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Caribbean Cruises; the good, the bad, and the ugly!
The not-so-often discussed side of cruising in the Caribbean
Many of us have had the Caribbean cruise experience so can perhaps identify with the following remarks.
Cruises are wonderful opportunities to travel, meet people, dress up, eat enormous amounts of food and be entertained. They are also the best travel value for seeing multiple Caribbean islands.
When you add up the cost of independent travel; (inter-island airfares or ferries, hotel stays, food and entertainment), you begin to see just how much you save, and why cruises are so popular. Add to that the fact that mom and dad can leave the kids in the care of the entertainment staff and voila, you have a filled-to-capacity ship.
The drawbacks are that you are always surrounded by masses of people, and can't help but feel like part of a herd (especially if you watch some of the people around the buffet). You are only in port for one day usually, and the experience can be quite frenetic. At times, you are exposed to absolute greed on the part of some of the passengers. And, if you are remotely human, you will feel the huge chasm that exists between those that have (we the cruisers) and those that don't; namely the Caribbean Islanders.
You are also going to get a lot of pressure to part with your hard-earned cash on board. There are the daily tips added to your bill (upward of $12 per person, per day). There is also an 18% tip added to any drink you get from the bar (they leave a space on the tab for you to tip a third time)! There are multiple 'specialty' restaurants on board, which essentially means that you pay to eat in them; just another way to get your cash.
Then there are the duty free shops on board, the over-price spas, the never-ending seminars of what to buy, where to buy it; (whilst attendance is voluntary, its hard for a first-time cruiser not to get pulled in by the hype) the push for you to get a piece of jewelry or watch, or piece of art ~ it's a well-oiled money machine. So beware and be warned, you have to be disciplined and careful on your cruise, or you may go home with buyers remorse and 10 extra pounds in weight! That brings me to the whole greed vs need aspect...
Whilst the cruise ships throw away tons of food daily, they are not allowed to drop this food off to the many hungry people at the ports of call. This is because it is illegal. (if anyone were to get ill, the cruise ships would be at fault). It is sometimes hard to swallow when you arrive at a beautiful island and find it filthy, smelly and full of natives going without. It demands that you question you over-inflated belly and newly-acquired waddle.
Because you can pick up a cruise for a steal nowadays, you have more (diverse) people cruising. However, most of the Caribbean islanders still believe that anyone on a cruise is filthy rich, (which was true at one time). Over the last several years, the islanders have become increasingly more aggressive when you won't buy their trinkets, or go on their tours. Should you browse inside any of the jewelry or other tax free designer stores, you will be hounded immediately (and may leave with a sales assistance as an appendage) ... they are very persistent!
If you do decide to buy, never pay the first price they quote...walk away; your salesman will run after you; only pay what you think is a deal. Its all part of the hype. (Be sure to google the item you are after before you leave home) ~ often the items are no cheaper in the Caribbean and sometimes way more expensive than online outlet stores).
I write this not to complain about the wonderful islanders, who by nature are usually pretty relaxed and joyously innocent; but, it would seem we have corrupted them over time.
When you are on a cruise, you enter into an altered reality; the sort of numbed-out, indulgent coma of being spoiled rotten. It's a very unreal reality, where you can throw caution to the wind - until you dock; and then reality slaps you in the face and hits all your senses. The Caribbean islands remain beautiful, but we have robbed the people of their pride. Likewise, when you get home, you may feel robbed in a different way if you are not careful.
Years ago, cruises to the Caribbean were much more pleasant. I think because the islanders weren't exposed to the massive tax free shopping emporiums we've built in their towns (and our insatiable materialism) and also life on board ship wasn't one long sales pitch. The aggressiveness directed towards cruisers in today's Caribbean islander, is a reflection of our own greed. In some ways, the Caribbean is the worse for our visits and not the better, even though tourism is their main source of income.
In summary, whilst cruises are a fun and low-cost way for the whole family to see multiple Caribbean islands, first-time cruises are advised to be disciplined and well informed before departure.