Tag Archives: tourism

The Good, the Bad, and the Cruise – my evaluation of sea tourism

30 Jun A sceneic view of Molde Fjord, Norway

What is the ultimate promise of a cruise; what’s to be gained? Some people pay thousands of euros for a single cruise ticket, even before eventual flight costs. You can book a one-week holiday, all-inclusive, for four people in a cabin near the Mediterranean Sea, for about €1800. So, there must be something incredible about the cruise to make it worth the three-fold costs. Today I will examine what cruises offer, and what they actually deliver.

Don’t worry, I won’t go onto another rant about how awful ABC Cruises treats its crew. You have read enough blogs about that. Today we are anchored in Molde Fjord, and the imaginative scenery makes it rather difficult to wrestle up enough negative energy for a decent rant. Upon leaving the ship you are immediately surrounded by lush greenery and cute Norwegian houses in various building styles. The town itself offers various small parks, and the odd museum or traditional housing installation along the road.

A sceneic view of Molde Fjord, Norway

This view of Molde Fjord is certainly worth a journey. But why travel by cruise ship, instead of taking the plane?

The only point that bears loud advertisement is the traditional village core, where people are bustling about to set up a folk music festival. Apart from that, the whole town is relatively quiet. No market vendors crying their wares; no coppers chasing their man; no tour guides yelling at passers-by to book a trip around the freeway. Whoever wants to book a tour has to do so in advance, and a long line of buses at the cruise terminal ensures that every one of the four thousand guests aboard the ABC RypMeOff is able to visit the sight of their choosing.

Since we are only anchored for half a day in every port there is rarely the chance to book a bus trip upon arrival. You either do so in advance, or you have a nice walk instead. Thus, the whole holiday feels much more relaxed than a tourist trip to Italy or Morocco. The streets are not filled with gullible tourists, so there is little money in hawking out souvenirs. You just buy your gifts in a regular gift shop. Like people used to do back in the olden days.

The regular tourist hassle returns once you are back aboard your swimming hotel. Lollipop holders walk around with flyers for guided tours in future ports. The staff of bars and restaurants asks you to buy beverages that are excluded from your all-inclusive list. Photographers nag you about sitting down for a dozen pictures in their studio. And shop clerks try to up-sell you on their duty-free goods. ABC Cruises knows that you have money in your pocket, and they do their very best to relieve you from that burden, although you already spent five thousand euros to be rid of the regular tourist hassle.

Port café in Molde Fjord

Molde is a pictouresque town that is not yet burdened with hoards of hawkers crying their touristic gimmicks.

If you want to spend your holidays removed from the ordinary pick pockets and pendant hawkers, there are not many alternatives to a cruise. Our guests can genuinely have their quiet time aboard, even though it is frequently interrupted by the luxury department digging for additional money. It rarely makes for an obnoxiously intrusive experience, although for the kind of money people spend to be here I would have expected more professional distance from the shop keepers. Still, it’s infinitely more comfortable than being yelled at in a bazaar in Turkey.

Let’s get back to the pretty sights, though. There is a new port every other day, and Norway’s coast offers many breathtakingly beautiful places to visit. It’s basically an upscale version of the old bus tour. You get hauled around the country side, you sleep in a comfy bed with a questionable view (cabins with windows are very expensive), and you get to watch the cattle prance on the meadows while your hotel changes location. Some people love a new sight every day, and a cruise certainly fulfills that need. Sleep or dine when you travel, and enjoy maximum visiting hours as soon as you have reached a new destination.

This is the part I will miss about my job as cruise photographer. Every day you get a new chance to hike up a mountain, paddle through a fjord, or visit a traditional fish market. You get the whole variety of Norwegian coastal sights in one travel package, and you don’t even have to clean up your hotel room. There are faster ways of traveling, but there probably isn’t anything more comfortable or efficient than boarding a cruise ship, and enjoying the view from the poop deck as you make your way through the endless sea.

Fjord Town Geiranger

A cruise journey takes time, but it rewards with great views and formidable travel comfort. You don’t get this with a bus.

This is also the point where ABC Cruises often fails, though. Instead of announcing the most famous peaks or waterfalls for the viewers on deck, the cruise manager often just plays gentle music from tape whenever we approach or leave a port. At rare occasions we are sided by a group of dolphins, or trailed by a family of whales. But is up to your fellow passengers to spot the unusual sight; our cruise manager just doesn’t care enough to announce those tourist attractions.

I often get the feeling that this could be so much better an experience, if the managers just cared a little more about the guests than about their money. To draw this discussion to a close – cruises are valued for the opportunity to travel a vast stretch of countryside without rush or hassle. You only need to unpack you bags once, and you can still visit a good number of vastly different places. There is always food in abundance, so with the right package deal you won’t even have to worry about provisions for your field trips. (Just don’t let them spot you when you pack up your lunch.)

The Cruise View of Molde Fjord, Norway

A crusie ship provides a wonderful viewing platform. Often enough it gets crowded with tourists, though.

