International Centre for Cruise Research
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Careen Mackay
"Are we having fun yet?" An ethnographic study of a group cruise tour
Ph.D., The Pennsylvania State University, 2003, 242 pages

Using an overlooked segment of the tourism industry--cruise tourism--as a backdrop, the primary purpose of this study was to observe and document the behavior and interactions of individuals who engage in a group cruise tour. My hope in pursuing this line of research was to refine our understanding of group leisure in general and group cruise tour in particular. A secondary purpose was to explore how being a member of a cruise tour group contributes to a meaningful, pleasurable vacation experience that cruisers want to repeat.

By focusing at the intersection of space and group tour, I found not only did physical distance from home play an important role but also the playful qualities of cruise ship space fostered social interaction and the opportunity to spend time with like-minded individuals; the presence of other group members and the group leader provided psychological and emotional safety nets for group members; and, the space provided an opportunity to explore, if not re-order, personal priorities. This re-ordering or exploration enabled a shift towards self-expression and fulfillment of personal desires that contributed to allegiance with the group and the motivation to return.

Furthermore, by fusing ethnography and play not only was I able to present empirical support for play as a lens for providing insight into tourism, but also I was able to highlight play's flexibility as a conceptual tool. However, I found that negative experiences do not necessarily mean that individuals do not have "fun." Indeed, these types of dialectical contradictions play a central role in repeat. Not only do they foster playful social interaction between and among group members, they have a symbiotic effect that made it easier to build and cement friendships. In addition, although slipping into play was easier for some than others, I found that repeat cruisers, or "old timers," slipped into the play experience more easily because they had learned the process, honed the necessary skills and "knew the ropes." Finally, I found that play is not limited to the young, healthy and fit. Indeed, for many older cruisers not only was this group tour a central play experience in their lives, but also the meaning of the experience extended beyond the physical boundaries of the cruise ship.