When it comes to travel writing, no subject stirs more bile than cruise ships. It is very, veryimportant for some people to let everyone know that they do not like cruise ships. Presumably, we're supposed to care; presumably, we're supposed to think "my experiences must be invalidated in light of this person's stern critique," or "it seems odd that the person who has never done this thing speaks with such authority about a thing I have done many times. He must be blessed with preternatural perception. No more cruises for me, then!"

If you want to sample this delicious, bitter broth, the comments on this New York Times story will give you a fair taste. Headline: "In an Age of Privilege, Not Everyone Is in the Same Boat." Yes, this is the age of privilege, as opposed to the millennia of egalitarianism that preceded the 21st century. If the people aren't mad about the existence of ocean-going pleasure craft, they're mad about the story's angle: cruise lines are adding first-class perks.

Has that sunk in yet? For more money, you can get a better experience. I know, I know - it's so brazen it's like they're not even pretending any more. But it's true! The writer even uncovered the name of the special class: Haven. As if it's some special protected retreat, far away from the great pullulating hoi polloi.

Which it is! And this is a novel concept? This is a curious complaint, coming from a publication whose glossy magazine fashion ads are aimed square at the Manhattanites who would make their cleaning staff wear cloaks of invisibility if such things existed. Even then, they'd complain.

The ships described in the article are the big vessels run by the big lines, and they have all manner of accommodations, depending on how much you spend. The end result - a hierarchy of comfort and amenities ordered by expenditure - is something whose symbolism appalls some folk, because if something doesn't present sufficient opportunities to be appalled, you have to concern yourself with its symbolic offense. You'd think they would focus their ire on the lines that only cater to the upper classes. Surely they're worse somehow. Sink them! Sink them all!

If you read all the comments, because life has lost all meaning and there are no good ways to fill the empty hours, you'll find a few complaining about cruise lines in general, because they promote a false sense of travel. If you take a shore excursion, you really haven't been there. Apparently there's a time threshold. If you walk around Florence for a day, you really haven't been there. You didn't really see anything. Don't say you've been to Florence. These are generally the same people who say Americans are woefully ignorant of other countries, and if you say "well, I took a cruise that visited six Balkan cities," you'll be told it doesn't count. But isn't it better than nothing? I mean, at least I know what it looks like, how the people dress, what the public squares look like. No. It doesn't count. It's a false experience. Okay. The author of that particular letter reserved special ire for cruise excursions that take people to swim with dolphins, which does not reflect the culture and history of the nation to which the island offering the dolphins is attached.

There are people who have strong opinions about complete strangers swimming with dolphins somewhere.

Here's a quote:

It represents a degree of economic and social stratification unseen in America since the days of Teddy Roosevelt, J. P. Morgan and the rigidly separated classes on the Titanic a century ago.

Hmm. Well. No. It ignores something that's a staple of every cruise ship: on most ships without a Haven section, whether you've bought the smallest cabin or the biggest, you have the same food. You can spend more for the specialty dining, of course, but everyone gets the same buffet and the same dinner in the elegant dining room. Third-class in the Titanic did not sup from this menu:

Frankly, I don't know why they would. Sounds horrible. 

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Yours Truly, Sarah Pilin