Regular cruise ship passengers almost always say that cruising is the least painful way to travel. Once you are on the ship, there’s no packing or unpacking as you visit new destinations, and you are pampered 24/7. Your cabin is straightened and cleaned several times per day, and an endless cornucopia of food is available. Passengers can see live entertainment, attend lectures, play games, or do nothing at all if they so choose. For many, that’s a painless way to spend one’s travel time.

One of the kinds of pain we talk about here at Neuromarketing is the “pain of paying” or “buying pain” – brain scans show that shelling out cash can activate the pain centers in the brain. (See The Pain of Buying.) Cruising generally excels at minimizing this kind of pain, too; once the cruise has been paid for (often many months before the actual cruise), almost everything is included. Elegant dinners, sumptuous buffets, Broadway-style entertainment, and much more is “free” on board the ship. For customers who feel the pain of paying more acutely than others, cruising is about as pain-free as you can get. Want more lobster? It’s free. Care to watch a recently-released movie after the performance by a concert pianist, and then hang out at the disco until dawn? It’s all free. Cruise lines further minimize paying pain by ensuring that their passengers pay for nothing with cash – one’s “cruise card” is a combination room key and shipboard credit card that one can use to buy anything on the ship. (In almost every case, an automatic service charge obviates the need to calculate a tip or even look at the amount one signed for – a great way to further minimize buying pain.)

The nature of cruising is that you are often thrust into contact with other passengers as you share a dinner table, sit next to each other at a show, and so on. Introductions always involve first names and where one lives. By far the most frequent opening conversational gambits are how many cruises one has been on, which lines and itineraries are the best, and what one thinks of the current cruise in the context of past cruises. Aboard the Crown Princess on a cruise I just completed, a new topic cropped up in perhaps half of these random encounters: the small charges that seemed to be mushrooming all over the ship. […]