Expectation is a wonderful thing -- so wonderful, in fact, that it sometimes makes reality pale in comparison. Of course this is why cruising is so popular: for most people, expectation and reality represent the same thing on a cruise. In fact, that is a good way to remember the definition of "synonymous": expectation = cruise reality.
Readers probably expect that cruise columnists are gadding about the seven seas every other week, embarking on one cruise after another, racking up those "frequent fathoms" nautical miles. Doug, Alan, and I wish that were true. Reality here is, however, considerably less than expectation. Every cruise is, for us, just as precious as it is for you. And also why our tolerance for imperfection is every bit as limited as yours -- perhaps even more so.
Last month, I spent a week on a Royal Caribbean Nordic Empress cruise to Bermuda, and took the entire family along. For those of you who have kept up with these columns, you know that I have spent a good bit of time thinking about children and cruising. While there is absolutely a place for children on a cruise, abundant and succinct responses from readers indicate that the tolerance for "uncivilized" children on a cruise is rather limited. "Non-existent" comes to mind.
I don't blame you a bit. You don't deserve to have your cruise spoiled by a troupe of ankle-biters pitching fits on every public deck, ramming around like barbarians, playing musical elevators, tripping elderly gentlemen and ladies, cannon-balling innocent swimmers, and generally ricocheting around the ship completely unsupervised. Parents: if you intend to take your children on a cruise, expect to keep them in sight and under control during the entire voyage. If you think that your renegade will redeem him- or herself in a remarkable and mysterious transformation during a cruise, think again. If anything, closing your rug rats within a dozen or so decks will bring out all of their least admirable qualities in short order.
I am therefore pleased to report that not one but at least a half-dozen elderly doyens remarked, at the end of my most recent family cruise, on how well-behaved my children were during the entire passage. In fact, a few actually sought us out at the last dinner to compliment us on the deportment of our little "gentlemen." Don't for one moment think that this didn't cost my wife and I many stern words behind closed cabin doors to accomplish. But I wanted all of you -- anyone on this particular cruise -- to enjoy yourselves without subjecting you to my children's poor behavior. Thank goodness, Matthew and Nicholas cooperated, and we all had our best vacation ever.
No, my children were not the worm in the apple on this cruise. Some older adolescents (in years, but not in maturity) were. Blame it on the budget.
I'm on a budget. I'll bet all of you are, too. That is undoubtedly why you so much appreciate the all-inclusive nature of a cruise. One price, one heck of a good time.
With four passengers using my Visa card as a flotation device, I had to be pretty careful with this cruise. No balconies and top decks for me this time around. Instead, we chose an inside quad with upper bunks for the boys, on "B" deck. Was the room small? Well, I have a walk-in closet at home that is only a few square feet smaller. Did that bother us? Absolutely not. We knew exactly what to expect, didn't plan to spend much time in the cabin, and were completely satisfied with the amenities. (All right, all right, I'm lying a little bit. My wife's shoe closet at home takes up more space than our cabin on this ship, and she was initially a bit perturbed. But she got used to it. Really.)
I slipped our cabin steward a ten spot on the first night of the cruise, and we had excellent service throughout. Our waiters were young, energetic, personable, professional, and good. The food was excellent. We didn't take any shore excursions -- just negotiated our own -- so there are no complaints in that department. The evening entertainment ranged from really good to so-so, but even at its worst, it beat what we usually spend our evenings doing. The weather ranged from spectacular to idyllic. The kids had an absolute blast, and we kept them with us the entire time because both my wife and I work and we don't spend nearly enough time with them (no children's program for us). The seas were at about 5 feet on the outbound portion of the cruise. On the way home, the ocean was like a bathtub, with whales lifting their tails in the distance, and the ship plowing placidly and majestically through that calm sea. What a cruise!
