When we board a ship with thousands of people on it, we are inevitably putting a lot of trust into other human beings. Sticky hands, loud breathers, close talkers (shudder, shudder, the horror).
Will my fellow cruisers wash their hands so that I don't pick up a buffet bug and end up praying to the porcelain gods? Will they politely share the hot tub space so that it remains a relaxing, unwinding activity? Will they refrain from invading my personal bubble?
Just like sharing the road with nothing but a little yellow line between you and other speeding hunks of metal where myriad things can go wrong, getting on board a cruise ship seems to hold a lot of risk.
Fortunately, it is these very strangers and unknown circumstances that often end up making cruises so enjoyable.
Some of my favourite cruise holidays began with random guests sitting down to chat or striking up a conversation with a fascinating couple in the dining room. Quiz time and Bingo are particularly great activities to meet new friends.
We boarded Ovation of the Seas in China the same way we board every cruise ship, full of excitement and eager anticipation. Maybe even more so, the Ovation being a brand new ship offered an extra bit of magic to the experience. And the buzz of being in a foreign country brought it to the next level.
Sarah and I also tacked on another cruise following the naming ceremony to make the most of the trip over to China and to fully experience what the ship has to offer (two days is tough to get it all in, especially on a ship that size!).
The ship looked amazing. And it truly was. Definitely the most state-of the-art cruise ship I have ever been on and I'd recommend it to anyone.
However, the whole experience was not my favourite cruise. While I was excited to experience a regional cruise, I didn't realise what aspect of cruising I was giving up, or how much I truly valued that part of sailing the ocean blue.
So much of what happens on a cruise is impacted positively or negatively by getting on with your cruise mates. In this case, I couldn't communicate with the majority of our fellow cruise-goers because they spoke only Mandarin and the utilitarian amount I know doesn't make for the best conversations.
This is of course obvious and I knew that when I signed up but as mentioned, I didn't think it would matter on such a fabulously huge, new and amazing ship.
It was very interesting to see how the Chinese enjoyed their cruise but I couldn't really share in that experience to the extent that I wanted. The usual banter that you have with other guests wasn't there, so ironically I felt a bit lonely on a cruise ship with over 5000 people on board.
Some culture shock definitely came into play when we discovered that queuing (for the buffet, customs, disembarkation, etc) was a bit of a free for all.
And, due to my blonde hair (a novelty for many Chinese) some of the guests would stare at and/or take pictures of me. While I had spent some time in China before, I didn't really mentally prepare for what this would be like on a cruise ship.
Many of the guests were totally lovely and despite the language barrier, we shared a few laughs and pleasantries. However, the usual level of jovial banter was missing.
To guests who are thinking about taking a regional cruise, I would offer these pieces of advice:
- Consider to what extent cruising for you is about meeting new people and participating in activities.
- Consider how much about this culture you will be able to authentically experience whilst being on a cruise ship.
- Consider how flexible you are when things don't go to plan and there's a greater chance of miscommunications happening.
- Do your research and find out how long the cruise has been operating and seek advice about how everything works, prior to booking.
- Read reviews and ask your cruising peers to tell you about their experiences before booking.
All in all, my cruise in China was a learning experience for me. I'm so grateful I had a great cruise partner to share the laughs and the fun with, but I now know that mingling with new people is one of my most valued aspects of cruising, and hey, that doesn't cost a thing!
Does anyone else feel this way? Is it all about the people for you? Or maybe it's the ports? Or is it the ship? Which element do you look for on your quest to find a cheap cruise? Let us know in the comments below.