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Monday January 30, 2012

Are cruises all they’re cracked up to be?

Watching images of a listing, drunken Costa Concordia lolling like a beached whale in shallow waters off the coast of Isola del Giglio, made me consider once again, whether cruises are really all they’re cracked up to be.

Grim passenger accounts of the panic and mayhem that ensued shortly after the unwieldy wedding cake of a cruise ship hit a rock and ran aground, reminded me of scenes from the hammy yet rather compelling disaster film, The Poseidon Adventure. As a child I remember seeing the film and firmly telling myself afterwards that I would never, ever take a cruise and yet I did. As a teenager I was persuaded by my classics teacher to join school chums on a trip to the Mediterranean aboard the SS Uganda, ostensibly to learn about Greek and Roman history and culture and indeed we did, but the boat experience itself was excruciatingly awful.

I still remember the groaning of the anchor infiltrating my dreams as we slept in a hot and stuffy dormitory deep below deck, the sheer, inescapable dullness and monotony of endless grey waves and the sound of a shuddering engine, the terrible storms and familiar sound of retching wherever I ventured –swaying – above or below deck and the ennui of seeing the same wretched pasty and bored faces of my fellow prisoners, day and night. The food was worse than school fare and the entertainment beyond dire. In fact we pupils got together one night and created our own very vocal protest anthem which began, “Let me tell you, if you stay on this ship, you’ll get the SS Uganda blues too…”

And that’s probably why I’ve never been motivated to go on a cruise since and reading about the Costa Concordia tragedy has done little to encourage me to change my mind. In fact whenever I drive to Palma de Mallorca’s busy port I always experience a sense of foreboding and claustrophobia when surrounded by the enormous, teetering and shiny vessels with multiple decks and row upon row of tiny windows that glint sinisterly in the sun. Characterless and far too tall to make any sense to me, I cannot imagine what would ever induce someone to set foot on board unless from sheer masochism or perhaps for economic reasons-it seems opting for a cruise is one of the cheapest ways to travel these days but at what cost?

Despite the horror of this most recent-and by all accounts, rare- happening on the high seas, it isn’t fear of sinking or drowning that bothers me most. It’s the idea of not being able to get on and off the damned boat of my own free will. The propsect of interminable stretches of sea and sky, screaming, splashing and chattering humans at every turn, loud music, endless meals and a heartfelt yearning for land would all but have me jumping overboard. And although I know that these monstrosities are supposed to resemble small towns of 5000 souls or more, surely there’s a good chance one might keep running into the kind of people you’d rather avoid on dry land?

And what about experiencing and getting under the skin of a country? A quick hop and a skip into various ports, being whizzed round in a coach to see the sights with fellow passengers, just wouldn’t cut the mustard for me. I know, I’ve heard that one can enjoy guzzle-a-thons of first class cruise cuisine and that there’s 24 hour entertainment, saunas and pools, and cabarets and snooker and tennis but quite frankly I’d rather eat simple, healthy fare on terra firma, integrate with locals and for thrills curl up with a book at bedtime.

If figures are to be believed, of Spain’s 5.8 million cruise ship passengers in 2011 Majorca received a 1.2 million share, the second highest number after Barcelona. It has been estimated that Spain’s cruise passenger figures will rise to an estimated 8 million this year but following the Costa Concordia disaster, who can honestly say?

This first appeared in Telegraph Expat. Follow Anna on Twitter @MajorcanPearls

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