New Cruise International Contributing Editor Sara Macefield says its time for cruise critics to challenge their preconceptions about cruising.
I have a problem with cruising.
Not the ships themselves, you understand, but the reaction that it repeatedly seems to provoke from less-informed travellers.
Despite its very best efforts over the last decade, the cruise industry still attracts brickbats and sneers that are fired like poison arrows from those who have never even set foot on a ship.
“Oh you won’t get me on one of those floating monstrosities,” seems to be the most common retort from those who dismiss cruising out of hand.
It’s true, the huge mega-ships are not for everyone, but does that mean you have to damn an entire industry on the back of them?
Let’s face it. The same assumption could easily be applied to hotels, but do people write this sector off and vow to never step foot in a hotel, just because they don’t like the big brash resorts of, say, Las Vegas?
No, of course not. Such a viewpoint would be so immensely stupid and narrow-minded and anyone stating it would be regarded as such.
But when it comes to cruising, such glib throwaway statements seem to prompt agreement and even applause within certain circles.
As someone who has written about cruising for nearly a decade, and sampled virtually every type of ocean and river sailing going, I find these pronouncements incredibly irritating, especially when based on rash assumptions rather than first-hand experience.
But, in truth, it comes down to more than this. In certain quarters, there is an inbuilt snobbery over taking a cruise and this, along with ignorance, remain major obstacles when it comes to attracting newcomers.
Despite the millions of pounds that cruise companies have thrown at high-profile marketing campaigns, such barriers stubbornly persist.
But with the huge growth in different ships and styles of cruising, along with an ever-lengthening list of new destinations, there have never been more ways to tempt the uninitiated to try their sea legs.
There is a whole world out there waiting to be explored by boat, or ship, and many of them are not the 4,000-passenger-plus giants that so readily attract publicity and opprobrium in varying measures.
Yet I find it so frustrating that critics focus on these and close their minds to the incredibly diverse and fascinating experiences that cruising can offer.
One of my most memorable voyages was a seven-night adventure along the Mekong River through Laos aboard a wooden cruiser that accommodated just 30 of us, stopping at remote villages whose previous encounters with Westerners had been limited to aid workers.
Another was a cruise with my children – not on your usual family-friendly ship filled with kids clubs, ice cream machines and waterslides, but one of the elegant tall ships of Star Clippers sailing around Turkey and the Greek islands.
You see, the beauty of cruising is that you can expect the unexpected and explore some of the remotest places on the planet. Expedition voyages will take you deep into the Russian Arctic on powerful ice-breakers or through remote Asian archipelagos on traditional wooden craft.
Others will introduce you to a new skill that could be the theme of the sailing or take you to special festivals where you can immerse yourself in on-shore events and celebrations.
Those who turn their backs on cruising are missing out big time and the sad thing is, they don’t even realise it. If they can only overcome their preconceptions; shock, horror, they might actually enjoy the experience.
After all, it is a well-trumpeted fact that when people put their prejudices behind them and take a cruise, the vast majority return and a significant number become hooked, which shows that it can’t be as bad as the doomsayers fear after all!