Generally, I’m happy that my cruise line doesn’t expect passengers to give the staff tips. If tips need to form part of their wages (which I’m not convinced about to be honest – maybe they should be paid the correct rate for the job), I’d rather not have to worry about how much or how little to pay. Our cruise line charges a sum for tips and you aren’t expected to leave any more. However, I do think it is a bit misleading to advertise a holiday price that doesn’t include this fee. If it is compulsory, then it is part of the cost of the holiday and should be included as such. Instead it was added to our on board account at the start of our holiday. This doesn’t seem entirely honest, transparent and upfront. The brochure does mention it, of course, but it isn’t in great big letters.
It seems that having got money out of you for the cost of your holiday isn’t enough: the cruise companies want to make still more profit from you. At times this wish to get you to spend more with them gets out of hand and becomes intrusive, leaving a bad taste in the mouth. For instance, on our cruise there were photographers that seemed keen to take a picture of you as you arrived on board ship to start your cruise (who really wants their picture taken after a nine hour flight?). But, it didn’t end there. At each and every port of call there was one or more of the photographers wanting to take your picture. Now a gangway picture hardly sums up the spirit of a particular port of call, after all one dockside looks very like another. Then there were the soft focus pics taken during your dinner, or after dinner with people dressed up as various animals, or the photos taken at various on board parties. Each picture cost the best part of a tenner, although there were savings to be had if you bought more or got an album.
The photographers were just part of the story, you were encouraged to spend money in the casino; going to the bingo; on pricey spa treatments (the ladies that worked in the spa seemed to spend lots of their working time in the public areas trying to entice you in – I guess they needed to as the treatments were twice the price of my local salon); the list goes on.
Excursions had a hefty mark up. Now often tour operators use fear as a means of selling excursions: if you go with a local firm they may not have such high standards; they may not be insured; but on cruises there is an additional worry to work on, that of the ship leaving without you if you aren’t back on time. On our cruise we found that safety standards might be a touch higher on official trips: most of the minibuses had seatbelts, they didn’t always work and they were rarely adjustable to fit, but they were there. When we ventured out on our own we encountered taxis without any seatbelts at all sometimes, but thankfully, we rarely managed great speeds on island roads. You can easily get excursions locally, or you can share a taxi to get to a local beach or attraction. On one trip our guide told us that they charged $45 for each person and we were charged about £75. However, other cruise lines might charge more than three times the rate of $45 and that mark-up is straight into corporate coffers and not for the benefit of local people.
Inconsiderate Other Passengers
Sunbed saving with towels has long being a holiday maker’s gripe. It happens in hotels and it happens on cruise ships. Sometimes towels are just discarded and left behind on loungers, so it is difficult to see if they are taken or not. Either way it isn’t very nice. The ship has a policy of saying that you can’t leave your stuff on a lounger for more than half an hour without returning, but I’m not clear whether this was enforced or not on our cruise.
In some ways, more irritating was the saving of tables in the restaurant. The self service restaurants are under a lot of pressure doing the breakfast and lunch time as many people seem to prefer this to waiter service at these times. This means that there aren’t always enough tables to go round. You can share a table, but that is easier for single passengers or couples than for family groups. Many the time I emerged from the buffet with my rapidly cooling food to search for a table to sit and had to spend quite a while looking for one that had three spare seats. Many the time I thought I’d found one only to find that some selfish git had reserved it with their drinks or their bags.
Our cruise line wanted our hold luggage placed outside our cabins before we went to be bed on our last night. The good news is that we didn’t have to lug the cases around (they were taken to the airport and we didn’t see them again until we arrived at our home airport), but the bad news was that anything we wanted to use overnight, the next day (we didn’t leave until mid-afternoon) and on our flight had to be in our hand luggage. Any toiletries either needed to be discarded or had to meet the hand baggage regulations. We had to pack our pyjamas, our swimwear and toiletries in our on-flight bags. It was a pain in the neck. You don’t want to carry everything around in your hand bag.
Vacating Rooms and Waiting for Disembarkation
We had to be out of our cabins by 8am even though we were not leaving till mid-afternoon. If we’d been staying in a hotel, it’s likely that the checkout time would have been later, maybe 10am or something similar. During the day, we had to make use of the facilities on board the ship. For the most part this was fine as there were plenty of places to sit, but what proved a real problem was the lack of sufficient public toilets. For most of the cruise there were enough toilets most of the time as everyone has access to their own in their cabin, but there were issues when cubicles were out of action or at particularly busy times e.g. toilets near the main restaurants often had queues between dinner sittings. We ended up going up or down multiple flights of stairs to find less well used toilets: it was better than queuing, but even that didn’t always work as others cottoned onto that idea.
We travelled with P&O and very much enjoyed our holiday overall and you can read about what I liked about cruising here. Obviously, this is based on one cruise, on one particular ship: the Azura.