Tag Archives: mediterranean

Table for three

Cruise lines have plenty of events for single travellers

Most big cruise lines offer social activities for minority or special interest groups, but I’ve never seen a line embrace the subject as enthusiastically as Princess Cruises does.

On the day we boarded (Monday), there was a Singles’ Mingle, which I missed as we were having dinner, a special gathering for 18-20 year olds, who are too old for the teen club, and a GLBT Get-Together (whatever happened to Friends of Dorothy?).

On Tuesday, the Friends of Bill W had a meeting (for those of you who are not familiar with the term, this is the wording used in the daily programme for an AA group and all big cruise ships have them).  I missed the Singles’ Mingle yet again on Wednesday as it was at a weird time (5.15) and we were swimming, although the golfers, scrabble players, GLBT and 18-20s on board all had a chance to hook up.

Today is a sea day and it’s non-stop opportunities for finding kindred spirits. There are social events for bridge players, first-time cruisers, Service Club members, GLBT passengers and freemasons, a Friends of Bill W meeting, a veterans’ gathering and a service for anybody wanting to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath.

No Singles’ Mingle today, though, which makes me worry that I’ve missed the boat, as it were. Maybe all the singles paired off on the first couple of days?

I appreciate that I’m including a religious event and an AA support group with the social activities all in one stream of thought here, but it seems there is something to encourage everybody to connect – except me, as a single parent on a cruise. Even if there were a single parents’ mingle, I expect I’d be the only one there as I haven’t spotted any other obvious candidates. Everybody is either paired off or travelling in a big group. The three of us – me and two kids – certainly seem a curiosity to the crew and every time we sit down in a bar or restaurant, I am asked, “Where is your husband?”

I don’t mind at all and this is not a sob story, although we are thinking of inventing some colourful reason as to why he’s not here; ran off with a showgirl, perhaps, or on a secret mission somewhere. It just seems strange to me that more single parents aren’t attracted to cruising, as it’s such an easy holiday. The kids love it, I’m quite happy lying around reading, we’re ashore every day and we’re very happy having dinner together and going to the shows in the evenings.  But if I did want to hook up with people, it might be easier if I were travelling solo, a scrabble enthusiast or a masonic Friend of Dorothy.

SJB

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Filed under Amenities, Cruise Lines, Family Cruises, Mediterranean Cruise, Singles Cruises

Cruising the Med on Ruby Princess

While Carolyn, our editor-in-chief, explores Britain on Holland America Line’s Westerdam, I’m heading off to the sunshine and sailing on Ruby Princess  from Rome to Venice, via Monaco, Livorno, Naples and the Greek Islands. 

Ruby Princess

It may be a slightly unconventional trip. As I have my children (aged 11 and 13) with me, we’ll probably skip Ephesus and shop for bling in the market in Kusadasi, while there are demands for a beach trip from Katakolon instead of a cultural day at Olympia.

For Corfu, I’ve already located the Aqualand theme park and the bus that will get us there. The only concession to sightseeing my kids have made is Pompeii.

The way I see it, it’s going to be extremely hot and this is a family holiday, not my personal cultural odyssey around the ancient Mediterranean. So I’m contenting myself with the fact that in the absence of much that their school teachers would approve of, my kids will at least experience a bit of local culture, as they’ll be travelling by Italian train, Corfiot bus, Greek donkey (in Santorini) and on foot up to the crater of Vesuvius after Pompeii.

On board, we intend to eat our way round the ship (happy memories from previous meals in Sabatini’s!), check out the kids’ club (them), go to the gym every day (me, famous last words), celebrate a birthday and watch movies under the stars.

I’ll also be attending my first Cruise Critic ‘meet ‘n’ mingle’, having signed up to the roll call for this cruise, and am looking forward to meeting some ‘real’ members, instead of virtual ones!

Keep checking back as it’s going to be a busy week on the Cruise Critic blog! SJB

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Filed under Family Cruises, Mediterranean Cruise

A whine about wine

Visit the home page of Cruise Critic today and you’ll see a section called Things To Know Before You Go, packed with information on all those cruising mysteries – tipping, dress code, staying in touch… and one of the most contentious subjects of all: bringing your own alcohol on board.

