Cruises, as we know them, are decendents of the ships that used to be the principle form of transportation whenever navigable water was available. Whether crossing an ocean or the Mediterranean Sea, or plying along a coast or up and down a river, ships offered either the only practical means of transportation (ocean crossing) or a very cost effective one (rivers and lakes). With the growth of railroads and cars, and then aircraft, using ships for passenger travel has declined in importance. Pretty much no one who needs to get from Europe to North America will travel by sea.
However, clever entrepreneurs have found that people like to go to resorts, and that many people like resorts that don’t limit them to being stuck in one actual location with one (usually minimal) set of sights to see. So the notion of a cruise ship was born – boarding a ship not to get somewhere, but to stay in one place at the same time that you get to visit many places. Most cruises spend all or almost all days in one port or another, where the passengers can get off and see the sights. If it’s a Caribbean cruise, my experience is the ports are little more than time fillers. You would never fly to those towns or even islands to go sightseeing. On our cruise in the Mediterranean it’s a bit more mixed – some of the stops could be quite interesting, if only you had more than a few hours to explore. We docked in Barcelona for nine hours; two years ago we spent three days there. The Rome stop is even worse: as Rome is not really near the sea, we have to drive an hour and a half each way to get there, only to see a few hours worth of stuff.
On some routes the ship spends a full day transmitting between stops. That is the case on this cruise, where Monday is a “Day at Sea”. A Day at Sea gives you the opportunity to sleep in (no pesky tours to meet at 9:30), relax on the deck without seeing the typical commercial areas where cruise ships dock, play trivial pursuit with the cruise director, and engage in many other resort-like activities, depending on the ship. We don’t have rock climbing, a rifle range, driving range, go-kart track, water park or some of the other features from the mammoth ships.
I’m not generally a big resort guy, which means that – mostly – the Day at Sea is not as exciting for me as it is for some other people. I don’t use the pool, I don’t like games like trivial pursuit or putting in the hallways. I do like finding a quiet lounge and watching the sea, watching the other passengers and watching the crew go about their jobs.
On this particular cruise, the pleasant springtime weather – sunny and high in the low 60s – doesn’t work as well as I would like while at sea. First you get a nice ocean breeze, and then the wind chill created by the ship cruising at about 15mph. I find it a bit uncomfortable to sit outside. I did eat at the outdoor pizzeria, wearing my jacket and sitting under a heat lamp. It was okay, although the pizza did cool off pretty quickly.
The evening show was similar to the Caribbean ports – a 45 minute diversion, but not really anything you would pay to see. Last night we had a violinist who played popular songs extremely well, with the ship’s trio backing him up. But I don’t even remember his name. And I didn’t even bother to take a picture of him. But we also didn’t walk out.
The one thing I really don’t like about being at sea is the lack of connectivity. Both Matteo and I have the AT&T international roaming plan for $10/day. With this, we not only get full cell service but can tether our other three devices. And it works not only in port, but as long as we are reasonably close to any population center along the coast. While at sea we are limited to the ship wifi plan. This gives us each one hour per day, with no rollover (1). I find this barely adequate to check my email, do a quick scan of the news headlines, and upload a post.
(1) This is a big change from our last Silversea cruise, where we got two hours per day with rollover. While the new rule was correctly described in the literature, the change was not highlighted.