Cruise Ships – The Game

Oct 21, 2013

This is our fifth cruise. We are very new at it compared to many of our fellow passengers. As tends to be my habit, it is time for some observations.

Cruise ships are in the business of attracting the financial resources of a growing generation of baby boomers like us while meeting the needs of passengers a bit older and much younger. It is clearly understood that they are in the business of making money. No problem. The trick is to understand how the game is played.

Unlike Vegas, the odds are not always in the favor of the house. First, he ship needs to be full. Empty berths are empty profit centers. Therefore the push is to fill the boat using whatever enticements that can be imagined. Discounting is universal. No one pays full retail the typical discount starts at 40% for cruises months away. Inducements for early booking include ship board credits and possible room upgrades. The trick is to be able to wait until the magic 90 day window when deposits become full payment. At that point the discounts start to rise. I figure the sweet spot is about 60 days out when the 70 to 80% reductions happen. They can be even higher a few days before sailing.

Of course waiting can easily backfire as popular cruises can fill up and the discounts evaporate. You also become increasingly limited in room selection. Be ready for steerage with no ocean view. Our minimum is some daylight for which we willing to pay. Anymore seems unnecessary for the frugal minded. The food and facilities are pretty much the same for everyone although the high rent rooms have their perks like flying First Class.

The best strategy is have a list of trips in mind and be flexible. Don’t be set on one target cruise. Keep you options as open as possible. Be ready to change plans at a moments notice. Plane tickets to cruise ports can be found.

Once on board you realize that the three pillars of excessive profitability are booze, gambling and shore excursions. The funky casinos attract some. They are easy for us to avoid. The access to and the pushing of alcohol is pervasive. We try to be very selective in these choices. We prefer red wine which we manage to locate in almost every port. The Holland America line is going to tragically change their policy and severely limit the amount of wine we can bring on board. I guess we will be drinking less on ship or buying their package booze deals that they are now promoting. The biggest excessive area are the shore excursions.

Shore excursions are sometimes necessary to visit potentially dangerous places like Cairo or Bethlehem. We have found alternatives to the cruise ship tours that are run by locally based competitors. They can be remarkably cheaper. Of course it is the job of the cruise ship people to convince you of the dire consequences of private tours that fail to return you to the ship on time. This has never been a problem.

Most cruise ship tours consist of a trip by bus to a location where you follow a person with a numbered paddle. Most of these tour guides are good at what they do and some are terrible. You need to realize that most of these tours will deposit you in a mandatory shopping stop for a sales pitch. This is probably the most irritating part of the shore excursions. I prefer to do my research and plan to see what I can see by walking or using public transportation. Cruise ships do not provide more than minimal help so you need to figure this stuff out for yourself. Fortunately there is the Internet and many guidebooks. I am sure that I miss some stuff that the guides provide but I also miss out on the rug sales pitches.

It is best to use the ship as a floating hotel providing a place to sleep and eat. We enjoy cruises with as few sea days, like today, as possible. On a sea day the ship can seem pretty small. Walking exercise is great and we manage to survive without the diamond and tanzanite workshops, the expensive wine tasting of mediocre ship wines, the costume jewelry and 3inch diameter watch sales. Mostly we launder and rest for the next few ports of call. Actually the ship board entertainment is a good diversion and the mostly young entertainers give it their all.

Eating and meeting folks from all over and ages is a highlight of cruising for us. No matter their age, they have stories to tell and experiences worth sharing. Many are well traveled and can provide very useful information not to be easily found elsewhere. Of course you also get to find out about their medical and dietary issues, but then we all have some of those. So far we have not felt the need to publicize our limitations. After all, we are about to be aged out of some places that I want to go like climbing Machu Pichu in Peru.

After our limited visit to Civitavecchia, the Roman port, yesterday we are bit eager to,get on with the trip. The ship was only in port for seven hours limiting a visit to Rome to a few hours. Impossible. Did talk to a couple who said they ran to few places. Did not sound like fun. We have visited the other close options like Tarquinia last year. We did a walkabout and that was about it.

This has been a bit of a minor rant, sorry. We will have more interesting stuff tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Cruise Ships – The Game

  1. Interesting observations. Following a person with a paddle is not my idea of a fun time. Never thought about it before….but you are right….tour groups are always dropped at “a mandatory shopping stop”. I have observed this both here and in Oz.

  2. I only went on one cruise, and it was just a 4-day event. We went ashore twice and were free to pursue our own adventures. The Carnival ship I was on never seemed small, although it was amazing how often I would run into the same people despite the thousands aboard.

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