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You’re far too young and smart to take a cruise

February 2012

Folks, I’ve just returned from my first cruise and I’ve got to tell you: You might want to jump ship.

Unless you’re taking your kids and grandkids on a special outing, a cruise is no place for seniors. You’re just too young and too smart.

There is no greater class-conscious state on Earth than a cruise ship. From the moment I walked onboard the Sapphire Princess in Los Angeles, for a 14-day trip to Hawaii, their marketing objectives—straight from an MBA textbook—became clear.

If you’ve taken a Princess cruise before, you’re gold, you’re platinum, you’re titanium and you’re shuffled to the fast check-in lanes on the left. Until you’ve earned the status, stick to the right and the commoners’ line.

The “all-inclusive” resort required expenditures for everything from a latte to a soft drink. Alcoholic beverages were a whopping $7 or $8, happy hours excepted. If you carry a bucket of five beers, they’ll throw in one free.

You can attend “free” seminars on detoxing and suffer through a carnie pitch for a six-month supply of seaweed. Or, you can attend a “free” seminar on back issues and discover that $200 insoles, conveniently sold on-board, will resolve the problem.

For a mere $269, you can luxuriate in a 50-minute couples massage or for $159, you can be treated to cellulite reduction. Instead of “specials,” they offer silent auctions (“no bids under 50 per cent of the original price will be accepted”). If you want to take yoga or spinning classes, you have to shell out an additional $10 per.

A “private” deck reserved for adults is available for a scant $40 a day. And of course, day-long shore excursions are offered at exorbitant prices.

In addition to the basic cost, 15 per cent is tacked on for gratuities, and while reasonable given the quality of the service, it also serves as a ploy to preserve their low-price claims.

Kids have to pass through the casino—with its attendant slot machine din, roulette clatter and spirited adults—to access the arcade or theatre. Is this a repugnant oversight or a deliberate attempt to nurture the casino’s future clientele?

So with all of my kvetching, why are cruises so popular? I met many passengers who boasted having taken 10 or more; in 2010, 770,000 Canadians vacationed on a ship.

I believe the main reason is that it’s effortless. From the moment you arrive at the gangplank, you never have to schlep your baggage and you can accommodate all of your latest fashions. You’re wined, dined and entertained all the time.

And then there’s the food: 16,000 meals between 7 am and midnight. You can eat at the buffet and waste shameful quantities of delicious food, or you can enjoy fully serviced meals at six different restaurants and have as many seconds as your heart can withstand. However, to partake in their Italian or steak restaurants, you’ll have to shell out another $20 per-person cover charge.

The crew is composed of young adults and middle-age men and women—some married with on-board quarters—from such countries as the Philippines (one of every three workers), Croatia, Hungary, Serbia, Ukraine, Peru, the Caribbean, Mexico, Indonesia, China and India.

Passengers are treated to nostalgic, Las Vegas-style revues performed by energetic entertainers as well as comics, illusionists and hypnotists.

People love cruises because fellow passengers are convivial and good-natured. The only altercations I witnessed took place in the exercise room, where there was a constant battle for a limited number of treadmills. Many of the machines were so obsolete they must have been purchased from a bankrupt Gold’s gym.

Programs and lectures on diet or meditation that promote health and wellbeing, such as tai chi, pilates and restorative yoga are activities sought after by modern seniors.

But you won’t find them on a cruise. The only alternative is to jump ship and partake in the awe-inspiring adventure destinations designed for senior travelers. I urge you to avoid the effortless, get fit and take a 14-day tour of India, take a Smithsonian journey, bus Argentina, walk Bhutan; experience the awesome wonders of the world in the last third of your life.

Seniors are riding the tide of healthy living and if you take a cruise, you’re simply missing the boat.



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