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Cruise, sans boos

Cruising gets a bad rap.

"It's boring." "It's for people of a certain age." "It's all about the food, and even that's not very good." "Don't even get me started on the faux Broadway entertainment!"

Those are the high seas haters. The travelers who are far too superior to settle for a superior cabin. But do they have a point? Google "cruise disasters," and you'll see they have more than one.

Poor maintenance, fires, pollution, rogue staff, viral outbreaks — to name just a few recent highlights. In the face of so much criticism, you would think the cruise industry would be out in full force (if not full-fledged panic) to rebuild its reputation, but I don't see much evidence of that. Of course, there's only so much advertising you can do to gloss over the image of a sinking ship flopped on its side.

Nonetheless, I still enjoy cruising. It's affordable, relaxing and, dare I say, fun. Perhaps it's because I was initiated at a relatively young age.

I took my first cruise as a newlywed in my 20s. My husband, Todd, and I sailed on a five-night trip from Miami to Mexico for our honeymoon. He was seasick before the city's skyline disappeared. That first night, I ate dinner on my own, a solo bride quickly adopted by a table full of ebullient and, yes, older couples. The marital advice was sincere, frank and funny. When my husband joined us the next night, the ribbing was just as much fun. For me. He was as red as the lobster on the table.

On another cruise to the Caribbean, I had the joy of sailing with my mother and my grandmother. That's another great thing about cruising: It's perfect for multi-generational travel. There's something to do for just about every age, from toddlers to teens to old-timers. You can spend hours away from each other and then reunite for dinner and a show. Most ships offer baby-sitting, which means even grandparents get a break. You can pose for as many family photos as you like — and no one gets left out of the picture because they're taking it.

One of my favorite cruises was a recent excursion to Bermuda. For many cruisers, ports of call are the biggest attraction. Some people like multiple stops, each day in a new place. I'd count myself among the port hoppers — but that was before I spent nearly three days docked at King's Wharf. By day, my husband and I explored the island, zipping from one end to the other by boat and by bus. At night, we sat on our cabin's balcony and watched the sunset.

The key to an enjoyable cruise experience is selecting the ship and itinerary that are right for you. Have young kids, will travel? There's nothing better than a Disney cruise. Single and looking to mingle? Carnival puts on a good party. Don't want to share a cabin? Consider Norwegian, which offers solo studio cabins. Want adventure? Try an expedition or tall-ship cruise. Love the band Kiss or have fond memories of "Soul Train"? Themed cruises are totally trendy and come in all shapes, sizes and interests.

Sure, there are cruise horror stories that give me pause before I click "book now." A cruise ship isn't necessarily a worry-free zone. You still have to be smart and safe and tuned into your instincts. That's especially true during port calls. The same crimes or accidents that can happen at home or during any vacation can still befall passengers.

My most memorable cruise experience is also the one where I came closest to disaster — the kind that leaves you stranded at the pier, watching as your ship disappears into the distance. We almost missed the boat in the Bahamas. If it were not for a truly gifted taxi driver and some empty side streets (and sidewalks), our vacation would have been ruined and perhaps I would no longer be a fan of cruises.

But we laughed about it all the way to our cabin, where we collapsed in sheer horror and fear. To this day, a trip in any taxi will restore the memory of that wild ride and bring a smile to my face.

Michelle Deal-Zimmerman is travel editor for The Baltimore Sun; email: nmzimmerman@baltsun.com

10 signs you're not on a cruise anymore

•Your drink is served in a glass instead of a coconut.

•Your co-workers refuse to put on a show.

•When you yell "bingo," no one applauds.

•You're the lone participant in the hairy-chest contest.

•You have to fetch and pour your own water.

•Instead of being folded into a cute animal, your towel is on the floor. And no one picks it up.

•Everyone is fully clothed.

•Your only excursion is along the JFX.

•Afternoon naps are frowned upon.

•The dinner menu lists prices for everything.

•The only blue water you see is in the toilet.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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