Sea legs is not a term that will ever be applied to me. Armed with all my best intentions, mainly because of my life long attraction to any body of water, I tried sailboats, motorboats, paddlers, canoes and it never got better. I get horrendously, painfully and unavoidably seasick. To reach certain destinations that can only be arrived at by sea, I will ingest vast quantities of drowse inducing pills but I don’t otherwise see the point of spending any vacation time medicated and in a daze. So no sailing holidays from island to island for me – a pressurized cabin will always get me there faster and with my stomach intact.
Until somebody suggested taking a cruise on a very large vessel. “They are as big as nine-storey buildings. You won’t feel a thing!” And so it was that I was conned into boarding an enormous liner to Alaska, some monstrosity with more restaurants you could ever want to explore in a week, casinos, multiple pools and minuscule and suffocating berths. In the middle of night one, I woke up, apparently while crossing the Inside Passage, with my stomach lodged in my throat, unable to stand and crawling to bathroom, hoping for a miracle. After three hours, I was pleading with my companion to go talk to the captain and let me off. RIGHT NOW.
Needless to say, I spent the rest of the week popping pills, counting the hours when land could be under my feet once again. Against my better judgement and in a major fit of forgetfulness, five years later I agreed to a Mediterranean cruise to Portugal and Spain. “It’s a much smaller boat, very luxurious and the Mediterranean is so calm, it’s impossible to feel seasick!” Bullshit.
Nary out of the port of Lisbon, right in the middle of dinner, I had to excuse myself to go find a friendly doctor who would prescribe me enough pills to see me through the week. This was 6 years ago and, under no circumstances, could I ever be persuaded to give it another try.
But, my ear imbalance aside, I collected a number of very good reasons why cruises should be avoided at all costs.
- The most interesting person I met on the Alaska cruise was Jonathan, my table’s Jamaican server. You get assigned to a table, you see, and you are stuck dining with the same people night in, night out, unless you want to try any of the other junky restaurants. This very friendly waiter could not believe I had been to Port Antonio, where he was born and, having earned his trust, I learnt from him that the staff is lodged in cabins under the water level, with not even a porthole. They work 14 to 16 hour shifts and they hardly ever get off to sightsee. They all come from poor countries or dire circumstances and are easy prey to contracts that offer gruelling working conditions but also more money they can hope to otherwise earn.
- One day at sea, intensely bored, I took advantage of the kitchen tour that was offered to the guests. I was very impressed with the spotless and cavernous facilities but, if there is one place where food borne diseases can spread like wildfires, that is the confines of a boat. It’s hard to store food for long periods of time and avoid cross contamination, as witnessed by the frequent news items of large numbers of passengers getting sick on boats.
- They will try to sell you anything and everything. If you are stuck at sea, you will cave in and get a bad massage from a stranger who will try to sell you all manners of beauty products. If you are not particularly entrepreneurial, you will end up in one of those tours headed by red hatted leaders, waving umbrellas. That, I refused to do and, as soon as I could hop on land, armed with guidebooks, I took my own hikes in the Alaskan wilderness, took trains and buses all over Spain and even met the boat at a different port. The bad massages, I was a sucker for.
- Whenever I board a plane, it’s like an act of faith, mainly because I understand little of the aerodynamics and mechanics that keep a plane flying. But I quickly settle in, enter my cocoon and stop thinking until it’s touchdown. On a boat, seemingly so much safer, there might be a Captain Schettino lurking in the shadows…and you know how that one ended…