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Cruises, the Social Network Way to Travel

by Linda Coffman

Forging friendships on a beach excursion

When we boarded our first cruise ship there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Internet message boards. In fact there was no Internet as we now know it.

We—my husband Mel and I—crossed the gangway and began our first cruise vacation not knowing another soul. At the time, it actually didn't occur to us that we would ever want to "friend" a fellow passenger ahead of time, send a "tweet" out to potential cruise mates, or join a "roll call" in order to have a ready-made social circle on our cruise vacation.

The fact is, unlike a resort vacation, cruises are an inherently social form of travel and it didn't take long to meet people after embarkation. We were seated with a charming couple for dinner that first evening and enjoyed their company throughout the week. Then we met our cabin "neighbors"—a congenial group of friends traveling together who invited us to join them whenever our paths crossed. They even invited us to their summertime post-cruise party in Tennessee. We hit it off so well that we joined their group sailings several times in subsequent years.

On Board Networking
While a cruise is a great way to vacation with families and friends and to share experiences, it isn't necessary to have a ready-made group of acquaintances aboard ship in order to feel comfortable on a cruise. Nearly all cruise ships offer activities designed entice passengers to participate. For instance, you might join others to form a team at a trivia challenge or meet your shipmates while learning new dance steps. Arts and craft and exercise classes attract people with similar interests. With open seating restaurants on many ships, it's possible to meet different people at dinner every night or arrange to dine with newly made friends. In ports of call, you'll often meet like minded passengers on shore excursions.

Aboard Regent Seven Seas Cruises' ships, each cruise features their unique "Block Party" that brings passengers in neighboring cabins together. Everyone is invited to bring a wine glass from their suite and mingle in the passageways as stewardesses serve wine and cheese for the gathering. It was an ice-breaker when we sailed aboard the Seven Seas Mariner and participation was high—one of our neighbors even interrupted her preparation for the evening and attended in her bathrobe.

Online Networking
Social networking on the Internet has become a popular way to "virtually" meet others who've booked your cruise through "roll call" message boards. Some web sites even offer group cruises for their members.

A girlfriends' getaway at sea

Groups can work out well, as when I sailed on a girlfriends' getaway. We "girls" had chatted with each other online for the better part of a year and decided to take a cruise together. Not all of us knew one another in real life, but some of us did and that made the decision to take the cruise easier. In essence, we were small groups of real life friends within a larger group of virtual friends. We set ground rules before sailing and agreed ahead of time that we wouldn't be joined at the hip. No one was offended when we each needed some private time. We remain friends to this day.

On the other hand, a group—or its memberscan spell disaster, as a friend discovered. It just so happened that she and her husband were on the same cruise that a large number of message board members booked as a group. My friend had participated in the message board discussions, but was not officially a part of the group cruise. Once aboard my friend and her husband quickly determined they weren't interested in spending any time with the group, but had difficulty eluding them. Unfortunately, they found themselves being literally stalked by an aggressive group member who discovered their cabin number.

While many people swear they can't imagine sailing without being a message board "roll call" member, there are pros and cons to diving into a group situation. Group membership offers a certain level of comfort and acceptance in an unfamiliar environment for people who are not normally joiners on their own. You may also feel there is an advantage to having ready made friendships if you are certain your personalities and lifestyles are compatible. However, don't just go with the flow of online conversations and assume you'll enjoy the company of the group, individually or as a whole. Exchanging email correspondence with a few members might help to determine whether or not you'd want to spend a considerable amount of time with them, especially if the group is small.

Should you harbor any reservations at all about whether a group is for you, do not share your cabin number online. On a large ship, it may be possible to remain anonymous if you choose to, particularly if the message board in which you participate uses "handles" in lieu of real names. There is also the matter of security. Do you really want just anyone who surfs the Internet to know where you live and when your home will be empty? Unsavory characters can dig up that information.

Ultimately, you have to be the judge of whether social networking—online or on board—is right for you.

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