Why does cruising have such an image problem?

Cruise Ship

Cruising is under attack from all sides.

How is it that companies can spend billions on building the latest ships – with facilities far superior to any land resort and staffed by crew who put even the finest hotel staff to shame – and yet they have an image problem that deters the vast majority of travellers from even considering a holiday at sea?

Really, it’s a mystery to me, and to the fortunate band who have discovered cruising heaven.

If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

Storms, such as the one that recently battered Anthem of the Seas, forcing the captain to order passengers to remain in their cabins until it subsided, and resulting in the ship cutting short a week-long cruise and returning to port early, are just one.

Plainly events like that, reported widely on the television news and in newspapers around the world, are likely to put off the unwary and the ill-informed.

It’s not the only deterrent.

Terrorism and political unrest are keeping cruise ships out of large areas of the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, the Black Sea and the Red Sea. Even if the operators were bold enough to carry on regardless, their customers would vote with their feet and refuse to book. For some Americans, one outrage in a country that borders a country on the Med is enough to deter them from taking a vacation anywhere in Europe – ignoring the fact that they are far more at risk of attack at home from a fellow-American carrying a legal weapon.

Crazy, but it’s true, and at least there’s an advantage for British holidaymakers – all those cruise ship berths have got to be filled somehow so there’s going to be no shortage of bargain fares this summer. Longer-term, however, those ships will be moved to where their customers feel more comfortable, so we will lose out in the end.

However, even places closer to home for the vast American market are coming under threat. Parts of the Caribbean, central and South America, are at risk from the mosquito-borne Zika virus which carries a threat to expectant mothers.

For some onlookers, there’s another threat – from terrorists.

One senior Royal Navy officer believes the so-called Islamic State in Iraq, and Libya’s Isil have ambitions to mount an attack. Vice-Admiral Clive Johnstone says that while he does not believe groups are deliberately targeting shipping, “there is a horrible opportunity in the future that a misdirected, untargeted round of a very high-quality weapons system will just happen to target a cruise liner, or an oil platform, or a container ship.”

Realistically, put like that, it’s a bit of a longshot (pardon the insensitive pun) and I must say that I’m not sure the Vice-Admiral has worked out how a weapon that is untargeted could actually target something. Doing his research, he might also have come across a terrorist hi-jack of a cruise ship – when the Palestine Liberation Front boarded the Achille Lauro in 1987. Thankfully, that’s an incident that has not been repeated.

All this goes to show that however many millions the cruise lines spend on advertising and marketing campaigns, whatever stunts they dream up to appeal to those who have not cruised before, there are still forces beyond their control ready to get in their way. Nor am I convinced that the tactic favoured by Lynn Narraway, UK chair of CLIA and boss of Holland America and Seabourn is the way forward though. She wants us to forget the word cruise altogether.

Dropping references to port and starboard, and avoiding mention of technical terms like tonnage are the way forward for her. Old salts like me feel that approach rather misses the point, and that we should be emphasising all the strengths of cruising, all the things that ships can provide that are simply unavailable and unattainable on land.

Maybe I’m wrong. Even if I am, I still believe cruising is the best-value holiday you can buy, and I plan to continue taking cruises for as long as I am able. If others remain unconvinced, then there will be all the more room for me, possibly at bargain-basement fares.