Helpful suggestions about travel come from a variety of sources. Frequent flyers that rack up a million miles a year can tell you the best seat on a number of aircraft, how they avoid jet lag and what brand of luggage they have had the best luck with. Travel experts specializing in hotels, car rental, families, singles, seniors and more offer help when we research a trip online, in print or elsewhere. Some tips are universal and pop up often, while others come from unlikely sources and are quite unique. Moving beyond cruise tips like ‘bring the duct tape for a quick hem repair’ and ‘book a mid-ship cabin for the best ride’, we one single suggestion that can make all the difference in the world.
People Are All That Really Matters
On big ships, little ships and every size ship in-between, realize that the vessel, however wonderful (or not) it might be, is simply a lot of metal, wires, plumbing and other non-human components. Learning about the ship, what the cruise line operating it has in store for passengers once on board, what it will cost and how to find the best deal is easy.
Working the people element to get something long-term out of the experience is quite another matter.
We have been on grand ships where over-the-top onboard features are a big reason to sail. Sailing on small ships, the people element positions itself front and center in the experience; there is simply no where to hide from other passengers. On ships of all sorts; old ships, new ships, ships in the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe and other parts of the world, we have had good times and bad times. The number one reason has always come back to one element: the people.
Just Say Hello
So here’s the tip: One way or another, get the best deal possible and be happy with it. Do your homework about the ship and know where everything is before boarding. Once on the ship, stop somewhere along the way and say hello to a total stranger. Strike up a conversation with someone in an elevator, at a buffet, in line for something, walking back to the ship from being ashore (pictured) or while waiting for something to start.
Simply introducing yourself and who you might be with to someone else will produce initial results that may be surprising…in a couple good ways. First, you are making a connection with another human. The (insert name of ship feature you are excited to see) was there before you got on the ship and will be there after you are done with it. Odds are, that person you said ‘hello’ to will not. You can come visit that ship again, as often as you can manage to book passage on her; but that person you made a connection with probably won’t be there.
Don’t Expect Instant Miracles
Now do yourself a favor and give this a chance: don’t pick someone who looks totally grumpy, mean or is arguing with someone at the time. Those people will be on the ship too. Advanced users of this tip actually do seek out those people, trying to turn them around, with mixed results.
Pick someone who looks to be reasonably pleasant, to give this the best chance of working. Safe topics to get this moving along include questions like these with follow-up comments that can lead to a conversation with a new friend…or tag them as someone to be avoided:
“Have you been on a cruise before?”
A bit more complex, usually leads in one of two directions
- They have been on a cruise and are either a) now experts themselves and want to complain about something or b) know the lay of the land and are happy to share their knowledge. It’s the later of the two that you want to befriend.
- They have not been on a cruise and are typical of many others you will meet on the ship, just like you.
“Have you been to your stateroom yet?”
This seemingly innocent question can unlock a lot of conversational doors.
The Point Is To Make A Connection
On a big ship it is entirely possible to sail for a week and never talk to another person. People who in real life have jobs talking to people, find this a part of cruise vacations an initial blessing. They may spend an entire week on the balcony of their stateroom, speaking only to those on either side of them from time to time. But not taking the time to engage someone else on the marvelous shared experience offered by a cruise vacation can be a huge mistake.
I can think of hundreds of people we have met via cruise travel over the years and still remain in contact with today one way or another. Each has their own story and likes to tell it. Putting our heads in the right place to hear that story, appreciate it and gain a bit more perspective about others and, in turn, ourselves opens up a world many did not know existed before.
Actually, we can do the same thing on land, this engaging other humans thing. But here is where the closed environment of a cruise ship shines. For a brief moment, a few days, a week or longer, however long the sailing is, this particular group of people is sharing an experience that will not be repeated. The ship may sail the same itinerary week after week but the people change every week and so too changes the opportunity for us to engage them and gain an element of richness in our lives like no other.
Not convinced yet? The next time you are in a situation anywhere close to what a cruise vacation offers, say hello to a stranger. With your head in the right place, you’d be surprised what might happen.
“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” – Mark Twain