Sometimes I withhold criticism from things that I know a lot of people enjoy because I get tired of hearing about what a mean old crank I am. So it's very convenient for me when someone more well-know, in this case John Cole at Balloon Juice, takes care of the "Old man yelling at cloud" part for me. Here is John's take on cruises. As in cruise ships. And I must admit that I concur in full with his sentiments. I do not get it. I do not get it at all.
Obviously it's not fair to broad-brush cruise ships as pestilent shit-barges teeming with disease – while cruise ship outbreaks garner huge amounts of media attention, they represent only a small percentage of the hundreds (thousands?) of cruise ships floating around every day. That said, the specter of catching some heavyweight Lower GI bunker-buster is just one of the many unappealing aspects of getting on a cruise ship. As John says, you're essentially imprisoned on a boat and temporarily disgorged on various islands (usually impoverished communities) to be robbed both legally, by the various franchise retailers hawking jewelry and other "luxury" purchases, and extralegally by the locals whose desire to rob dipshit American tourists is, if not noble, certainly understandable.
The appeal of cruises appears to be, in my estimation as a non-cruiser, limited to two demographics. One is people with children who want to go on a vacation during which they can ignore their children but remain reasonably confident that they are being supervised and entertained with organized activities elsewhere in an enclosed space. Drop Billy off at the water slide or the bungee pit or the climbing wall or the medieval yarn-dyeing workshop and then head down to the lido deck for two or six daiquiris. The second demographic seems to be people who want to go on vacation but either don't know how or they will go to almost any length and expense to avoid having to make decisions for themselves.
I know a lot of people who have gone on cruises – I'm a Midwesterner, for chrissakes – and from their reports I've gathered that the primary activities on a cruise ship are, in order: eating, getting shitfaced, eating, and eating more. I always ask the same question – is the food any good? I imagine that it's rather like a casino buffet, in that it is not particularly good but boy howdy there sure is a lot of it and it's always available. With few exceptions, this has been confirmed. The food is described as "decent" or "just OK" or "not bad" right before the individual explains how they gained 10 pounds in 5 days on the Carnival Lard Barge. That doesn't sound terribly appealing, especially given the price one pays to climb aboard.
To recap, we have a confined space full of the worst America has to offer (the elderly, screaming children, and Southern/Midwestern cow people), loads of mediocre buffet food, expensive alcohol (although some offer "all you can drink" kamikaze packages), and the guarantee that you will see nothing real about the countries and places you "visit." More power to you if this is the vacation you enjoy; to me it sounds, with remarkable precision, like my idea of hell. It's difficult to imagine the experience being improved now that cruises are rapidly becoming a late-career cashout for musicians and other entertainers on the downside of their career. If anything can make the experience I've described here worse, it would be having to listen to 90 year-old Bob Dylan in international waters with no prospects for escape other than suicide.
(Fun Fact: the world's largest actual "floating prison" is anchored off Riker's Island in New York.)