Travel: What I’ve seen on 33 cruises I’ve taken since the pandemic (2024)

An argument can be made that people in general have become more needy, pushy and demanding than before COVID — that politeness and courtesy seem to be waning in what has become a “me-first” society.

Well, there’s no debating that fact for this guy, not after what I’ve encountered on 33 cruises since the 15-month industry shutdown due to the pandemic only three years ago. That’s not to say everyone was Mister Rogers or Miss Manners on the 32 cruises I took before the pandemic. But ever since COVID reared its congested head, it sure seems like every cruise now includes a stop in Port Twilight Zone.

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Making waves

Picture if you will, lots of parents treating the MSC Seascape like Chuck E. Cheese. Who needs a ball pit to get your children’s wigglies out when there’s a beautiful 1,200-seat theater perfect for running around and screaming, and just minutes before showtime? OMG! Seeing no ship personnel from the front row, I did what hundreds of others couldn’t do, apparently, and calmly asked the kids to stop jumping off the stage. Suddenly, the grandfather of one of the little darlings got out of his seat, stood over me and yelled “(Blank) you! (blank) you! (blank) you!” His daughter was even more unhinged in front of her son, and everyone else. The verbal abuse, combined with getting zero support from hundreds of witnesses, gave me and my guest no other choice but to leave the theater. In an impromptu meeting with the security officer, I learned his department has no jurisdiction inside the theater. Say what? Talk about a ship of fools.

Where there’s smoke, there’s ire

Detecting a lit cigarette from the next balcony over on the Seabourn Odyssey, this sensitive non-smoker could have easily called guest relations to take care of the matter. But knowing that this violation can lead to a fine, removal from the Alaska-bound ship or worse, I decided to be nice and handle this directly. “Excuse me, can you please stop smoking? It’s bothering me.” From the other side of the divider came this response: “Calm down! It’s no big deal.” “It’s also illegal,” I added, before making a stink myself — with security. They wound up being worthless, so for my own sanity and safety, I moved to the apparent non-smoking section of the ship.

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British invasion

As the only American aboard Cunard’s 2,081-passenger Queen Elizabeth, I made an extra effort to be prim and proper around my fellow, mostly U.K.-based passengers out of Southampton, England. Plus, with strict COVID protocols still in place in April 2022, I thought it best to mind my manners at the higher level for which Brits are known, especially those well into their senior years — the core demographic on Cunard cruises. Other than wearing a suit on formal night, when every other gent was donning a tux, I thought I did a smashing job repping the red, white and blue among all the Union Jackers. That is, until the very end in Barcelona.

I was already waiting 10 minutes for an elevator — excuse me, lift — to take me and my luggage down to the gangway, when two older couples saw the door opening and barreled past me. One of the blokes quickly pressed the “door close” button to prevent me from getting in. “What would John Adams do?” I thought. So, I triggered the safety sensor by sticking my leg before the stainless steel hatches shut. Both wives gasped and as the lift went down, one man looked at me with disdain and directed my eyes to a sign on the wall that said that COVID policy limits occupancy of this car to four people. His pointing and smirking told me it was time to unleash the ugly American. “Dude,” I chided, “first, you all rudely went ahead of me, and second, if you’re that worried about social distancing, why are you on a bloody cruise?” You could see the Purell oozing from his pores.

Fortunately, only I got off on the next deck. But as the door closed on them, Mr. Sign Pointer muttered, “Yankee,” in Received Pronunciation, the poshest of British accents. The karma gods granted me one more second to offer them a proper goodbye gesture. Let’s just say I’m sorry, not sorry, for giving him the bird, and it wasn’t a bald eagle.

Parolee eavesdropping

I knew my much-needed mask-free me-time on my balcony was ruined once I heard the slider open on the other side of the partition. What I didn’t know was that my neighbor was going outside not to get some fresh Louisiana air, but to check in with his parole officer. The ex-con choosing not to speak in soft tones proved that private verandas are only so private on the Carnival Valor. Knowing that it was safer for me to stay put on my patio chair than risk making a noise, I did get some relief overhearing my neighbor claim he wouldn’t drink or get in trouble during the cruise. But when he ended the call and told a lady friend inside it was time for tequila shots, I stealthily went back inside and called guest services to request a cabin change to a different deck. Hey, I’m all in favor of making new friends on cruises, but I’d rather have them as shipmates than cellmates.

