The pitfalls of modern day cruising

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The pitfalls of modern day cruising

Welcome aboard the modern cruise ship. The brochures show it to be a very spacious and elegant place.   You walk on board expecting to be treated like royalty, but unfortunately you may experience a much different cruise than what was shown in the commercials on TV.  There are some common pitfalls to modern day cruising and we have some advice on how to deal with them.
Buffet congestion:
The first place that cruise passengers are usually steered to upon boarding is the buffet.   One learns how quickly a buffet can fill up when there are 3,000 other passengers on the ship.  Most buffet areas are not made to handle that kind of volume, and on boarding day - finding a table can be a challenge.  We saw a family with two young kids walking around  in circles with trays of food in their hands trying to find a place to sit.  Needless to say, this was not in the brochure.  The tables were pretty much all filled up and many passengers were left with food in hand but no place to sit.  It is even worse on rainy or cold days as any outside seating is no longer available (unless you like eating with rain pouring on your food). buffet blues
Your best bet to avoid having your cruise begin with the noise and congestion of the buffet, is to do some research.  Many cruise ships offer an embarkation lunch in the dining room (although few promote it).  Even though the menu may be limited, you will be seated at a much quieter table, served by waitstaff and be able to relax while everyone else deals with the noise and confusion of the buffet.  If you do want to eat at the buffet, the best strategy when tables are limited, is to find a table first and then take turns getting your food.  You may not be able to eat together at the same time, but at least you don't have to worry about finding a place to eat.   Norwegian Cruise Line offers perks for suite guests that helps them avoid the need to wrestle with the buffet pains.  This includes a private dining room that you will be taken to upon boarding.  It may cost a little bit more money for the suite, but you will end up with a much better cruise experience in the end.

Chair hogs:
hog centralIf you imagined yourself sitting by a nice quiet pool in a soft comfortable deck chair, sipping a frozen drink, you may be disappointed as you arrive on the pool deck at 11:00 am.  By that time of the day, most if not all, the deck chairs are "taken".   In some cases you will see lots of towels, but very few people lounging in the chairs.  Welcome to the world of the chair hogs. 
With over 3,000 passengers on the ship, chair hogs are up early and usually before 8:00 in the morning, they have staked out their territory.  (The proper way to be a chair hog is to leave one flip flop on one chair, a towel on the next and then the other flip flop on the chair next to it.  Make sure you leave the chair in the middle folded towards the front. Once doing this, you will be entitled to three chairs that will be yours all day long.  And if someone should be rude and move your flips flops around then make sure to scream and yell as loud as you can because you have been wronged.) 
Hogging chairs is a serious problem on cruise ships and very inconsiderate of your fellow passengers.  Everyone paid to be on the ship and therefore no one has more rights to the chairs.   There have actually been fights that have broken out because of this problem.  Cruise lines are starting to pay more attention to it, but it is difficult to police the problem. 
Your best bet if you want a deck chair in a prime spot is to be a early riser and to plan on actually sitting in the chair all day.   Either way, you should shoot to be up on deck by 9:00 in the morning.  Princess Cruise line offers an adult sanctuary area where you can pay for a deck chair and other benefits.
wheres the poolCrowded pool:
So once you figure out the deck chair issue, then its time to swim.  This works out good on ships that have three or four pools on board.  But on other ships that may only have one main pool, swimming becomes more like standing.  You can still get cooled off, but be ready to deal with lots of splashing and noise.   What is becoming more popular on cruise ships are large movie screens that overlook the pool area.  It works if you like to watch or just listen to movies all day, but if you are looking for quiet then make sure the ship offers other swimming pool options.
Your best bet to avoid crowded pools is to look for a ship with multiple outdoor pools.  The best ships are the ones that offer a adult only pool area.  The chances are the pools will still be busy especially on hot days, but you may actually be able to swim.   The best time to swim is early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

No seats in show:
As the ships get bigger, it seems that shows lounges get smaller.  In the old days the ship designer would design the main show lounge to seat half the passengers.  The new ships are unable to do this and therefore several have begun requiring reservations for the shows.   When Princess Cruise Line added another floor of cabins to its Grand Class design ships, it did not increase the size of any of the public areas.  We were in several shows where every seat was taken 20 minutes prior to the show.  Some people were actually left sitting in the aisle.  Princess has addressed the problem by repeating the show the next day.
Your best bet is to plan your dinner so that you can arrive to any show you want to see 30 minutes early.  Not only do you get a better choice of seats, but usually there are wait staff present and you can order a drink and relax before the show begins.
One last piece of advice as you are shopping around for a cruise ship to sail on, is to look at the space ratio.  The space ratio is typically calculated by taking the gross tonnage and dividing that by the number of passengers (2 per cabin).   On the space ratio is also calculated by dividing by the max number of passengers.  This gives a much better comparison between ships.  The higher the ratio, the better the chance that you will find the ship spacious and have more room to enjoy yourself.  The smaller the ratio the ship may be more crowded.

There is no such thing as a bad cruise and following the advice above will make it that much better.

Steve Millay, ACC

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