Cruise Ships

From 2007 - 2019 I travelled on 12 cruise ships as a history speaker (“never say ‘lecturer’; it’s off -putting”) on topics of history related to the voyage. For instance, cruising up the east coast of Australia my first two talks were on the penal colonies. I say “my” talks but I co-presented with my wife (ex BBC presenter Margaret Percy) and we always gave glossy power points. Now that I have retired I fee free to tell you my views on the cruise experience.

First, I would never sign up to a cruise ship that accommodated 1,500 + passengers - and many pack in 3,000 - 4,000. Fancy choosing to travel to exotic places with a vast crowd of fellow countrymen and women. The ships look monstrous and the experience is moving from one queue to another. Yet increasingly cruises cater to crowds, for economic reasons. All our cruises were for under 1,000 passengers and that was quite enough.

Second, choose a cruise with plenty of port stops. The big plus of a smallish ship is that it gets to inaccessible places while more than 2 days at sea in succession gets tedious; viz, crossing the Pacific, not that I’ve done it. Approaching St Petersburg from the sea is not to be missed, and a Baltic cruise (I’ve done 3) ticks most of the boxes.

Accept as a fact of life that British and Norwegian cruise lines (I travelled mostly with Fred Olsen) cater for the retired, some of them geriatric. Probably 80 - 90% of passengers are retired. That means plenty of folk with interesting stories to tell but not nearly enough variety of life and not enough physical activity, though there’s always a gym and swimming pool.

So what is the experience of ‘guest speaker’? The disconcerting thing is that most ships only have one big lounge so that of the 300 + audience (yes, they’re huge) many have come along for a comfortable seat rather than listen to a presentation. Gradually you notice a following, which is gratifying and from these you find your drinking/eating companions, but the vast majority are just bank faces from start to finish.

Although speakers are marked by some of the audience (I got 3.5s out of 5) the only requirement of the Cruise Line Entertainment dept seems to be that you ‘entertain’. We carefully prepared talks relevant to the voyage but we have been book ended by a retired lifeboatman and an expert on home security. In fact the ‘guest speaker’ status has been down graded since I began. We used to be ‘enrichment speakers’ but now that term seems to apply to reps from commercial organisations who give talks on say, faberge eggs ( that’s on a recent Baltic trip) that end up with sales from the boutique.

Guest speakers and their partners are invited for free, the food is copious and tasty, and everything is efficient. If you like public speaking, as I do, then the performance part of the trip is enjoyable, but why is it that however exotic the locations, the overall experience ends up the same?

In future I’m after small groups for adventurous holidays, even if I’m paying for them out of my retirement fund.