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Tragedy off Turkey

The splash heard from outside my deck 7 stateroom didn’t sound normal, especially for being around midnight in the middle of the Aegean Sea. Opening up the sliding glass door and stepping out onto my starboard balcony, I saw something white floating in the distance before it quickly vanished into the pitch-black horizon. That something was suspected as being someone when the 670-passenger Oceania Nautica made an unscheduled stop to commence with a search and rescue operation. Later that day, my own investigation determined that a British woman between 70 and 80 years of age went over the railing of her penthouse suite’s veranda in an apparent suicide attempt. Her husband, who was reportedly enjoying co*cktails in the Nautica’s main lounge at the time of the incident, was taken off the ship by Turkish police. His wife’s body, which we would learn was recovered earlier that morning, may have been on the same boat.

The woman’s death, while tragic, resulted in a canceled overnighter in Istanbul – one of the main reasons many of us booked this cruise in August 2022. With most of the 501 remaining passengers likely on their first cruise since COVID, if not their first cruise ever, the evolution of our collective feelings was justified — from shock and grief to guilt over considering the woman’s act as selfish if, indeed, this was a suicide. For the rest of the journey, from the reduced time in Turkey through debarkation in Israel, no one dared call this “a trip of a lifetime.”

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Cruising with J. Peterman

John O’Hurley has proven himself as a versatile entertainer, from playing the eccentric J. Peterman on “Seinfeld” and hosting the National Dog Show every Thanksgiving to winning on “Dancing with the Stars” and showing off his singing chops in musical theater. But when it comes to losing a casual cruise ship game, the man who always looks sporty seems to lack in sportsmanship.

I thought we hit it off after meeting each other on a 7-day Caribbean cruise aboard Regent’s Seven Seas Splendor in March 2023. We talked about how nice it is not having to be vaxed or wear a mask, and over co*cktails he enjoyed hearing my crazy story of having a supporting role in “The Serenity Now” episode in season nine of “Seinfeld.” In fact, he wanted me to share the story on his podcast currently in development. That is, until he and his wife came in second to me in a game of “Name that Tune” held in the piano bar on the penultimate night of the cruise. The winning difference was knowing that one-hit wonder Charlene sang the so-bad-it’s-good song, “I’ve Never Been to Me,” that was originally released in 1977 and reissued with greater success in 1982.

John and his wife accused me of cheating, which I’ll admit is easy to do when the cruise director allows self-scoring. But there was no cheating — my respect for the game is too great to do that, being the youngest contestant ever on the TV version of “Name that Tune” in 1979. I’ve emailed John a few times since, but not hearing back tells me that the bromance is over. But how cool is it to say you’re being ghosted by J. Peterman?

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Racing with Kelly Clarkson

If you go on enough cruises, especially the christening and inaugural kind, you’re probably going to see the rich and famous because they’re either ceremonial godparents of the ship or have a role in other parts of the festivities. From soccer superstar Messi and celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis to music legend Neil Sedaka and actor/part-time Beach Boy John Stamos, their million-dollar elbows have been rubbed with this shameless name-dropper. Adding the multi-talented Kelly Clarkson to the list, her presence on the brand-new Norwegian Prima in October 2022 was not a complete hit for this competitive guy with a need for speed.

When I went around the Prima Speedway, the ship’s three-deck-high go-cart track, a ride operator used his remote to slow me down. But when Kelly went behind the wheel, in the very car I had just driven, she and her entourage were allowed to treat the track like the Autobahn. So, of course she beat my awesome time. And, of course I still feel exactly like “American Idol” runner-up Justin Guarini, although I had 22 million fewer people watching me lose to the woman who, between us, has eight Emmys and three Grammys. The irony is I’m taking Kelly’s advice in dealing with the lingering pain. As she preaches in one of her platinum-selling singles, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Come to think of it, that should be the anthem of all cruisers who find themselves in Port Twilight Zone.

Travel: What I’ve seen on 33 cruises I’ve taken since the pandemic (2024)
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