After 1,000 cruises, it’s fair to say Douglas Ward has an opinion or two. One of the most esteemed names in cruise writing, Ward has spent more than 30 years taking scrupulous notes and making honest appraisals of main dining room cuisine, cruise ship cabins and at-sea service. (That’s after years working on ships in capacities ranging from jazz band leader to cruise director.) The author of the 2013 Berlitz Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships — and every book bearing the same name since 1984 — recently joined Cruise Critic for a Q&A covering the democratization of cruise travel, shrinking pillow chocolates and the dreaded, yet inevitable, onset of a la carte cruising.
Cruise Critic: Cruising is, to many, the most accessible form of modern travel. What changes has this “opening up to the masses” wrought, good and bad?
Douglas Ward: “The good: Larger ships with more itinerary choices; lower prices; more dining options; greater choice of family-friendly ships; more public rooms and things to do; more entertainment.
“The bad: Larger ships with more choices, but more passengers; less time at sea; constant activities, entertainment and noise; less formality, easy-going dress codes (with no enforcement); drink packages and all-inclusive packages that promote binge drinking; larger self-serve buffets (lower food costs) promotes binge eating; time-absorbing security checks; lines; and more impersonal service; many cabins with fixed-head showers (less hygienic than flexible-hose showers).”
CC: What do you think about the idea that cruising has gone a la carte? A necessary evolution or the price consumers have to pay for base fares to stay so low?
DW: “Unbundled (a la carte) cruising is most probably the result of the discount pricing to attract passengers. This means that passengers need to be savvy to avoid all the extra charges for everything from bottled water to extra-cost dining. It has, sadly, become an ‘increased hassle’ vacation — the opposite of what it used to be like — at least aboard the large resort ships.”
CC: What’s the biggest complaint you have about cruising today vs. when you started in the 60’s?
DW: “The constant hustling of passengers to buy things once onboard (particularly ice-laden drinks).”
CC: What virtues does “modern cruise travel” have that cruising in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s didn’t?
DW: “Vibration-free, more efficient cruise ships (using the latest ‘pod’ propulsion technology); cashless cruising; lecture programs; more dining choices; open-seating dining; wellness spas; television news content; movies on-demand; more sports facilities; greatly improved children’s facilities and aqua parks; balcony suites/cabins; multiroom family suites; ‘private’ island beach day experiences; Internet-connectivity; roll-over lifeboats.”
CC: Extensive list — but are cruise lines cutting back in noticeable places? Space-to-passenger ratio? MDR cuisine?
DW: “The quality and variety of food is the most obvious (cheaper cuts of meat, preportioned fish, less exotic fruits, fewer cheese choices, for example), and even the size of chocolates on your pillow at night (aboard Cunard Line ships chocolates have been downsized by about 20 percent). Squeezing more cabins into square superstructures adds revenue but decreases the space per passenger, and therefore the comfort factor.
CC: Is there anything from the “Love Boat Era” of cruising that you’d like to see revived?
DW: “Yes, more civility between passengers, more days at sea, fewer ports and more officers walking the decks (assuming there’s any time left today after company email exchanges!).”
CC: But is there really a Love Boat Era of cruising? What is it and when did it end?
DW: “Well, no, that’s marketing hype — at least in North America. However, cruising, or crossing the oceans by ship has always had some romantic connotations.”
CC: Speaking of connotation, Titanic II: a silly joke from a bored billionaire or a tasteless reality?
DW: “I think it’s a little of both, although I don’t think it has such an attractive name. The ship has such an iconic name that several similar projects have come and gone. I also wonder if the drinks will have ice in them?”
CC: What do you miss most about land when you’re at sea? What do you miss most about the water when you’re on land?
DW: “When I am at sea I miss the green trees and flowers in my own garden and the surrounding area. When I am on land I miss seeing the dolphins swimming close to a ship, and the feeling of going somewhere as a ship is moving in open water.
Will I stop? No, I’m not sure what I want to do when I grow up!”
Intrigued? We have two versions of Mr. Ward’s book, one hard copy and one digital, to give away. Entering is easy: In the comments, tell us the projected year you’ll hit your 1,000th cruise, assuming you live forever. Make sure you enter a valid e-mail address (so we can contact you should you win). First prize gets choice of hard copy or digital. Contest ends on January 4 at 3 p.m. EST.
Not one of the winners? The print, eBook and app versions of the 2013 Berlitz Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships are available here.
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