Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is Cruising Really Travel?

My post of yesterday has started an interesting discussion on The Gold Standard Forum with a question posed by Diebroke (I love that name!): Is Cruising Really Travel?

I thought it better to express my thoughts here and allow others to discuss their feelings on the forum. What is interesting about the premise is that a cruise is a personal thing. For every single person that walks onto a cruise ship their idea of what a cruise is differs, their desires differ, their aspirations differ and, therefore, their perspectives differ. That is why, in large part, there are so many different flavors of cruise lines.

But before I get to that I do want to point out a bit of irony. Diebroke mentioned a June 29, 2009 blog post by Arthur Frommer, the travel writer and publisher entitled: My 12-Day Med Cruise: Loads and Loads of Fun, But Not the Deeply Fulfilling Activity Travel Can Be. The article starts of, "Don't ever call it Travel. It's not. At best, it's a prelude to travel, like the appetizers that precede a meal, like an hors d'oeuvre. It's like those whirlwind tours by escorted motorcoach that used to bring you 13 countries in 14 days." Knowing that Frommer's Guide information is going to be available on my website Goldring Travel very soon, the irony becomes apparent.

One must juxtapose Mr. Frommer's comments from the philosophy of AFAR Magazine, "If your idea is staying at big-name chain hotels, touching every attraction in the guidebook, easting what you eat at home, and being in bed by 9 p.m., we're afraid that AFAR might not be for you." Respectfully, isn't AFAR referring to the very same Frommer's Guides???

And then there is the Iamboatman/Goldring Travel approach. Yesterday I said it very clearly: Cruises are supposed to be about travel; seeing new places and seeking out life-enriching experiences.

How can that exist if Arthur Frommer says it doesn't? It is simple: Frommer's is a wonderful and reliable resource for "information". It is not a resource for "how to travel" or "how to see things". Arther Frommer made a huge mistake...because he obviously doesn't have the experience of traveling by cruise ship: He did what the cruise line told him to do! (Didn't we just have a "discussion" yesterday that it is up to the traveler to do what is best for him/her, not be trained by the cruise line, because doing otherwise is fraught with danger?)

Mr. Frommer speaks of motorcoaches. Anyone who has ever sought my advice will tell you that I pretty much suggest avoiding taking a ship's tour "with 50 of your favorite new friends". (How many of you have heard me say that? Show of hands!) There is usually no good reason to get on the bus. It will, especially on the larger ships/lines, be a huge disappointment and a frustration.

Example: (And I have written about this, so obviously Mr. Frommer hasn't read my blog!) Next month I am taking my family on the Celebrity Equinox and will be visiting Israel for two days. We have arranged an expert guide specializing in Jewish history to take our family in a private van from Haifa to Jerusalem to Ashdod, overnighting at a Palestinian owned and operated hotel in Jerusalem. The cruise ship experience (at substantially more money BTW) is a bus ride to and from Haifa to see things from a more Christian view (the obvious majority) and then the next day is another long bus ride to and from Ashdod to see Jerusalem...or an overnight at a non-descript hotel at even more money. Hence, many more hours in a bus, less seen, less done, less experiences.

Mr. Frommer speaks of it being a prelude to travel, like appetizers. That comment, to me, is so "ugly American". If you have been to Paris you have been to France. If you can't see it all, why bother going. Who came up with stuff? Spain, Italy and other cultures have made such things an entire cuisine and mainstay of a lifestyle: Tapas anyone? Ever go to a really good buffet and get excited because you don't know where to start. It all looks so good, but you don't want to overfill your plate. So you carefully plan and taste the things that look best to you. You then say, "That was good, but not as good as I thought" or "I want more of that. I have to make a second trip to the buffet" Cruise travel is exactly the same thing.

I have written extensively on how to travel and have given hours and hours of advice to my clients on how to do it so that it is "life-enriching". I have been to Athens how many times? I am excited to go back because there is is the brand new Museum. I was just in Venice last month and "have to" go back in September where I will take a walking wine tour. Rhodes - looking forward to getting lost in the labyrinth of alleys again. Do you remember my story of the little restaurant in St. Tropez which we found only by strolling around and seeing a wonderful galvanized bucket with bright red gladiolas down a very narrow alley? What of the wonderful woman in Sirince, Turkey who cooked and cooked for our small group? Ever get lost in culinary heaven at La Boqueria in Barcelona? These are not bus trips. They are not 50 people with a flag-holding guide. But they are all life experiences taken in while on cruises.

And then there are the comments about Santorini, for example. They may never made it out of the town of Fira! We rented a car, drove to Akrotiri to see the Minoan ruins, stopped for lunch at a local restaurant with awesome views (and pretty much no English spoken), walked on the black sand beaches, dropped the car, dropped the kids back on the ship and came back to enjoy an incredible sunset with a bottle of local wine and fruit before making it back to ship. An incredible day...and not one shopping. (OK, we did some shopping.)

Mykonos - OK, the place is not one of my favorites. But the last time I was "blessed" with having to shop for some dresses with my wife. (Long story.) My reward was being able to sit in a waterfront restaurant with my friend for a couple of hours and watch the boats in the harbour and the people on the promenade. It was, to be sure, quite Greek as we drank ouzo, beer and ate olives and anchovies. (I could have taken the $49 cruise ship bus to the beach, but I thought my experience would be better.)

Naples - Ever try the high speed ferry to Capri for the day? What about a family walking tour where you make pizza in a true Neapolitan pizzeria?

You get the point.

So where does the cruise ship come in. Is it merely transportation? No, it is alas much more. Whether you want Royal Caribbean's "Why Not?" (I love that!!) or Seabourn's "This Is My Yacht" you can find different ways to wind down or up. For me, I prefer a soak in a whirlpool with a glass of champagne, a great meal (assuming I haven't over-indulged on land...or maybe so anyway), some nice conversation with new shipmates and a nightcap. Others want discos and rock climbing. Whatever floats your boat.

So, as I said yesterday, Now regardless of what the cruise lines are doing, in their various forms, it is incumbent upon the traveler to do that which they originally intended to do: Travel.

Mr. Frommer, do you need a good travel agent? I know one. Do you need a good magazine to teach you how to travel? I know one of those too! (I couldn't resist. It is, of course, said in fun and with respect.)