Thursday, December 11, 2008

When Photographers go Cruising...

I like cruising. You don't have to unpack three times a week, the food you eat will not kill you and there are lots of people nearby to bring you cool drinks and herd you toward the next buffet.

I hate cruising because you just don't get very long in each port (usually about a day), sometimes your formal dinner table companions are just slightly more animated than drying spackle and all of the "extra fee" options you can pick up during those "at sea" days can really make for a nasty surprise when the bill comes due.

But on the balance -- I love cruising. Since Sheree and I will be celebrating New Year's eve by sitting on a runway to start a trip that will ultimately take us down the Amazon, cruising is on my mind. Having braved a number of cruises over the years, I have come to the conclusion that there are FIVE RULES for GETTING GREAT SHOTS ON CRUISES. Here they are:

1) Take a Power Bar. The people who design cruise ship staterooms think one plug-in for two photographers is plenty. It's not. Take a power bar with at least four additional plug-ins so you can power those batteries and laptops. This keeps you from having to make the decision of whether or not to throw your companion overboard so you can definately hit the next port with two charged batteries.

2) Do Your Research. The great thing about taking a cruise is that you know where you're going in advance. The internet is a WEALTH of great information on the places you are going. You will need to be well organized and decide IN ADVANCE where you want to shoot.

Local people can be a great resource. Don't be afraid to take a cab. The fellow in the image above is a cab driver in NZ who gave us a truly wonderful day. His name's Lance and he took us to vineyards and some of the most amazingly beautiful places only locals know about. Cabs are more expensive...but they can be truly wonderful.

3) Dilly Dally at Your Peril. You'll want to be the FIRST off the ship or the first in line for the tender boat. (Sometimes cruise ships need to ferry the passengers off the ship and to shore in tender boats. This results in LONG lines and a ton of wasted photography time.) Get there first, using elbows if necessary, to get off the ship before the aggressive people do. Those extra ten minutes of sleep can cost you BIG when the line up forms.

4) Don't Be Afraid of Excursions. These are extra cost "tours" available when you are in a port. (The image above is from one of the Great Excursions of All Time: a Lord of the Rings tour we took in New Zealand. It's written about elsewhere in this and you may find it, Frodo.) If you buy them from the cruise ship company you can count on two things: they are going to be more expensive, and they will take good care of you. The cruise ship will wait for you if a cruise-line tour runs late. But you'll see a pile of tour operators waiting for you at each port. Some operators are wonderful...some aren't. But if they don't get you back to the ship on time, you will need to borrow a snorkel set from the guide because the ship will be gone.

5) Be Nice. Be nice to your cabin steward, the locals in the ports, the tour guides you use. Be nice to the shop-keepers and the kids selling chicklets to the tourists. Talk to them before you take their picture...and don't be cheap. Give them a couple of bucks for posing. You may even try your hand at speaking their language. Whenever I do, it provides everyone with hours of amusement.

5a) Don't Be Stupid. You are in a foreign land. In many cases you won't speak the language. It probably isn't a good idea to follow that scurvy looking guy down a dark alleyway for a shot. If your gut is telling you "no" don't go. Stay where the people are. You need to be alert and stay alert. This means it's also not a good idea to get loaded when you are in a port. Your pictures will come out blurry and crooked...and you will probably get rolled and/or lost on your way back to the ship.

5b) Don't be a Pansy. You travel to meet people and have an adventure. The idea here is simply not to get stabbed, shot, mugged or sold to white slavers. None of these makes for golden cruise ship memories. Also: don't hang around the tourist traps in ports. Diamonds International etc has all the same crap you get at home. Be reasonable. Have fun. Be smart.

5c) Check on Local Regulations. For the Amazon, Sheree and I needed Yellow Fever shots, a visa from Brazil (which took nearly three weeks) and Malarone, an anti-malaria drug. Usually the cruise ship company will let you in on this stuff, but not always. (We couldn't get into the famous Monte Carlo casino because we didn't know we needed to take our passports with us...) Check into local customs too. For example: there are some places in the mideast where women need to dress a certain way to avoid offending the locals and drawing unwanted attention.
There are a ton of sites filled with helpful advice on local sites, customs and highlights. Just go to Google and input the name of where you're going, and type words like "Customs" and "Tourism" or "Activities." You'll get more information than you could possibly use within seconds.
If you are interested in cruise info try for specifics on the ports and the boats. These are serious cruisers and they can provide tons of useful tips.

Follow these rules, grasshopper, and you will be happy cruisers.

How many sleeps till I go?

Eighteen. But who's counting?

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