As a travel writer, there is one topic that I will rarely touch — in fact, I will sprint in the opposite direction. It’s been well-documented by famous journalists. It can break families apart and bring grown-ass adults to tears. It’s a sadistic concept that somehow manages to be both excessively social and hopelessly lonely.
Yes, I am clearly talking about cruise ships.
Last week I received a media invitation to tour the world’s largest cruise ship, which will be docking in Hong Kong shortly. My immediate reaction was physical repulsion, accompanied by that kind of guilty curiosity where you want to see something that society deems disgusting. Why would someone want to board a cruise ship, let alone the world’s largest? Just exactly how horrible is this thing going to be?
My mind flooded with memories from the only two cruises I have ever been on. Granted, I was only about 13 at the time, but even then I could tell this experience was not for me. I hated how my stomach tossed with the boat, the suffocating corridors, all of the kitschy Disney character photo shoots, how nice everyone was. Too nice, I thought. Who smiles that much in real life?
And don’t get me started on the outings, the big “follow me” red flags waved in the beat-red faces of sun-burned travelers. After all, cruises are just one bloated tour group, where you’re literally ferried to the same destinations, same shows, same food, same cabins.
But then The Loop interviewed a cruise ship officer a couple of weeks back, and it made me feel guilty about all of these biases. Like I said, I haven’t been on a cruise since I was 13, so who am I to judge?
After reading the interview, I thought about it in a different way — about how these workers spend most of the year away from their families on obscene boats with random fatsos and pretentious 13-year-olds. It can’t be easy managing 5,000 sunburned, seasick and/or inebriated guests every day, nonstop for three weeks. All while smiling, albeit excessively.
I thought about it some more. I guess cruise ships aren’t all bad. I bet I can think of a few nice things to say. Here’s what I have so far:
Even though it probably won’t change my perspective, I’m going to tour that monstrosity with an open mind when it sails through Hong Kong. Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll be writing a column from a cruise ship lounge chair, eating my words — and whatever’s on the buffet.