Much of what I write here may be “old hat” to the experienced cruiser. But to those new to cruising, they can be unexpected even though your travel agent and the brochures you read may have mentioned the items I’m writing about. Experiencing them for the first time is often surprising.
The first surprise is the Personal Identity Card that is issued to you when you roll up at the cruise terminal. You attach it to a lanyard and put it around your neck. It becomes your on-board companion for the cruise. It is the key to your state room; the card you use to purchase items, such as drinks or coffee on board and, with your passport, your right to get back on the ship.
As you board the ship for the first time the crew check your card and take a photograph of you so that each time you leave or return to the ship your card and therefore your photograph are checked. The card also allows you to check your on-board account to see the extent of your purchasers. This also tells you what on-board credits you have. It is quite an unexpected sight, seeing a gentleman in a tuxedo on a dress-up night, wearing his card around his neck.
Now that you are actually on the ship, you need to find your cabin. Oops, they don’t have cabins on board ship anymore. Cabins are state rooms. Finding your state room for the first time is a challenge. There are so many decks, people on the move and very long corridors on every deck. However, there are many crew members around to show you the way. The surprising image of the crew is that there are many different uniforms, each crew member having different roles. Their most important role is to keep the passengers happy and wanting to cruise again.
As you can imagine, with the size of the ship getting lost is easily achieved. So, with the help of the map provided when you board, you are able to get your bearings and get around the ship with ease.
When you first arrive at your cabin, your steward is around to meet you and explain whatever you need to know. He has already put your bags on the bed ready for you to unpack. Each morning he cleans your room and in the evening your bed is turned down, chocolates are on your pillows and the daily newsletter is there for you to plan the next day’s activities.
One of the pleasures of the cruise is the onshore excursions. What is unexpected is the detail to which the crew go to get you on the right tour at the right time. Often, on the day you board the ship, you’ll find in your cabin all the tickets for these tours plus instructions on where and when to assemble on the day of each tour. At the assembly points, you are given a sticker that is attached to your shirt or blouse indicating which tour you are on and any other data you need to know. Each tour is colour coded.
I thought that this process was spectacular but the process for leaving the ship at your destination is even more spectacular. Some days into the cruise you are to fill in a form regarding on how you wish to embark. This involves a time, whether you are catching a plane and so on. Then a few days before you disembark, you get a time, special signs to put on your bags and a place to meet to disembark. Your bags are taken the night before and await you in a designated area on shore ready for you to collect. This process is much quicker than the process to board the ship.
Exercise is one thing you need to do because the meals are so good that we all tend to overeat. A gym on board is expected but having a promenade deck that circumnavigates the ship is a pleasant surprise. The one on the cruise ships I have been on is about 500 metres around or three circuits make a mile. Many passengers are to be seen doing circuits each and every day.
There are novelty/speciality occasions during the voyage. I’d just like to mention just two. On our first cruise, Remembrance Day occurred. A solemn service was performed. The other one to mention is Captain’s Circle Cocktail Party where the announcement of who, on this cruise, has the most cruise days is made. On our last cruise, the number of cruise days was over 2000. That’s well over five years cruising.
The final unexpected happening was the docking of these big ships. They do it with tugs just standing by to help only if necessary. I was staggered with how these big ships were manoeuvred into seemingly very narrow berths.
The reader might believe that these unexpected happenings are the end of the surprises for a first time cruiser. These are all I remember. You can look forward to even more. Happy cruising!