Reporting Jay Lloyd
After being cast-away by his mutinous crew, Captain William Bligh became a sensation because of his subsequent “Nightmare Voyage,” sailing a rotting open boat with 18 loyal men but little food through storm tossed seas over 3,700 miles to safety. Now, that’s a nasty cruise!
While vacationing aboard a towering modern cruise ship is supposed to be fun, sometimes, a “Cruise to Hell” can provide a treasure trove of salty yarns to fuel happy hour conversations for years to come. In truth, very few disasters get in the way. As for little irritants, that can be a different story. They follow like a lost flea, seeking a nest. But they can also be avoided with a little forethought and preparation. – Jay Lloyd
Seasickness is no joke; it’s worse than the flu. I’ll spare you the details, but it can be avoided. Cruise ships are relatively stable unless they lose power to the stabilizers. However, high seas can produce a pitching and rolling effect. You’ll know something’s coming when the crew starts placing airline “whoopee bags” around the ship and fewer people show up for dinner. If you’re prone to seasickness — and many people are — plan ahead. If your cruise will be short overnight hops between islands or ports, over-the-counter Dramamine should be sufficient (make sure to follow the instructions!). However, if you have an extended time of three or four days at sea before reaching port, something more aggressive might be needed. Ask your doctor about Scopolamine, a prescription medication that comes on a patch which is worn behind the ear. It’s good for three to four days. I generally use it for ocean passages on smaller sailboats, and it works. It does have side effects, including dry mouth and drowsiness, but the trade-off is worth it.
CHOOSING A CABIN
It’s not unusual to find cruise ships today that look like a city skyline, rising more than 14 stories above the waterline. The upper stories are considered prime real estate. But remember, the higher in the ship, the more pronounced the roll and pitch is in a rising sea. To minimize discomfort, choose a cabin above the waterline but on one of the lower decks. You might even save some money.
Pay attention to the lifeboat drill and take it seriously. It’s one of those things that you hope you’ll never need, and most cruisers never do. But if the occasion should occur, it will happen fast and your reaction should be almost automatic. Know the layout of the ship and the fastest way to your lifeboat station while picking up a lifejacket on the way. You’ll have to do it without using elevators. Keep a small “Abandon Ship” bag packed and handy — the British call it a “going away bag.” It should be packed with no more than medications, a small first aid kit, eyeglasses, a flashlight and a water bottle.
GETTING AROUND THE SHIP
While cruising, ships offer a wide variety of activities that are scattered over most of the decks, fore and aft – everything from lectures and crafts to shopping and water sports. I try to do it all without an elevator, for one reason: It helps to know that ship passageways and deck access doors aren’t uniform from deck to deck. Check a layout plan before heading from your cabin to any other location. You may be surprised to find shortcuts.
Pack light for a cruise. I know, some folks want to appear formal on a few nights and some shipboard restaurants want men in jackets and women in skirt or slacks. One blazer or lightweight linen and a couple of pairs of slacks should do it for men. For women, let your packing conscience be your guide. Other than that, t-shirts, golf shirts, shorts and a bathing suit or two is sufficient. Make sure to include in your bag a pair of shorts that can double as a bathing suit with zipper pockets. You want that for going to beaches without having to carry a change of clothes. Also, carry plastic baggies to keep money and identification papers dry and pack a small radio. Local stations will let you know if you have to change shore activity plans because of frequent strikes and transportation breakdowns in the islands or ports. And arm yourself with a good bug repellent for our next note of caution.
Caribbean beaches are spectacular. Many are pristine and fringed with the clearest, most amazingly colored water that you’ve ever seen. But nesting just beneath the coral sands are colonies of what the islanders call “no-seeums.” These are tiny, flea-like creatures that bite to beat the band. When lathering on the sun screen also use repellent, and don’t forget to have some Benadryl on hand, just in case.
CREDIT CARDS AND CURRENCY
A funny little thing happens to your cost of buying everything from meals to gifts when going ashore with a credit card. On islands other than those under the American flag, you will be surcharged a “foreign exchange fee” of about 3%, even if the local currency is at par with the dollar. The most outrageous example of the surcharge is in the British Virgin Islands, where the currency IS the U.S. dollar. The only card I have been able to find that doesn’t charge the fee is from Capital One.
Finally, many cruises will land you in a main town or city, since that’s where the deepwater docks are. In the Mediterranean, cities offer fascinating attractions, but in the Caribbean, it can mean a blizzard of overpriced restaurants and shops hawking tourist trinkets. Get out of town. Grab a cab, a scuba boat, a half-day sailing or fishing cruise, rent a bike. Go native. But there’s a caveat: Stay away from areas that are known as high crime zones. And if your ship launches from a must-see city like Barcelona, plan to stay a few days before or after the cruise. It’s a real bonus.