However, if you do book a cruise, I encourage you to seek out the cheapest options. You don’t need a cabin with windows, because you will probably spend most of your waking time sitting in a bar, standing on deck, or swimming in the pool. You don’t need to feel bad about not buying anything aboard, even if the cameras cost 10% less than in your local electronics market. You don’t need more food or drink than what you get from any all-inclusive package. Water, beer, and soda will do. Don’t give in to the capitalist luxury goods.

You can book a ten-day cruise for about €1000. That’s a bit more pricy than a tourist trip to Spain or Greece, but you also get to see a lot more of the country, and you are overall much more relaxed. Just don’t buy any of the extras. There are a lot of luxuries up for purchase, and none of them are needed for a great holiday adventure. In my two months aboard I have not seen a single port where I felt the need to book an excursion on my first visit. (Except for Reykjavik. That town was immensely boring.) So, take it easy, and try not to see EVERYTHING on your first go. If you have the money, give cruise a try.

The port of Reykjavik at night

Saying Good Bye will be quite easy for me. However, as a regular tourist you can have a lot of fun on a cruise.

PS.: The final composition of the photo album for Molde Fjord is done. Have a look, and see why people travel to Norway in the millions.

North Cape Photo Excursion

22 May North Cape near Honningsvag, Norway

I have been to the North Cape, and back. For free, because I work here. Like most of the previous stops along this journey as photographer for ABC Cruises the Nordkap excursion was an interesting experience, in more than one way.

The North Cape adventure itself is already a swirling enterprise. Whoever came up with the business plan for that tourist trap deserves a medal. The set up literally consists of a big building with three restaurants and an atrium, standing on an otherwise deserted cliff along the Northernmost coast of Norway. Outside of the building are a few concrete pillars and a globe monument. Apart from the rocky cliffs and the vast ocean beyond there is absolutely nothing to see there, and those few features are available to the same extent, and with better weather in any other town along Norway’s coast. And still, people pay actual money to hop on a bus, and spend ninety minutes at the North Cape, up to $100 each.

Globe Monument at the North Cape, Norway

The Globe Monument at the North Cape doesn’t look like much. Still it draws in thousands of tourists evey day.

Obviously, I was only allowed aboard the excursion so I could take photos of the unwilling passengers. The result was somewhat underwhelming, as I produced approximately five shots at the first stop, and forty at the second. And that is already counting the photos where people just looked vaguely in my direction.

The first stop was a Sami village, where about two hundred tourists were struggling to take a photo of a Sami aboriginal, and his valiant reindeer. Last night we had a preparation meeting in which our manager advised us in our approach on the Sami shooting. “On first stop, you will see this Babalu. [Babalu is his general term for any male humanoid.] You can take one hundred, two hundred pictures easy.” Instead of the targeted 100 photos I shot five, which really puts me behind on the numbers. We were given ten minutes total at that stop, and I was simply unable to organize the crowd in that time frame. Given the high expectations of our manager, and my complete inability to come anywhere near them, this first stop put me in a lot of distress.

More sparkling was the second stop, the actual North Cape, and associated Globe Monument. Again, every tourist wanted to have their picture taken at the globe, which is a great set-up for me as a photographer. However, nobody wanted to have their photo taken by me, which is rather problematic for the official ABC Photographer.

North Cape near Honningsvag, Norway

The North Cape offers a great view on ocean and rock, but there really isn’t much else, even in late May.

It is no secret that passengers who have been on more than ten cruises with this company are quite annoyed by the omnipresent photographers. Now it seems that they have found an unsubtle way to fight back, and annoy us in turn. They all gathered around that Globe Monument, smiling in three or four directions, handing their own portable cameras to other passengers, and asking them to shoot. In due time every one of those five hundred tourists that were milling around the monument got their picture taken, and very few of them smiled into my camera. Out of the forty-odd photos that I shot merely one quarter belongs to people that actually wanted to be shot by me. All the other pictures come from people who accidentally looked in my direction. I only shot those out of necessity – the lower my numbers are, the greater my trouble with our delusional manager will be.

At least part of this set-up is born from blatant hatred against the photographers. And who would blame them for it? Why would anyone pay $20 for a single photo, when the only exciting aspect of it is a three-meter tall steel globe? That question only loses in subtlety when you realize that the latest generation of smart phones has photo qualities that are barely distinguishable from our professional SLR efforts, at least not for the average tourists. And thus, our cruise passengers have made it a sport to either stand in our way, or at the very least show us how very superfluous and irrelevant our job has become.

It is rather fitting that the first excursion that I was allowed to join was one to the North Cape. I doubt that any other place along this cruise will be more of a tourist trap than the steel globe on frozen rock. I only had about ten minutes to myself on this trip, for the remaining time I was under constant stress to perform. In those ten minutes I still managed to exhaust all the photo opportunities on that barren rock, so there is no reason for me to return there. And my low performance might just convince our manager to never send me on any photo mission again.

Click here to infuse yourself with some photos of beautiful Honningsvag.