Why do the good ol’ days always seem so good? Let’s let Sonja, a travel agent and veteran cruise traveler, explain. In a plaintive note to Sea-Mail, she eloquently lamented about cruising’s lost traditions: What ever happened to the Death by Chocolate midnight buffet, where the staff actually showed off what they could do? Or afternoon tea? Our Royal Caribbean cruise almost cured me: They were out of lobster tail on THE NIGHT. Last but not least, the best night, the Captain’s Night, has sadly changed.”
Elaborating, Sonja told me that on her last cruise, the “captain’s party was catch-me-if-you-can for a drink, a piggy in the pocket, and the picture taking was all over the over the place.”
Now I’m not sure exactly what Sonja meant by “piggy in the pocket,” but you sort of get the gist, don’t you? Many of the grand traditions that cruising has long been known for are clearly fading away (though they still do exist, robustly, on a handful of cruise lines).
These include old practices like personally tipping the crew members who served you (it tends to foster a better camaraderie among staffers and passengers), grand buffets at midnight (or any other time, for that matter), the extravagance of all-the-lobster-tail-you-care-to-eat at the Captain’s Gala dinner and formal dress affairs that were compulsory, not voluntary. And who doesn’t miss silly pool games like hairy back competitions and belly-flop contests on aimless days at sea (wait, these still exist …).
As they’re eliminated and as cruise lines try ever harder to replicate at-sea versions of ginormous, impersonal resorts, some of the aspects of what makes a cruise otherworldly are being lost.
And yet, while I understand Sonja’s general concern, wouldn’t you agree that perhaps it’s time to move on? After all, the new generation of cruise travelers being wooed these days prefers to pay tips anonymously via a charge on the bill and doesn’t see communing with cabin stewards as integral to the experience. Same goes in the dining room; many of today’s newer cruisers prefer tables-for-two and seating on demand, rather than opting for same table, same waiter options (and, yes, they prefer to tip anonymously here as well).
So why not ditch afternoon tea and abandon massively indulgent buffets that no one really needs? Maybe even “lobster night,” in an era in which the crustacean is easily and affordably available via casual chain restaurants, no longer possesses the glamour it once did. Packing black-tie garb and party dresses at a time when airlines are frantically levying extra fees for checked bags seems wasteful.
But traditions, which by definition are rituals that are greater than the sum of their parts, are sacred — they connect us with not just our own memories of special moments but also to the lifeline of cruising. They connect us to something bigger, grander and more glamorous (okay, not that hairy back competition) than we usually experience. Thank you, Sonja, for reminding me how important cruise traditions still are.
“As a travel agent at this time,” she wrote, “I can no longer even tell you which cruise lines do what on Captain’s Gala nights. I do not bring it up to customers for fear” of disappointing them.
Sonja’s asking for your help here. Which lines do the best Captain’s Gala? What’s your favorite part of it? And, oh, yes, she’s got one more thing to ask: “Please let me know if there are still some that actually offer the old-fashion party with cocktails.”
Check out how we’ve addressed other near-and-dear topics like noisy neighbors and bad balcony behavior.
Tipping policies may have changed, but you still gotta tip. Here’s our guide to Cruise Line Tipping Policies.
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