A few weeks ago MOTH and I completed our first ever cruise. We were on a month’s holiday touring Italy and thought we’d include a 7 day cruise into the mix. The cruise started and finished from Venice cruising through the Adriatic Sea followed by the Ionian Sea (who knew this was a sea? Not geographically challenged KityKate anyway) followed by the Mediterranean Sea followed by the Aegean Sea and back again.
We’d visit three countries besides Italy. In the 7 days we’d visit five other ports including Bari which is in southern Italy, Katakolon in Greece, Izmir and Istanbul in Turkey and Dubrovnik in Croatia. Also there was one full day of non-stop sailing.
Embarking at Venice (AKA getting on the boat)
We travelled from Stresa to Venice via Milan to be on board the cruise ship by 2.30 pm. Now this is a long trip so by the time we got to Venezia Santa Lucia railway station with our *40 kilo plus bags we were a little wrecked. Luckily we could leave our bags at the station with the cruise baggage handlers and they assured us the bags would be delivered to our cabin, and they were.
*I must add here that my bag was by far the heaviest as I certainly did need all the shoes I packed albeit against MOTH’s wishes. But in my defence, I did wear all of them at least once. And it would have looked silly me carting the bigger bag.
The ’embarkation’ was a little slow but not to the point where we became murderous. By 3.30 pm we were in our cabin awaiting departure.
Right on 4.30 pm the ship sailed out of Venice, luckily our cabin balcony was on the side that had full view of Venice as we sailed past (or motored past to be more exact). What a sight to behold – Venice on a beautiful day is a truly breathtaking sight (and I’m not easy to please).
We were off to a great start.
After we set sail MOTH and I unpacked our bags for the first time in three weeks and filled up what little wardrobe space we had and once finished we ventured down to deck 7 for cocktails. Our cabin was on level 10.
There didn’t seem to be many people in the first lounge area we found so we settled down and ordered our first cocktail. We hadn’t explored the ship as yet so we didn’t know how many lounge areas were on-board.
We were both feeling good at this point, it was the first time in the three weeks we were relaxing with a drink in the early afternoon. All other days were filled with sightseeing, including a gruelling 10 hour day walking around Herculaneum and Pompeii.
After a couple of margaritas and a visit to reception to change our assigned dinner sitting from 6.30 pm to 9 pm to avoid old people and kids, we adjourned to the cabin for a snooze.
At 8 pm we arose from our snooze to shower and spruce up for dinner. I brought my bestest summer dresses. I didn’t pack formal evening gowns as I don’t have any and I certainly don’t have clothes that would make me look like mutton dressed as lamb as it appeared many of the women did. I do know my limitations when it comes to clothing.
MOTH put on a pair of trousers as the dress code dictated. I splashed on some make-up and my lovely smelly stuff (Beautiful by Estee Lauder to be exact) and we headed for the level 6 dining room.
When we alighted from the lift, turned left toward the restaurant we were affronted by a very long, very wide queue heading in the same direction– the restaurant. It was the 9 pm dinner crowd.
OMG, where did all these people come from?
When the restaurant doors opened we were quickly escorted to our assigned tables where we would meet our dinner buddies for the first time. Luckily we were seated with an Irish couple and a young couple from Perth. Given the rest of the cruisers were from Germany, France and Italy, it’s my guess they sat like speaking people together. This I thought was a good thing as I was a bit over trying to communicate via broken English and hand gestures and I certainly didn’t want to do this at mealtimes.
The Irish couple were on their 3rd cruise and like us the Perth couple were on their first. Anyway, our first cruise dinner went well, dinner topics included travel, religion (I didn’t start it) and politics. It appeared we were all of similar persuasions except maybe the Perth women, she was only young and very quiet. She was very keen to see the Virgin Mary’s House in Ephesus Turkey as she was raised Catholic. Although her Vietnamese-born Aussie-raised husband later conceded he doubts very much the authenticity – live and learn.
The buffet (AKA the nosh pit)
After a relatively good night sleep albeit with louder than ever snoring from MOTH because he had a slight head cold, we rose for our first cruise breakfast. We headed for level 15 buffet breakfast.
Something worth mentioning is that using the lifts between floors was becoming slightly annoying, but more on that later.
Once we reached level 15, we headed in the direction of the buffet. Our first glimpse was of the seating arrangements, tables of 6 aligning the full glassed wall with amazing ocean views. It was soon apparent we weren’t going to get a seat near the window or anywhere else for that matter.
I should note now that kids travel free. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the fact the Italian school holidays were not until August. However, I didn’t know about the German school holidays.