Oh, yes. But there was that worm in the apple. We didn't discover this until the third night aboard. On that evening, our neighbors returned at about two a.m. and began hammering on the walls, screaming, playing loud rock music, and generally making complete donkeys of themselves. (I'd use a stronger word, but this is a family publication). After about a half hour of these shenanigans, someone down the hall visited them and suggested that they might consider quieting down. His thank-you was a response suggesting a physical act that is both unspeakable and biologically impossible. And then my kids woke up.
I can tolerate darn near anything. Just don't mess with my family. I paid our boorish neighbors my own visit. One obviously intoxicated post-adolescent (perhaps twenty years old) came to the door to regard me with eyes that had far more red than white. "Whachawan?" he said. I suggested that he might consider quieting down before I investigated whether his head might actually fit up his alimentary tract. "KindowhatIwan," he mumbled. "Paidathousanbucksferthiscruise," he continued. I repeated my earlier suggestion regarding the potential for flexibility that the human body miraculously possesses. He and his two equally-intoxicated cabin-mates actually did quiet down after about a half hour.
The next day, I visited the Purser's Desk to ask for advice regarding my inconsiderate neighbors. The young man on duty was completely professional, apologized profusely, and said to call the Purser's Desk immediately should this occur again. Fortunately, the adjacent cabin was virtually empty for the next several nights, when we were in port. I suppose the bars in Bermuda are open quite late.
However, on our last night at sea, I knew we were in for a siege. On returning from dinner, we found three young ladies (and I use this word with a dash of irony and a pinch of sarcasm) in the corridor outside our cabin. They had a boom box going, and one of them was apparently practicing her dance moves for what must be a rather successful career on small, dark stages, entertaining an all-male audience. The young gentlemen (see earlier parenthetical commentary) were banging about in their room, cursing and gearing up to spend the evening en suite. I suppose their beer money had run out.
What did I do? This is a family publication, and the publisher has forbidden me from relating what next transpired. Perhaps it suffices to say that the young man next door now has a career in the circus as a contortionist.
Nevertheless, here are some suggestions regarding how to avoid such a situation when you are cruising, and what to do when it cannot be avoided:
If you encounter such a neighbor, you must decide whether to:
The second choice is the safer course, although not very satisfying. Though the cruise lines do not advertise this, noise complaints do occur on many cruises, and the security department is well equipped to deal with this issue. Whatever you do, don't just tolerate it, blame it on the cruise line, and forever write them off. The cruise line wants you to have a good cruise experience, and they will deal with unreasonable behavior if you alert them to the fact. (Royal Caribbean actually said that if our neighbors repeated their behavior, they would house them in a "holding area" until they sobered up.)
Unfortunately, there are idiots everywhere. Cruise lines offer berths to whomever has the money and books the cabin. The cruise line is not to blame. In fact, on my cruise, the cruise line did absolutely everything right -- and often even achieved my absolutely unreasonable expectations.
If we can blame anyone, perhaps it is bad parents. Why don't you civilize your kids before they become old enough to drink and roundly annoy reasonable people everywhere? If my eight- and nine-year-olds can impress elderly ladies, one might think that virtually anyone can be taught manners. Lord knows my monsters had few of them until only recently.
And as for you young drunkards out there, who apparently believe that paying a few hundred dollars for a berth gives you the constitutional right to annoy, aggravate, dismay, bother, badger and otherwise harass civilized cruisers everywhere: you better hope that I'm not your neighbor on the next cruise. That's right, punk. Go ahead. Make my cruise.
Brent "Eastwood" Betit is a freelance writer who lives in Vermont with his wife and two young children. Brent reviews his Nordic Empress cruise he mentions in this article elsewhere in this month's SeaLetter.
Brent has written many SeaLetter columns on such subjects as sea-going language, cruising with kids and cruise etiquette. To find all of Brent's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, use the SeaLetter Search Engine entering "Brent Betit" as your search phrase.
Brent is always interested in your comments and suggestions and may be reached at: Brent@sealetter.com.
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