Arthur Frommer

Cruise used to be a 'travel experience'

In a recent press release describing all the bells and whistles, toys and games added to the island called Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas, where each of its giant ships spends one day a week, Norwegian Cruise Line has candidly admitted that "Norwegian has owned the island since 1977 when it became the first cruise line to offer an uninhabited tropical island experience exclusively for its guests."

So all pretense has been dropped. A cruise, which used to be a "travel experience" (visiting the peoples of other cultures, other languages, other nations) is now increasingly an interlude spent at a new kind of amusement park, "an uninhabited tropical island experience." Great Stirrup Cay is joined by "Costa Maya," "Labadee," "Coco Cay" and numerous other "private islands" and "private beaches," as the places where cruise passengers will henceforth spend a growing portion of their week at sea. I am virtually convinced — though I don't yet have the evidence — that "Falmouth" in Jamaica (Falmouth being a real town), where the super-giant vessels "Oasis of the Seas" and "Allure of the Seas" are each scheduled to spend a day a week next year, will turn out to be another of those fenced-in enclaves of cruise line-owned bars, shops and rides, barred to entrance by any independent citizens of Jamaica. I'd be fascinated to learn whether any readers who have visited the busy dock-and-port construction site at Falmouth (it is not yet finished) can confirm that the facilities there will be limited to passengers of Oasis, Allure and other Royal Caribbean ships. I will, in fact, take bets that this will be the case.

Is a week of endless, carnival-style recreation superior to what used to be the cruise experience? Is the purpose solely to cater to families with 4-year-old children? Or to hard-drinking people desiring to "party" for a solid week? I'm sure that the new, amusement-packed cruise ships are greatly appreciated by some people, especially the parents of small children who haven't any real desire for their children to enhance their education through travel.

But I know parents who look upon vacation periods as opportunities for their children to grow. I have seen such families on cruises, taking advantage of the travel experience to introduce their children to new concepts and cultures. And I firmly believe that those children start out with a better grounding in life than the ones catered to by a number of cruise line executives running wild.