While we were on Azura we had a conversation at breakfast with an elderly couple who were not enjoying their cruise. We gathered it was their first and was likely to be their last. Everything had gone wrong, it seemed, and they were pretty unhappy.
I was quite surprised by this so I gently quizzed them about the problems they’d experienced. It soon became clear that they’d booked the cruise all by themselves, and had made some mistakes. Among these were:-
- they hadn’t really understood the difference between (in P&O terms) Club and Freedom Dining, and didn’t really know much about Select dining at all;
- their knowledge about what they were paying for on board, and of the payment mechanism (their Cruise cards) seemed rather sketchy;
- the woman had some mobility issues. Unfortunately they had not deciphered the symbols in the excursion summaries and had booked some excursions that were not appropriate for her, e.g. ‘Rome on your own’, and others that involved significant walking;
- Unfortunately, they had misunderstood the instructions for rejoining the coach at the end of the “Rome on your own’ excursion and had to make their own back to Civitavecchia, by taxi, at a cost of €150….
- They also found tendering extremely difficult, again because of the woman’s limited mobility. This cruise originally had three tender ports, although that was reduced to two as a result of the switch from La Spezia to Livorno.
I think they were also rather confused by the embarkation process. Their embarkation slot was mid afternoon but as a result of the traffic problems around Southampton that day it was late afternoon before they arrived (by coach) at the terminal. I got the impression that they expected that they would then embark immediately, as they were already ‘late’. Encountering a full Mayflower terminal and having to wait until all those who had arrived before them were cleared was a bit of a shock and probably meant that their enjoyment of the cruise was affected right from the start. Then they found the passage through the Bay tough as well, and I gather that one of them at least suffered from mal de mer for a while. So it was several days into the cruise before they were able to start enjoying it, which was when they started to hit the problems with excursions, etc.
All of the above is not to criticise that poor couple in any way, and certainly not to laugh at them. It did bring home to me the extent to which those of us who have done a few cruises know the ropes. Even when things change, or are different on a different line, we are able to put the differences into a context that we understand. This couple had no such context; they were truly adrift, and seemed to be just gritting their teeth and getting through it. (I didn’t think to ask, but I wonder what they made of the muster drill?)
I think I hadn’t really understood just how valuable it is to first-time cruisers to have a source of information. Some of us had family or friends who were able to give advice. In our case we were subscribers to a cruise discussion forum where we were able to ask questions of experienced members; I remember that there was one member whom I pestered with some emails with questions, and she very patiently answered all of them. Finally, of course, there are travel agents. Some of these – possibly a lot? – may not be much use, as they aren’t cruise specialists and the employee you end up talking to might not know anything about cruising. This would be especially true in a small agency, I would think, but the larger agencies and specialist cruise agencies would be an excellent choice. And of course there are the online TAs who specialise in cruising, and who can give excellent advice, or at least point first time cruise holidaymakers in the direction of that advice.
Unfortunately the couple we spoke to on Azura had not been able to avail themselves of any of these sources of information, with the unhappy results described above.