes, and container lifts, but additionally there are normally also quite a lot those wind farm thingys. Those towers with the big propellers, that make an irritating noise, and behead birds. There will be a hut, of course, with a sign outside saying ‘Immigration Control’. Within the hut will be a sweaty man, smoking a cigarette, and he will charge you £30 for the privilege of stamping your passport and allowing you ashore for 6 hours. After paying your £30, you will join the optional tour at a cost of a further £60. Each. A coach will drive you for an hour and a half down the road where you will stop at a carefully selected local beauty spot, complete with a craft complex, souvenir shop, and restaurant. Where you stop will have been based upon the amount of kick-back the complex management have given the cruise company for delivering you, and your wallet, to their particular establishment. You will have a traditional local meal, probably involving goat, get a garland of cheap flowers, and then be left to your own devices for two hours, before the coach returns you to the port. You will take about 100 digital photographs of the view. You will then spend ages watching  local artisans make clay pots, or ‘silver’ jewellery, and then have an argument with your wife regarding  buying a pot or five.

You don’t have to go on the tour, of course. That is why it is an optional extra. You could stay on the ship, and look at the container lifts. Or count the decapitated bird corpses floating in the harbour. Alternatively, you could go ashore and strike out on your own. Really? Bear in mind that you are in a port. The first few streets will contain agent’s offices and chandlers. Then will come the operating territory of those who thrive, legally, or more likely illegally, on the fact that a port is an international gateway and everything that this represents. Try not to get mugged. And don’t buy any drugs. Or visit a brothel.

So, where are we then? We have looked at the accommodation and the exotic travel. What is left? Oh, of course, the fine dining and the opportunity to meet interesting people among your fellow passengers – or guests as the cruise company will call them. Now, there has to be an upside to the fact that you have spent an awful lot of money to enjoy the privilege of living in a broom cupboard for a fortnight. So, the food will be good. Not excellent, but it will be good. As good as the ship’s chefs can make it, bearing in mind that they are probably feeding around 1,500 people every mealtime. It will be most unlikely that you will contract scurvy.

What may be difficult will be to find agreeable dining companions. Apart from anything else, you will be the only couple, on the entire 1,500 hundred passenger manifest, that are prepared to confess that this is your first cruise. Every other passenger will be able to bore for England, on the topic of cruising. Inevitably, on the first night, you will be allocated an undesirable table in an apparently waiter-free zone. Your companions will be Mr and Mrs Clever Cloggs, and you have got them because no-one else will sit with them. Mr Cloggs will immediately launch into a long, incredibly detailed, description of how he cleverly negotiated a 90% discount on the cruise price. And that they are, in fact, travelling for practically nothing. Mrs Cloggs, will coo, and nod, and remind Mr Cloggs of any intricate details that he omits from this long tale of financial astuteness. It will be complete rubbish, of course. Apart from anything else, had they actually negotiated a significant discount, they would have been required to lodge their kneecaps with the purser, as a deposit against telling anyone about it.

By the seventh night, and the seventh consecutive request for a different table, you will finally find some pleasant companions. You will get mildly tiddly, and tell the detailed story about how you found a nearly new Aga at a house clearance in Beckenham, how it nearly broke the springs on your mate’s transit van, and how you fitted it in your kitchen, successfully connecting it to your central heating system, against the advice of your plumber. You will tell the tale again on the eighth night because, strangely, your previous companions are sitting at a different table. You will decide that getting tiddly is a good idea, while your wife clearly doesn’t agree.

By the end of the cruise, you will have got the hang of it all. You will have learned how to bully your way to a reasonable table in the restaurant, and you will have ‘your’ table in the cabaret bar. A natural order will have been established, and you will have been slotted in accordingly. It is, after all, the only way that 1,500 people can manage to inhabit an overcrowded environment without too much open warfare. There will be warfare, of course. There will be as many deep enmities develop as deep friendships, but hopefully, you won’t be involved in anything negative. By now, you are hooked, and are already discussing the logistics of your next cruise. From what I can see, cruising is more addictive than heroin, and will most certainly have a similar effect on your disposable income.

Consider that the basic price for your 14 night cruise was, for the two of you, £2,800. Then there was the spending money. Spending money? Oh, yes. Not everything on board is free. Drinks for example. They will be prohibitively expensive, despite that they will have been loaded aboard on a duty free basis. Then there will be the on-board shops, and boutiques, and hairdressers, and chiropodists.  And the £50 you lost most nights in the casino. The ‘optional’ excursions at each exotic port of call, without which you might as well have spent a fortnight sitting on an upmarket ferry. Then there will be the tips. The cruise price may well have been advertised as including tips, but just try and make anything happen on board without a little financial lubrication, and simultaneously discover isolated frustration.

So, your 14 nights will, most probably, have cost you in excess of £4,500. And this is where I do start to become amazed. Because, for that kind of money, I could purchase 14 nights worth of genuine relaxation almost anywhere in the world. I am not talking about a pop star extravaganza, but I am saying that, for that amount of money, you can find genuine space, comfort, ambience, and personal service. Be it in London, New York, the Caribbean, or the Seychelles.

Then, I get to thinking about the cost of a full page newspaper advertisement. And then, the number of full page cruise advertisements that are taken in British newspapers in any given week. Plus the supplements, and the glossy brochures. Who pays for those? Well, ultimately, you do, it comes out of your £4,500. It is deducted from the amount of money that they are prepared to spend on you, and invested in attracting your next door neighbour to spend a similar amount of money.  Then, I consider that virtually every viable shipyard in the world is busy building yet more cruise liners. Who is paying for those? Well, albeit indirectly, again, it is you.

So, for me, I am afraid that I don’t believe that enough of the cost is reflected in giving me value for my money. I appreciate that I am in a minority, but you go and live in a cupboard for two weeks. And I will go to the Maldives, in some luxury, for about half the price. That really is amazing.