Cruise lines’ attitudes to BYO alcohol range from perfectly reasonable to nannying to apparently illogical. I’m not campaigning for the idea of bringing truckloads of your own booze on board and depriving the cruise line of bar revenue. Just a couple of innocent bottles of wine.

It’s summer in the Mediterranean. Wine-tasting excursions abound. Ships are calling at ports where the shops are stocked with delicious, cheap French rosés from small Provencal growers, while passengers are enjoying tastings in exquisite Tuscan country estates. What’s wrong with loving a new wine so much that you buy a bottle to enjoy with dinner that night?

Yes, of course we’ll pay a corkage fee, just like we would in a restaurant at home. Yet some cruise lines are completely relaxed with this, while others forbid it completely.

Take P&O, for example: a blanket ban on BYO. Also, Fred. Olsen, MSC and Royal Caribbean. Any booze you buy on your travels is confiscated and handed back to you at the end of the cruise. Costa allows you to bring a bottle, in theory, but the procedure is so complicated (you have to write a letter two weeks in advance for approval and produce both the letter and the wine on embarkation for inspection) that it’s hardly worth bothering.

Cunard, though, along with Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line will allow you to consume your own wine for a corkage fee of around $20. And hats off to foodie-friendly Oceania Cruises, which assumes that you may have enjoyed one of its shore excursions so much that you’d quite like to buy some regional wine ashore and crack it open at dinner to remind you of the day.

Less so Azamara, which insists you can only bring your own wine at the beginning of the cruise, thus removing all spontaneity.

I know there are plenty of logical arguments against letting guests supply their own wine: loss of revenue, diluting the cruise line’s own effort, storing everybody’s wine, chilling it, reuniting each bottle with the right owner.

But why do some cruise lines treat us like adults and others like irresponsible kids?

SJB

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Filed under Dining

What do you really want from a port of call?

Every now and then, one of the opinion polls in the Cruise Critic message boards captures the imagination of our members and fires off a spirited debate.

The one I’m referring to (it’s here: http://tinyurl.com/2felwxo) was inspired by the announcement a few months ago by Azamara Cruises that it was going to offer more port-intensive itineraries, with deeper ‘immersion’ in the local culture. We asked you what cruise lines should do to improve the whole destination experience – a question that’s particularly relevant as the Mediterranean, where culture is one of the main attractions, enters its peak season.

Personally, I would have ticked nearly all the boxes; surely anything that makes it easier to explore the local culture is a good thing? As it turned out, though, everybody has a different idea!

Top billing went to the suggestion that cruise lines provide suggestions for independent exploration, like self-guided walks; 58.48 percent of the respondents voted for this. Similarly, more authentic port lecturers, who actually lived in the ports of call, would be popular, as would an alert to any festivals going on when the ship was in port. More food and wine from the region in which the ship was travelling got the thumbs up from 57.75 percent, while 53.17 percent wanted free destination information. And by that, I imagine they don’t mean photocopied maps of the shopping area.

The ensuing discussion pointed out that we’d missed out more overnights in port, which I imagine would be a winner (and in the case of Azamara, is beginning to happen).

What made me smile was the universal slamming of the dreaded ‘shopping programme’, whereby a ‘lecturer’ advises the willing on board where to shop in port. Needless to say, the cruise line gets a kickback for any purchases made.

Member SeaStar2 wanted “Port talks that don’t stress shopping but rather the history and culture of the ports….better maps that show something besides the stores in an area.”

Member MrsMuir was less charitable: “The so-called port ambassadors should walk the plank, and port lecturers should take their place.”

Member Hlitner, meanwhile, has a conspiracy theory: “The dirty truth about cruise lines is their main interest in ports is selling their own overpriced excursions. Cruise line excursions are a nice profit center for cruise lines who increasingly rely on-board expenditures to fatten the bottom line. Many cruise lines no longer provide any good information for travelers who want to do things on their own.”

Strong stuff. And may I put in my own request for improving the local experience? Although 38.03 percent thought it was a good idea to bring local entertainers on board, does it always have to be the ubiquitous ‘folkloric’ show? I’m all for a spot of impromptu Greek dancing after dinner in a taverna (after enough retsina) or taking a flamenco class in Spain but how many of you really attend/enjoy/remember yet another display from a handkerchief-waving dance troupe with, heaven forbid, audience participation?

Shout me down if I’m wrong, though!

SJB

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Filed under Destinations