From a small northwestern observatory…

Finance and economics generally focused on real estate

Cruise Lines?

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Ironically, until recently, I’d never set foot on a cruise ship.  I say “ironically”, because I love the water, and intriguingly enough, Celebrity Cruise Lines used to be a client of mine.  Yep.  I helped them with a major financial matter a few years ago, but never set foot on one of their boats.  (Parenthetically, thanks to the Navy, I spent a fair amount of time in my younger days on big grey hulled monsters that carry guns.)

Well, last month, Ms. K and a couple of her friends coaxed me onto a Norwegian Cruise Lines boat for the week-long passage from Seattle to Alaska and return.  (A couple of pictures from our trip are on my Facebook page.)  I wouldn’t exactly say I’m “hooked”, but I can see doing it again.  Since I’m one of those guys who likes to figure out how things work, I’ll make a few observations.  If any of you readers have observations — either the same as mine or different — please let me know!

1.  We were lucky enough to have a small suite.  In general — and this is a gross generalization — the pecking order for rooms goes up from “inside” to “outside” to “small suite” to “large suite”.  There are plenty of degrees of separation within those four categories, but basically everything falls into one of those four.  The inside cabins, with no windows, are pretty cheap.  They seemed to be a great solution for younger couples with small kids (the cruise ship we were on had nearly constant activities for kids of all ages) or for older couples who were going to spend all of their time in a lounge.  The outside cabins — particularly on our boat the ones with balconies — were a significant step up the ladder from the inside cabins.  The small suite was significantly larger, and also had nicer amenities, PLUS suite dwellers get treated with a certain degree of VIP-ness (which is also given to regular passengers on that cruise line).  The large suites varied in size, but the one I toured was absolutely huge — on the order of a very nice apartment.

2.  If you can afford it, the small suite seemed to be the best bet.  We had ORIGINALLY booked an outside cabin with a balcony, but at the last minute, got a call from Norwegian offering to let us upgrade to the suite for a small additional charge.  Again, it’s a matter of what you can afford.

3.  You CAN get by on a cruise ship spending absolutely not a dime more than what you’ve paid for the berth, plus a small daily charge for gratuities which is shared among the hospitality staff.  (If you’re in a suite, it’s expected that you also leave a cash tip for the steward, butler, and concierge.)  However, while meals are free (to a certain extent) and there are “free” beverages (tea, coffee, water), you will be charged for pretty much everything else.  EVERYTHING on the boat is charged to your room key except the casino.  Drinks aren’t cheap (alcohol AND sodas) and while you CAN eat in the main dining spaces for free (and they’re quite nice), there are smaller “specialty” restaurants which require a nominal up-charge ranging from $25 – $50/person/meal.  Of our 7 nights on board, we had dinner in the specialty restaurants about 5 of them, I think, and b’fast and lunch in the “free” dining (which as I said, is quite nice).  There are free shows, but there are also games (like bingo and such) that have a fee.  I won’t tell you what our bill was at the end of the cruise (it all goes on a credit card), but it was pretty much in line with what I’d expect to spend at a top-flight resort.  Note, of course, that you can get by for a lot less.

4.  There have been recent articles (WSJ and others) about the low wages of cruise line crew.  Admittedly, nearly 100% of the cruise “hospitality” crew (cooks, waiters, room stewards, security, etc.) were from Asia or South America, with the Phiilipines predominating.  And yes, they seemed to work more than 8 hours, and don’t get a huge amount of time off.  On the other hand, in these developing countries, the cruise line jobs are a BIG deal, and these folks get to send a lot of money home to their families.  I had the chance to chat with several of them, and while I’m sure they’re coached to put on a very friendly face to the passengers, I could also tell that there was a general undercurrent of sincerity in their appreciation of their jobs.  In short, most of them would work twice as hard back home for half the money.   Admittedly, being away from home for extended periods isn’t the best work in the world, there is a fairly common “career path” in developing nations to get “serving” jobs in other countries so as to escape poverty and send money home.  Like it or not, that’s a common lifestyle, and in that context these are great jobs.

5.  The shows/restaurants/bars/nightclubs on board the boat we were on were absolutely first-class.  Much better than I thought.

6.  My ONLY regret — and I fully understand this — is that the actual “maritime” spaces are off-limits to passengers, even in the context of a guided tour.  (I understand that SOME cruise lines make exception to this.)  In the wake of the Costa Concordia sinking, the cruise lines are doubly careful NOT to allow the people actually operating the vessel to be distracted in any way.  Given the survival time for a swimmer in Alaskan waters, I appreciate that.

7.  With that in mind, I will say that the “safety” efforts on board seemed to be top-flight.  The crew seemed to be well-trained and well-organized, and there were constant drills, including an emergency debarkation drill right at the onset.  The lifeboats were tested every time we went to a port.  Security on board was tight, and passengers coming back on board were inspected, had to pass thru a metal detector, and had to show ID.

Well, my observations, for what they’re worth.  I’d enjoy the comments of other more “cruise-savvy” readers.  Please let me hear from you!

Written by johnkilpatrick

July 20, 2012 at 9:00 am

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