When a cruise ship is not just a vacation, but a home

“We were really homesick for our second home,” Ms. Muller said, stopping to order her dinner without glancing at the menu. “It’s Tuesday, isn’t it?” I know the Tuesday menu. (She’s been on 115 cruises.)

Credit…Courtesy of Frank Shumard

Frank Shumard, 69, had a big plan for when he retired from his job as director of transportation safety for Waste Corporate of America six years ago: He would move from his home in Shell Knob, in Missouri, for a condo near Table Rock Lake, and he spent his winters boating and his summers on the lake. “I didn’t even care where I went when I was on a cruise – I was content to sit on the lounge chair and watch the ocean go by.”

When the pandemic crushed his plans, it was closest to Mr. Shumard’s clinical depression, he said. During the pandemic, Mr. Shumard felt totally lost.

He lifted his spirits by creating a “drink of the day” and posting it on the Holland America Cruise fan Facebook page. Eight hundred drinks later, Mr. Shumard and his partner, Lynn Shriver, got back on board and immediately spotted his favorite bartender.

“It was so nice to see a face that I knew and to shake hands, and it was such a relief to see he was there, that he was okay: it was magical,” Mr. Shumard.

All the major shipping lines, from Royal Caribbean to Princess to Holland America, have their own loyalty programs that reward frequent sailors with everything from drink coupons to room upgrades. But while perks are big business — and cruisers proudly wear their loyalty badges in the form of pins and other jewelry — many cult cruisers say they don’t return to the same lines because of the rewards. .

Instead, they pledge loyalty to a specific cruise line for how well it syncs with their personalities and desires. Royal Caribbean cruise passengers, for example, say they love the friendly crew and passengers they regularly encounter on the ships. (The cruise line says one of its biggest fans has spent 9,500 nights on board.) Viking cruisers point to the line’s luxury and all-inclusive pricing (Wi-Fi, premium liquor packages, base during meals and shore excursions are included in the base rate). Holland America fans return for the crew, food and intriguing itineraries, like a 35-night cruise that makes stops along England, Scotland, the Norwegian coast, Iceland and of the Arctic island of Spitsbergen controlled by Norway. Many Holland America ships include outposts of the BB King’s Blues Club, and the emphasis on live music also attracts many repeat visitors.

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