Year after year, the cruise lines fill newspapers, magazines and television with breathtaking photos of their huge white vessels, sailing to exotic ports like Aruba and Cozumel. Scenes of the exciting life at sea include tanned couples enjoying on-board shopping, fabulous cuisine and winning sessions at the ships' casinos. It appears to be vacation perfection.
For years, such inviting presentations made me promise myself that one day I'd be a part of such a happy cruising crowd.
With that dream in mind, I recently questioned some folks on their own cruising adventures. Their first-hand reports took some of the sparkle off my long-held notions.
For instance, Sue and her husband had traveled on a smaller vessel in one of the most popular cruise fleets. Sue reported that once they were well out at sea, they discovered the diminished size of the ship resulted in far greater pitching and heaving than they had expected. It was definitely Dramamine time.
But, worse than the ship's constant motion was the strange odor that permeated every corner of the boat. She learned that this particular cruise ship had been the victim of a "sewer system failure" on its last cruise. Although that problem was apparently resolved, the lingering smell could not be totally eradicated.
The sewer difficulty didn't return while they were at sea, but Sue said for the final days of the trip, they had to take abbreviated showers since the drains were working so slowly the staterooms were threatened with flooding.
Although Sue's experiences didn't match the promises on the cruising brochures, the last trip our neighbors, Sally and Dick, took was far worse. It qualified for the nightmare category.
This latest Caribbean cruise was the seventh for the couple. They were confirmed cruise takers and were eagerly looking forward to a relaxing week of soaking ups the sun, eating the gourmet food and enjoying the on-board casinos.
Sally reported the trip went well until two days before they were to return to homeport. Then, overnight, Sally came down with a devastating gastrointestinal illness, the dreaded Norovirus.
With all the miserable effects of the virus, Sally spent the final days of her cruise quarantined to her quarters. She later learned some 200 passengers of the 3,000 on board had been stricken by the same scourge.
Eventually, the virus victims were supplied with medication to help relieve their miserable symptoms. At the end of the cruise, Sally was unhappily surprised to find charges for the medicine for this on-board infection were added to her final bill.
But Dick found the bright side of the picture. He said with Sally unable to take advantage of all the ship had to offer, they had saved $900 they would have spent at the casino.
Looking back at the experience, Sally said that after every one of their previous cruises, she had hated to see the adventure end. But, after this one, she couldn't wait to get back home.
Sally found an e-mail from the cruise lines waiting for her on her computer. It was a questionnaire asking her to rate her shipboard experience.
A woman blessed with a well-developed vocabulary, Sally put her communication skills to good use in her trip evaluation.
After all I heard from Sue and Sally, I think I can consider myself cured of my long-standing urge to join the excitement of a Caribbean cruise. Instead, I'll be content to shop at the mall, dine at IHOP, tan in the back yard and gamble with an occasional lottery ticket.