So, basically 21st Century cruising is like being stuck on a floating Las Vegas shopping mall! The only difference between this and Vegas is that you're surrounded by ocean instead of desert. I went on a family cruise just over 20 years ago with my sister, parents and grandparents. I was a sulky, Goth teenager then but I don't remember it being this bad. I remember it being different then but it could be that I have poor memory.
It was on a small cruise ship in the Mediterranean. The food was spectacular and every evening was a culinary discovery of delight. The experience was also enhanced by the presence of my grandparents who, until then had never been on such a luxurious holiday such as this. I remember my grandfather, Niko, eating his way through every course on the a la carte menu - to the applause of the admiring Greek waiting staff. This cruise to Alaska is something altogether very different and I'm not sure that it's my thing.
Norwegian Cruise Liners go on about this "freestyle dining" experience but I'm not convinced of the "benefits". First of all, I like the idea of sitting to a formal dinner and being waited on. Food, especially in social situations, should be an "occasion". Unfortunately, due to the layout and several seatings, you end up waiting longer in queues and eating in what appears to be a restaurant or a self-serve buffet. So you could be anywhere. Except this happens to be a floating hotel with garish carpets and fake flowers. It doesn't feel like a cruise.
Secondly, anything which differs from buffet or a limited menu, incurs additional costs. If you want Pepsi, fruit juice or bottled water you need to pay extra. Fancy eating Asian, Italian or grilled meat? You've got to pay anything from $15-25 to eat this other cuisine - per seating! To me, that doesn't make sense because it should be all-inclusive as far as I'm concerned. Want to take a yoga class? That's an extra $12 - thank you very much! Also, an extra $12 per passenger per day in "gratuities" gets charged to your account (payable at the end of the trip) and yet any additional service incurs an additional 18% service charge "for your convenience". The last time I read the phrase "for your convenience" was in Las Vegas regarding the daily additional $18 "resort fee" which was allegedly for our "convenience".
One of the first things I did yesterday after boarding "The Pearl", was to visit the Library. At least this was a peaceful haven full of octogenarians - perfect! Took out 3 books: 2 guide books about Alaska and an interesting one called "Spirited Waters: Soloing South Through the Inside Passage" by Jennifer Hahn. I've started reading it today - what a lovely travel book! It's a woman's account of her journey from Ketchikan south to Canada, via the Inside Passage, in a kayak.
I have completely blown the budget by paying to use the spa and thermal facilities. For an additional $120 I have the pleasure of using the thalassotherapy plunge pool, sauna and steam room. Other perks include the calm, announcement-free environment where no under-18's can run around and scream in - aaaahhhh, bliss! And, an added bonus: Norah Jones and Enya gets piped softly into the music system instead of that horrid racket they play in the communal areas on the rest of the ship. I've also met some lovely people at the Spa, including Kaui from Hawaii, Melinda from New York and Kate from Colorado. Last but, by no means least, the beautiful views from the spa over the bridge and the surrounding areas are the cherry on the cake. I would not have been able to survive this cruise without the luxurious escape offered by the spa. Money well spent.