Duane Hoffmann / msnbc.com
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By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 9/6/2007 9:47:25 AM ET 2007-09-06T13:47:25

On my last cruise assignment, I scribbled this scene into my notebook:

Woman in long blue gown waiting alone in line for formal dinner.  Leans over, takes walkie-talkie half-way out of beaded purse and “whispers” loudly into it: “Honey, where are you? They’re about to open the doors and seat us for dinner. Over.”

Man replies:“I’m still in the #!#!** cabin. I can’t find clean underwear. Over.”

Woman in long blue gown, “whispering” even louder:“Just wear what you wore yesterday and get up here already. Over.”

Man in back of the line: “Yeah. Just wear them again. I mean, over.”

The smart-aleck at the back of the line was probably the same “John, from New York” who wrote “Nix the walkie-talkies” in response to a Well-Mannered Traveler column that encouraged families to use walkie-talkies to stay in touch on cruise ships.

I have watched parents settle in by the pool, turn to their kids, and say, “Go have fun, but keep the walkie-talkie turned on so we can find you.”

That seemed like a good way to keep tabs on kids while letting them explore a closed-environment on their own. And, as Barbara from Prescott, Ariz., points out, walkie-talkies seem like handy tools for adults without kids as well.  “ ... My husband and I had no idea how large a cruise ship could be until we were trying to find each other, but you can bet we will have some better form of communication worked out if we ever get to go again.”

Hopefully Barbara and her husband will get to go again. But if they take walkie-talkies along, they’ll need to brush up on their “over-and-out” manners.

I was certain that the “woman in long blue gown yelling into walkie-talkie in purse” was a rare sight. But Jeff Pruett from Atlanta, Ga., and many other readers wrote to confirm the existence of clueless walkie-talkie toting passengers on every cruise. “While your article on cruise tips was generally on the spot, I do take exception to your suggestion to bring walkie-talkies ... It's extremely annoying to sit by the pool on a beautiful day and have some idiot behind you shouting into one.”

Of course, a Well-Mannered Traveler would definitely not shout, or even “whisper” loudly, into a walkie-talkie on a cruise ship. (Nor, for that matter, would they do that in other public places. Like, say, Costco, where just last week I heard a guy use the walkie-talkie feature on his cell phone to contact his wife a few aisles over and ask, “Honey, could you use 148 super tampons?”)

So, if you are using walkie-talkies on a cruise ship (or anywhere) please:

  • Plug in an earpiece,
  • Remember that “inside voices” work just fine, and
  • Keep in mind that people around you, and anyone using the same unprotected frequency, can’t help but listen in.

So it may not be such a great idea to use your walkie-talkie to arrange that illicit mid-afternoon rendezvous in your stateroom.

Of course, we can’t talk about walkie-talkies on cruise ships without also talking about cell phones.

In the “old days,” going on a cruise meant being all but unreachable at sea. Emergency messages could get through, but the per-minute cost of phone calls to or from cabins was, and still is, prohibitive. Then cruise ships started adding 24-hour Internet cafes. And in 2004, Norwegian Cruise Line announced that it would be the first to offer cell phone service to passengers on North American cruises.

Now, pretty much every cruise line has cell-phone service. That, of course, pleases the travelers who like to know that their friends, family or co-workers can still reach them. But it truly irks those folks who go on cruises in part to escape all that yakking. And although every representative I spoke with insisted they were not getting many complaints about interruptions from on-board users, cruise lines are being forced to develop policies about on-board phone use.

A spokesperson from Holland America told me that cell phone service is offered on all their ships, but that reception is blocked in all the restaurants and show lounges. “And even though the lounge is not wired, we still ask folks to silence their cell phones. Just in case.”

On Carnival Cruise Line ships, company spokesperson Jennifer de la Cruz says cell phone service is still quite new and it seems “ ... people are limiting their cell phone use because they understand they’ll incur international roaming charges.” So far, she says, the cruise line has not created any onboard “quiet zones.”

But on Royal Caribbean, which offers cell phone service on all its ships, there are “quiet zones” in the show lounges and restaurants.

On Celebrity Cruises, says spokesperson Tavia Robb, “There are no official quiet zones, but we ask cell phones users to set ringers to vibrate and to avoid loud conversations in public areas.”

Establishing cell phone “quiet zones” on cruise ships is a great idea. Just as on land, no one wants to hear phones ringing and people taking calls while they’re dining or watching a show. So maybe the folks at the Disney Cruise Line have the right idea. Their ships offer cell phone service but, a company representative told me, “A cruise vacation is a nice way to escape. So those who want to use cell phones will find that they can only use them in their staterooms. That way no one is tempted to interrupt others.”

Sounds fair to me, Mickey.

Oh, and the husband of the “woman in blue beaded gown?” He seemed bewildered at the standing ovation he got when he finally arrived in the dining room and rushed over to join his wife.

Over.

Harriet Baskas, The Well-Mannered Traveler, also writes about airports and air travel for USATODAY.com and is the author of “Stuck at the Airport.”

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