Cruising, they say, is not what it used to be. This should come as no surprise because few things remain the same. Take air travel for instance. I'm told that people used to get dressed-up for a flight. Nowadays you're lucky if your neighbour is wearing a proper shirt and shoes.
Cruising too comes from a rich heritage where the style of the voyage was more important than the substance of actually getting to one's destination. Unfortunately it was with high expectations that I boarded the Queen Elisabeth for Cunard's Holy Land Cruise.
One's initial impressions are good. It seems that the glory days of cruising live on in the Cunard name. The ship is huge, the carpets are plush and there's not a plastic table in sight. Curved wooden banisters provide an impressive backdrop as one descends the staircase to the formal dining room in which a strict dress code is enforced. Meals are exquisite and the service impeccable. But then the bubble bursts.
No you can't have a cappuccino with your meal; that's an extra-cost item. You can't get the picture they took of you in digital format; you have to buy 12 for $300. The "behind-the-scenes" tour costs $120 per person. Internet cost $48 for two hours. And on it goes.
It was early on in the cruise that they announced the first cancellation. The ship would not be sailing to Haifa because of the Gaza conflict and all Holy Land tours were cancelled. The fact that there was no unrest in Haifa and no Gazan missiles could reach the port didn't seem to matter. Carnival Security in the US had spoken and the decision had been made. A meeting with the Ship's Master confirmed that there was no recourse and contractually guests have no recourse.
Now the Un-Holy Land Cruise we proceeded to Alexandria. We were not far off when that stop was cancelled too. Unrest in Tahir Square and in the centre of Alexandria again exceeded Cunard's security profile and, although no tour was actually going anywhere near either square the decision had been made to miss the stop (and berthing fees). No Pyramids for this batch of cruisers -- and nothing could be done about it. Never mind, there was Pompeii to come.
But then the wind picked up and the Captain cancelled the Naples port visit.
Let's face it Cunard's business has fallen on hard times. Disposable income has dried up and so has the number of eligible cruisers. Money saved on berthing fees and fuel savings on truncated sailing flows directly to Cunard's bottom line. When it comes to cruising Cunard is just like all the others. I just wish they would be more truthful in their brochures. It's buyer beware -- when you embark the ship don't expect to go everywhere they tell you; and there's nothing you can do about it.
The giant chess pieces on the upper deck epitomised the Cunard cruising ethos. There are only seven white pawns. "One blew away several cruises ago" a crew person told me.