Carolyn Spencer Brown spends most of her life on cruise ships, but don’t mistake that for a life of leisure. As Editor-in-Chief of Cruise Critic, the hugely popular cruise-review and cruise-trends website, Carolyn is always at work, even when she’s at sea. She’s constantly reviewing new cruise ships, checking out old favorites, exploring up-and-coming ports, and rediscovering popular ones, all in an effort to make sure her readers have the most up-to-date and intelligent feedback on the cruise experience. And those readers have high standards: They are more than four million strong and make up one of the largest and most vocal cruise-forum communities online. Since she’s spent so many years meeting the standards of these discerning travelers and seen so much of the world herself, we thought it was high time we put Carolyn in the hot seat and grilled her about her own travel experiences and strategies. Interestingly, they’re not all about cruising.
Editor in Chief, Cruise Critic
Most memorable travel moment:
My husband proposed on top of Rome’s Spanish Steps—that was pretty memorable. Alas, I wasn’t quite ready so postponed the decision. When he proposed again the next night, while on a cruise sailing out of Italy’s Civitavecchia (under a beautiful moonlit sky), I said yes. Italy’s special to us for that reason—and also because we met in Naples.
Most embarrassing travel moment:
There are so many. My suitcase is fairly distinctive; it’s a large red Rimowa with an orange bag tag. Still, I managed to pick up someone else’s large red Rimowa and didn’t notice it wasn’t mine until I was outside the airport. There was the time I had a five-hour layover in Paris and managed to miss the flight (I still don’t know how that happened). Or when, headed to Leipzig, I discovered I’d booked a flight to Dresden by accident; the incredulous look on a cabbie’s face at the airport when I asked how much taxi fare would be between the two cities was a tip-off that I wasn’t this-close. (Took the train instead).
Touristy spot that’s actually worth it, and the trick to doing it right:
Jordan’s Petra is haunting and beautiful, and it’s on many cruise lines’ shore excursion menus. But you can’t do it justice in one day (plus, the trip between Petra and the port city of Aqaba is a several-hour bus ride). You need a couple of days and should definitely avoid midday summer heat by visiting early and then again later in the day. Another place I go back to time and time again is Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. The vast estate perched on a mountaintop overlooking the Pacific—and surrounded by a lot of emerald fields with grazing zebras—is so massive that there are at least five different tours you can take through it. I’ve done them all, at least a couple of times.
Non-touristy spot people might not know about (or have thought much about visiting) but should add to their must-visit list:
I love to bicycle through England’s rural villages—not just the well-known ones like Chipping Camden, Lymington, Aldershot, and Rye, but also smaller places, often with just a pub and a few shops—and see what I find.
Name two indispensable apps you use when you travel:
I’m not a huge app user, but the TripAdvisor app is a helpful pal (full disclosure: Cruise Critic is owned by TripAdvisor)—it works offline—and I love Instagram, though the newer version has me a bit confounded.
The travel gadget or gear that has saved your life…or your mind:
The iPad. Always the iPad. I can watch a movie, choose from among tons of books, catch up on Facebook…or simply play solitaire, which is my when-travel-is-stressful go-to.
Whose tweets do you find the most useful and entertaining when you see them in your feed?
I love Bob Payne’s tweets—they always make me smile.
Name one way the travel industry can do better.
To parlay the expression “when life makes lemons,” when things go wrong, travel companies actually have a chance to win my loyalty—if they handled the situation properly. Too often they exacerbate a bad situation and fail to take responsibility or act in a generous manner—and that’s unacceptable, especially when it’s their own mistake. Recently I showed up at a Hyatt in Los Angeles hours before check-in. Slightly tense because of a tight day of important meetings, I was impatient and a bit…brusque…and then, it turned out, the reservation didn’t exist. The staffer was so lovely—and went above and beyond to try to help, ultimately creating a new booking at the same price I thought I’d paid and finding an available room so I could get settled—that I didn’t mind apologizing for the fact that I’d booked the wrong hotel. Oops.
Look into the future and describe one aspect of travel that you think will be different in 20 years:
I’m going to look ahead 20 years in cruise and wager a bet that after all the contemporary styling, and the deconstruction of traditional styles of cruise travel, there’s going to be a resurgence in retro cruise traditions like formal nights, set-seating-set-tablemates, and elegant evenings.
If you were in my car during a road trip, you’d hear me singing…
Henry Mancini’s “Two for the Road.”
The airplane movie that, unexpectedly, made me bawl was…
The Notebook. It was on Continental Airlines, in the day when there were no personal screens, and everybody was bawling. It was such a common experience that a flight attendant walked up and down the aisle with a box of Kleenex.
When I travel, I’m not afraid of…
Surprises on the ground.
…but I am afraid of…
Surprises in an airplane.