12/22/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Cruise Ship that Ate My Brain

At this time last week, I was on a two-day preview cruise for a new ship, the Celebrity Solstice. Now, I'm not a very experienced "cruiser, I'd only been on one ship before, and the mode of travel that a cruise ship offers --a floating mall that is a bubble of food and familiarity with carefully choreographed insertions onto foreign shores --has never held much appeal for me. (In fact I've been pretty critical of the industry in the past.)

But as a travel writer, you don't always take the trips you want to take. And there's no denying that a cruise can be a budget-friendly way of traveling 'round, so I thought I'd check it out.

Celebrity is Royal Caribbean's high-end ship, and the Solstice had a lot of very good design in it.  Its main dining room, for instance, was designed by Adam Tihany, who handled the design of no-slouch restaurants Per Se and Daniel. (His firm also designed the ship's restrooms and they were really among the most lovely I've ever been in.)

I wish I could tell you more about the design, but I had trouble forming a coherent thought aboard. Here are my notes from the evening of 11/15.

I think this cruise is making me stupid. I can't seem to focus on anything. Now sitting on porch. [I meant, the"veranda" off the stateroom.] There is a high-end looking gunmetal mesh pair of chairs and what looks like teak, planked, table, that I'm leaning on. The sound of water hushing up against the boat. The air is warm and the sky is deep satin black in the distance, I see two ships. One a golden multi-lit spectacle like this boat, the other, equally lit but smaller. Or is it further away?

That's quite enough of that. Believe me when I tell you that my notes are generally better, unless I'm severely jet-lagged, which I wasn't. (Or drinking heavily, which I wasn't doing either.)

 The dumbing down effect was not only limited to me --my travel companion, another writer, also felt mentally challenged. Our conversations --usually West Wing worthy banter--were punctuated by a lot of helpless handwaving as we grasped for words.

So did the boat bump off some brain cells? I think it did. And by design! It seems to me that a cruise ship is an environment that is purposefully resistant to serious thought. For example, we sat by the pool, on the top deck, and it was very pleasant --a great place to read, or write or think, if not for the incredibly loud music (live band or loudspeaker).  Dinners are taken ensemble, ensuring small talk. Staterooms are not inviting during the day.

The ocean is by its nature meditative, but there's no place aboard with a water view where you can sit and think and be unstimulated (by alcohol or otherwise) for a few minutes.  You are not meant to be reflective, alone, or unbusy on a cruise. I couldn't form a coherent thought aboard because I wasn't supposed to.