September 8, 2013

Recent cruise mostly positive experience

There was a time when an ocean cruise was considered the ultimate in luxury vacations. Fine food, elegant settings, exotic ports of call.

Much of that luster has rubbed off in recent years, however, as the cruise industry has absorbed negative publicity. Norovirus outbreaks. Pirate attacks. A sinking off the coast of Italy. An engine fire that left 3,000 passengers without working bathrooms for a week.

Minor annoyances like raw sewage in the corridors, though, can lead to price slashing and great bargains, which led my family onto high seas for a trip this August.

My previous experience with cruise ships was limited to “Love Boat” episodes in the early ‘80s, but now I feel like an expert. I think it’s something most land-locked neophytes should try at least once.

With hurricane season looming, the deals this fall are even more unbelievable, so there’s no better time to try. Here’s what you have to look forward to:

The first thing that comes to mind when many people think of cruises is the food.

First, there are ample buffets available at every meal. Think of it as living above a Golden Corral for a week. There’s also free room service, at any hour. I set the alarm for 3:30 a.m. every day so I could order a steak sandwich.

Those — and the 24-hour pizza bar — are only supplemental, though, to the dining room. There you are treated to multi-course meals from a changing and extensive menu.

Each day there were old favorites, like lobster and pot roast, alongside fancier options. At least one dish would be something adventurous: Frog legs, escargot, alligator, haggis, swamp bat, pegasus.

Once upon a time, these meals were formal occasions, but cruises have relaxed those restrictions. Sure, you can still wear an evening gown or a tux, but one gentleman showed up for a dinner wearing nothing but a Speedo, flip flops, voluminous chest hair and a derby. No one said a thing.

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