One thing's clear. In response to the question -- "Which nationality is the most annoying onboard?" -- the Americans, er, won the dubious honor of first place, notching 26 percent of the vote. (Though it's important to mention as well that Brits nominated fellow Brits as the second most irritating, with 12 percent.) Others that followed, in order, include Germans, Italians, Russians and French.
But on to more serious results from the poll, in which 63 percent of those who participated called themselves cruise virgins, 4 percent were classified as heavy-duty, going on one or more cruise a year, 23 percent fell in the "frequent" category with cruises every two to five years, and 8 percent reported they'd done it once and that'd cover it. The point of course was to gauge opinions from the disparate set of travel types: cruise veterans and cruise virgins. Each answered a handful of the same basic questions, and then moved on to more specific queries depending on whether they'd cruised yet or not.
Here are highlights:
People Who Have Cruised Really Like to Cruise: Satisfaction levels for those who have tried at least one voyage are high; 41 percent noted their first cruise was "outstanding," and 85 percent enjoyed their first cruise and would recommend a cruise trip to a cruise virgin without hesitation.
What's the Appeal?: Here we offered tons of options (spas, theme-related voyages, onboard entertainment) and people pretty much only cared about two things. Fifty-eight percent cited "variety of destinations," and 11 percent chose cruising for its "laid-back, 'no agenda' onboard ambience." Interestingly, choices like shopping and gaming picked up no votes. Also somewhat surprising: Quality cuisine merited a sickly 4.3 percent of votes.
Moving more specifically into the cruise virgin milieu, here are some insights into those who are not quite yet first-timers:
What Puts You Off?: This one, obviously geared to those yet to be indoctrinated, resulted in popular responses such as "can't escape," which garnered 21 percent; and "stuck on ships with nothing to do" at 19 percent (er, a hint: most ships call at several ports, so you don't spend that much time on board anyway). Eight percent were afraid of an increased chance of catching Norovirus -- that's fair but you can also get it anywhere. Two percent were inexplicably afraid of water (perhaps this is not the vacation option for those people). My favorite? Eight percent said that "old people" put them off. But don't worry, the mature travelers amongst them got in their own dig, too: 1.7 percent of them said "young people" were an onboard turnoff.
Picking Your First Ship: This one surprised us. Thirty-nine percent said they'd try a luxury ship (akin to, say, Seabourn, Oceania, Crystal, and other upscale lines where prices per day are in the hundreds of pounds apiece range). Fourteen percent preferred the concept of an explorer or expedition vessel -- you know, the kind of ship that trawls the icebergs of Antarctica, winds its way along the Norwegian fjords or explores the flora and wildlife of the Galapagos. Just 10 percent said they would first embark on a "big" ship -- the kind of vessel that most of us associate with cruising.
Brits May Have Different Preferences Than North Americans ... But They Like the Same Places: For a first-time cruise, 28 percent would head to the Caribbean, which frankly at this time of year, with its sultry temperatures, white sand beaches, tropical breezes, swaying palm trees and no rule about consuming pina coladas before lunchtime, seems like paradise on earth. Twenty-one percent prefer the Mediterranean (which you can also cruise to year-round these days).
For the plan-ahead crowd, spring and summer trips to Scandinavia, particularly the Baltic itinerary, which typically includes a few days in Russia's St. Petersburg -- one of Europe's most important marquee ports of call, drew 12 percent of the vote.
And voyages to the wildlands of Alaska, which combine stops in Canada's British Columbia and America's 49th state, followed with 11 percent.
Biggest Scary Factors About Cruise Travel: Getting sick -- or more specifically, catching the dreaded Norovirus bug, which tends to spread easily in enclosed spaces like schools, hospitals, shopping malls, hotels and, yes, cruise ships -- took the top spot here with 35 percent of the vote. I'm assuming this also covers the fear of seasickness -- again, sure, that's possible as you are in fact cruising on a ship on the water (but reliable potions can alleviate all but the most dreadful weather scenarios).
In what surely is a response to 2007 being a bad year for passenger ships that sunk (two went down; one off the coast of Santorini, the other, more recently, after catching an iceberg in Antarctica), 11 percent were a tad nervous. It must be said that ship sinkings are highly unusual in this day and age, and two in one year ... well that's fairly inexplicable. Fortunately, just 2 percent were concerned about a pirate attack while cruising.
We Like this One!: When asked "where would you go for information," a whopping 68 percent credited the Internet (we seriously do not make this up), another 20 percent prefer the recommendations of family and friends, and 10 percent credited travel agents.
Cruise Fares Seem Realistic: Sixty-two percent said they would spend under £1,000, and depending on length (short cruises of three days or less can easily run you less than £500), this expectation was right on target. We checked out our current deals section to see what's on offer, and a 14-night Mediterranean no-fly cruise on Princess Cruises's Sea Princess would run you about £1,119 per person and seven nights on Island Cruises' Island Star, also in the Mediterranean, costs from £584, also per person. But do the math on the Princess cruise: Two weeks in the Med, with meals, lodging, twice-a-day maid service, and transportation from port to port, not to mention complementary entertainment (to an extent of course: if you consider gambling or spa treatments as entertainment, plan to ante up) costs an entirely reasonable £79 per day. The Island Star cruise works out to £83 per day. Remember, per person, but still....
And perhaps the 3.6 percent of respondents who said that their first cruise would cost over £2,500 were thinking of taking a really long one. Fred. Olsen's Boudicca is still offering a 72-night roundtrip from Southampton to the Caribbean and South America. Its cabins begin at £3,995; that works out to £55 per day to comfortably avoid winter! If you're tempted, book it soon as it sails in mid-February!
Vote in our poll: We'd like to know, of the top reasons people are reluctant to try a cruise, which one resonates most with you?
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief