When Richard Brooks retired in 1989 from a banking career in England, he embraced life on the sea. His first cruise was in 1985; he now estimates that he's taken more than 80. He and his wife, Valerie, live part of the year in Wheathampstead, a small village 20 miles north of London, and in Marbella, Spain. Below are excerpts from a conversation about the highs and lows of cruising, and where the values lie.
Q. How much Champagne have you consumed on the water?
A. At least 10 glasses a week; I cruise 13 weeks a year, I've been doing that for 25 years and ...
Q. What ships have the best wines?
A. I think they're all very much the same. They all carry a range from the very expensive Pétrus at about $2,500 a bottle to sort of ordinary, standard wines.
Q. Do you take shore excursions?
A. I've seen the price go up so extraordinarily in relation to their value. I don't take them unless I'm in an area where I would feel unsafe. I do my research before and organize a private tour.
Q. Favorite moment of the day at sea?
A. A game of duplicate bridge in the afternoon.
Q. A most terrifying moment?
A. When a ship hit an empty oil tanker in dense fog outside Le Havre. I went flying off the bed. If we had hit it square on, it would have exploded because of the gas in the empty tanker. But it took the front off our ship.
Q. The worst moment?
A. When I go across the international date line and lose a day because I feel I've been cheated financially. When I go to bed on Tuesday and wake up on a Thursday, that's an upsetting time for me.
Q. Have the passengers changed?
A. They're more demanding than they used to be, maybe in direct relation to the reduction in quality of cruising. Most of the cruise companies, to remain competitive, have cut back on luxury standards -- at captain's receptions these days the good Champagne served free has been replaced by inferior fizzy wine -- so I think the thing I've noticed is much more complaint.
Q. How do you get the best service?
A. I would like to say it's by increased tipping. But I tend to try to make friends with the guys who organize the restaurants. I do not complain or make life difficult for them. Cruising for three or four weeks, you get to know these people. I've heard people complaining to staff about things that I don't consider appropriate.
Q. Best not to light a match in a stable.
A. I've got friends who tell me with great delight that when they get on a ship they find the appropriate people and stuff $30 in their hand. I find it an offensive thing to do. I also don't see anything wrong with rewarding somebody who has done something out of the ordinary for you.
Q. As an investor by trade, do you invest in ships?
A. Yes, I have Carnival stock. Carnival runs a shareholder scheme. They own several cruise lines including Seabourn and Holland America. I use both, and as a shareholder get quite substantial "on board credits" as a consequence. I believe the minimum share holding to enable a customer to qualify for the discounts is 100 shares. An investor spending say $5,000 on a cruise gets an additional 5 percent discount just for being a shareholder each time he travels.
Q. You seem to deeply love cruise ships.
A. I like being surrounded by people that I tend, over weeks, to get to know, whom I enjoy and often make lifelong friends. As traveling gets more difficult, I find ships the easiest. I love the old elegant ships. They're beautiful. It's the thrill of where you're going.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.