Life on board a luxury ship

A view of our luxury cruise ship from inside the ancient city walls of Visby, Sweden.
A view of our cruise ship from inside the ancient city walls of Visby, Sweden.

From morning to night, every desire is met, almost before we think of it. That, in a nutshell, is life aboard a luxury ship.

This type of cruise demands a much larger upfront fee–but it is seriously all-inclusive. Except for any shopping/gambling we do, and my indulgence in getting my hair done, everything else is already covered.

No post-cruise bill shocks. Just pre-cruise ticket shocks. Unquestionably, we could take several less expensive cruises for the price of just this one.

However . . . it all depends on what is important.

Smiling professional staff surround us, almost immediately responsive to any request. Our steward checks our room twice a day, fresh towels each time, fresh sheets in the morning, turned down each evening. And yes, a piece of chocolate for each of us. Fresh fruit daily, clean glassware, and for me, an endless supply of Pellegrino.

But there’s ever so much more that sets this type of cruise apart from the more usual “floating city” of the giant cruise lines.

There are no inside cabins here. Everyone has a suite, all with balconies. We have a full bath, double sink, large shower, and tub. We store our clothes in a walk-in closet, well supplied with good quality hangers, shelves, hooks and drawers. The rest of the cabin boasts more storage space, a king-size bed, a lovely sitting area, refrigerator and freezer (always kept stocked with ice), and, once again, the large and comfortable private balcony. Electrical outlets are both US and European so everyone can plug in easily.

Effective black-out curtains make good sleep possible. On this particular cruise, we are so far north that the hours of darkness now have shrunk to almost nothing. Without those curtains, I doubt we would be able to sleep at all.

We choose to travel on the concierge level, which offers some special privileges such as first or business class air and a pre-night in a luxury hotel before boarding the ship, along with all ground transfers. We are not on the “personal butler” level nor did we opt for a much larger suite (we were offered an upgrade at a discount price but chose not to take it–it was still a bundle of money), but we nevertheless have a sweetly responsive room steward.

Room service is readily available. No extra charges, but we mostly don’t bother with it. It is much nicer to go wandering around the ship to get what we want.

And it’s all here, available to all on board, all presented with luxury and class, coupled with quiet efficiency.

There are no 24-hour, come and stuff yourself, buffets. Restaurants open and close at certain times. The pool grill and one small coffee shop stay open from morning to about 5 pm, but then they both shut down for the day. Then, the multiple lounges open, offering creative cocktails and appetizers.

All evening dining takes place in seated restaurants, meals served by excellently-trained waitstaff.

The attentive waitstaff bring the food plated with smaller European-sized portions, not the overly-giant American-sized. The menus and meals are beyond exquisite. I’ve dined on everything from Steak Tartare to giant fresh prawns, with French, Pacific Rim, Italian, and Continental cuisine menus at different restaurants. However, I have not seen Tex-Mex yet!

Each evening, the sommeliers of the various restaurants choose specific wines best suited to go with the specialties planned for that particular evening. From what I can tell, the head-waiters assign about three people to each four-table group. A quick look is all that is necessary to bring someone immediately to the table.

Meals are served slowly, giving time for thoughtful eating and enjoyment. It is not unusual for the evening meal to last up to two hours. Because of that, along with the smaller portions, neither of us has gained any appreciable weight. We think. At least everything still fits OK. We also generally don’t eat desserts or just do fresh fruit, which has to help.

Passengers observe the evening “elegant/casual” dress code. No jeans, shorts, flip-flops, t-shirts here.

Some of the women are what I call “bony-thin.” They’ve probably not eaten a full meal in five years. Many have had extensive face work. I see five-inch spike heels under the beautifully draped pants and skirts. The jewelry sparkles. They belong to what I call the “impossibly rich” set.

Most of the rest of us just look like generally ordinary folk, wanting to experience the best we can afford and still see parts of the world that we would normally never see.

And, by the way, never have to bother with packing and unpacking the whole time. That’s a big part of the enjoyment here.

During the days when we are in port, we have a choice of tours. All are included in the price of the cruise. The expert tour guides have gained specific certification in particular areas. The depth of their knowledge has consistently impressed us.

The logistics of getting 750 people off the ship and onto the proper tours, complex as they may be, generally go off without a hitch. The one day we had to anchor off the port and use tenders to get to land was the only day with significant delays. The waters were unusually rough, making loading and unloading more difficult than usual, so everything ran an hour or more behind.

Another day, a tour bus problem meant that a group of folks had to be re-assigned, with another small delay. But these are minimal issues, again competently handled. Both days, they kept the main lunch restaurant open an extra two hours to accommodate the later than expected return from the tours.

As I noted, I personally have entered the luxury of going to the onboard hairdressers during the cruises. Those services are not included in the overall price but are so worth it for me. They do beautiful work and it frees me from having to deal with my otherwise unruly hair. There are also massages available, saunas, exercise classes, etc.

This ship has ample laundrettes on each floor for passenger use. They are free, with detergent provided. Ironing board and iron there as well. Each also has a TV, in case passengers want to wait for the machines to finish. Perfect for keeping up with washables. Shirts, etc. can be sent out for a reasonable price and are returned 36 hours later.

We can avail ourselves of excellent educational sources about the various places we visit. Just now, my husband and I watched a fabulous video on how Russian nesting dolls are made–and a very good explanation as to the outrageous prices for the authenticated ones as well as instructions as to how to avoid being scammed while we are in St. Petersburg.

My husband and I spoke extensively yesterday about the broadening effect of travel. While we know only too well that we are just skimming the surface of the many countries we are visiting, we also know that each place we go, each expert we listen to, each city we visit, helps us to see the world in different ways.

He said that he had heard that people would benefit more from two years abroad than four years of university education. I am beginning to think this is true.

I’m also learning again about the fragility of any governments, any national boundaries. Every nation we have visited has tales of occupations, of being conquered, of seeking independence, of political corruption, of instability. Nothing stays the same. Ever.

These are important lessons for those in the US. Our experiment in a system of democratic capitalism is extraordinarily fragile. The more I see of the world, the more I wonder how much longer we can sustain ourselves. I am especially concerned with the growing underclass of undereducated Americans who know little of what it means to be self-governed. To make such a way of governance thrive demands a highly educated, involved populace.

We are not that.

I am also intrigued by what I am noticing of the service staff on board. They are nearly universally young and hail from all over the world. We often chat with them during less busy times.

They work long hours (10 hours a day minimum) with no real day off for a four to six month period. After their contract ends, each employee gets a mandated extended vacation. It seems like the perfect way to build both good skills and a decent nest egg. But as far as we have seen, there is not one person from the US working on this ship.

Why? What’s the problem? Certainly, everyone is held to extremely high standards of excellence, grooming, competence, and friendliness. Certainly, each one must be able to perform multiple duties. But the rewards are good. So why? Could it be that we have raised generations unwilling to work this hard for these periods of time? I’m just a bit troubled by this.

Anyway, I’m writing to record my experiences and offer a glimpse of this life into which I unexpectedly entered.

I am unquestionably living in a different world. And I am enjoying each moment of it.

Time to go now as I must dress for dinner. With my gluten-free status, the main chef has requested that I order my meals ahead of time so they can adequately prepare and made adjustments as necessary. I am grateful and have not experienced even a second of illness so far.

For tonight, I decided I needed to pull back a bit on the rich foods, so will just have a simple pasta dish with an antipasti appetizer. What I do know is that it will be exquisitely prepared and elegantly served.


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