The losing side of cruising | Not Istanbul (not even Constantinople)

Before I went on my first cruise I was kind of prepared to dislike it. In kind of a travel-snob way, I was just not that into the mass appeal, packaged aspect of it. But Brian convinced me to give it a try, so for my 30th birthday we built a trip around a Baltic cruise. I thought that part of the world was well-suited to travel by cruise ship – it required transportation by water and is an expensive destination, so visiting by cruise seemed logical.

I enjoyed it in spite of myself, in due part to the incredible places we visited (two days in St. Petersburg being a major contributor) as well as another couple we became friends with on board.

I feel slightly embarrassed as if I have to explain myself when I mention to anyone who knows me even fairly well. Cruises and Dana-who-doesn’t-eat-fast-food-and-despises-urban-sprawl just don’t seem like a natural fit. Cruises can bring to mind tacky vulgar American tourists drinking and eating mass-prepared food excessively while loudly asking for the nearest Dunkin Donuts while in Barcelona. It was hard for me to get past that stereotype, and even harder to deal with the class system on board. Dark-skinned staff serving primarily Caucasian clientele made me feel most uncomfortable and icky, and I struggled a lot with that. (more thoughts about my Holland America Noordam experience here.)

However I enjoyed the relaxing aspect of the cruise – my typical breakneck travel style leaves me exhausted. Being required to return to the cruise ship meant I had to slow down and rest. And dressing up and playing pretty was fun too. There aren’t many opportunities after a girl is married to put on a glittery dress and take time with makeup. The convenience was unbeatable as well. After a leisurely dinner, go to bed (a nicely turned-down bed) and wake up in Estonia, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Germany or Denmark. No trains planes or automobiles required.

The cruise was two years ago and I have looked back nostalgically, even wistfully, at the experience. As with all travel experiences, it gains a patina of greater charm and fewer discontents as time passes. I forget how restless I was on “sea days,” prowling the decks bored, and remember dolling up for dinner while Brian went out for a cocktail. This nostalgia led to a decision to cruise again for our 10th wedding anniversary. Cruising seems to us to be a special occasion travel experience. We’re cruising the Eastern Mediterranean next June, seeing Greece and Turkey. I’m thrilled and intrigued to see Istanbul (not Constantinople).

Tonight I learned that cruise ships are canceling upcoming stops in Turkey due to the recent terrorist activity. My naiveté is apparent here, for I was most taken aback to learn this. Do airlines stop taking people places when these (it must be said) atrocities happen? For the most part, no. Do the trains stop running there? Think of England, Spain and the United Sates in the last five years. No. So what’s the difference? We’re all adults here, presumably capable of making our own decisions based on our assessment of the risk and our own estimation of how the potential peril weighs against the value of the travel experience. My desire to see Istanbul and my perceived value of the experience makes the risk acceptable. Life is a series of weighing and accepting risks.

This is where the downside of cruising comes in. This decision is no longer mine. When I booked this cruise, primarily because this itinerary spends two days in Istanbul, I turned over the decision-making to Celebrity cruise lines. Unfortunately, that was not part of my consciousness in the choice. Now some random person or persons will be tasked with assessing the risk to me and my fellow passengers.  This is hard for me.

This is what I don’t like about cruising. I can live with the stereotypes, and ignore the passengers that call countries “ports,” and resign myself (or at least try to internally justify) the staff situation. But handing someone else the reins to my travel experience is agonizing. I’ll keep on planning on though, and hope the good folks at Celebrity don’t find a reason next summer to steal Istanbul (not Constantinople) from my travel dream.

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3 responses to “The losing side of cruising | Not Istanbul (not even Constantinople)

  1. Pingback: 24 hours in İstanbul | Part I « The Traveling McMahans·

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