For a moment, Jim Duffy contemplates booking a cruise, then remembers he can’t imagine anything worse.
Never say never! But you will not get me on a cruise ship in month of Sundays. I could not imagine anything worse than spending seven days confined on a floating tenement being carried from port to port, while I am nudged into recreational activity with my new shipmates, one of whom may be carrying the lurgy.
Despite this, in a week when the First Minister would probably love to escape for a quiet, anonymous cruise where the chances of her bumping into her old boss are slim to none, I almost considered booking a cruise holiday.
Well, I considered the crazy notion for five minutes then swiftly moved on once I had read, yet again, about another cruise-liner having to come back to port early. It seems that the Royal Caribbean ship Oasis of the Seas is not living up to its name. The liner is coming home early after more than 270 crew and passengers fell ill.
It seems a norovirus bug has incapacitated so many that people have been confined to their rooms. Fair play to Royal Caribbean though who have stated that all passengers will receive full refunds. A generous gesture that others in the travel industry could do well tocopy. But, I still can’t get my head around why anyone would want to be confined on a floating holiday camp for long periods of time, particularly as it costs a small fortune.
The whole concept of taking a large block of flats, turning it on its side, then attaching it to a ship’s hull confuses me somewhat. If you have a look at the big cruise ships these days, they are mammoth beasts. Mini horizontal skyscrapers – planted on several thousand tonnes of steel, bobbing up and down in the ocean – feel a bit daunting to me. Rows and rows of windows stacked up on floor upon floor of cabin levels. Trying to find your room on one of these things after a night in the bar must be like spinning a Rubik’s Cube and hoping for the one side to come out yellow. Add to this the complexity of stairwells, lifts and galleries and it seems it will take passengers a week just get to grips with their bearings.
Then we have the activities on board. Many of you might remember Butlins holiday camps when you were younger. Or maybe even Su Pollard as Peggy Ollerenshaw beaming out “Hi de hi” over the tannoy in the BBC fictional portrayal of a holiday camp. It was organised fun at different times of the day with some theatre, some disco and some shows thrown in. And let’s not forget the bingo and the fun in the pool. Yes, these are all available on board your luxury cruise in the 21st century. Of course, all looking a whole lot swankier. There are casinos, slot machines, video game booths for the kids and big water chutes to have fun on. Nothing has really changed here, except the price!
Then there is the dining experience. Depending on how much you want to pay, you can queue up with the rest of your shipmates or get a slot for dinner trussed up in black tie outfits hoping for a picture with the captain. Liners these days have multiple restaurants. But, they need them as the huge amount of people requiring grub every four hours is a gigantic undertaking. And there will always be those shipmates who like to get there early to get the best seats. Eating and drinking on cruise liners appears to be a big focus on the offering. But, it is here that human weakness comes to the fore as bugs, mites and germs love a good feast in a closed environment.
So, inevitably throughout the cruise industry there are outbreaks of illnesses like norovirus. In 2018, there were 12 serious outbreaks of gastrointestinal intestinal illness on big cruise ships. And, with thousands of crew and passengers on the biggest ships, these viruses can spread like wildfire. It seems hand sanitizer dispensers are everywhere on these ships. That sounds like a local NHS hospital to me.
Combine all of this with the fact that I need to go through all the palaver of getting on a plane simply to get to my cruise ship and it adds to my reticence to go cruising. Let’s not forget the weather. Whether you head to the Caribbean or the Med, there are always days when the sea is a bit bumpy. This must make sitting in the ship’s cinema interesting!
No, I can safely say that my mind is closed to jumping into a giant sardine can that is all at sea for a seven-day cruise. But, unlike me, there is an astonishing number of people who just love it.
Perhaps it takes a certain type to want to mix at such close quarters with 6,000 people on a floating hotel that has a 24-hour promenade – a bit like Blackpool. I admire those happy wanderers who are willing to queue to get on, queue to eat then queue to get off. Maybe the open-air laser tag range or the go karting at sea is what gets them all fired up. But, having queued up for so much, I’d want to lie down and sunbathe – if I can get my towel on a sun bed. After all, there is some big competition here with so many shipmates to contend with.
This industry is booming with new bigger and fancier ships on order and coming on stream. But, I’ll be happy to say “bon voyage” from the pier as they sail off into the distance.