There was people everywhere. I was surrounded by men, women and children all buzzing around with plates piled high with a vast mix of food, much of which shouldn’t be seen on the same plate. I’m sure I saw one women with scrambled eggs covered in strawberry topping with a side of bacon, pancakes and a couple of croissants balancing on slices of tart.
Did this mean there was no more food until dinner time and people were eating up to get through the day? Or did this mean they were facing the death penalty and thought they’d eat all their favourite foods in one meal? With the frenzy that surrounded me I definitely thought the latter.
I was totally dumbstruck by the circus before me but I found a clean plate and wandered from buffet bar to buffet bar. After 5 minutes I found the croissants and picked two from the back. There were so many people MOTH and I had to devise a meet up plan in case we lost one another. I met up with MOTH at the designated meeting point. He had eyed off a couple who were ready to finish up so we hovered until they left.
We vowed that for the next 6 days we would eat at the restaurant which was the same place we had dinner, and as it turned out the same place we would eat lunch. We just didn’t want to return to the nosh pit with the feral pigs.
We compared notes with the Aussie couple who concurred with our experience at the buffet. They also told us of the people handling food and putting it back once they decided they didn’t want it after all – I’m speechless!
In Australia there are unspoken lift rules and they’re easy to follow. For example: when you’re waiting to take a lift and one arrives you wait until those exiting do so. You also let those who were waiting before you to get onto the lift first.
I know there is the odd exceptions of rude behaviour but on a whole Aussies are pretty good with these rules. What we encountered from day one on the ship was a free-for-all when getting on and off the lift. People barged in before anyone even considered getting out – no exceptions. This behaviour was displayed by all Europeans (yes I’m throwing them all under the bus).
On one such occasion MOTH and I waited as a family of four alighted from the lift. The mother got out first with the elder child and the father followed with the baby in a stroller. He was half way out when an older women barged in and bumped the stroller. The father instinctively apologised and we noted an Aussie accent. His wife, who witnessed this said loudly “don’t apologise, she barged in” to which the man turned around the said “yes that was very rude” (followed by a pause when he saw MOTH and I) “old lady”. We knew he qualified his verbal response with ‘old lady’ so we weren’t implicated as we politely waited until he was completely out of the lift. We gave him a smile to indicate our solidarity.
I don’t like to be rude but enough was enough so I couldn’t help but say to MOTH loudly enough for the rude ‘old lady’ to hear that I was over rude behaviour. I only hoped the bitch understood English.
I can’t count the number of times the door opened to an almost full lift where MOTH and I would wait for people to exit only to be left stranded when others who came after us barged in and pushed the close button leaving us dumbstruck.
By day 3 I would only use the lift outside meal times when they weren’t busy . I couldn’t be in close proximity of these rude bastards anymore. By day 7 I never wanted to encounter another European again, but we still had 3 days left in Venice.
Thankfully my faith in human decency was revived by the Italian staff of the lovely hotel we stayed in on the Grand Canal.
Clean before the cleaner comes
There’s one aspect of cruising I can’t complain about and that’s the service staff of which they seemed to outnumber the cruisers. After I discovered what little wages they receive it’s little wonder there are so many.
Our room was serviced three times every day which meant tidying up each time we left the cabin so the service staff could do their thing. You might think this is silly but we didn’t want to leave cameras, e-pads and phones around, not just because of the security aspect but to ensure they weren’t accidentally broken.
The dining room staff where predominantly Balinese. Each night we had the same waiters and through broken English struck up a few conversations. We found out during these conversations that the staff only get off the boat for a few hours each week and can only call their family once a week when docked in Italy.
I wondered why the cruise was so cheap; I guess I had my answer – slave labour!
I couldn’t help but feel bad that I was feeding into this tourist industry on the back of cheap labour but on the other hand the cruise liners were providing jobs to people from poorer countries who’d earn less back home. In the case of the Balinese their livelihoods where decimated by the Bali bombing. So all in all I have mixed views. Although I vowed never to go to Bali for security and safety reasons, I can’t help but feel that I should do my thing to help them stay at home by incorporating a stopover on my next overseas trip.
I would feel much better if the staff were given more time off and better pay. I for one would gladly pay more for a cruise if it meant the staff were better off. That’s if I ever go on another cruise.
It wasn’t all that bad
Maybe my cruise experience is still raw, after all it was only a little over a week since we disembarked (AKA got off the ship). However, there were positive aspects of the cruise, mostly experienced off the ship. The ports we visited showed us glimpses of Greece, Turkey and Croatia and were all experiences I’ll always remember, especially Turkey and especially Istanbul. Istanbul was an amazing city with amazing architecture and an amazing harbour. But maybe I’ll talk about my favourite places in another blog. For now I just wanted to share my cruise experience.