Kayak vs. Cruise Ship

The author explores the differences between the craft on a trip abroad.

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The securement system of the Carnival Sensation (left) compared to that of the Hobie Outback.

The whole thing started because of a disagreement with my wife that began soon after she let me put that ring on her finger, 27 years ago.

Reg had always wanted to take a cruise. She wanted the glamor of a luxury vacation at sea, the enjoyment of professional onboard entertainment, the first-class service, and the excellent dining.

I, a lifelong fisherman, saw it more as being stuck on a floating city with people I didn’t know. What was the point?

But Reg had brought up the idea of a cruise for our honeymoon in 1989, and as a vacation every couple of years since. By the summer of 2009, my argument had fallen flat and I was out of excuses. So we agreed on a compromise: I’d be in Florida on business later that summer, so Reg and the kids would fly down to meet me afterward and we’d all go on a short three-day cruise, from Miami to Nassau, Bahamas and back.

But the agreement hinged on one condition: I’d have time to fish from the ship. Yes, this would be a family vacation, but I’d be in one of the greatest stretches of fishing water in the world for 72 hours. I’m going to at least make a few casts. Right?

So before I left for Florida, I put a pack rod and reel and a small box of tackle in Reg’s suitcase. “I’m doing carry-on for the business trip,” I said, “and this won’t fit in my bag. Can you take it?”

“Sure,” Reg said.

A week later we walked into our stateroom on the Carnival Imagination. I opened her suitcase and felt around. Where’s the rod?” I asked.

“Oh *%#@,” Reg replied.

So I didn’t get to fish, but unexpectedly, I had a terrific time. We all did. Not only were the meals fantastic, the shows terrific, and the service excellent, but I also had a chance to relax (no cell phone service, and no Internet unless I wanted it, and I didn’t) and have some fun. The trophy that I was awarded for winning a big Scattergories contest on board—a six-inch gold plastic Carnival cruise ship on a pedestal—is quite special to me. If not to anyone else in my family.

Since then, Reg and I had always wanted to take another cruise, just the two of us. So earlier this month, as a delayed 25th-anniversary celebration, we boarded the Carnival Sensation in Miami, with stops in Key West and Cozumel, a four-day cruise.

And this time, I put a rod in my suitcase.

Pros and Cons
I've fished on a lot of boats over the years, from cartoppers on New England bass waters to bluefish party boats out of New Jersey to big-game charter boats trolling the Gulf Stream for dolphin and sailfish. But for the past several years I've been fishing almost exclusively out of my Hobie Outback kayak. It's a wonderfully designed craft that I first used on a kayak-fishing trip in the Florida Keys a few years ago, and which I've since been using since to fish Barnegat Bay for summer flounder and striped bass.

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I’ve caught more fish out of an Outback than any other boat I’ve fished from, by far. It gets me to water that shore fishermen can’t reach, that many fishermen in bigger boats can’t access, and it allows me to use lighter and more effective tackle.

Of course, the Outback requires some effort to use and operate. Not that the Hobie is uncomfortable, exactly. It’s just that Advil is near the top of my permanent checklist of kayak fishing gear these days. And climbing out of the little seat after beaching the Outback is a 30-second maneuver that requires a bit of thought first.

The Carnival Sensation, on the other hand, has masseuses on board to massage your neck after you wrenched it by trying to cram an entire crème brûlée tart into your mouth.

I was pondering about these contrasts one evening when I was watching a barmaid on the Sensation prepare a margarita for me, which has never happened on my Hobie. Here are some other key differences between the two craft:

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* Really. We met him (the chef). Muruganandan Vilathan. Great guy.

So it’s clear that the Sensation offers several advantages that the Outback doesn’t. But what about the fishing?

The Angling Experience
Reg and I sprung for a room with a balcony, so we'd be able to enjoy warm ocean breezes in the morning, sit and enjoy beautiful sunsets in solitude, and maybe also so I'd have some room to cast.

Even so, my fishing was limited to those times we were docked at Key West and Cozumel, while most people were off the ship, because the guests in the staterooms below and behind me would not appreciate a Gulp! shrimp splashing down into their Pina Coladas. I also knew that asking the captain to slow the boat to trolling speed wouldn’t get a positive reception.

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The author on board the Carnival Sensation, sneaking in a cast.

So I gave it a good shot—I put a leader long enough to reach the water with a couple of turns of it on my reel. I asked for bait advice at the Saltwater Angler, a tackle shop and outfitter that's about a one-minute walk from the dock at Port B in Key West. I tried several different presentations. But I got skunked. It's embarrassing. Two whole countries, and not one fish.

Interestingly, F&S fishing editor Joe Cermele says that he’s had very good fishing around cruise ship ports. The giant propellers of the big ships churn massive amounts of water, disturbing the bottom and drawing gamefish such as snook and tarpon to the forage that’s kicked up. But the water was so murky adjacent to my ship that my shrimp disappeared soon after it went beneath the surface, and I would’ve had to put the bait within inches of a fish in order to get a hit. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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A pair of summer flounder caught by the author while fishing from his Hobie Outback.

Anyway, after returning home, I called Aly Bello-Cabreriza, public relations manager for Carnival Cruise Lines. I’d noticed the lack of rod holders on the balcony railing, and asked about the company’s policy on fishing from the ship.

“No. No! It’s not…done,” said Aly, who did an admirable job preventing herself from informing me what a total idiot I was for even trying. Aly did point out, though, that several Carnival ships offer shore excursions at various destinations where guests can fish, and very, very strongly recommended that if I ever felt the urge to drop a line from one of her cruise ships ever again, that I please sign up for a fishing excursion instead. (As it turns out, Carnival does offer fishing excursions out of Cozumel, and will soon be offering fishing trips from Key West.)

I will say this about the Sensation: It is, by far, the absolutely finest craft I’ve fished from without catching a thing. Carnival does a great job, and the people who work for the company know how to provide a first-class experience from the moment you get on the ship until you lumber off a couple of pounds heavier. We came back extremely relaxed, with a much-improved outlook on life, and with some great lifelong memories. Not a bad tradeoff for not catching fish.

But maybe next time, I’ll bring the Outback.