There are some things that bring matters to a shuddering halt over the smoked kippers at breakfast. This week’s sea-going punch-up was most definitely one of those occasions.
Picture, if you will, Tenny with a forkful of aforementioned fish half-way to his lips, Times newspaper in front of him, and then the scandalised gasp of, “Well I never!” The kipper never made it to its intended target and, instead, the newspaper was brandished in my direction along with the outraged remark that “Cruising’s too good for these people!”
Can you guess to what my beloved husband was referring in his breakfastian indignation?
Yes, of course you can, dear reader, because it has been uppermost in the thoughts and minds of most cruise-centric people this week, following the news of – whisper it quietly – a fight, of all things, aboard a cruise ship loaded with British passengers.
Yes, it was the worst kind of publicity for the dear old Peninsula & Oriental Steam Navigation Company, otherwise known as P&O in these desperately nomenclature-challenged times. Doesn’t Peninsula & Oriental just sound so much more refined and inviting than the rather vulgar and undignified P&O? Like calling a well-known type of sandwich a BLT. If it has bacon, lettuce and tomato in it, darling, let us KNOW that it has bacon, lettuce and tomato in it. For all we know, it could be bully-beef, lard and turnip.
But I digress.
As I was saying, it involved P&O and a fight for the ages in the Horizons restaurant on Deck 16 of the Britannia; the Disagreement over Dinner, or the Barney in the Buffet, if you will. An extremely unsavoury scene for all concerned.
Just in case you haven’t seen the news for the past few days, the ship was en route back to Southampton from a week’s jaunt around the jolly old Norwegian fjords when all hell was unleashed during the late-night supper presentation.
Plates were thrown, along with punches, and the alleged instigators of the fisticuffs were confined to their cabin for the final day of the voyage, at the end of which they were turned over to the local constabulary for further treatment.
The newspapers, of course, have had a field day with this imagery of punch-ups on the Poop Deck, and similar, and the various prognosticators have all opined that this is the Beginning of the End as far as cruising is concerned. It’s ‘Benidorm-at-sea,’ and similar comparisons of down-market oafishness and crassitude (which is a word I just made up but plan to use often).
This is all just so much stuff and nonsense. There’s one simple remedy for this, but it involves the mass-market lines having to be grown-ups for a change and removing one of the lures they like to dangle in front of people who never know when enough is, in fact, enough.
And that is the scourge of ‘free’ drinks. For those of us who do, actually, understand that ‘free’ isn’t really free at all but is built into the price, this is never likely to be an issue. We realise that an open-bar policy isn’t an invitation to drink ourselves into a furniture-hurling frenzy but is a grown-up way of saying ‘enjoy a drink or two and be comfortably convivial.’ Nothing more, nothing less.
For those brought up in these more benighted times of imbibing purely for the sake of lathering themselves into a plate-throwing furore, this will come as a bit of a shock. A bit like discovering cigarettes are bad for your health, and that tobacco companies make their product as deliberately addictive as possible. We learned that at primary school. Others, apparently, tuned out that class. But, once again, I digress.
No, the issue is one of simple commonsense. In a bid to make themselves more attractive to all-comers (and, most notably, those who have never taken a cruise and don’t know the difference between formal wear and underwear), some cruise lines have resorted to basic, lowest-common-denominator appeal.
Sadly, that has included these ‘free drinks packages’ that have no set limit, other than ruling out premium beverages such as the best brands of gin and whisky. You want beer? You can guzzle it by the gallon. Spirits and the, pardon my language, godawful idea of ‘shots’? Go ahead and imbibe until you heave.
There is simply zero application of commonsense here. Our cousins across the pond have something called the ‘Safe Serve programme,’ which teaches bar-tenders to identify patrons who have had a sherbet or three too many, and head them off at the pass, so to speak.
If cruise lines want to continue to let the alcohol flow as freely as this, then they urgently need to become Safe Servers in the strictest definition of the term.
Or they just need to pack it in altogether, and revert to the time-honoured way of paying your way, drink by drink and round by round. But that means making these packages cheaper, and no-one seems to want to go that route.
So, here’s the challenge to the companies desperately trying to make themselves seem all-inclusive like the genuine ultra-luxe lines (where we’ve never encountered a cross word, let alone a right cross, despite the fact that drinks are all part of the deal): set some parameters when it comes to booze. And, when passengers have clearly had more than their fill, Just Say No.
If not, perhaps we might need to reinstitute another time-honoured sea-going convention and make the muddle-headed perishers walk the plank. Then they can sober up on the swim back to port. And a bloody good thing, too.
Treadwell & Tenny
What do you think? Is alcohol genuinely the problem or is this still an isolated incident? Tell us what you think in the Comments section below.