I promise I'm going to write some individual blog posts about our recent cruise, writing about each port stop individually. Complete with pictures. I know, right?
First, though, I want to talk about the cruise industry in general and their amazing customer service. I don't want to tout the services of one particular cruise line as being better than the others, because we don't have that much experience with different cruise lines. As far as service goes, we haven't had a bad experience with cruising. We did have a particularly crappy ship once (our friends went on the same ship two weeks later, and it sort of blew up), but this is about service.
One thing I noticed about the cruise this time is that there appears to have been a shift toward healthier choices at dinner. Our menus had little symbols to indicate lighter fare as well as foods that were gluten-free. There was an entire page called the "Vitality" section, from which diners could order an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert that were all lower in calories and healthier. They even printed the calories beside each item. I think people on cruises aren't typically trying to watch their calories (even if they SHOULD be, ahem), but I liked the fact that the choice was there.
Just a couple of examples about what I consider exemplary service.
On the first night at dinner, Hubby asked for unsweetened ice tea. (Yes, he's from the South, but since he's also diabetic, he has to get it unsweetened.) His tea came with a lemon in it, which he doesn't like, so I took the wedge and put it in my water. I love me some lemon in my water. Starting the next night and every night thereafter, the waiter brought his tea without the lemon wedge, and he brought me a small plate of my very own lemons. It may seem like a very minor detail, but that's what makes it so significant to me. No one asked him, we didn't make a production of trading the lemons, he simply noticed and made sure he brought the lemons (and lemonless tea) every single time after that. I appreciate that sort of gesture.
On another night, Hubby and Luis ordered the same thing, a steak. Hubby wanted medium rare, Luis wanted medium well. Hubby isn't picky at all, so he proceeded to eat his steak even though it was cooked more than he prefers it. I think Luis was the one to realize the two entrees had been mixed up, so they just traded steaks. No big deal; they had each eaten about half the steak, so they swapped and laughed about it. Our waiter, Rolando, however, was furious. Or as furious as waiters on cruise ships are allowed to be. He went to the kitchen and (apparently) chewed them out about mixing up the steaks, and he brought each of them a new one. They were too full to eat them, so they were wasted, and we all wished Rolando hadn't done that. But he wasn't just apologetic; he was apoplectic that two of his guests didn't get the meals they requested.
Our stateroom was a nice size, with a queen bed, a sofa, a little desk, a private balcony, and of course a bathroom. The only thing was there was no plug-in near the bed for my CPAP machine. (Man, I hate that thing. I hate even talking about it.) So I had to plug it in on the desk and pull the nightstand out from the wall to allow the cord to reach. That meant the cord was about thigh-high directly in Hubby's pathway if he should (inevitably) need to get up and go to the bathroom during the night. But it worked, and he remembered every single time to step over the cord. The next morning, I unplugged the machine and moved the table back next to the bed. We didn't point it out to our stateroom attendant or request an extension cord, because as long as we can make something work, we generally don't like to put anybody to extra trouble. Our attendant, Susan, however, apparently noticed the machine and knew I needed it to be beside the bed. Because when we came back from breakfast the next morning, there was an extension cord on the sofa. We didn't have to ask, she didn't mention it, she simply noticed a need and took care of it.
Several times while we were eating breakfast, some of the "bosses" (not just waiters or assistant waiters) would stop by and chat. They didn't just ask routine questions (although they did seem to mention an end-of-cruise satisfaction survey with great frequency), but they appeared to be genuinely interested in our answers. They also answered OUR questions about cruise life, their homes, etc. They were very friendly, and not in a fake-I-gotta-do-this-or-my-boss-will-kill-me kind of way.
I would never ask anyone how much he or she earns, but Luis had no such qualms. (Apparently it's socially acceptable if you're A) male; and B) from Puerto Rico.) He asked a bartender about his income, and the bartender said he couldn't tell him specifics, but what he made was "good." The same guy also told Luis that some of the guys lower down the ladder, the maintenance workers and general cleaning folks, made $600 a month. A MONTH! That seems paltry, but if you consider the fact that they have no food, transportation, or living expenses, it's not quite as bad as it seems. Still, bad enough.
I asked Juan, our assistant waiter, if he ever got a day off. He grinned and said, "No, we work seven days a week." As soon as our cruise ended, another group boarded and the whole process started over. He said his contract was for seven months, and at the end of that he could go home for two months. He works on the same cruise ship week in and week out, visiting the same ports each week until the route changes (I guess). He said after five years with the cruise line he could apply for a transfer to another ship if he wanted to.
I am fascinated by the prospect of working on a cruise ship. (No, I'm NOT considering another career.) I knew a lady whose daughter worked as a singer on a ship, and I would love to talk to her about her experience.
Funny story: I once heard a motivational speech in which this guy was talking about a childhood friend of his who taught himself to juggle. Day after day, this kid juggled any time he had a spare moment. I won't subject you to his whole story, but the crux of it was this kid's mother told him time after time, "You have to concentrate on something else. You can't juggle twenty four hours a day and expect to make a living at it." The next time the guy saw his friend, he was an entertainer on a cruise ship, juggling for one of the nightly shows. The moral of the story was that the kid's mother was right: he COULDN'T juggle twenty four hours a day and expect to make a living at it. Actually, he could juggle twice a week for forty-five minutes, make a living, and see the world all at the same time.