my wife and I sailed off last month on a 10-day cruise
to six ports in Mexico, I couldn’t help but notice
that practically all the passengers on board were about
our age, give or take a few years.
The total of small children we saw every day could have been counted on the fingers
of one hand. Practically all the romantic couples we encountered were over 60.
And I’m sure the average passenger age would have matched the numbers at
any Eskaton or Hank Fisher residential project.
Cruising — especially to “easy” destinations like Mexico or
Hawaii — is a popular choice for seniors these days even though we got
no special financial benefits by making the nautical choice. On the other hand,
senior discounts are routinely offered as come-ons by restaurants, motels, movie
theaters and airlines. But I don’t recall seeing any such come-ons from
the cruise lines to lure older customers on board.
So there must be some other factors that motivate seniors to take ocean cruises,
and actually, these are not hard to comprehend. They offer many pleasures available
without much physical effort from those boarding the passenger ships.
When you arrive, you expect your luggage to be brought to your cabin, where you
can hunker down without effort for the week, month, or whatever length or time
you’ll be at sea. You can go ashore wherever the ship docks and see the
sights, either on your own or via excursions arranged by the ship.
Or you can stay on board and partake of a variety of activities — bridge,
bingo, lecture programs, shows or art auctions. If so inclined, you can simply
relax with a good book until the time comes for your next sumptuous meal.
As for ourselves, we have been mostly post-retirement cruisers. Most of our earlier “working
years vacations” were confined to dry land as we got around the U.S. and
abroad on foot, by automobile, bus or train.
As the years rolled by, we began switching to cruise vacations because we saw
that they would be easier for us. By the time the 21st century had rolled around,
most of our trips had become cruises.
Over the years, we’ve signed up with various cruise lines without concluding
that any one is better or worse than any other. Among others, we’ve sailed
with Celebrity, Princess, Norwegian and Holland-America, all generally okay.
I’d give them all about a B+.
I recall that one of our early cruises, on a Greek line — Epirotiki — got
off to a bad start because the newly-acquired ship had not been fully prepared
for passengers before we sailed. There were still heaps of furniture, carpeting
and other equipment in heaps on deck and in public rooms.
On the second day, as passenger complaints about the mess surfaced, the ship’s
loudspeaker suddenly projected a message that brought cheers from everyone aboard.
For the rest of the trip, the skipper announced, all drinks served on board would
be on the house. When the commotion had died down, there seemed to be a sudden
list to starboard as passengers quickly made their way to the bar on the ship’s
There was another trip when things did not go as planned — in 1999 — when
we arrived in Houston to board a ship bound for San Diego via the Panama Canal.
We were greeted at the airport lounge by a cruise line representative (I’m
no longer sure which line that was) who told us that the cruise was off — the
ship, which had been undergoing repairs in drydock, was simply not seaworthy,
unable even to make its way to the pier. But there would be a reward for all,
we were told. We would be reimbursed for the canceled trip and could select a
replacement cruise within the next year at no cost whatsoever. Our airfare between
our homes and Houston would be reimbursed.
The cruise line put us all on planes the next morning after we were sequestered
overnight at a posh Houston hotel. A few months later, we booked the replacement
Panama Canal cruise for free, as promised, and it went off without a hitch. Not
a bad deal.
Our other cruises generally went along smoothly. We went to such faraway places
as the North Cape of Norway, the Falkland Islands off the southern tip of South
America and the Russian city — St. Petersburg — that was still called
Leningrad when we were there a couple of years before the collapse of the Soviet
As for our latest trip to Mexico last month, we’d especially been looking
forward to it because we hadn’t been far from home for almost two years
during recovery from a thighbone fracture sustained while tripping and falling
on a defective Sacramento sidewalk.
Any expectations that the trip would be free from problems were dashed before
we even reached the ship. Arriving by plane in San Diego, we were taken — not
to the ship — but to a huge barn-like structure outside a Sheraton hotel
where we spent the next six hours milling about while crews carefully disinfected
our ship — the Ryndam — because of a previous outbreak of intestinal
Once we made it on board, stringent hygiene measures were enforced for everyone.
We were encouraged to rub elbows instead of shaking hands. Disinfectant dispensers
were available throughout the ship, and we were advised to wash our hands with
them frequently. We also couldn’t serve ourselves at the buffet counters.
We had to point to what we wanted, and the staff would serve us.
There were reports that a few passengers had taken ill during the trip, but the
Holland America staff did a pretty good job of keeping things going on an even
keel. When the cruise ended, the captain announced that the Ryndam’s next
journey would be delayed for two days for a complete disinfection program.
That, of course, wouldn’t be a problem for us, but for the next trip’s
passengers, who must have needed to reschedule their plane trips from their homes
to the San Diego embarkation pier.
As for us, we finally got back to Sacramento International Airport more than
an hour late after a mysterious mechanical problem reported in the cockpit that
delayed our takeoff from San Diego.
Alas, such problems are the realities of sea and air travel in 2007.